Love it or loathe it, Game Freak’s Pokemon franchise has become a huge success thanks to its cast of inviting characters and delightfully thought out mechanics. Nintendo’s enjoyed the rewards the series has brought, amassing a huge fan base around the title across multiple generations of devices. Yet for all their popularity, the series has endured some ups and downs along the way. With Pokemon Sun and Moon delivering a huge boost to the franchise – I decided to go ahead and rank all the existing (main) Pokemon games from worst to best. This means ignoring most of the awkward spin-off titles and focusing on the handheld portable games. Let us know which games you think are the best!
16. Black & White 2 (DS, 2012) – Maybe it was the timing of this games release, coming after the release of Nintendo’s 3DS (And being released onto the original DS). Maybe it was the fact that this was the series first direct sequel; taking place in the same world (With a huge returning cast of characters) from Black & White. Maybe it was the fact that its story pales significantly in the shadow of its predecessor. Whatever the reason, there’s nothing really wrong with Black & White 2, other than a huge sense of deja vu that hangs over proceedings. A sense of been there, done that. It’s one of the more forgettable outings in the series and while enough changes were made to try and freshen things up, there’s really nothing here to experience if you’d already played through the original Black & White.
15. Crystal (GBC, 2000) – Crystal is a showcase of what happens when the third game in a generational series doesn’t really do much to earn its position. The battle animations were cute and the addition of the Battle Tower was interesting – but the reality is that beyond a few cosmetic shifts, Crystal’s contribution to the Pokemon canon is more one of continuation than revolution. Battles remain largely unchanged while the issues that plagued Gold & Silver carry over largely unchecked. That being said you could choose to play as a female trainer for the first time and the decision to include the legendary Pokemon in the main story adds significance to their presence. Overall though it’s hard to get excited for Crystal.
14. X & Y (3DS, 2013) – The first fully 3D main-Pokemon game was something to behold upon its release. The game made a number of significant additions in the form of Mega Evolution’s and a new battle mechanics that freshened up the ageing concept. The influx of new features (Fairy type Pokemon, Super Training, Improved happiness) didn’t really make up for the unmemorable roster of new Pokemon that found their way into the game. Add in the fact that the game felt slightly dumbed down, the central story being underwhelming and you have a game that doesn’t really hold long in the memory.
12. Pokemon Pearl & Diamond (DS, 2006) – Gen 4 was a weird time for the franchise – and not without reason. The franchise threw in a lot of new ideas and most of them didn’t work too well. By this point the story template that had served the series well began to creak and strain under repetition; while some of the new introductions weren’t exactly top drawer. Pearl & Diamond’s big saving salvo was the introduction of online multiplayer – yet even this was somewhat botched out the gate thanks to cheats. It’s a fine game but it would only go to be improved later down the line and with the benefit of hindsight – is arguably the point at which the franchise needed a revamp most.
11. Ruby & Sapphire (GBA, 2002) – To Ruby & Sapphire’s credit – there was a lot of expectation being placed at its feet; which is probably why fans were so divided upon its initial release. Adding in so many new features, like EVs, IVs and abilities – as well as giving all the Pokemon natures was a game changer that completely rewrote the way we experience Pokemon. The addition of Contests was also an interesting, if slightly frustrating sideshow for those that wanted it while the core game saw the introduction of double battles. Unfortunately Ruby & Sapphire suffered from a number of teething issues that really brought the house down for some people. The region was unremarkable, the reliance on HMs silly while the post-game content was woeful. Perhaps the most unforgivable thing however was the lack of transfer features with the previous generations – effectively cutting off the previous games and all those Pokemon people had collected. Ambitious but ultimately improved on we think.
10. Red & Blue (GB, 1996) – Iconic doesn’t cover just how fondly loved these games are. Red & Blue were the building blocks from which everything that followed ascended and it gets the basics very right. Everything from exploration to battling was kept as brisk as possible – allowing gamers to go as deep as they wished. The games Achilles heel comes in the form of its post-game content; which unfortunately lacks anything substantial. On top of this there are a number of features that obviously made it to the final game which were utterly broke. Psychic Pokemon were hideously over-powered while sometimes the main story was vague in offering clues in where to go next. But don’t let this put you off, Red & Blue set a high standard and remain just as enjoyable today as they were upon their launch – as evidenced by the 3DS re-releases earlier this year.
9. Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (3DS, 2014) – You’ve got to hand it to Game Freak, they weren’t afraid to go big with the changes in this one. While the central storyline remains largely untouched, the sheer amount of mechanics changes and tweaks thrown in was mind-boggling. Hoenn was brought to life-like never before, with the ability to fly around the region at will giving games a grander sense of scope. The 3D mechanics were tightened up while the issues from the original Ruby & Sapphire were addressed; with a generous helping of post-game content. This all being said, it’s hard to not feel that the game is slightly easier than its original incarnations. Some might also decry the games decision to so heavily change features. Overall this is probably the “best” 3D Pokemon game on handhelds.
