I Want To Get Into Pokemon, But Which Game Should I Play First?

Andy Kelly: When you write for TheGamer, you cannot avoid Pokemon. I've never worked with a group of people more passionate about capturing small creatures in a ball, and I think it's rubbing off on me. I watched the Pokemon anime as a teenager, but never got into the games.

Now, as an adult who should probably know better, I quite fancy giving one a go. But where the hell do I start? Which of the 20+ core games and countless spin-offs is the best entry point for a Pokemon first-timer? I could have Googled it, but I thought it would be much more fun to ask the team and watch them argue about it.

Stacey Henley: The first place to start with Pokemon is right at the beginning, where most lifelong fans started, and where most, if not all, of us started. The first games are a little janky and inaccessible these days though, so Let’s Go, the Gen 1 remake made specifically as a first time entry point is the clear choice.

Issy van der Velde: Oh yeah, pick the entry that doesn’t even let you battle wild Pokemon, one of the series’ staples. Emerald has the best mix of casual and competitive gameplay. You can breeze through by just overlevelling your starter, but if you want to take on the Battle Frontier, you need to plan. It’s the best all-rounder to begin with.

SH: Raise your hand if you love battling endless waves of Pidgeys? Anyone? Thought so. Wild battles are shit.

Ben Sledge: I actually think Stacey has a fair point. Let’s Go is a good game for children who have never played a video game before. However, we’re introducing Andy Kelly to Pokemon. Veteran games critic and decades-long gamer Andy Kelly. Let’s Go will just be too easy and vapid for a man of his distinguished stature. That’s why you start him at the pinnacle of Pokemon, with SoulSilver and HeartGold.

Eric Switzer: I’m going to take Stacey’s argument a step further and ask you all to admit that everything about the core Pokemon games is a bit shit. The love we have for battling trainers and collecting gym badges comes from our childhood and there’s just no way an adult human is going to jive with the Pokemon loop. If you really want to get into the franchise, the honest-to-God best place to start is New Pokemon Snap – a game that will teach you to love Pokemon better than any other.

SH: That’s three out of four people who have said I’m right so far, by the way.

IV: You’re not going to give a shit about ‘mons you’ve never seen or battled with before, so ignore Eric’s suggestion. The semi-open world of SoulSilver and HeartGold is used terribly, meaning all the enemies for the entire middle of the game stay the same power level while you keep getting stronger. It’s bad game design and you shouldn’t subject yourself to it. Instead, enjoy the journey through deserts, forests, volcanoes, caves, and the depths of the ocean that Emerald takes you on.

BS: Even if you find the middle of SoulSilver boring, at least it looks fucking stunning while you’re doing it. The same can’t really be said for Emerald or Let’s Go, which have fairly generic styles. Besides, if he gets bored, he can call it a day after Johto is done and dusted.

ES: He WILL get bored because Pokemon games are boring. And SoulSilver is fucking stunning? New Pokemon Snap is in the mix.

SH: Emerald isn’t even that good of a Pokemon game, I don’t know why we’re entertaining this kid. HeartGold is my personal favourite, and I love New Pokemon Snap, but I agree that Snap means less when you don’t know who the ‘mons are. Which brings me back to the criticism of Let’s Go – Andy Kelly is not a veteran when it comes to Pokemon. He is a babe in arms. He can name four Pokemon, maybe. Let’s Go is designed for people like him to get into the franchise that Eric hates. Also, it looks great.

IV: If we’re arguing about which game looks best then what’s the point? No one plays Pokemon for the graphics. Emerald has a good mix of new and old Pokemon meaning Andy will be excited by finding ones he’s never seen before, while also recognising those four familiar faces. It’s a clean break story-wise too, which HeartGold and SoulSilver aren’t. Plus the story is actually good, unlike in Gen 1.

BS: I hate to agree with Stacey again, but all these Pokemon are new to Mr Kelly. If he’s experiencing every Pokemon for the first time, barring maybe Pikachu, why not revel in the pixel art sprites and cute followers of SoulSilver, rather than try to use the Switch’s dodgy gyroscope to aim at a tiny circle in Let’s Go? I think it’s the worst catching mechanic ever implemented in the series, but at least you actually catch the Pokemon, unlike in New Snap.

