The centerpiece of Pokemon has always been its mainline series of video games which have been released on every Nintendo handheld from the Game Boy to the DS to the Switch, but its long history and passionate fandom make it hard to know what order to play the games in.
Pokemon is approaching its 30th birthday and while there have been plenty of highs and lows over time, the franchise stands as an unparalleled success. Driving that success has been the popularity of the video games. Pokemon has remained fresh on its ability to deliver toyetic new creatures on a regular basis, and bring some of its greatest hits from the past back to the fore.
But with this much history, fans might have trouble figuring out where the series started or what the best entry point might be. Here’s everything there is to know about the biggest Pokemon games, when they came out, and where the series is headed next.
All mainline Pokemon games in order of release
There are dozens of different Pokemon games, but not all of them are made equal. The centerpiece of the franchise has always been its mainline video games.
These titles feature similar gameplay with most of the titles iterating further on their predecessors. The Pokemon franchise has evolved over the years, with the games growing in size with the jump from the Game Boy platforms to the GBA and DS, and in functionality with the move to 3DS and Nintendo Switch. Each installment has its own charm and added different features that set them apart from the rest.
All the mainline Pokemon games on the Game Boy, Game Boy Color
It all started here. The Pokemon franchise began with the first generation of games in 1996, and they remain the best-selling games in series history. The color-coded originals set the standards for the games moving forward, albeit with some ad-libbing from both the developers and publishers.
While the original Pokemon Red and Blue are beloved, the series didn’t actually start with their release. Pokemon Red and Green were the first games in the franchise, launching in Japan in 1996. They had two separate follow-up titles in Pokemon Blue and Yellow. Other markets never actually got a Pokemon Green and different facets of Japan’s Red, Blue, and Green were shuffled together for the international release.
Pokemon Red and Blue (1998)
Pokemon first arrived in Western markets in 1998. The Pokemon Red and Blue Game Boy games that were available overseas mixed and matched different parts of the Japanese Red, Green, and Blue games.
The Japanese Pokemon Blue featured different sprites and a different set of Pokemon from the original Red and Green. These were used in the Western versions of Pokemon Red and Blue.
The games established the Pokemon series’ norms that remain in place to this day on Nintendo Switch. This includes a turn-based role-playing game core where players order their Pokemon to use moves against opponents. Alongside this are multiplayer elements centered around battling and trading with friends.
They also introduced the gameplay loop that involves collecting eight badges and then challenging the Elite Four to become the Pokemon League Champion. Pokemon Red and Blue were the killer apps for the Game Boy in many ways and helped popularize the Game Boy Link Cable that was otherwise seldom used.
Pokemon Red and Blue were remade on the Game Boy Advance and were given a digital release alongside a number of other classic Game Boy games on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. Unfortunately, the original Pokemon games are not available on Nintendo Switch and it’s unclear if that will change.
Pokemon Yellow (1999)
After the first dual-release of Pokemon games came Pokemon Yellow. This title had full Game Boy Color functionality with a new set of sprites that were fully colored.
The main selling point of the game was its incorporation of facets of the Pokemon anime. This included starting with a Pikachu, the ability to get all the original starters, and the introduction of Jesse and James as recurring opponents. Though the game first arrived in Japan in 1998, it didn’t arrive in other markets until 1999 or as late as 2000.
Pokemon Yellow was given a digital release on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console. It is not available on the Nintendo Switch but was remade with Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, which also incorporate features from the mobile game Pokemon GO.
Pokemon Gold and Silver (2000)
The second generation of Pokemon games started with Gold and Silver for the Game Boy Color. Many regard Gold and Silver as the best in Pokemon history. They introduced two new types, a slew of new Pokemon, a new story, new gameplay elements, and a day-night cycle that influenced which Pokemon appeared in the wild.
The biggest area where the games set themselves apart was a strong offering of post-game content. After beating the Elite Four, players are able to return to the Kanto region from Red and Blue where they can see how it changed after the defeat of Giovanni. Players can then challenge the original games’ player character, Red, in order to determine who the strongest Pokemon trainer is.
While other Pokemon games have had unique features after completing the story, none have had anything as large in scope as Gold and Silver. The amount of content offered to players by Gold and Silver wasn’t matched in the series for a long while.
Pokemon Gold and Silver were remade on the Nintendo DS in HeartGold and SoulSilver, which many fans regard as the best games in series history. Fans don’t wax nostalgic about these two as much as their remakes, but they are still remembered fondly.
