Moments into the game, wise Professor Oak presents you with a Pokedex and a delicate conundrum: Will you choose a fire, water or grass type Pokemon? Each main game in the franchise starts with this decision, but choosing between the iconic original trio of Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur was especially difficult.
This was an important choice, one that would lay the foundation for your entire Poke-experience. It was before Nintendo introduced breeding in Silver and Gold, meaning you couldn't, say, breed your Charizard with a ditto and trade the offspring Charmander for a Squirtle or Bulbasaur. Scoring yourself additional starter Pokemon was a lot of work, often including sketchy and clandestine deals with friends.
Choosing a starter is a harbinger of the difficult choices that arise on a Pokemon Trainer's road to the Pokemon League. Other key decisions included choosing between fighting Pokemon Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan (named in homage to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan), as well as picking either the Dome or Helix Fossil -- which could be revived into a Kabuto and Omanyte, respectively. Then there was also the case of Eevee, who the player could evolve into either a Flareon, Jolteon or Vaporeon.
In addition to not being able to breed Pokemon, this was 10 years before online trading was introduced to the series; it was much harder to undo any unwise decisions. You had to stick to your choices and deal with the ramifications. Such is the life of a Pokemon Trainer.
All Pokemon games present the player with a rival of some sort, but none of them compare to Gary Oak. Never has an adversary earned the player's resentment like Gary, Professor Oak's smug nephew, who you meet throughout the game.
The main objectives in Pokemon Red and Blue are to win all eight gym badges in the region to earn your way to the Pokemon League, where you battle the Elite 4. Imagine your surprise, then, when you beat Elite 4 leader Lance only to learn that Gary has done the same mere moments ago and is now the league's Champion. You now have to battle him and his level 65 Pokemon. This freakin' guy!
Having a rival became something of a trope in later games, but beating Gary and dethroning him as champion felt like sweet, sweet victory.
Online play wasn't a thing at this point, but that doesn't mean there wasn't trading. If you wanted to catch 'em all -- a tough-yet-achievable goal, since there were 151 Pokemon instead of the current 718 (!) -- you had to trade Pokemon with friends, which required a special Nintendo Link Cable. The cable plugged into yours and your friends' Game Boys, and allowed you to enter a special Cable Club room, where you could either make trades or battle each other.
Newer games feature the Global Trade Station, which makes the whole process easier. But there was a certain magic and excitement to local trading, likely because you organised a time and a place with a friend days or weeks in advance. Special bonds were made, and sometimes broken, in that Cable Club room.
Pokemon Red and Blue weren't short games, taking between 25 and 40 hours to beat. It didn't help that your 8-bit player moved at what would today be considered a glacial pace. Luckily, this was quelled about 6 or 7 hours into the game when you procured yourself a bicycle.
As with many other features on this list, bicycles became recurring key items in the series. Each subsequent game saw Nintendo sadistically make you walk like a chump for the first few hours before granting you a bike, letting you travel with speed and style.
So you beat the Elite 4 and you're now the Pokemon League Champion. Now what do you do? Get a Dragonite, that's what. Anybody who's anybody in Kanto has a Dragonite.
Dragon Pokemon are notorious for being slow growers, needing more experience than other Pokemon types to level up, but also for being incredibly powerful. This is embodied in Dragonite, who you'll score by getting a Dragonair to level 55. For the uninitiated, that's a lot more effort than usual, as most other Pokemon breeds hit their final form in the mid '30s. To make it harder, Dragonairs are largely useless against other high level Pokemon.
It took many hours to earn yourself a Dragonite, but it was definitely worth it. The Dragonite formula, of forcing players to slowly work a relatively weak Pokemon to level 55 for a big evolutionary pay-off, has been replicated in subsequent games. A lot of these late bloomers are cool, like Tyranitar and Hydreigon, but none cooler than Dragonite, the Fonz of the Pokemon world.
Getting all 151 Pokemon was hard work, but thankfully there were some shortcuts afforded in the form of glitches. The most famous of these was Missingno.
The glitch can be activated as soon as you reach Cinnabar Island, which houses gym number seven. You fly back to Viridian City, of "We're on the Road to Viridian City" fame, where you talk to an old man who teaches you how to catch Pokemon early in the game. After redoing the tutorial, you fly to Cinnabar Island and surf along its east coast. Inevitably, a Missingno will appear.
Catching Missingno has the potential to brick your game, but defeating it will bizarrely cause item number six in your bag to be multiplied by 128. This trick is most often used by players to grant themselves unlimited Master Balls, which unfailingly catch Pokemon, and Rare Candy, which level up your Pokemon.
Though you'll spend plenty of time battling through Kanto's gym leaders and Elite 4, many spent significantly more time filling out their Pokedex. As outlined in the case of Dragonite, that often involved a lot of grinding. Thankfully, Nintendo provided a postgame cave filled with high level Pokemon to help keep things interesting.
At the end of the mysterious cave was Mewtwo, a clone of Mew and the most powerful of all the game's Legendary Pokemon. If you already used your Master Ball and were unaware of the Missingno trick, you were in for a tough day at the Poke-office. It could take dozens of Ultra Balls to catch Mewtwo, who remains one of the most popular Pokemon of all time.
Pokemon number 151, Mew was more valuable than gold due to being the rarest creature in the game. So rare, in fact, that there was no way of actually capturing one in either Pokemon Red or Blue. The only way to properly get one was to attend a special Nintendo event, where a machine would be used to insert a Mew onto your cartridge.
There were, however, unofficial means of getting the elusive critter. Like Missingno, it involved using creative tactics -- like flying to another city after triggering a trainer battle -- to literally trick the game. If you were aware of the complex method, which can be found here, then you'll remember having your mind almost implode when it worked.
Capturing all 151 took time and patience. Lots and lots of time. Over 100 hours of time. Your reward for achieving all there is to achieve? Don't get too excited.
Talk to Professor Oak and he'll simply tell you "congratulations" -- for literally completing his life's work. Fly over to Celadon City and talk to one of the Game Freak developers (who, in a very meta move, inserted themselves into the game), and they'll reward you with a diploma that shows that you did indeed catch 'em all.
It's not much, but damn it, you earned it!