Pokémon is a very long and enduring franchise, having 122 games at the time of writing and still going. It has its highs and lows, but there’s no denying that every generation brings something to the table that will improve future games to come. Even a generation’s shortcomings can vastly improve the next one. And so, what does every generation do that should be worth paying attention to, and what should be left behind? This is the best and worst of every Pokémon generation!
Best: It was the first game!
Pokémon Red and Blue is the first (and to others best) Pokémon game to come out. Since 1996, Pokémon has spread all over the world with merchandise, TV shows, card games and parades. And with games like Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl coming out, it shows no sign of stopping. Many fans can attest to Red and Blue being a major part of their childhood, and to this day remains as the best selling Pokémon game in the series’ history that no other entry has been able to reach just yet.
Worst: It was the first game
Let’s be honest here: the first generation of games were barely holding themselves together. It’s glitches and exploits have been thoroughly documented over the years, some that affects all the games to some that are specific to either the Japanese or English versions.
For example, there’s the infamous MissingNo. and its legendary item duplication glitch. Speedrunners have been able to use the bag and certain movements to manipulate the game’s code into doing what you want, like encountering Pokémon not normally catchable in their version. There’s even a trick that can give you a Level 100 Nidoking before you even touch the first gym.
But those are fun as long as you’re not destroying your game cart or save. What isn’t fun is the Psychic type. Back in the day, anyone using a Psychic type Pokémon would be considered cheating as the only Ghost types in Kanto (the Gengar line) was also Poison type, which is weak to Psychic. Oh, and the Ghost type was programmed wrong. Psychic was immune to Ghost type attacks in Gen 1.
Since Dark and Steel didn’t exist (because they were made to combat Psychic types), your best option was Bug types, but even then that won’t help. Not only were most Bug type Pokémon weak, their attacks were weak as well. Scyther doesn’t even learn a Bug type move. Sabrina is considered one of the toughest Gym Leaders for a reason and is best saved for later once you beat Erika and Koga.
And that’s just detailing one problem. Special Attack and Special Defense being one stat, criticals being based on Speed which made Slash Persian crit 100%, fishing Pokémon in indoor pools… it was kind of a mess of poor design decisions.
Best: The post-game
The post-game is really more of an extension to your playthrough. Thanks to the late and great Satoru Iwata, he managed to squeeze the entirety of Kanto into the game. That means eight more badges to win, new Pokémon to catch and new areas to explore – something that hasn’t been replicated in any other game since. This game was supposed to be the final Pokémon game, and they really pulled out all the stops for it.
But nothing can ever match the feeling of challenging Red, the previous player character. His existence is barely hinted at; he has simply been waiting at the top of Mt. Silver for a good battle. Red is packing the highest level Pokémon in the game, with his Pikachu being a monstrous level 81 equipped with a Light Ball. He won’t give you a victory easily, and Pikachu can sweep half your team if you don’t lead with a Ground type, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Worst: Johto Pokémon
The prospect of new Pokémon is always exciting when starting a new game. Unfortunately for this generation, most of the new Pokémon are unavailable until you get to Kanto. And by that point you would already have an established team with the proper levels, so there’s no point in catching anything new other than for the Pokédex.
And if you do want them, you’d have to go out of your way to obtain them and they are not easy. For example, Hitmontop. In order to evolve your Tyrogue into one, its Attack and Defense stat must be equal. Even one point of difference, and you’ll get a Hitmonlee or Hitmonchan. You better make sure your Tyrouge has a neutral nature!
And just to really rub salt into the wound, the Johto Gym Leaders rarely have Johto Pokémon in their teams.
The Johto Starters can be argued as the worst starters in the series. With limited movepools and staying as pure Grass, Water and Fire types, they’re quickly outclassed. The worst of the trio is the Meganium line. Training a Chikorita is an uphill battle right from the get-go, considering the first Gym is Flying type. Also, for a Pokémon made more for a defensive playstyle, Grass is considered one of the worst defensive types in the series by having 5 weaknesses. The best is Feraligatr, but it’s slow and there are better Water types you can choose from to replace it.
