Since the franchise’s inception over 25 years ago, hundreds of Pokémon games have been developed, with the main series leading the way and countless spin-offs offering fresh takes on everyone’s favorite Pocket Monsters.
But, without a doubt, which Pokémon games are the finest of all game? Our local Pokémaniacs fought it out (in their own words) to come up with this list of the Top 5 Best Pokémon Games Ever Made.
1. Pokemon Sword
Few things in life can make me as happy as a great Pokemon RPG, and Sword and Shield left me in a state of pure, childlike bliss on numerous occasions. If you can manage to play it reasonably unspoiled (fear not, this review won’t rob you of that), the joyous surprise of not knowing what’s coming is something this series excels at, and I’m glad that sense of wonder is still alive and well in Sword and Shield.
Changes big and small are made with every new game in this 23-year-old series, but I’ve never been willing to declare the most recent entry the new gold standard for Pokemon because they’ve always been a balance of better and worse.
But the Switch’s first mainstream game has changed everything: while there is no such thing as a “perfect Pokemon game,” the 40+ hours I’ve spent with Sword and Shield have convinced me that they are the best Pokemon games I’ve ever played – and I’ve played them all.
The onslaught of upgrades made me realize how comfortable I’d become with Pokemon mechanics that were, in retrospect, less than optimal. While this series has always done an excellent job of providing extensive lessons for new players, it seems strange that experienced players have never been able to skip them until now.
Simply inform the NPC of your situation, and they will move out of the way so you can get on with the business of acquiring and training Pokemon — you can even capture Pokemon without being shown how, and this will skip the tutorial.
Traveling across the map has also been made quick and easy, and interacting with other people is as easy as tapping the Y button. And, perhaps most importantly, Sword and Shield has slain the sacred cow of traditional random encounters, which have made wandering feel like a chore far too often. Sword and Shield feels you feel as if it values your time during the game.
Sword & Shield solves all of these issues while maintaining Pokemon’s unique appeal, which is accentuated by the Switch’s vast graphical improvement over the 3DS. I have no desire to return.
Sword and Shield has a very standard setup: you choose one of three starter Pokemon and then travel around the Galar area capturing and training more, defeating eight unique and exciting gym challenges, and becoming a Pokemon master in about 40 hours.
As usual, the wild variety of these elemental Pokemon enriches the deep turn-based combat, from their vastly diverse and brazenly odd appearances to the large selection of moves they learn to the stats they intrinsically have.
During the campaign, it’s as wholesome and approachable as ever, but hidden stat mechanisms and a “secret” end-game of breeding and battling flawless Pokemon give those of us who want to get deep with it nearly infinite depth to explore. That’s a challenging balancing act that Pokemon has largely excelled at.
While previous generations made the wise decision to eliminate HMs, the mechanisms that replaced them have been developed even further in this generation. When it comes to moving around the map, I thought I’d miss Sun and Moon’s rideable Pokemon, but Sword and Shield’s Rotom Bike and Corviknight Taxi services are so quick, easy, and seamless that they leave the previous system in the dust.
The Rotom Bike instantly travels on land and water, and the fast-travel system (a massive, terrifying bird taxi) is unlocked directly after the first gym. It’s as easy as looking at the map and selecting a destination; there’s no long animation required, and your destination is only a brief loading screen away.
There are also many more travel options than normal, with numerous Pokemon Centers in larger towns and sites to visit, both in the middle of routes and in the new open-world-like Wild Area. It’s simple to go backwards.
All of these enhancements to quality of life are excellent, but they pale in comparison to the game-changing new approach to wild Pokemon encounters. Traditional random encounters have been replaced by Pokemon that are visible and inhabit the overworld, like they are in Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee – something I’ve wished for in a big Pokemon game for what feels like a decade.
(Wait a minute, it’s been a decade.) You don’t fight them if you don’t touch them; it’s as simple as that. Every walk over the map is no longer like putting on a blindfold and walking through a minefield.
Of course, if you seek the thrill of a chance encounter, an exclamation point will appear in the grass from time to time, offering you the chance to engage in a surprise battle. Some Pokemon can only be found in this type of battle, so there’s still reason to roll the dice now and then.
