Like the frighteningly youthful and exuberant intern in the office that you haven’t decided whether you love or loathe, the Pokémon game franchise has been alive and kicking since 1996.
The series now spans seven generations, each of which stands distinct but also builds on the last to introduce new Pokémon, regions, heroes, villains, and stories for players to enjoy. At this point the series has around 27 mainline games and there are still more to come, with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon and a yet-to-be-named Switch title (potentially called Pokémon Stars) all due to be released over the next couple of years.
To help you keep track of where the series is, and where it’s going, we’ve gathered together all the mainline Pokémon games that have been released over the years right here. To guide you just that little bit more we’ve also ordered them from best to worst. Yep, that’s right: we’re making the call.
We understand this is likely to be a divisive approach, and to be perfectly honest we don’t actually believe there’s ever been a bad Pokémon game (it’s hard to go that wrong when you rarely deviate from a formula that’s been proven to work).
However, it’s inevitable that some of the regions and new Pokémon additions stand out more than others, and it’s undeniable that some of the generations saw more significant and rewarding changes than others, and that’s what we’re acknowledging here.
Generation II – Gold / Silver / Crystal / HeartGold / SoulSilver
Though generation I is where the magic of the Pokémon world was introduced to us, it’s in generation II where Game Freak really got into its stride and brought the world to life.
In Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal we saw the introduction of a day to night cycle, days of the week and breeding. These changes brought an exciting depth to battling and catching Pokémon, and made it worth exploring at all times of day, particularly as certain Pokémon could only be caught at night. Increasing the number of Pokémon to 251 was a great move too, particularly as one of them was Cyndaquil. No bias here.
Aside from these exciting and game-changing new features, generation II allowed you to explore the new region of Johto as well as Kanto from generation I, which was not only a great nod to fans of Red and Blue, but made the game feel like a really big adventure.
As is the trend with the franchise, Gold and Silver were released at the same time between 1999 and 2001 depending on which region you lived in.
Crystal came later, and honestly managed to improve on these already great titles by extending them with a new subplot, the option to choose your sex and the addition of the Battle Tower.
HeartGold and SoulSilver were enhanced remakes of Gold and Silver released in 2010 which also took into account the changes made in Crystal. If you get the chance to pick up these versions you certainly should, as though they’re ostensibly remakes they are better than the originals, making it possible for Pokémon to visibly follow your character as Pikachu does in Pokémon Yellow.
There are many other improvements introduced in HeartGold and SoulSilver which, combined with the power of nostalgia, make these two of the most entertaining games in the series.
Generation III – Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald / Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire
Game Freak was busy across generations II and III of the Pokémon series as generation III saw the introduction of more exciting and much-needed changes. Following on from Gold, Silver, and Crystal, Ruby and Sapphire brought improved animations, double battles, contests, secret bases and (to the relief of many) the ability to run.
At the time, a fair few of these changes were divisive, and Ruby and Sapphire aren’t the most universally popular Pokémon games. However, many of the new features, including secret bases and individual Pokémon natures, had a really positive impact on the direction future titles took. Contests also added a new competitive dynamic that wasn’t purely based on battling.
The music in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald was wonderful, and the Hoenn region felt like a really big change for the series, bringing a lot more water to the map.
Admittedly, there were a few problems with these games, including the confusing change to the day and night cycle after it had worked so well in Gold and Silver, and the frequently questionable new Pokémon designs.
However, the 2014 release of the remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is a big part of the reason Generation III is so high up on this list. These 3DS remakes didn’t change much in terms of Ruby and Sapphire’s main story other than to elaborate on it, but they did add features that had worked from X and Y, and seeing the Hoenn region in 3D was wonderful.
When you play these remakes you get a better sense of why Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald were such great additions to the series.
You can still buy Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire from many retailers, such as Amazon UK where it’s priced £29.99, and GameStop US where you’ll find it for $39.99. You can also find it on Nintendo’s Virtual Console if you’d prefer to make a digital purchase for £39.99/$39.99.
Generation VII – Sun and Moon
Sun and Moon are the newest additions to the Pokémon series, and they change up the formula more than any other generation has in a long time. These are the most graphically advanced games in the series, and you can tell they’re pushing the 3DS console to its limits in their successful efforts to bring the Pokémon world more to life.