Best: The Battle Frontier
A post-game area for those who want a real challenge. You must have a diverse team and strategy if you even want to stand a chance against the Frontier Brains. Each facility in the Battle Frontier has different rules and ways to play, from only using rental Pokémon to a 100-win endurance test. And you’re rewarded with items you can’t get anywhere else in the game.
Anyone willing the earn gold medals, good luck. However, I do admit that the common player wouldn’t actually do much here. If they aren’t into competitive battling, they’re not going to go any further than just testing it out.
Worst: Throwing out several features
After using such innovations like following Pokémon and day-and-night cycles, the obvious option is to… throw it all away.
No day-night cycle, no following Pokémon, no trainer animations at the start of a battle and, due to technical issues between the GameBoy and GameBoy Advance, you can’t transfer your Pokémon from Gold and Silver. This necessitated remakes of Red and Blue into FireRed and LeafGreen, but that didn’t really make things better.
Players couldn’t transfer in their favourite Pokémon from their childhoods, and it made completing the Pokédex that much harder. It was only until 2016 when players could transfer Pokémon from Red, Blue, Gold and Silver to future generations. Generation 3 can be argued as the black sheep of the series for a reason.
Best: Changes to battling
The Physical/Special split was a godsend to most players. It was weird that types were either Special or Physical. Now, if the move is a punch, it’s Physical. If it’s a beam, it’s Special. Pokémon with terrible stat distributions suddenly became powerhouses, while some others were unfortunately screwed over from the change. Still, it was an overall improvement that made battling a whole lot more strategic and fun.
Worst: It’s slow – Really, really slow
Due to Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl coming out, I’ve been playing Platinum to pass the time. It’s fun and reminds why I got into Pokémon in the first place. However, it does its job too well. It passes way too much time because everything take forever.
Your walking speed is slow, the HP meter draining after an OHKO takes forever, the term “Saving a lot of data” will haunt you, the battle animations are aggravatingly long, the menu is only fast when you use the Sort function, the Pokédex will require rapidly spinning the Pokéball with your stylus because holding down a button takes hours… and so on. This was even worse in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl because the surfing speed was just as fast as walking. And that’s not talking about the journey to Snowpoint City, the swamp outside of Pastoria City, the Safari Zone and the Underground.
It also has the worst use of HMs, requiring multiple uses of Rock Smash and Strength in order to continue the game. HeartGold and SoulSilver fixed the menus, but battling still takes an aggravating amount of time just watching HP drain.
Best: Visuals and Music
This generation introduced fully animated Pokémon and more dynamic camera work in battle. While it was obvious that a lot of Pokémon were animated with a skeleton, it showed a lot of personality that we just don’t get with the modern games after its transition to 3D. It’s also so much faster than the sluggish speed of Sinnoh. But what makes Black, White, Black 2 and White 2 memorable was the music and its usage.
Town themes can gain instruments by interacting with certain NPCs, some pieces have different versions depending on the season, they replaced the annoying beeping of low health into an intense theme of a desperate struggle, and damn the music in this game hits hard. Even running will add an instrument to the music if you listen carefully enough. Junichi Masuda really went all out for this soundtrack and it shows.
Worst: Triple Battles
When Double Battles were introduced in Generation 3, it revolutionised competitive battling. Even today, official Pokémon Championships play Double Battles because it’s often harder and requires much more thought into creating competitively viable teams. Plus, they go much faster. So the natural evolution was to have each trainer throw out three of their Pokémon onto the field all at once. And so, Triple Battles and Rotation Battles were born and implemented into Black and White.
There were several problems however. For one, it was version exclusive. Triple Battles for Black, Rotation Battles for White. And two… it was heavily under utilized. In the games it debuted in, there were only two in the main game excluding the Battle Subway.
Though fixed in later generations, it would be rare for the average player to even remember its existence. The final nail in the coffin for it was the fact that it has not appeared in recent games at all. It was retired after Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Best: Mega Evolution
Mega Evolution either made bad Pokémon good or good Pokémon even better thanks to this mechanic. A temporary yet powerful transformation that can be used during a battle that opened up tons of new strategies, and made battles way more exciting. I never thought about using a Sableye or a Mawile, but a Mega Stone can really change someone’s opinion. It isn’t without its flaws, though. The mechanic was unbalanced, and it broke the game’s competitive scene over its knee, but it was so damn fun to use in singleplayer.