However, being able to ignore them if I wasn’t interested at the fun made moving around places, exploring, and backtracking much more enjoyable and gratifying. I won’t miss the unpredictably harsh consequences in the form of Zubat’s never-ending onslaught.
Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield are the closest I’ve ever seen to my ideal Pokemon RPGs. Better cutscenes, companion Pokemon, the complete Pokedex, and a more visually appealing Wild Area would all be complete, but nitpicking isn’t really effective when everything else is so enjoyable to play.
They respect my time in a great way, and the elimination of monotony from random encounters and other miscellaneous activities reduces it to nothing but the pure and lovely fun of catching, training, and battling fantastic creatures. And, hey, if I miss the monotony of breeding, I can always go back to it.
2. Pokemon FireRed
We’re all familiar with the Pokemon franchise’s astronomical popularity. Every system the series is released for the Game Boy Advance, fans snap it up as rapidly as Nintendo can make it.
And for good reason: despite the series’ “cool to hate” notoriety due to its too charming nature, the actual game design behind the Pokemon franchise — at least the design that started it all — is extraordinarily fulfilling and thorough experience that perfectly matches the handheld market.
And a successful series will never end; as long as there is a demand for the games, the companies will continue to promote the brands. Baby, this is capitalism at its finest.
Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire, released last year, marked the official transition of the wildly successful franchise from the 8-bit realm of the classic Game Boy to the more powerful GBA platform, bringing the series up to par with what’s expected of the system’s expanded capabilities.
But, as complete as that game was, it only told half of the story and presented half of the part, and Nintendo is finally releasing Pokemon FireRed to complete the picture. But, let’s be honest, let’s be honest. This isn’t a brand-new experience for me.
Despite the fact that FireRed/LeafGreen is the fourth installment in the saga that is the Pokemon RPG, it is essentially a retelling of the original game that started it all. Nintendo, like Lucas, went back to his roots for an upgraded experience of Pokemon Red/Blue, the adventure that launched Nintendo’s money machine.
Even if you’ve already completed this adventure five years ago, this revisit is clearly a huge cash-in to keep the Pokemon coming in, but the bundle is still an incredibly complete and highly recommended experience.
When Nintendo and its Pokemon development firm Game Freaks set out to break Pokemon away from its 8-bit Game Boy home and finally set it free on the Game Boy Advance, the team didn’t give the audience a complete image.
The major Pokemon theme, Gotta Catch ‘Em All, was simply not achievable in Ruby/Sapphire due to the team’s deliberate restriction on which Pokemon appeared in that adventure. Sure, there are more than 350 animals to catch, trade, and battle on the cartridge, but the first hundred or so beasts that were part of the series from the beginning have vanished.
It was a clever ruse: a year later, offer another adventure that would eventually bring the Pokemon crazed together with the original batch of Pocket Monsters. The latest installment in the RPG series is FireRed/LeafGreen. Exceptional marketing.
The groundwork for doing so is solid; the Red/Blue series essentially resurrected the Game Boy market from its rather obscure casual gaming position to one of “must have it!!!” status, something no game since the original Tetris had done. It wasn’t all hype, either: the game’s design was so ideal for the Game Boy platform that I gave it the best rating we could give it back in 1999. It’s a fantastic game concealed beneath a thick coating of sweetness that may put off those concerned about their manhood being harmed.
But what exactly is it about the Pokemon series that makes it so enjoyable? It’s a good and enjoyable role-playing design that provides the player a genuine sense of accomplishment. Players will feel more connected to the adventure if they can catch creatures for their personal collection, and offering out a variety of hard-to-catch critters will make it even more appealing to grab them for their personal cache.
Because each monster has its own type, which is either stronger, weaker, or equal to creatures of other types, the game places a high emphasis on strategic factors. Fire Pokemon, for example, are terrible versus Water Pokemon but are fantastic against Plant Pokemon.
