I still can’t quite believe it’s been 25 years since we were first given the opportunity to “Catch ‘em All!”. Yes, the first (and still the most popular to this very day) generation of 151 (for me Mew is always included) beloved pocket monsters featured in the release of Pokemon Red and Green in Japan, way back in February 1996.
It’s a pretty sound assumption that the vast majority of gamers have played at least one Pokemon game from the main series, which saw its eighth generation of critters brought to life in Pokemon Sword and Shield, released for the Nintendo Switch back in 2019.
Today the Pokemon universe is vast and has branched out into all sorts of different directions. As luck would have it, I’m here to remind you of the games that may have escaped your radar when first released, but absolutely deserve a second look.
2004 – Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen – Game Boy Advance
To start off, this one is a bit of a cheat as these games are remakes of the originals, so technically fall into the main series. However, they are absolutely brilliant updates and the leap forward felt huge, even if it was just down to the array of on-screen colours versus the original.
Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen were essential purchases for those who owned the originals, if only just to see how the series was continually evolving. Despite not offering too much new content compared to Pokemon Red and Green, the gameplay remained as well-tuned and compelling as ever.
The big differences here were in connectivity, for example with the Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter which came packaged with the games. For the first time ever this enabled players to connect with each other to battle and trade without the need for a link cable. However, the latter could be used to connect to the GameCube title Pokemon Colosseum, and these could be viewed on the big screen, which was very exciting for players.
2005 – Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team – Nintendo DS/Game Boy Advance
Following the classic formula of releasing handheld Pokemon games in pairs, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team marked the start of a new spin-off series, with Red Rescue Team being the last Pokemon game to be released on the Game Boy Advance.
You played as a human who had been transformed into a Pokemon, and you were accompanied by a partner of your choice. You set off to take on a number of jobs, which tasked you with trying to navigate randomly generated dungeons that usually involved some sort of rescue. Pokemon battles were present, albeit in a much simpler form than in the main series.
The games received average reviews but attracted a dedicated player base, and as a result numerous sequels have been released in the last 15 years or so. The games deserve some credit for trying something different, and started to demonstrate the potential for the franchise to branch out in a manner of different directions.
2006 – Pokemon Ranger – Nintendo DS
It was only a year later, on the phenomenon that was the Nintendo DS, when another spin-off series was born. Pokemon Ranger was the result – an RPG which felt very different to the Pokemon formula we all got to know and love.
The biggest departure from the familiar was how you interacted with, and by extension captured, wild Pokemon. To do this, you had to use the “capture styler”, which was more than reminiscent of the DS’ stylus. Essentially, you needed to trap the Pokemon several times with your stylus by drawing circles around it, until the countdown reached zero. Only then could you lift the stylus off the screen to execute a successful capture. However, the Pokemon would naturally try to escape and if they touched your styler line it would break, and you would have to start over. You could keep trying until your styler’s energy bar hit zero, and if that happened it was “game over”.
The game consisted of ten missions and three side missions, and once again you were accompanied by a Pokemon throughout. It also looked like the best handheld Pokemon game to date, making fans excited for the next entry in the main series.
2017 – Pokken Tournament DX – Nintendo Switch
And now for something completely different (from the well-established RPG action). Developed by Bandai Namco and taking elements from the famous Tekken fighting series, Pokken Tournament DX was a Poekmon fighting game originally born in the arcades.
The version released for the Switch is the most complete edition of the game, that comes with all the playable characters from the Arcade and Wii U ports, as well as additional game modes.
The action played out across two different planes – the “field” and “dual” phases. The first sees your characters moving around the arena in the full three dimensions, similar to a Dragonball Z fighting game. The second phase is more traditional, such as Tekken, and sees you battle it out in a more classically constrained area. Of course, each character has the usual mix of melee and special moves that fans of the franchise will immediately recognise.
The game attracted a dedicated following of competitive players, and saw world championships hosted around the globe, until the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to them last year. However, Nintendo have since announced that the Pokken Tournament DX World Championships will be back in 2022.
2000 – Pokemon Stadium 2 – N64
For those Pokemon fans that enjoyed the animated TV series, the Pokemon Stadium Games will no doubt hold extra appeal. This is because they were centred around the turn-based battling taking place in front of huge crowds; a spectator sport regularly seen in the TV series.