Sun and Moon introduce the region of Alola, a region which is incredibly different to any other region not only in terms of visuals but also in gameplay structure. Gone are gyms – now there are island trials, and Totem Pokémon and themed challenges surrounding them. Even HMs have disappeared.
Sun and Moon take generation V’s attempt to craft a more involving story and generation VI’s attempt to be more of a traditional RPG, and bring them together almost very successfully. There is the drawback that there are more un-skippable cut-scenes than ever before, and they’re not always interesting, but you can tell the games are working towards something good here.
Interestingly, Game Freak took its foot off the pedal when it came to introducing new Pokémon in this generation, which is probably a sensible idea. With so much changing in Sun and Moon, it’s nice not to have to contend with an excessive number of new creatures. Instead, Game Freak introduced Alolan variations of the original 150 Pokémon, which is an excellent compromise and something we wish had been done more for previous regions.
Sun and Moon are the most different Pokémon games in generations, and breathe much-needed new life into a series that was slowly beginning to stagnate.
Generation V – Black / White / Black 2 / White 2
Generation V was the first Pokémon generation to have a game that was a direct sequel rather than an expansion, and it was also the generation that most notably dabbled in a different kind of storytelling.
The Pokémon games aren’t exactly known for their storytelling chops, but Black and White and their sequels did actually do a fairly good job of creating something that felt different and engaging, particularly after the fairly stagnant generation IV.
In this generation we went well over 600 Pokémon, and as a result some of the new additions here are pretty perplexing in terms of design. These games also made the controversial change of making it possible to use TMs more than once. This was a change that, while not unwelcome, did start to create the feeling that the Pokémon games were pandering slightly and becoming less challenging.
The particularly great thing that Black and White 2 managed was that although they were direct sequels, they still managed to hold their own as individual games.
It was therefore easy to play Black and White 2 even if you hadn’t played the originals – or any other Pokémon game for that matter. Managing a level of depth that’s engaging while maintaining accessibility is a commendable achievement for generation V.
Generation VI – X and Y
X and Y were a visual revelation for the Pokémon series, being the first games to come to the 3DS console.
Visuals in this generation were more stunning than they’d ever been, and we don’t think we’ll ever forget our first time in Lumiose City. We also got a new type (fairy type), Mega Evolution, Pokémon-Amie and new character customization options to go along with them.
However, X and Y have the problem of trying to feel more like traditional RPG games without the involving story to back them up
You certainly get the sense the series is heading in a new direction with X and Y but it’s still not certain of how much of the past games it should hold on to. What you get is a generation that’s a perfect gateway into the Pokémon series for those coming to it through Nintendo’s newest console.
Generation IV – Diamond / Pearl / Platinum
It may be near the bottom of this list of generations, but that definitely doesn’t mean generation IV is bad in any way. Diamond, Platinum and Pearl came at a curious time for the Pokémon series. It almost felt like the series was beginning to fatigue, and Game Freak was using these titles as something of a transition point before generation V’s changes.
As a result, they’re games that play very well and offer a lot to enjoy, but they also don’t stand out in the memory for any particular reason. The Sinnoh region wasn’t particularly fresh or exciting, and the story and its legendary Pokémon are far from series high points.
That said, Platinum improved a lot for this generation, not only by adding a bunch more Pokémon and improving the story, but also by refurbishing some of the cities and locations to make them a little more visually exciting. We’d definitely recommend picking up Platinum if you want to experience this generation.
Generation IV is, however, at this point probably the hardest to pick up, and you’ll have more luck finding these titles pre-owned.
Generation I – Red / Blue / Yellow / FireRed / LeafGreen
Despite being the originals, it’s hard to call the generation I games the best. They’re the first Pokémon games we played, and they’re great as an introduction to the series. When they were first released they tied into the anime, movies and merchandise extremely well. Now, though, it’s hard to deny that they’ve aged.
Don’t get us wrong – they’re still utterly fantastic, a gold mine of nostalgia and utterly essential to play, but we’re trying to tear off our rose-tinted glasses here. They’ll always hold the crown of being the originals, but next to later generations they look kind of dull. It’s hard to imagine that someone new to Pokémon in this day and age would be convinced to continue playing by these games alone.