And with these aspects, players must decide which Pokemon to keep in their collection and how to form the greatest team. Which creatures do I want to raise in order to give them more experience? Which ones are only for show and which ones are for battle? The Pokemon experience has a lot of elements; it’s not just a game with cute furball monsters.
This upgrade moves the series closer to Ruby/graphic Sapphire’s and aural presentation, which wasn’t much of a leap in the first place.
In a nutshell, if you enjoyed last year’s GBA game, you’ll enjoy this one as well: minimal graphical flare for both the adventure and creature battles. Not only is it difficult to generate hundreds of character animations for hundreds of creatures, but it’s also difficult to save them on the limited cartridge format.
The actual fights are simple cut-out moves with the same flair as a Terry Gilliam Monty Python cartoon, which isn’t shocking at all. The expectations for the run-around-the-planet components are somewhat different, but I suppose that continually switching between a complex landscape and a simple battle interface would be too distracting.
As a result, both settings are “simplistic.” I’m simply hoping that when the series moves to the Nintendo DS, things will be different. And you already know what will happen.
Where the game falls short on the visual and audio front, it shines in almost every other experience. The gameplay of Red/Blue is carried over to FireRed/LeafGreen, with the designers only making things that make sense in light of the series’ direction in the previous installment.
This means that the Pokemon creatures will have new moves and skills, which will add more strategic components to the game’s battle structure and monster rearing, as well as new and different areas to find these additional goods to improve the creatures.
Two-on-two combat were also introduced in Ruby/Sapphire, and they’ve been included in the Red/Blue remake as well…though they only appear approximately 2% of the time. The overall town layout, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much in the transition from Game Boy to GBA, with all of the village structures remaining largely unchanged.
Even while the game retains around 90% of the original adventure, the addition of Ruby/Sapphire gameplay components keeps the experience fresh for players that play it again.
3. Pokemon Go
In simple words, Pokemon Go is a great concept: walk to real-life PokeStops shown on a map on your phone to earn stuff and gather the Pokemon that appear along the way to gain XP. Use those Pokemon to wrest control of real-world Gyms from other players.
It offers all of the essential features to make it a useful mobile treasure-hunting software, albeit its performance (and that of its servers) on iOS and Android is frequently subpar. However, the fundamental draw of the free-to-play Pokemon Go is how being out in the real world and encountering a large number of other people who see the same augmented reality you do brings the ethereal fantasy of Pokemon to life.
It must be experienced to be fully appreciated; without the social side, it is only a light RPG level-grinder. That experience will determine whether Pokemon Go succeeds or fails, and for now it’s stuck in the middle, being both fun and unique while also being inconsistent and incomplete.
(It is, after all, listed as version 0.29 despite the fact that it was launched without restrictions on the App Store and Google Play.) It isn’t mechanically intriguing, but because to a few clever design decisions, it is socially fascinating. You wouldn’t jump off a bridge just because everyone else is, yet it is an excellent reason to play Pokemon Go.
Pokemon Go is a proven phenomenon with millions of players, at least in the short run. Over the weekend, I was at a party in the San Francisco Bay Area where at least two dozen adults were standing on the front lawn, calling out Pokemon names as they displayed on our phones.
When someone claimed a Bulbasaur was in the fridge, we dashed inside; we dashed back outside for Ponyta. We walked a few blocks to challenge a neighboring Gym, only to have it taken over by someone we didn’t know and couldn’t see, and we all had the app crash a few times throughout our hour out and about. It was amusing, annoying, and amusing all at the same fun.
The San Francisco locale is admittedly well-suited to Pokemon Go’s structure; however, if you’re out in a secluded area with few areas of public interest nearby, your mileage may vary. There seems to be no shortage of PokeStops to visit here, and on several instances I arrived at a PokeStop or Gym only to discover that a group of other Pokemon Go players had already arrived.
I also learnt a lot about my neighborhood and the sites I walk every day by taking meandering walks to PokeStops, which was one of the finest things of my solo Pokemon Go times.
At least in this environment, Pokemon Go’s design — the RPG-lite level system combined with the collection aspect and the nostalgia that only a hugely popular, decades-long franchise can bring — all contribute to the kind of experience that Niantic wanted, and the kind that the trailer appears to evoke.