However, honorable mention goes to the introduction of the Fairy type. It’s my favourite type out of all of them, and I usually aim to catch one in every game that includes it. It helped a lot of Pokémon, and it made the offensively weak Steel and Poison types run a lot more.
Worst: Painfully easy
In part due to Mega Evolution, you will rarely encounter trainers who will provide you with a good challenge, and it was the generation that introduced the more potent EXP Share, where all team members get experience, not just the Pokémon that were in battle. It was easier to overlevel your Pokémon, and make your playthrough a breeze. It was not helped by the fact that X and Y’s Diantha is considered one of the easiest champions to beat. Four of her Pokémon share an Ice weakness. Three share a Fairy weakness. Three share a Steel weakness. All in healthy supply in Kalos.
Best: Breaking old trends
By Sun and Moon, the series had become really formulaic. You’re given your first Pokémon, now go catch some more and beat the Champion of the region. While by Platinum, the games began to focus more on story, it still boiled down to the same plot since Red and Blue. Not so much here.
Alola doesn’t have an established Pokémon League yet. Instead, you have to go through Island Trials, which represent each of the 18 Pokémon types. Totem Pokémon are actual challenges that force you to battle strategically instead of just overpowering your enemy. It was a refreshing take on the usual Pokémon journey, and you get to be the first Champion of Alola at the end that shows instead of being a footnote.
NPCs from throughout the game will challenge you at the League, using vastly different teams that you can’t steamroll over. While you’ll never lose the title, it’s still nice to see that your championship is acknowledged this time around.
Worst: System performance
It was apparent in Generation 6 as horde battles will cause the 3DS to chug. However, it was really apparent here. Double battles ran terribly, barely able to handle four Pokémon on the field at once. Totem Pokémon would destroy the framerate as soon as they were onscreen, made worse when other Pokémon came to help. Even hatching eggs will cause the game to struggle. There was a reason why Triple Battles and Rotation Battles had to be retired.
Unfortunately, Game Freak isn’t known for optimisation and it was running on aging hardware. Playing on a New 3DS will help improve framerate, and there have been updates that that have made things smoother, but overall it lags behind the rest of the series in terms of performance.
Best: The Wild Area
The Wild Area is one of the aspects to come from Sword and Shield. Having an open area to explore with an every changing roster of Pokémon to catch was what kept pulling me back into the game. It’s very likely you’ll encounter Pokémon you want in your endgame team. It also goes the Xenoblade route and allows you to encounter Pokémon way above your level, or even trade evolution Pokémon.
You can’t catch them, but it encourages you to get stronger and collect the badges needed so you can finally catch them. I’m pretty sure everyone encountered that one Onyx right outside the train station and freaked out upon seeing its insane level.
There was a reason why the paid DLCs for the game, The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra, take place in much more expansive Wild Areas with new Pokémon to encounter. Say what you will about the game, you can’t find much of a fault in the Wild Area.
Worst: It’s holding back
A lot of Pokémon were cut unfortunately, something I hoped wasn’t as brutal as we got. Out of over 800 Pokémon, 400 didn’t make it. Many series favourites were left out in the cold, and so many more moves had to be taken out. It certainly made completing the Pokédex easier, but it still hurt. And that’s not talking about the trainers and Gym Leaders you encounter.
Until you fight Leon, you face no other team with six Pokémon. Not even in the tournament before you fight the Champion, not even your rival will have a full team. Some Gym Leaders won’t even bring in Pokémon with full movesets. They don’t bring their true A-game until after you beat the Champion.
It’s also not the most visually impressive game we’ve seen from the Nintendo Switch. Notoriously, the tress look like they should be on the 3DS and Pokémon animations aren’t the greatest, with not turning animation and many fades to black that imply a character is doing something. It been 23 years, 25 in Japan, and this game shows that the Pokémon series needs to catch up before it can’t.