Gotta keep catching 'em all! Gotta keep catching 'em all! Gotta look into a 12-step rehab program before Pokémon sucks up all my money!
In September 1998, after becoming a cultural phenomenon in Japan, Nintendo introduced the monster collecting RPG known as Pokémon to the U.S. and a new phenomenon was born. After six years and millions of games sold, the original Pokémon games have returned in the image of Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire along with an all new method of linking that allows Pokémaniacs to catch 'em all again without using wires.
For those who still haven't looked into a Pokémon game and are unfamiliar with its gameplay (is there anyone that reads PGC that is completely in the dark about Pokémon?), Pokémon is a role-playing game in which you control an aspiring young Pokémon trainer whose goal is to become the world's top trainer by capturing and raising fantastical creatures called Pokémon, which are used to battle other trainers. The battles are turn based and utilize a rock-paper-scissors game mechanic to infuse a degree of strategy. Each Pokémon has a certain 'type' classification (rock, fire, water, flying, ghost, steel, and psychic just to name a few) as do all the actions/moves available to a Pokémon. In order to play successfully, you'll have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your Pokémon as you train and battle with them.
Of course, completing the main story in any Pokémon game is only part of the game. The larger challenge lies in collecting as many different kinds of Pokémon as you can. In order to do this, though, you'll need the help of some friends with the various other Pokémon games (or you could just buy them all on your own if your a rich gamer with no Poké-friends) because certain kinds of Pokémon are exclusive to certain games. It's a wonderful way to promote interaction between other gamers (with the ancillary benefit of being a continual cash cow for Nintendo). With the Fire Red and Leaf Green versions, you'll be able to collect up to 386 Pokémon, if you can trade between the previously released Ruby and Sapphire versions on the GBA and the GameCube's Pokémon Colosseum. It's a daunting task considering that you'll have to complete the main story quest in each game to trade between all versions but can be well worth the time investment for the die hard Pokémaniac.
For those of you who've already played a Pokémon game, Fire Red and Leaf Green play like a combination of the original Red/Blue versions of Pokémon with the graphics, move sets, and 2-on-2 battles introduced in the Ruby/Sapphire versions. There are also a few new areas to explore towards the end of the main story but it's nothing too exciting. The overall experience will be very familiar, so your enjoyment of these games will likely depend on how you felt when finishing off your last Pokémon game. The addition of the wireless adapter is welcome, but really doesn't add too much to the gameplay experience. It certainly makes interacting with other players more convenient, but the dynamics are largely unchanged.
If players want to trade, battle, or even chat, they can now do so without the use of link cables. All they have to do is plug in a wireless adapter, be within roughly 10 ft. of each other, and go to a Wireless Club Union Room in one of the game's many Pokémon Centers. Inside the Wireless Club Union Room, you'll see the other player(s) and can interact with them as you would any other in-game character. The experience isn't quite as liberating as using a WaveBird, but it's still nicer to be able to move around when battling or trading instead of being tethered to someone else with a 3 ft. cable. Unfortunately, Game Boy Advance games need to be specially programmed to use the wireless adapter, so the previously released Ruby/Sapphire games are unable to utilize this feature. In addition to battling and trading, wirelessly linked players can chat with each other. It's a pretty benign feature but might be useful for kids who want to chat Pokémon in class. Of course, the interface is a bit clunky since you can only type by choosing letters with the GBA's Control Pad.
Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green are, for better or worse, Pokémon games. There's nothing too new in these latest games that changes the existing formula. Of course, the existing formula is one that's appealed to millions of gamers across the globe. The introduction of the wireless adapter certainly makes trading and battling with other players more simple, but has no bearing on the single player experience. Of course, a large part of the Pokémon experience revolves around interacting with other players, so those that enjoyed this in the past should be even happier with Fire Red and Leaf Green.
Pokémaniacs who played through the previous games will undoubtedly enjoy Fire Red and Leaf Green. The appeal of catching more Pokémon probably outweighs the input of any review. Likewise, Pokémon haters should steer clear as the game has not undergone any great fundamental changes. If you didn't like the simple story, turn-based battles, and never felt the need to raise a Magikarp into a Gyarados, Fire Red and Leaf Green will not appeal to you in the least. Players of the previous games who have been worn out on Pokémon might also want to stay clear of Fire Red and Leaf Green. You'll just have to ask yourself, "Do I really gotta catch'em all again?"