Have you played… the original Pokemon on a GameBoy emulator running on a SuperVGA monitor?

pokemon

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

No? You should. It’s one of my fondest gaming memories.

I bought myself a PC for university by working summer jobs including assembling promotional B*Witched and Boyzone pens for Top of the Pops magazine. Of course, as soon as I got to university, it soon became depressingly obvious that PC was a badge of abject nerdery and if I wanted to impress people I should have bought a console instead.

Never one to admit defeat in any challenge vaguely involving technology, I turned to what was then the extremely murky world of emulation. Of course, back then there was no hope of emulating something contemporary like a PlayStation or N64, but older Nintendo and Sega fare was perfectly plausible, so long as you could master the almost wilfully obtuse required to do so.

I will spare you the details of exactly what went into achieving it, because I don’t want Ian Nintendo showing up at my door, but obviously I bought all the original cartridges and donated my life savings to destitute IP lawyers. But what I will say is that, rather than me and the friend who I dragged down this hole with me retreading plumber and hedgehog classics of yesteryear – because that was too recent past to hold any retro appeal at that point – we sought out whatever New we could manage. Which, basically, was the GameBoy Color.

Clearly, the top-down, baby-JRPG adventures of Ash and Pikachu were designed for a tiny resolution of 160×144 pixels on 4cm screen which, at best, could show about 1.5 different colours at once. But there was something illicit, something thrilling in forcing this miniature thing onto a 14″ 800×600 CRT monitor (jeepers crikey, that thing was huge), not to mention using savestates to scum our way past fights gone bad. And, of course, the pokeymans and the gotta-catching thereof got its hooks into us, just as it was a designed to do.

He watched me play the whole game on that monitor, and somehow this tiny, blocky people and the static outlines of the titular battling creatures took on an epic quality. Felling a gym owner, catching one of the rarest and deadliest beasts, buying the skills that cut down trees or moved boulders in order to access new parts of the map… It felt like the truest adventure, despite its mechanical nature and maddeningly constant random fights against the same rats and pigeons.

As soon as I had finished, he started playing, and I watched it all again. We wouldn’t have done that on a Gameboy; hell, I’m not sure either of it would even have played it by ourselves on a Gameboy. But something about that perverse hybridisation of a portable game with the most immovable gaming platform cast a spell I’ll never forget.

30 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Is this a secret episode of “Raised by Screens?”

    • Grinterloper says:

      Meanwhile on Twitter:

      “For all three of you who miss my Raised By Screens gaming autobiography series, this is something of a cut chapter”

    • April March says:

      Everything RPS publishes is secretly Raised by Screens.

  2. automatic says:

    800×600? Pffft
    1024×768 is the thing

    • oyog says:

      Shit, yes. I thought I was the only one.

    • Ragnar says:

      You just had to one up him, didn’t you?

      What, couldn’t stretch all the way to the 1280×1024 that all the cool kids were using?

  3. lrbaumard says:

    I have done exactly this… but on my phone.
    Its amazing to have something like Pokemon ruby on your phone, i actually completed it too, which is not something i can say of many games

  4. subspace says:

    My kids love pokemon, and have access to playing it on the latest devices, but they still play it on our arcade cabinet which emulates all the old Nintendo (and many other) consoles.

    The reality is that a good game is a good game. Graphics are a bonus, and only sometimes do they equate to immersion. I truly feel bad for all those great games of the past that have little or no means to be played. That is lost art.

    • bigpilgrim says:

      I think the worst part about it is that in the digital age, people take permanence for granted. It’s easy to assume you can just go download an old game or whatever but only TRUE CULTURAL HISTORIANS (read: gamers) understand that it’s very possible to lose 5, and in fact what usually happens if we’re not careful.

  5. m0rtisman says:

    Anyone remember Super Game Boy?

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    • SaintAn says:

      Yep, I remember refusing to go to school because I was hooked on playing Pokemon Red on my TV through my SNES. Was so cool. Now I have a Switch, a whole system that does that!

  6. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This is how I played the original pokemon games. Blue, for me, I think.

    Emulation back then was hit and miss. Kids these days don’t know how lucky they are with their spot-on emulation of anything older than N64. Whippersnappers.

    I really enjoyed pkmn on a proper monitor, with the weird half-colors it gave you. I should give that a shot on my pi emulator now that I think about it. …Since I own the original carts and all.

