Pokémon Yellow is an enhanced version of the Game Boy games Pokémon Red and Blue. Like its predecessors, it is a third-person, overhead perspective and consists of three basic screens: an overworld, in which the player navigates the main character; a side-view battle screen; and a menu interface, in which the player configures his or her Pokémon, items, or gameplay settings. The player can use his or her Pokémon to battle other Pokémon. When the player encounters a wild Pokémon or is challenged by a trainer, the screen switches to a turn-based battle screen that displays the engaged Pokémon. During battle, the player may select a maneuver for his or her Pokémon to fight using one of four moves, use an item, switch his or her active Pokémon, or attempt to flee. Pokémon have hit points (HP); when a Pokémon's HP is reduced to zero, it faints and can no longer battle until it is revived. Once an enemy Pokémon faints, the player's Pokémon involved in the battle receive a certain number of experience points (XP). After accumulating enough EXP, a Pokémon may level up. A Pokémon's level controls its physical properties, such as the battle statistics acquired, and the moves learned.
Catching Pokémon is another essential element of the gameplay. During battle with a wild Pokémon, the player may throw a Poké Ball at it. If the Pokémon is successfully caught, it will come under the ownership of the player. Factors in the success rate of capture include the HP of the target Pokémon and the type of Poké Ball used: the lower the target's HP and the stronger the Poké Ball, the higher the success rate of capture. The ultimate goal of the games is to complete the entries in the Pokédex, a comprehensive Pokémon encyclopedia, by capturing, evolving, and trading to obtain all 151 creatures. Pokémon Yellow allows players to trade Pokémon between two cartridges via a Game Link Cable, including the previous games Pokémon Red and Blue. This method of trading must be done to fully complete the Pokédex, since each of the two games have version-exclusive Pokémon. The Link Cable also makes it possible to battle another player's Pokémon team.