IV: Ben stop agreeing with her, we’re arguing here. I will ignore my own advice and agree with you that the pixel style is far better than the 3D models, though.

SH: Don’t talk about graphics, but it has a great story? It’s Pokemon. It does not. And what exactly is he playing SoulSilver and Emerald on, lads? The point is to get into Pokemon properly, not sit at his PC again.

BS: The Steam Deck has excellent emulators, just saying. But he should purchase these games legally to experience them properly. I think he has a Steam Deck though.

IV: Fuck that, he should play Emerald Kaizo and really start at the deep end.

SH: Argument so shit you’ve changed your own mind, nice.

ES: The fact that you’re all quibbling about which of the core games is actually bad (it’s all of them) and the only argument against Snap is that “he won’t appreciate it because he doesn’t know the ‘mons yet” really sells it. What’s a better introduction to Pokemon: a bunch of silent sprites, or a living world full of life and personality? Snap made me care about ‘mons I thought I hated my whole life. Why not start with the one that actually celebrates how cool Pokemon are?

SH: Snap’s great, but it’s not a Pokemon game any more than Mario Kart is a Mario game. I won’t say a thing against it except Andy will still be as ‘into’ Pokemon after Snap as he was beforehand, he’ll just know what a Toucannon is.

BS: Our friend Mr Kelly asked to be introduced to Pokemon, and his knowledge of the concept will likely be based on the fact that it’s an RPG where you’ve gotta catch ‘em all. You don’t do that in Snap. Maybe he can graduate to it once he’s played Pokemon proper, but to give him an authentic experience – whether you think that’s a good one or not – you need to stick to the main series. So start him with the best one. What’s so difficult to understand?

IV: In Emerald you watch the gods of land and sea almost destroy the world, before a dragon that lives in the Ozone layer intervenes. It’s real JRPG levels of wild. In HeartGold and SoulSilver the biggest threat is against a radio tower. How thrilling.

BS: I literally forgot you were here Issy.

IV: Well that’s just rude.

SH: Real talk, no one here thinks Emerald is even that good, right? It’s Ben’s argument but worse.

BS: I love Emerald, but it’s not right for Andy. He’ll get bored of roaming the seven(teen) seas before he even gets to the good bit.

SH: Hence why it’s not good. You can play a (very good) Pokemon game made for Pokemon fans, play a (very good) Pokemon game made for beginners, or play a photography game. Or you can listen to Issy. This is a two-horse race in my mind.

IV: It’s a kangaroo court, is what it is.

BS: Did you actually enjoy Let’s Go?

SH: My favourite Pokemon game in a decade, yes. Loved the art style, the nostalgia, the no wild battles, and the fact they’re all great Pokemon. Something I don’t think any other game has, Gen 1 are all bangers.

BS: Seel.

ES: Jynx.

IV: Several fish.

SH: Seel is great, derpy little tongue. Name needs work but Christ don’t invite me to pick the stinkers from Gen 2 or Gen 3 (or all the ones in Snap) if you want to win.

BS: I don’t think you’ve successfully defended the point that Let’s Go is ridiculously easy, and that I believe Andy Kelly would get bored of simply clicking the most superest effectivest attack on every Gym leader and winning. Let’s Go forgoes the strategy of Pokemon battles.

ES: That is literally all of them. You’ve just described core Pokemon.

IV: That’s why Emerald is perfect. After learning the ropes and beating the league, Andy can try out the Battle Frontier and get into the competitive side of the games – that’s what keeps people playing Pokemon Showdown well into adulthood.

BS: I think modern Pokemon games, with their little tags to tell you which moves will deal the most damage and which won’t have any effect at all, eliminate the admittedly small amount of strategy that early games had.