For those of us who love them for the memories, however, we’re glad to say Nintendo has made Red, Blue and Yellow available on the virtual console.
Generation I will take you back to basics with a limited color palette, the original 150 Pokemon and the familiar region of Kanto. These are all good things, and bad things.
Though the overall Pokémon story and gameplay haven’t actually changed too much since these games, there have been many features added since that you may not even have realized dramatically improved gameplay.
There’s also the fact that though the original 150 are great Pokémon, there really are some great additions in the later generations, and going back, 150 can actually feel kind of limited. They’re not all gems, either. Ekans is a snake, and its name is snake backwards; let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the Pokémon series was at its creative peak here.
FireRed and LeafGreen are now probably the best way to experience this generation in terms of adding new features and improving visuals, but they’re not the easiest games to get your hands on for an affordable price.
The bits on the side
It’s not all colors and gemstones in the Pokémon game world. Outside of the mainline handheld titles, there are myriad side games released on both home and handheld consoles.
Unlike the core games developed by Game Freak, these titles cross a variety of genres and come from a range of developers…
We’re being slightly guided by our nostalgia with this choice, but we will say that we revisited Pokémon Snap on Nintendo 64 very recently and were surprised by how well it held up.
Pokémon Snap was a great spin-off because although the premise is odd on paper, in practice it just works. Snap let you enjoy the Pokémon world and the creatures that inhabit it in a way that didn’t focus on battling, and its pace was incredibly relaxing.
The object of the game was to be whisked around a variety of highly thematically specific locations on Pokémon Island, and capture photos of the Pokémon that inhabit these areas for Professor Oak’s latest research project.
Though the game was simple on the surface, for those willing to dig deeper it had an admirable degree of depth and replay value. To this day it’s one of the most unique and memorable Pokémon games, spin-off or not.
Pokémon Conquest is another Pokémon spin-off that stands out thanks to its uniqueness and ability to make an unusual concept work against all expectations.
Made for Nintendo DS, Pokémon Conquest is basically a game where the core Pokémon games meets the Japanese series Nobunaga’s Ambition. What you get from this meeting is a turn-based strategy title set in a Pokémon-populated feudal Japan.
In Pokémon Conquest battles still involve the tactical element of Pokémon types being strong and weak against one another.
However, it demands another layer of planning, as rather than trainer-versus-trainer battles you’ll find battlefields that can have up to six Pokémon on each side. Each Pokémon is matched to its own warrior trainer, and it’s up to you to find the best matches here to make victory more likely.
It’s not purely battling in Conquest, either – there’s a story, and it’s a good one. In fact, Conquest offers some of the best writing and world-building across any of the Pokémon games, core titles included.
Pokémon Ranger is a different take on the core series’ RPG gameplay for Nintendo DS in that it allows you to explore a different way people in the Pokémon world live and work with Pokémon.
In this collection of games you play a ranger who temporarily captures and tames wild Pokémon, both to help them and to use their unique abilities to complete objectives and explore. Rather than training to be the very best, you’re solving ecological problems and defeating criminals; really, you’re much more of an obvious force for good in these games.
The Ranger series makes good use of the Nintendo DS’s touchscreen in the capture process, which doesn’t involve any of those restrictive PokéBalls, and the graphics and environments are always bright and generally delightful.
This is a series for altruistic Pokémon players, and it only grows in scope with each release.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Mystery Dungeon is an interesting spin-off in that it has you play as an actual Pokémon rather than any kind of human character. If you love taking Hogwarts house quizzes you’ll love the start of these games, as you’re asked to take a short personality quiz in order to determine which Pokémon you should play.
When you start playing as your designated Pokémon you form a small team with other Pokémon, and take on missions across Mystery Dungeons. Your team is largely autonomous, but you can guide them slightly for strategic purposes.
Gameplay is turn-based, as is the Pokémon way, but battles and exploration aren’t as distinct here, so whether you’re taking a step, attacking, or using an item it counts as one turn. Though the games are repetitive, they’re still fun, and it’s refreshing to be able to have adventures as a Pokémon with other Pokémon in the way that a small number of anime episodes showed.
Pokken Tournament is another Pokémon spin-off that allows you to play as a Pokémon rather than a trainer, but here there’s much more of a focus on battling.
