Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, and the second best-selling video game franchise, right behind Super Mario. But you might not know it for its game cartridges.
Instead, you could be a fan of the hugely-successful trading card game (TCG), or the ongoing anime starring Ash Ketchum and his faithful Pikachu. You might have a Lugia, Kyogre, and Articuno on Pokémon Go.
But you can’t claim you’re a hardcore Pokémon enthusiast if you haven’t played these official Pokémon games.
The Official List of Titles
Pokémon games are split up into generations, due to the number of titles released simultaneously and subsequent remakes.
There are currently seven generations of games, each typically including a pair of core titles plus a remake or “special edition.” The first generation began with Pokémon Red and Green (Red and Blue for international editions) and, as of early 2018, Generation VII concludes with Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
We’re not including the spin-off games like Pokémon Stadium, Pokkén Tournament DX, and the Mystery Dungeon range, although these are typically enjoyable. Because no one’s going to take away your Pokémon Fan Club membership card for not indulging in Pokémon Snap.
Here’s the official list of games:
- Generation I: Pokémon Red and Green, although the latter was replaced by Pokémon Blue outside Japan. The Pokémon Yellow “special edition” coincided with the popularity of the TV show.
- Generation II: Pokémon Gold and Silver (and Crystal).
- Generation III: Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (and Emerald). FireRed and LeafGreen were the franchise’s first remakes.
- Generation IV: Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (plus “special edition” Platinum, and remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver).
- Generation V: Pokémon Black and White (followed by direct sequels).
- Generation VI: Pokémon X and Y (and enhanced remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire).
- Generation VII: Pokémon Sun and Moon (and most recently, enhanced remakes Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon).
Though these titles have released across numerous handheld consoles, you can play most of them on a Nintendo 3DS system. Generations VI and VII are available for 3DS, and you can use the system’s backwards compatibility to play Generation IV and V games.
If you can’t find physical game cartridges, check out the Nintendo eShop, which now includes downloadable versions of every Generation I and II title!
Ranking Every Generation of Pokémon Games
But what if you’ve never played a Pokémon game before? Which is the best? Which is the worst?
In ranking each generation, we’re taking into account gameplay, cultural importance and traction, new Pokémon introduced, and which remakes were warranted — or mere cash grabs.
7. Generation IV
There’s nothing particularly terrible about Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but their main crime is how forgettable they are. They tend to merge in with the subsequent two generations, except those at least added substantial amounts to the mythos.
Diamond and Pearl, and special edition Platinum, took full advantage of the Nintendo DS’s capabilities, and for the first time incorporated 3D elements.
It’s fair to call them a stepping stone for the brand, exploring new avenues while still relying on the strictures of the past. For one, the DS’s slot for Game Boy Advance titles meant you could transfer Pokémon caught on the previous system to the new games, and internet access enabled battle and transfers without the need of a link cable.
Turtwig, Chimchar, and Piplup were great starter Pokémon, and there was an explosion of mythical creatures, such as Manaphy, Darkrai, Arceus. The game had plenty of legendaries too, like Uxie, Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina.
Nonetheless, when the 2010 remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver, overshadow the core releases, you know something went wrong. Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum certainly aren’t bad enough to disregard completely, but the plot was showing its age by this point.
6. Generation V
After Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, change was needed… and while it did happen, it wasn’t particularly groundbreaking.
Pokémon Black and White saw the Pokédex swell further, adding in 156 new Pokémon to bring the total to over 600. And that wasn’t an especially great amendment. New creatures are always welcome, as long as they’re well-designed with memorable names. Starters Snivy, Tepig, and Oshawott were uninspiring but acceptable; Throh, Gurdurr, and Trubbish were borderline offensive.
Admittedly, a lot were decent (particularly legendary Pokémon like Cobalion, Tornadus, Landorus, and Zekrom), but ultimately, the majority are forgettable.