    • fray_bentos says:

      The Wii and GameCube are all but perfect in Dolphin. While many WiiU games are almost perfect/playable in Cemu these days.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        Yep, but Dreamcast and N64 emulation is shaky still. I just meant basically everything older has a solid emulator, but that generation doesn’t.

        But emulation has come a long way since the era this article is about.

  7. Ejia says:

    Yes, even though I actually owned a Gameboy and Pokémon Blue.

    I also remember having a PC that wasn’t even powerful enough to emulate Chrono Trigger and FFVI properly (although maybe the fault was with ZSNES at the time).

  8. Ushao says:

    No, I played it on my Gameboy Pocket. Fond memories of that, at least until a friend overwrote my save.

  9. Hennimore says:

    Oh, yes! If someone tallied the hours I’ve spent on different games, the Pokemon ones played with emulators would easily add up to be there in the top 3.

    I remember playing the Japanese version of Silver/Gold, with an emulator that my big brother had installed, long before it was released in the occident. It was quite something, considering I couldn’t even really understand English at that age.

  10. Kemuel says:

    When I was about 9 and Pokemon occupied my every waking moment there was this magical 3.5″ floppy disk that appeared in school one day which someone claimed had a whole new Pokemon game on it for PC. The catch was that the installer was sort of broken and only someone’s neighbor’s friend’s big brother knew how to set it up.

    Everyone assumed it was total bs, so I managed to convince the owner to let me have a look, and after an hour or so of weird menus without any legible text I actually had the thing working. It was a glorious, half-translated mess, with random quirks like all item names being limited to 8 capital letters, but by god it actually worked. We had a Japanese GBC emulator and an incomplete fan patch of Pokemon Gold.

  11. Gilead says:

    I did do this with Pokemon Yellow, although with a gigantic CRT monitor running in glorious 1024×768.

    I’ve never been able to reproduce the satisfying game-flow state using any of the more recent Pokemans, or even by firing up Pokemon Yellow again. You can never go back. :(

  12. Ibed says:

    Yes! Fond memories indeed. I remember getting the magic floppy from someone, and subsequently going to friends’ houses to distribute the joy.

    Sharing the gameplay was a part that I forgot, but that definitely made it better.

    It was a good game, one that I haven’t thought of for a long time. Thanks Alec.

  13. fray_bentos says:

    Not so sure when you went to uni, and therefore the validity of this statement “Of course, back then there was no hope of emulating something contemporary like a PlayStation or N64”, but I played Zelda Ocarina of Time on UltraHLE N64 emulator, and completed a fully working “HD upscaled” version of Gran Turismo on the PS1 emulator Bleem! in early 1999 on my 400MHz Pentium II.

    • Turkey says:

      Did you get the sound working properly on Uni computers? I had to play most of Zelda 64 with the sound off for it to run smoothly on my home computer.

  14. April March says:

    Everyone in my classroom had emulated it when it first came out. Yes, the original release. Everyone except me. I had the real thing on a real Game Boy (which I’ve now lost, drat. It’d be worth a pretty penny.)

    I remember to this day that at one point one guy I’d never talked to in class came up to me and asked if I had Pokémon. I said that I did. He asked me to save it to a floppy disk and give it to him. I explained to him that I had it on a Game Boy, not on a computer. He abruptly walked away without saying another word.

  15. Nightshadea says:

    You could of had more fun if you had an emu that had all the game shark/genie/replay codes programmed in ..you could steal Pokemon. make all balls the best… Crazy stuff……

  16. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Livin’ that life right now with Zelda: Breath of the Wild…

  17. Premium User Badge

    The Almighty Moo says:

    Yes!
    Side by side with it emulated twice on one machine so we could trade and fight, with my best friend on his PC becuase I had it on the Gameboy but he didn’t. Truly fond memory.

  18. Jievo says:

    I recently played through the first 3 generations on emulators, and my god. I’m sorry, I have all the nostalgia in the world for yellow and silver, but they’re just… Bad. Well, not bad. But so poorly explained, so opaque, and require so many button presses to do the simplest things. The games aren’t remotely enjoyable until the 3rd generation, which I am increasingly convinced is when the series peaked.

  19. Bobtree says:

    Yes. In fact, I am so old that I remember back when RPS was a PC only gaming site.

    • milligna says:

      Yes, let’s pretend they haven’t run dozens of pieces on emulators.

  20. melancholicthug says:

    That’s oddly specific, but yes! That’s precisely how I played them. In the good old Pentium 120 Mhz. The anime was all the rage back then, and even though I wasn’t like super into it, it was still a pretty neat game.