SH: Let’s Go isn’t perfect, its one weakness is that it’s a little easy. But it’s a Pokemon game, and Andy will know every single Pokemon, recognise most gym leaders, and most importantly, love it or hate it, he will feel like he has played Pokemon by the time he’s done. He won’t get far enough in Emerald, Snap is not a Pokemon game, and HeartGold has far too many ‘What? An owl with one leg? Eh?’ Pokemon at the start.

BS: You forgot the dogshit catching mechanic. But I agree, discussing postgame content (like Issy is doing) gets ahead of ourselves. Hoothoot has two legs, too, which you’d know if you remembered anything from Snap – but I’ll forgive you for not remembering much of it as most of us don’t.

SH: I know it has two legs. Andy wouldn’t. I’m the only one considering our audience.

ES: You all keep arguing that Snap isn’t a Pokemon game but that’s exactly why I’m pitching it. We’re trying to introduce Andy to POKEMON, not one series – the world of Pokemon, which is so much bigger than the ‘core’ RPGs. If you want to give someone the love of Pokemon, Snap does that better than any of these boring RPGs do.

IV: Read the title of this article, Eric.

BS: He’s seen the anime, he knows that Pokemon live in trees and shit. Now he can experience it as an RPG.

SH: Our job isn’t to make Andy like Pokemon, which Snap is a good candidate for. It’s to make him feel like he has played a Pokemon game. Crossed one off his backlog. Snap doesn’t do that, he’ll still not know what a Pokemon game, at its heart, is.

IV: Emerald is the only game in the running that contains all the elements of a Pokemon game in one, single game. I’m not getting ahead of myself, I’m just aware of what Andy will want to move on to once he’s battered the final secret boss. Who has a metal spider Pokemon that’s got the brains of a supercomputer, by the way.

BS: If we’re talking about heart, only one of these games has that in the bloody title.

SH: Let’s move to closing statements, which Issy has already made. Getting ahead of himself. Again. Emerald and SoulSilver are both just regular Pokemon games, and SoulSilver is better, so Emerald is kaput. That’s not just personal choice either, there’s way too much swimming and sailing and pissing about. Snap is a photography game that relies on ‘OMG it’s the Pokemon Ushimungo!’, which Andy won’t have. Let’s Go is made for newcomers, and it has a button-based catching option, which negates most criticism here. While it’s a little easy, Kanto is the Pokemon region people talk about, Professor Oak is the Pokemon Prof, Pikachu is the Pokemon companion, and it straight up gives you Squirtle, Andy’s favourite Pokemon. Or you can take pictures of Ushimungo.

BS: Andy, I’m going to say this directly to you. While Stacey may enjoy bashing the other options while saying very little about her own choice, I’m going to tell you about SoulSilver and HeartGold. Do you want to play the best Pokemon game ever made? Do you want to walk your new buddy through the autumnal forests surrounding Tin Tower, realised in an ageless pixel art style, to meet the Legendary bird Ash saw in the very first episode of the anime? Do you want to battle Gym leaders and encounter shinies? I’m the only one who can guarantee all that, and I’ll even throw in a Squirtle if you get far enough, too.

ES: Andy, if you pick one of the RPGs, just know that you’re having a nearly identical experience to any other one you might choose, so it doesn’t really matter. Pokemon RPGs are tedious, filled with boring battles, and have never changed since the first game. You’re a busy guy that is passionate about games, and if you’ve never gotten around to a Pokemon game in all these years, I imagine that’s because RPGs for babies don’t really interest you. Play New Pokemon Snap. It’s actually a good game. It has roguelike elements [BS: lol come on], complex puzzles, and the Pokemon themselves have never looked better. This is the most fun game on the list and no one here can deny that.

AK: I’ve mulled it over very carefully, and have decided that I’m going to play Let’s Go. HeartGold/SoulSilver is a close second, but I’ve been won over by the fact that LG features all the characters, Pokemon, locations, etc. from the TV show that I recognise. I like recognising things. It’s also relatively new, and I bet it looks nice on my Switch OLED. I am put off by the fact that it’s an easy game for babies, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. So I guess Stacey wins.

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