Still, Black and White were an important step for the franchise and deserve recognition for their unusual narrative drive. For the first time, the morals of good and evil blurred, as the games’ antagonists questioned whether it was entirely justifiable to ensnare weakened creatures and trap them in Poké balls. It’s the same debate you might have when visiting a zoo.
These was also the first generation not to include remakes, but instead direct sequels. Black 2 and White 2 were released in 2012, almost two years after the Japanese originals, and this was reflected in the story. They’re some of the longest titles in the series, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
Even now though, we’re not sure whether making TM usage unlimited was a good or bad choice. On one hand, it makes for a more accessible game; on the other, it lessens the challenge.
5. Generation III
With the third wave of games, Pokémon hit a small stumbling block. It seemed the brand was on its way out, destined never to repeat the global success of its debut titles.
Except Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire received acclaim from all corners, and fantastic sales demonstrated that there was still plenty of life in the old dog yet.
The gameplay hadn’t changed much; instead, everything seemed enhanced. Thanks to the Game Boy Advance’s link cable capabilities, now four players could connect. Gen III also introduced double battles, which saw two Pokémon take on two opponents at the same time (though still in the turn-based framework). You could even set up a secret base as your own hidden, customizable space.
135 new Pokémon were added, with Treecko, Torchic, and Mudkip as the starters. The narratives were consistent with previous releases, but depending on the title, the enemy team you’d encounter was either Team Magma or Team Aqua. The groups aimed to wake a legendary Pokémon, Groudon or Kyogre, to bring about the cleansing of the world.
Game Freak also released FireRed and LeafGreen, remakes of the Generation I games. These took advantage of better graphics and gameplay features from later titles.
But the real star of Generation III was Pokémon Emerald, which extended the journey through the Hoenn region and introduced the legendary Rayquaza. It was an ideal culmination of what made Ruby and Sapphire great, although many argued Emerald‘s few additions to the journey didn’t warrant this additional purchase. As such, Emerald was a fantastic game — if you hadn’t previously bought Ruby or Sapphire.
4. Generation VI
Following Black and White, Pokémon X and Y were a blast of fresh air, and not in the least visually. Let’s not underestimate the importance of graphics. Here, Pokémon properly embraced the third dimension as the first Pokémon titles on the Nintendo 3DS. It did so wonderfully, giving us vibrant, bright, and engaging environments to explore and a depth to creatures never seen before.
This generation relies on the same formula as previous generations. You collect Pokémon (starting off with either Chespin, Fennekin, or Froakie), train them, and battle against peers and gym leaders to become a Pokémon Master.
However, these titles also introduced new ideas which, admittedly, some might claim are mere gimmicks to reawaken interest. Namely, Sky Battles, the Fairy type, the new storage system in Pokémon Bank, and Mega Evolution (a special upgrade to certain Pokémon that you can only use once per battle).
Oh, and the legendaries Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde are awesome. We’d say they’re the best legendaries since Ho-Oh and Lugia in Generation II.
No wonder they sold around 16.15 million units, as of June 2017, to become the best-selling games on the 3DS!
The really special part about Generation VI, though, are the remakes Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. These recapture the charm of the original Generation III titles, but add truly incredible graphics and extended levels of storytelling via the mechanics of Pokémon X and Y.
If you’ve distanced yourself from Pokémon, but want a way back in, this is where you should begin.
3. Generation II
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Pokémon‘s first-generation titles had established a solid formula, and Pokémon Gold and Silver (released in 1999 in Japan, and spreading across North America, Australia, and Europe over the next two years) built on that.
The narratives were basically the same as Pokémon Red and Blue. But Gold and Silver felt fresh. Perhaps this was due to the introduction of 101 more Pokémon to the Johto region, including “poster boy” legendaries Ho-Oh and Lugia. After completion of the core plot, players could revisit the original setting, Kanto, to take on its Gym Leaders and eventually the main antagonist, Red.