8. Yellow (GB, 1997) – With the Pokemon anime rising in popularity, Game Freak cashed-in with this highly impressive improvement over the Red & Blue versions of their game. Yellow takes a lot more cues from the TV show, throwing in Jesse & James while bringing a lot of the artwork in line with the TV presentation. The game throws in a number of expanded features and tweaks, changing the emphasis and raising the levels to increase the difficulty along the way. These create a slightly more rounded and deeper experience. Unfortunately not much in the way of post-game content; which severely limits the lifespan of the games single player aspect.
7. Platinum (DS, 2008) – Taking Pearl & Diamonds framework, Platinum moves ahead and fixes a lot of that games balancing issues. The post-game content is beefed up exceptionally, while the difficulty curve is tweaked to offer a more fun experience. The addition of Distortion World was a love it-or-hate it addition for many, while the multiplayer aspects of the game were significantly improved. This being said however, the game is still lumbered with a somewhat meh main story that drags itself along heavily – never really exciting or propelling the gamer along. All in all, it’s probably the best way to experience the fourth generation.
6. Black & White (DS, 2010) – Hugely ambitious title that took a number of the series tropes and changed them for the better. The introduction of seasons combined with such a huge influx of new monsters created a sense of new that the series had been lacking for a few entries. The addition of Triple & Rotation Battles really made the end-game battles against the Elite Four feel epic, while the decision to throw in so many WiFi features granted gamers a wide selection of things to do. The game’s story is also a high-point for the series, touching on aspects of the Pokemon world that until now had been left relatively alone.
5. Emerald (GBA, 2005) – Emerald was Game Freak’s attempt to address the issues some fans had with the original Ruby/Sapphire games. The end result is a more coherent and fulfilling experience that adds in a number of features and tweaked the main story-line to create a more compelling experience. There are more areas to explore and the introduction of the Battle Frontier extended the post-game arguably more than anything before or since. Overall Emerald is the experience that many Pokemon fans point to from the third generation and with good reason; it’s the most well thought out.
4. Pokemon Sun & Moon (3DS, 2016) – It took them a while there, but Game Freak finally hit on the magic 3D formula with Sun and Moon – arguably the best of the recent games. Game Freak’s experimentation leads to some of the best decisions made for the benefit of the series. Ejecting the gym format allows gamers to experience the region of Alola in a way that’s never been done before, while Alola forms make Pokemon old feel new and fresh again as you’re given more incentive to approach the game beyond the traditional approach. The graphics were great for the Nintendo 3DS – with some of the best on the system, while the online mode finally felt fleshed out enough to really invest in. I will say that the game feels a tad on the shorter side – the fleshed out post-game content helps slightly overcome this – but there is a feeling that more determined players will be able to beat this one quicker than other titles. But what is in this package really feels amazing. Hopefully a bright light for the future of the series.
3. Gold & Silver (GB, 1998) – By the time Gold & Silver arrived, Pokemon was very much on its way to becoming a cultural icon. Gold & Silver cemented that status. The Johto region was expansive, vivid and just felt different in all the right ways. The introduction of 100 new Pokemon expanded the already memorable cast of Pokemon while making subtle tweaks to the existing roster. The gameplay was tightened up with the introduction of the Pokegear – an essential add-on that centralised a number of the games core features while the introduction of Pokemon breeding finally gave gamers full control over their roster. Perhaps most impressive of all is how the game managed to feel fresh and new, despite remaining loyal to the originals vision. While its cast of characters weren’t quite as memorable as the original games, there’s certainly a lot to love. And when you finish with the Johto region, you can hop on your Pokemon and take a return trip to the original’s Kanto.
2. Fire Red & Leaf Green (GBA, 2005) – While the original Pokemon games were great in their own right, it was hard to not feel that the sheer amount of new features introduced in the second generation leave those games feeling slightly lacking. Enter Fire Red & Leaf Green – a love letter by Game Freak to the original games so lovingly crafted that it’s hard not to fall in love with the franchise all over again. The graphic updates are stylistically appropriate while the introduction of Pokemon breeding and the extended storyline granted the game a much wider appeal beyond the end-game. The game fixes a number of the first generations issues (Like the broken Psychic type and oddly limited moves). Perhaps most impressive of all was the introduction of the Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter – which made battling and trading with friends easier than ever before. This was the perfect marriage of nostalgia and modern when it was released and even to this day, holds an incredibly high standard.
1. HeartGold & SoulSilver (DS, 2009) – Arguably the pinnacle of all that came before it, HeartGold & SoulSilver combined the very best of the legacy mechanics while marrying them to the features that had become staples in the preceding years. Everything in this game comes together to create a deep, compelling experience that stands head and shoulders above its siblings. Whether it’s the pacing, f the story, the wide variety of battles or the extended mechanics such as the Pokemon Walker which allowed gamers to take their Pokemon out and about with them – there’s a lot to love in these games. It’s also arguably the deepest Pokemon experience, with 16 gym battles, the Battle Tower and two whole regions to explore.
Put simply, HeartGold & SoulSilver were, and still remain, the definitive Pokemon experiences.