Basically, mash Pokémon and Tekken together and you’ll end up with something like Pokken. The fighting mechanics will be largely familiar to anyone who’s played titles like Tekken or Streetfighter, but naturally if you’re a Pokémon fan there’s the added thrill that you could be fighting as your favorite pocket monster.
One downside to Pokken is that the number of Pokémon you get to choose from is kind of limited, but this does mean that each character feels distinct as a fighter, which makes forming a strategy much easier.
It’d be hard to put the 800 Pokémon we now have in a game like this without making choosing one an exercise in torture, but you can’t help but feel disappointed when you can’t play as your favorite.
For anyone who’s interested in the more competitive side of gaming, Pokken tournament certainly seems to be finding its feet in the area of eSports, which makes it an interesting game to watch as well as play.
For a long time there were calls to bring Pokémon to Nintendo 64 in thrilling 3D. When it eventually happened, it wasn’t entirely what everyone wanted or expected, but at least with Stadium we still got a great game.
Stadium strips away the RPG and story elements of the core series to concentrate on battling, and becoming the very best Pokémon trainer there ever was. It’s Pokken before Pokken, and it was extremely successful. Though Stadium mostly focused on battling and rising through the ranks, there were also enjoyable mini-games to play.
It was genuinely exciting to see your favorite Pokémon from Red and Blue battling in 3D on the big screen – and things only improved when the sequel added generation 2 creatures a few years later.
It would be easy to assume that Colosseum was just going to be an ill-disguised update to Pokémon Stadium for Gamecube, but it actually ended up being more than that. Naturally it had something similar to Stadium’s arena battles, but it also included some of the RPG elements that Stadium opted to leave out.
Rather than capturing Pokémon through random encounters, players were able to ‘snag’ corrupted shadow versions of other trainers’ Pokemon. The player could then save these corrupted Pokémon by purifying them through continued battling. It was as dark as it sounds.
This was definitely a different way to capture Pokémon, and it didn’t appeal to everyone. That said, Colosseum was otherwise a pretty solid offering with great graphics. Battling had never looked better, and there were several modes to be enjoyed in single and multiplayer.
A follow-up titled XD also focused on shadow Pokémon, but it added the ability to capture wild Pokémon in the way we were used to. This was, however, only possible in a small number of designated spots in the game world, which kind of took some of the randomness out of the idea of random encounters. XD also re-used a lot of content from the original Colosseum, which drags the games down in our estimation.
Hey You, Pikachu
Hey You, Pikachu! is like Pokémon meets Nintendogs. It was developed for Nintendo 64, and used the console’s relatively under-utilized voice recognition unit to allow players to interact with their pet Pikachu.
Throughout the game you tag along with Pikachu, taking part in a variety of mini-games that range from fishing to picnicking, building your friendship as you go. It was simple (perhaps overly so) but it was fun, and we still think the game should be re-made for the Nintendo 3DS. Give us the choice between a Pikachu and a dachshund and we’re not even going to hesitate, Nintendo.
Pokémon Go is a more recent spin-off, and it’s also probably the most recognizable to those who aren’t already Pokémon fans. After all, it would’ve been hard to get through the summer of 2016 without seeing someone with their eyes glued to their phone playing this game.
Pokémon Go is a great game because it’s so accessible, and it takes you out into the real world to catch Pokémon in a way we dreamed of throughout our childhoods. It’s not without its problems, and interest has definitely waned, but it’s being constantly updated by Niantic, and we can see it continuing to improve over the years. It’s definitely more than a Flash in Dark Cave.
Trozei is pretty much Tetris for Nintendo DS that’s been modified to include Pokémon. Instead of colored blocks you have small Pokémon icons falling from the sky, and using the console’s touchscreen you order the characters to clear the space against the clock. It’s not groundbreaking, but Trozei is a fun puzzle game, and it made nice use of the different Pokémon types to introduce bonuses and combos.
The first Pokémon Pinball was the earliest Pokémon spin-off, coming out not long after Red and Blue, and it’s still one of the best. We all played the pinball game that came on the old Windows systems, we’re sure, and we all loved it (we’re also sure), so meshing this kind of gameplay with Pokémon was always going to work – especially since the ball was a PokéBall.
Colorful, fast-paced and fun, Pokémon Pinball is a spin-off classic.