I was intrigued to Pokemon Go because I wanted to be a real-life Pokemon Trainer, but even when that component of it disappointed me with its simplicity and bugs, I kept playing since needing to go outside forces me to see new locations and interact with other people who are doing the same thing I am. Every one of my pals is playing, as are casual passers-by; it feels like the entire globe is playing.
However, this is a shaky house of cards constructed on a shaky foundation of nostalgia. The design of Pokemon Go as a paper-thin RPG is, for the most part, very approachable, but it’s completely ordinary. You have a level as a trainer, and your captured Pokemon have “battle points” that are related to your level, but none of this is explained effectively, and it feels a little unclear.
It turns out that your level has an effect on the combat point ceiling of the Pokemon you catch, which is similar to how catching Pokemon works in the standard games… Even long-time Pokemon players will find it lacking in polish and intuitiveness. Fortunately (in a manner), battle isn’t as deep as it is in classic Pokemon games, so it’s not a big deal.
Battles for control of Gym locations are nothing more than real-time tapping-based combat that is unaffected by anything other than the value of combat points. Even Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissors battles are meaningless; if you have the more powerful monster, you’re almost certain to win.
It’s tedious in and of itself, and, like the fighting points system, it’s poorly described. (Dodging is an option, but it doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the outcome of a fight.) It’s not that turn-based and tactical fighting is the only appropriate form of battle, but the system in place here becomes a tedious work after a few fights.
The major flaws in Pokemon Go, on the other matter, are the features it lacks rather than the ones it does have. There’s no trading, no player-versus-player battles (you only fight automatic Pokemon to defend Gyms), no friends list, no leaderboards, and no in-app social capacity of any type, save from being prompted to group one of three competing teams.
Some of these features are currently in gameplay, but for now, the most intriguing aspect of Pokemon Go is how its design encourages personal interactions with other real-world players by physically bringing us together as we pursue mutual goals.
4. Pokemon Snap
It’s a good thing no one was watching during my first playthrough of New Pokémon Snap because I probably looked and sounded like a complete jerk. Every time I started a new course, a Pokémon would appear out of nowhere, do something cute, or react to something I did in an unexpected way, and I would sit up on the couch, point at the screen, and exclaim, “Aaah!” in excitement.
I love how, in recent years, The Pokémon Company has begun to allow more companies outside of Game Freak (think Niantic with Pokémon Go or Legendary Pictures with Detective Pikachu) to create media that portrays Pokémon as lovable, intelligent creatures rather than collectibles or static RPG party members.
After successfully demonstrating their battle capability in Pokken Tournament, Bandai Namco has been tasked with depicting Pokémon as wild creatures in live ecosystems to be studied, befriended, and only “caught” via camera in an on-rails nature photography game.
If my neighbors had realized what I was doing, they’d definitely agree that New Pokémon Snap is a delicious success on this front, given the tenor of my ecstatic cries every time a Wooper screamed “Woooh!” at me.
Despite its limitations, I was a great admirer of the original Pokémon Snap when it came out on the Nintendo 64 in 1999. The original on-rails photography game’s idea was a lot of fun: you were sent on a nature safari to attempt to get the greatest photos of Pokémon living and interacting in their natural environments.
Though the idea was sound, many of Pokémon Snap’s best moments (the Jigglypuff concert! ) remain remembered to this day. Charizard emerges from the lava lake! It was excruciatingly short (Surfing Pikachu! ), with only a little more than 60 Pokémon spread across seven courses that were identical every time.
Even though the meat of the game was attempting to solve a few puzzles in order to line up some rarer shots, 1999’s Pokémon Snap left me wanting so much more.
I was worried that New Pokémon Snap, 22 years later, would be similarly repetitious or limited in terms of Pokémon numbers or course availability. But I’m delighted to say that this was not a problem: New Pokémon Snap would easily clear that basic bar with considerably more courses, available Pokémon, and possible photos than its decades-old parent if “Pokémon Snap, but more” was the foundation for its success.