They further included new features like Pokémon breeding, shiny Pokémon, plus the Steel and Dark types. We also got different items (berries, for instance, restored health) and a phone as part of the Pokégear (mainly for storyline progression, but also allowing Trainers to ask for rematches). These carried on into subsequent titles.
Chikorita, Cyndaquil, and Totodile were the starters on Gold and Silver. Yet other notable additions to the mythos include the first evolutions of Generation I Pokémon like Pichu, Cleffa, and Igglybuff; the hieroglyph-esque Unown, with 28 variations; and legendaries Raikou, Entei, and Suicine.
The inclusion of Celebi, obtainable only through events, proved The Pokémon Company could successfully capitalize on its own celebrity.
Pokémon Crystal didn’t add a great deal, but players appreciated the improved animation and new subplots. So too was the ability to choose the gender of your avatar. Wrapped up in the immense international popularity of the brand, these are loveable titles, and remain an absolute joy to replay.
2. Generation VII
Yes, this is a controversial choice, but we’ll be as brave as The Pokémon Company was in 2016 when releasing Pokémon Sun and Moon.
When Pokémon was celebrating its 20th anniversary, fans wanted the seemingly impossible: a new dynamic that still felt nostalgic and warm. Fortunately, Sun and Moon largely pulled this off.
The main change affected its narrative. There were no longer gyms to act as hurdles. They’re replaced by trials on each island of the Alola region. This might involve taking on a totem Pokémon or searching for elusive items. The location, overtly based on Hawaii, feels fresh and interesting, like an embracing vacation. Sun and Moon recreate the story-centric premise of Generation V, but add in extra innovations and the graphical leaps of Generation VI.
These games also gave us variations of much-loved Generation I Pokémon. Some were cute (Sandshrew and Vulpix); others were frankly ridiculous (Dugtrio and Exeggutor). Still, the nods to the past were more than welcome. What’s less welcome are the extensive cutscenes. Narrative is important, but sometimes you wished you could just get on with playing the game.
Equally similar to Generation V titles, sequels replaced special editions. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, released late 2017, feel like the ultimate versions of Pokémon.
But of course, how you feel about these recent additions depends wholly on your reaction to change in Pokemon.
1. Generation I
Did you ever doubt it? Of course the original games come out on top. This is where the winning formula is at its purest.
Pokémon Red and Green launched the brand in Japan (and Blue internationally), with Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle as the iconic starter creatures. The follow-up, Pokémon Yellow, closely resembled the anime, and is testament to the immediate cultural reaction to the franchise.
The first Pokémon games will forever be classics.
The adventure begins in Pallet Town when the player ventures into the tall grass beyond their hometown and discovers Professor Oak, who warns about dangers lurking in the wild. He takes the player back to his laboratory, where the player must choose one of three Pokémon to journey alongside. Oak’s grandson also picks a Pokémon, and becomes your rival.
You can choose your rival’s name, typing in something yourself or opting for defaults Blue, Gary, or John. This degree of personalization adds to the individual’s experience… even if it also means Oak temporarily forgets what his own grandson is called!
The premise is arguably so successful because it’s also so simple. You collect Pokémon, win battles against rival trainers, gym leaders, and the Elite Four, and stop the villainous Team Rocket. With 151 original Pokémon to encounter, this streamlined Pokédex feels more achievable and so more pleasing than the challenge of catching 800+ nowadays.
A large helping of nostalgia means we’ll always look favorably on Pokémon Generation I, but the games hold up beautifully today. You can even go back and play them by using Pokemon emulators on Android.
The Lasting Appeal of Pokémon
The really amazing thing about Pokémon is its ability to capture new generations of players.
As we’ve discovered, the quality of games varies a bit, but each is accessible and enjoyable. You can play each title, no matter your level of experience not only with the franchise but with RPGs as a whole.
What keeps you coming back to Pokémon? Which is your favorite game? Which is the worst generation? Let us know in the comments below!