The Pokémon sensation blew the world away back in 1996 and continues to rise in popularity today. Within the first year of the launch of the original games, the franchise was a smashing success. Unlike Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the series resonated with an audience struggling to get into the JRPG genre. Without hesitation, the company behind the success decided to branch out towards other markets, including television and trading cards. Using an adorable yellow mouse as their mascot, Pokémon quickly became a household name by the end of 1998.
The main titles are usually released every couple of years. Fortunately, fans never have to wait too long for another chance to play with their favorite creature. Between the main entries, we are typically showered with a handful of unique and sometimes questionable spin-offs that can range from solving a mystery with a talking Pikachu to teaching children how to brush their teeth. With over 30 by-products available across many platforms, we are proud to present our picks for the 5 best Pokémon spin-off games.
5. Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness
Near the end of the third generation, fans were beginning to be worn down by the formula. There was a lack of innovation happening within the franchise, as the main series remained exclusive to hand-held consoles, and the gameplay began to feel repetitive. In 2004, Pokémon Colosseum was released for the Gamecube as a way to bring a story-driven title to home consoles. While it was the first major 3D game in the series, it did have some shortcomings. Players were unable to catch wild Pokémon or explore the world freely. While its sequel would be similar in design, it would fill in some of those missing pieces from the original.
Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness was a serious attempt at trying something new with the formula. It contains a darker story and is fleshed out with many characters and locations. Team Cipher is artificially closing the hearts of Pokémon and using them with evil intentions. One of their newest recruits is the legendary Lugia, who has now been corrupted and is a threat to the world. It is up to you to rescue these corrupted creatures and help them purify their hearts through battling.
Both of these adventures provided gameplay mechanics and ideas that would never be seen in the franchise again. It felt like a breath of fresh air when my journey didn’t involve defeating eight gym leaders and being the very best like no one ever was. It’s a shame that we haven’t received more games similar to Colosseum and Gale of Darkness in almost two decades, but fans are still eager to play entries that experiment with the formula and try new ideas.
4. Pokémon Trading Card Game Online
Over the last year, one of my new favorite morning activities is to make a cup of coffee, throw on a podcast or music, and play Pokémon Trading Card Game Online. As someone who spent an abysmal amount of money on the cards as a child, it was like music to my ears when I found out I could play a modern version without having to spend a dollar. PTCGO is a free app available for PC or tablets that allows players to simulate the feeling of collecting cards and battling in friendly online matches. Players can collect in-game currency by completing challenges or winning online matches that can then be used to purchase booster packs or themed decks.
One of my favorite parts about playing PTCGO is being involved with the positive community surrounding it. I don’t know anyone else who plays the title, so I spend most of my time competing against strangers. It does not allow players to chat freely during matches but instead offers pre-set messages like “Good Job” and “You Have a Nice Deck” to encourage friendly behavior. It also has a fantastic tutorial for new players interested in getting into the strategic card game but don’t have the years of experience other players might have.
3. Pokémon Snap
The anime series was an instant hit in most households with young children. The original season starred a hero named Ash, whose on-screen journey felt very similar to the one audiences experienced within their Pokémon Red and Blue cartridges. Along the way, Ash was accompanied by many partners and friends who would help him grow as a human and trainer. He also met Todd Snap, a photojournalist who joins Ash for a three-episode story arch. Something about Todd and his hobbies resonated with HAL Laboratory, as they began development on a title for the N64 revolving around him.
Surprisingly, Pokémon Snap was a huge success. Technically a unique kind of rail-shooter, players must make their way across seven stages and take their best shots of the wildlife to earn points and claim a high score. There are also puzzle elements hidden throughout each stage. Similar to last year’s excellent Bugsnax, not every one of these creatures will want to pose for your camera. You might have to toss apples or provoke another creature to get them out of hiding. Its biggest weakness is its length, though, as most veteran players can beat it in under an hour.
A sequel to this 1999 title is finally arriving this year, with New Pokémon Snap dropping on April 30th. Hopefully, the sequel will offer us more ways to interact with the environments and Pokémon and have enough content to keep fans busy while we wait for the next big release. I remain optimistic about the new release, but there may also be some concern.
2. Pokémon Conquest
This is an extremely malleable franchise, and during the 2000s, there were a few spin-offs for the DS – but nothing as bold or ambitious as previous years. Fans waited patiently for the next unprecedented announcement and were pleasantly surprised when Pokémon Conquest was first shown in December 2011. At the time, the only significant cross-over was with Super Smash Bros. This newest game would combine the Pocket Monster franchise’s catching and battling elements with the strategy RPG gameplay from the hit series Nobunaga’s Ambition.
Pokémon Conquest is perfect for anybody who enjoys Final Fantasy Tactics or older Fire Emblem titles. The Ransei region consists of seventeen kingdoms, and legend claims that whoever can unite the entire nation will receive the chance to meet the legendary creature that created it all. This legend has caused more harm than good, as every warlord is consistently at war with each other over this prize. You start as the newest warlord of the Aurora kingdom. To succeed, you must recruit new warriors and creatures into your army to unite the region and takedown Nobunaga before he destroys the land.
Being a warlord isn’t an easy job. Each month counts as the players turn, and you must decide which kingdom to attack and conquer next while ensuring happiness and peace in the empires you have already claimed. The player can bring up to six warriors and Pokémon into battle with them and must think two steps ahead to outwit their opponents while also avoiding stage hazards. There is a depth to this game superior to most other spin-offs, and it even offers a plethora of post-story content to keep you busy even after you have saved the world.
1. Pokémon Go
At the beginning of this article, I presupposed that this IP had been rising in popularity since its release in 1996. There was a certain point, around a decade ago, that the series popularity had actually plateaued. The anime and merchandise never stopped, but it felt like the franchise struggled to bring in a new generation of players. After being pigeonholed as entertainment for children and criticized for lack of innovation, it would be difficult to break through to a new audience.
Sometimes the most outstanding ideas in the world begin as jokes. In 2014, members of Nintendo and The Pokémon Company accidentally created Pokémon Go‘s concept when they collaborated with Google for an April Fool’s Day prank called Google Maps Pokémon Challenge. What seemed like a gimmick-heavy lark ended up becoming the prototype to the massively successful title that would introduce a new generation to this magical universe. The AR entry of the franchise is not only a wonderfully realized version of the world I wanted to live in as a kid, but it also became more than a video game to many people.
When it first launched in 2016, it became an immediate hit. Many of us enjoyed it enough to play it a couple of times a day, but others embraced the title and turned it into a lifestyle. After only being available for a couple of months, news began breaking online about people who were using the free-to-play app to improve themselves. More people were exercising as they strolled through their neighborhood in pursuit of a legendary Moltres or Dragonite. Many people would meet new friends during local raid battles, and some would even go on to meet their significant others in the process. Pokémon Go is the best spin-off not only because it allows players to improve themselves both in-game but in real life as well.
Those were my picks for the 5 best Pokémon spin-off games. Which ones did I miss? Please, let me know in the comments below.