Complete with commentators and cheering fans, Pokemon Stadium 2 expanded on the original, including all 251 Pokemon from the first two generations. In a similar structure to Mario Kart, you had to battle your way to victory through several cups, although here each had its own set of rules and conditions. You could also battle your way through gyms, to earn the opportunity to battle the Elite Four and another familiar face.
The game also worked with the Transfer Pak accessory, meaning you could use Pokemon in the game from any of the first and second generation titles released on the Game Boy Colour. Seeing your little critters battle it out in glorious 3D on the big screen was a huge moment for fans, hinting at what was in store for the future of the franchise.
1998 – Pokemon Trading Card Game – Game Boy Color
In theory, it sounds like a rubbish idea. A video game, based on a physical trading card game? Although common today, with games such as Hearthstone proving immensely popular, it was a genre in its relative infancy as only Magic: The Gathering and Chron X had really stepped foot in the arena. With the mighty Wizards of the Coast behind the physical Pokemon Trading Card Game, the electronic version would have a real challenge on its hands to prove anywhere near as popular.
As it happens, Hudson Soft and Creatures did a great job in bringing the card game to the virtual world, actually helping us all to play it properly, unlike in real life where just looking at the pretty designs was much more appealing. The in-game cards were faithful to their real life counterparts, and the deep level of strategy was presented in an appealing and accessible way. It was a surprisingly enjoyable way of simply collecting 226 Pokemon cards.
2015 – Pokemon Shuffle – 3DS
I’d normally recommend staying well away from “Freemium” games. What I mean by this term, is a game that is free to play up until a point, where you can then choose to spend money to play on (usually by purchasing some sort of currency), or wait for a certain period of time in order to play a little bit more of the game at no charge.
Pokemon Shuffle felt different. It was a puzzle game with this structure, I don’t deny that, where you had to match up little avatars to “defeat” the Pokemon that appeared in that stage. When you matched symbols, you could trigger a tumbling effect which opened the door for some serious combos. As well as the main stages, there were various special and limited time event stages to try too. When you cleared one, you had a chance to capture the Pokemon (depending on how well you did) and add them to your collection. The “catch” here was that you used hearts to play, and only one regenerated every 30 minutes. But of course, the option was there to purchase hearts using the in-game currency, of which you could buy using real-life cash.
It really had no business being so fun to play, and I ploughed hours into the game myself, albeit consistently with bitesize chunks each day. It came in for some criticism due to the microtransactions the game offered, but I got several hours of enjoyment from it without ever spending a penny. If you enjoy puzzle games, it’s worth checking this out.
1998 – Pokemon Pinball – Game Boy Color
What a game. I have many fond memories of Pokemon Pinball. I remember just how good it looked for a Game Boy Color game. It was vibrant and full of first generation Pokemon spread across strongly themed pinball tables.
The music was undeniably upbeat and jolly – definitely a tune you would easily tap along to. The game cartridge also came with an integrated Rumble Pak, which needed one AAA battery to work. It wasn’t the best piece of kit, and the battery was drained incredibly quickly, but the novelty for a pinball game was most welcome.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Pokemon if the aim wasn’t to “Catch ’em All”. So at certain points in the game when you activated the sequence, a wild Pokemon would appear in the centre of the table, and you needed to ping the pinball (which was of course a PokeBall) to fill the “catch” meter and hopefully bag yourself the critter. You could then move to evolve your Pokemon, which was naturally more challenging, by triggering “Evolution Mode” and choosing which Pokemon to do this with. From the main menu, you could check your PokeDex to see who you had left to catch.
Despite pinball traditionally being about chasing high scores, the real hook of Pokemon Pinball was trying to “Catch ‘em All”, just in a different way to what you were used to.
So, what’s next? Well, the cult classic Pokemon Snap may not have made the list, however the sequel New Pokemon Snap is very nearly with us due for release on 30/04/2021 on Nintendo Switch.
One thing is for sure though, the franchise shows no sign of stopping. Despite a few dodgy looking Pokemon appearing over the years (Chandelure springs to mind, which just looks like a regular Chandelier to me), here’s hoping it continues to go from strength to strength. Happy 25th anniversary to Pokemon!
Tell us about your favourite Pokemon games in the comments below!