It even features more (in a sense) of what made old-school Pokémon Snap’s last course, Rainbow Cloud, so spectacular – but I can’t say much more about it because Nintendo is quite protective of that part. New Pokémon Snap also includes a lot more story to keep you interested, with a Pokémon professor named Mirror and his team of research assistants attempting to solve yet another Pokémon mystery, albeit it’s a rather bland growth tool altogether.
You’ll visit to a glistening beach, a dense rainforest, a desert, underwater tunnels, and a variety of other settings, all of which look better than any Pokémon game I’ve ever seen – beauty that comes at the cost of some frustrating framerate drops when the Switch is pushed beyond its limits.
These are especially evident in one stage in particular, when a giant Wailord slowly breaches the ocean surface and brings everything to a halt for a brief moment.
Most Pokémon, on the other part, manage to look good without melting your Switch in your hands, and will generally react in creative ways to just about anything you (literally or figuratively) throw at them, whether it’s fruit, glowing Illumina Orbs, or a catchy melody.
It’s easy to think of being on-rails as a drawback, but in New Pokémon Snap, it’s clear that keeping your own interactions with the world a little more limited than in a typical Pokémon RPG has allowed Bandai Namco to focus on making the many different things the Pokémon do far more varied, detailed, and enjoyable to watch.
In some aspects, New Pokémon Snap neatly overcomes Pokémon Snap’s problem of always repeating the same courses. Most courses have both day and night variations, with each having enough unique Pokémon and interactions to justify the duplication.
Many courses also have branching paths, some visible and some secret, that allow you to gain better views of specific monsters or perhaps uncover new ones. The numerous “Research Levels” that dictate how comfortable the creatures on any given route are with you, and hence how varied their interactions with you and one another, are the most intriguing.
A Grookey and a Pichu, for example, make a brief (but noticeable) cameo at the start of the first stage you visit. They dash into the center of the road, spot you – a human trapped inside a large technology pod – and flee.
Throughout the rest of that nature park level, you’ll catch glimpses of them here and there, but they’re shy and elusive to start with. To snap a good photo of them early on, you need to be quick and accurate, which is where New Pokémon Snap’s challenge lies.
However, after several visits to the park and a large number of well-scored photos, you gain trust and your Research Level rises.
Eventually, rather than fleeing the instant they see you, Grookey and Pichu will greet you as soon as they see you, waiting and applauding for you long enough for you to take charming photos of the pair at a more leisurely pace. They’ll chase you around the level, introduce you to Scorbunny, and pose for you several times so you may acquire a good photo for your Photodex.
5. Pokémon Legends: Arceus
Until date, all Pokémon games in the “main series” have been turn-based RPGs featuring a teenage protagonist on a quest to become a powerful Pokémon trainer. Each game has added a new set of Pokémon to wrangle, as well as increasingly ludicrous and bloated mechanisms, in an attempt to liven up a system that has stayed mostly intact.
Finally, we have Legends: Arceus, the reimagining we’ve been waiting for. Game Freak has scrapped nearly everything I’ve come to expect from a typical Pokémon game — Gyms, random encounters, an Elite Four, overworld trainer battles, an evil team bent on world dominance — and rebuilt it from the ground up, rethinking even the most basic systems like Pokémon encounters and evolution.
Much of this stunning metamorphosis pays off, as we get to interact with creatures that have never felt more alive in more dynamic ways, but Pokemon’s development isn’t complete yet, as the semi-open world surrounding all of that feels like an underwhelming afterthought due to its bland emptiness.
People return to Pokemon for a variety of reasons, but arguably the most varied is the satisfaction obtained from gathering a full army of interesting monsters, customizing and bonding with a specific team of powerful ones, and facing progressively difficult obstacles alongside them. Legends: Arceus is still the Pokémon we know and love in this sense.
However, everything surrounding it has been turned on its head, including how you encounter and learn about these creatures, how you fight against and alongside them, and the obstacles you confront together. Legends: Arceus does an outstanding job of entirely battling how you capture and battle Pokémon.
