After more than 20 years, Pokemon’s spawned plenty of mainline games and remakes — and even more spinoffs. Like most, Pokemon spinoffs aren’t exactly uniform in quality.
Some are great, like the Pokemon Pinball games (more please). Some have good ideas that never quite reach full their full potential (Pokemon Channel and Conquest). And some should just be locked in Mimikyu’s storeroom and left to their fate (lookin’ at you, Pokemon Dash).
We don’t care about the crappy ones, though. We’ve rounded up five of the best Pokemon spinoffs from the classic to the more recent and reminisce about what makes them so great.
Pokemon Trading Card Game (Game Boy Color)
On paper, the Pokemon Trading Card Game for Game Boy sounds like a gimmick at best and an exploitative rabbit hole forcing kids to buy Pokemon cards at worst. You learn the basics of the game, see how all the cards work, collect them all, and battle with virtual opponents to become the best.
“Doesn’t that sound like something fun to do with real friends and cards that cost money?” No. You don’t need friends. Just play the game instead. You've already spent your money.
And oh, is it brutal. Like Shin Megami Tensei levels of brutal. But the idea of introducing folks to the card game worked wonders. Even with the basic card sets available at the time, you can't help but play over and over again.
Strategizing is mixed in with a good reward system as well. Win a fight, get some snazzy new cards to start the cycle all over again.
Japan got a sequel. Sadly, the West didn’t, and this sub-series also died quietly, which is odd considering how the TCG just keeps expanding. I'm not salty. Not salty at all.
With the recent New Pokemon Snap announcement, it’s the perfect time to sing the praises of the original Pokemon Snap once more. Snap really was ahead of its time. Just look back at other games that released in 1999 and think about it.
Tomorrow Never Dies and Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation released alongside the likes of Legacy of Kain and Shenmue. There were cartoony “kids” games too, of course. Donkey Kong 64, Tarzan, and Spyro 2 all came out that year.
But they all ask something of you, want you to do something. Save A. Smack B. Accomplish C. What does Pokemon Snap want you to do? Chill out and take pictures of Pokemon doing adorable things in their natural habitats.
Yeah, you’ve got objectives to complete. Yet you’re still free to enjoy the scenery and not even worry about moving yourself around. Mock its chunky pixels if you will, but it was fresh and new at the time.
It’s the sort of alternative gaming experience Harvest Moon started pioneering, but that’s only recently gained a lot of momentum thanks in large part to indie games. It’s not really a stretch to say games like Bird Alone found their roots because of the experience Pokemon Snap pushed for.
Entire communities as large and vibrant as the mainline Pokemon communities have spun up around it. The real success, though, is how GO has developed since launch.
Traveling around (safely) to find new ‘mon hanging around your town is fun, and training them is fun. Until it gets old fast. Expanded Gym battles, PvP battles, and regular rollouts of new Pokemon have kept things fresh since GO first released. Regular events help in a big way too, like the recent Team GO Rocket Shadow Pokemon event.
And best of all, it’s a live service game that doesn’t try and eat your wallet. It’s totally possible to do and obtain everything you want just by enjoying the game — unless you live in a rural area with terrible service like me, in which case you’re left watching sadly from the outside.
Probably the most impressive part of GO is how Niantic’s adapted it to work in the coronavirus climate. The get out and walk game can be played and enjoyed at home, which really should have been the case to begin with for accessibility reasons.
But regardless, it’s a different way to make Pokemon a fun part of your daily routine and probably does a better job than the mainline games of achieving The Pokémon Company’s goal of uniting everyone around Pokemon.
Pokemon Colosseum/XD Gale of Darkness
“I want a Pokemon game with a dark story.” So did Genius Sonority at one point, and that’s how we got Pokemon Colosseum and its very good sequel Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness.
Well okay, that might only be partly true and mostly conjecture, but I stand on this hill.
Regardless, you can see an inkling of that desire in both games anyway. Colosseum builds on Pokemon Stadium’s DNA, only instead of just giving you big, flashy 3D battles and very little else, you get a full Pokemon game.
The evil teams in both hearken back to the original Team Rocket’s brutal treatment of Pokemon, and it’s your job to both stop them and bring their abused ‘mon back to the light. Yes, that’s where Shadow Pokemon came from.
Genius Sonority dialed the zaniness up to 500, too, with some of the most memorably bizarre characters the series has seen. It was a breath of fresh air before Pokemon seemingly became stuck in its own success and couldn’t experiment anymore.
They weren’t perfect, though. There were a lot of limitations in both stories, with plenty of room for more narrative — and basically more of everything else. Battle Mode was billed as the big draw for Colosseum and was happy to destroy you if you hadn’t trained your transfer Pokemon like a pro. But both were still a promising venture into story-based Pokemon that sadly hasn’t resurfaced.
Pokemon Pinball/Pinball Ruby and Sapphire
Whoever first floated the idea of Pokemon meets pinball was a very smart person. Don’t get me wrong: Regular pinball’s great and all. But the original Pokemon Pinball and the Ruby and Sapphire version took it to another level. In keeping with the version gimmick, you had two table styles to choose from with different layouts and, more importantly, different Pokemon to catch.
Instead of space-age bumpers and plain ol’ pins, you had Shroomish or Voltorb to rack up points with, Pikachu to catch the ball — if you were lucky — and Diglett or Psyduck to shake things up and knock the ball around.
These were way more than just a Pokemon skin stretched over a pinball table, though. Shooting the ball to the right spot or spinning one of the flippers enough activated several different modes, all built around catching Pokemon (quelle surprise, I know).
What ‘mon were available depended on the location you started out in. The original would put you in or near cities from Red and Blue, though the R&S version did away with cities for more generic locations only, like caves and such.
It was, and still is, an incredibly addictive feature for a pinball game, even if the bumpers did seem to bear some kind of ancient grudge against players and almost always shot the ball somewhere other than where the Pokemon was.
That's it for our best Pokemon spinoffs. Has another Pokemon spinoff captured your heart that we didn't cover? Let us know over on Twitter, and be sure to hit that share button to spread the Pokemon love.