Pokémon roam the overworld in the same way they did in Let’s Go and Sword and Shield’s Wild Area, but instead of touching them to start a fight, you have a variety of ways to approach each encounter. For example, you could toss a PokeBall right immediately in an attempt to capture them, or send out one of your Pokémon for a battle, or you could play it safe and utilize items like berries to distract them or mud balls to stun them.
Because certain Pokémon will escape the moment they see you, you’ll need to conceal in tall grass to obtain a good shot. Others may attack you directly — your character, not your Pokémon – forcing you to avoid or risk taking a hit to your limited health bar.
Granted, if you’ve ever played an action game, this isn’t a new idea, but for Pokemon RPGs, this level of real-time action and threat is a refreshing twist that accurately presents Pokemon as the dangerous beasts they are.
Many Legends are intertwined with this: Arceus’ more amazing elements, such as how wild Pokémon react to you or simply exist in the world as true creatures with individual behavioral idiosyncrasies, are among the game’s most impressive touches.
For example, Nosepass will always sleep facing north, Sudowoodo will freeze in a tree posture when they fear you’ve seen them, and Magikarp will foolishly flop right up to you because they have no idea you’re carrying a squad of level-80 behemoths capable of devouring ten of them in a single meal.
Not every Pokémon has this level of personality, but those that do feel genuine in a way that Pokémon haven’t felt in any prior main series game, if not quite to the heights of lifeliness shown in Pokémon Snap.
Even more intriguing are the “space-time aberrations” that arise from time to time in Legends: Arceus’ five distinct, self-contained biomes each feature a slew of rare and powerful Pokémon that spawn in and out at breakneck speed, creating a scene of joyful chaos.
There’s also the pure, wonderful dread of encountering a gigantic, red-eyed “alpha” Pokémon in the wild and having it chase you halfway across the map. Listen, you haven’t truly experienced Pokémon until a Chansey has used a well-placed Hyper Beam to shoot you straight into the ocean. All of this gives Hisui’s creatures a considerably more vibrant and dynamic feel than in prior games, while it still falls short of the level of detail found in games like Breath of the Wild.
Battling has also been revamped, adding a new strategic element to battles, most notably with the addition of Strong and Agile assaults. If you’ve played any of the Bravely Default games, you’ll recognize this: in addition to regular attacks, you can choose to trade attack power to bring your turn back sooner with an Agile move, or give up future turns for a more powerful hit right now.
However, the system fails in a couple of ways: for one thing, most wild interactions are so brief that most of this isn’t necessarily worthwhile. For instance, when you or your opponent is continuously switching Pokémon in and out, forcing the turn order to move and reset, the strategic element of surrendering power for turns or turns for power doesn’t function as effectively.
That makes strategizing more difficult when you’re being kicked in the shins by a tough monster, and nearly impossible in trainer encounters when you’re both one-shotting each other’s Pokémon back and forth. On the whole, it’s a good idea, although Legends: Arceus’ fights don’t always lend themselves to it.
What better method to accomplish this than by compiling a PokeDex? Except this isn’t the PokeDex we’re used to seeing. You can only fully fill up an entry by accomplishing a number of bonus tasks unique to each monster, in addition to catching every Pokémon once to complete the encyclopedia.
Other study objectives include battling a certain number of them, observing them use specific moves, encountering them in specified ways or at specific times, and more.
A Bidoof, for example, will be one of the first Pokemon you capture, but in order to properly investigate it, you’ll need to catch several, evolve one into Bibarel, beat several in battle, or complete a sidequest in Jubilife Village where a swarm of Bidoof is creating havoc.
Such sidequests abound, and they aid the residents of Jubilife in overcoming their phobias of the monsters they share their world with… and even learning to love them.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus has left me conflicted. On the one hand, the franchise’s redesigned mechanisms are completely revolutionary. It gets rid of boring battle mechanisms as well as an out-of-date progression system that was in desperate need of a refresh, and the new replacements are tremendously enjoyable even after hours of play.
However, while Legends: Arceus comes the closest to capturing and battling monsters as I pictured them as a kid, the game’s otherwise thrilling attempt at a genre shift is set in a disappointingly empty, unattractive, and at times monotonous world.