Pokemon Crystal (2001)
Pokemon Crystal served as the Pokemon Yellow for the second generation but was criticized at the time for not distinguishing itself as much from the originals. The game added the option to select a female player character for the first time and added animations for Pokemon sprites when they entered battle.
The game is also notable for being one of the few true Game Boy Color exclusives. Though Pokemon Yellow, Gold, and Silver all had functionality with the Game Boy Color, Crystal was completely unplayable on the Game Boy Pocket or original Game Boy models.
All gen-one and gen-two Pokemon games were given a digital re-release on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, but none of them are available on the Nintendo Switch.
Every mainline Pokemon game on Game Boy Advance
The third Pokemon generation saw the series move from the Game Boy Color to the Game Boy Advance. While this offered greater specs and cartridge space, it also made Pokemon from the first two generations completely inaccessible, which is the first and only time this has happened in Pokemon history to this point.
Also part of the third Pokemon generation are Gamecube games Pokemon Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness. These Pokemon spin-offs are not considered part of the mainline game order, but not for lack of trying. The games had a number of unique features but maintained the same core gameplay and even allowed players to move Pokemon to their GBA games.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire (2003)
The Game Boy Advance launched in 2001 and boasted significantly better hardware than the original Game Boy. The Pokemon series made its debut with Ruby and Sapphire, which dropped the animated sprites of Crystal but added a load of other new features. While these weren’t as attention-grabbing as the introduction of two new types, they were huge additions in their own right.
The biggest and most revolutionary from a gameplay perspective was abilities. These are inherent aspects of Pokemon species that differentiate them in a whole new way and allow some Pokemon to negate their biggest weaknesses. At the time, each Pokemon species only had one ability but this was a huge addition to the game.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire also added Pokemon Contests and double battles. Double battles would become the standard for serious Pokemon competition over time. Pokemon Contests were prominently featured in the games, but were dropped almost entirely once the series moved to the Nintendo DS.
While each dual release has different exclusive Pokemon and features, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire took this concept a step further. In Pokemon Ruby, players battle against Team Magma with the help of Team Aqua. This is reversed in Pokemon Sapphire.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were remade on the Nintendo 3DS, but the originals haven’t been available on any platform outside the Game Boy Advance. While many Pokemon fans started with these games, GBA games were never widely available on the 3DS Virtual Console and Ruby and Sapphire have not been added to the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen (2004)
While the first two generations of Pokemon were limited to three games, that order was disrupted with the introduction of remakes.
Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen sent players back to the Kanto region to let players live out their first adventure with the improved graphics and new gameplay features that were introduced in its successors. It came packaged alongside the Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter, an accessory that didn’t really take hold.
While new gameplay elements like abilities and Held Items are present, the game prevented players from getting evolutions for gen-one Pokemon that weren’t part of the original 151. This was somewhat frustrating as it prevented players from getting Pokemon like Umbreon, Slowking, and Crobat.
In terms of completely original content, the games added the Sevii Islands, a post-game archipelago that lets players catch new Pokemon. It also includes a small expansion to the games’ story that includes an exploration of Team Rocket’s operations after Giovanni’s order to disband and helps to set up the events of Pokemon Gold and Silver.
Pokemon Emerald (2005)
The Game Boy Advance was a commercial success but had a short lifespan. The final installment in the Pokemon series for the platform was Pokemon Emerald, which was a follow-up to Ruby and Sapphire.
Pokemon Emerald took Ruby and Sapphire and incorporated some of the features and aesthetic changes that were added in FireRed and LeafGreen. It also mixed things up slightly by having a different champion as the final boss and changing one of the gym leaders. The game received much of the same criticism that Crystal did, particularly as it related to the game being largely the same as its predecessors despite carrying a full price tag.
Everyon mainline Pokemon game on Nintendo DS
The Game Boy Advance was a major commercial success but had a comparatively short lifespan, getting sunsetted in favor of the Nintendo DS in 2005. The Nintendo DS was launched in 2004 and brought something Pokemon fans had long clamored for with online play.
The DS allowed players to access the internet via Wi-Fi, and then trade or battle with each other. Pokemon games also took advantage of other facets of the Nintendo DS including its touchscreen and microphone, albeit with varied results.
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (2007)
Pokemon arrived on the DS with Diamond and Pearl, which made a point of incorporating every one of the handheld’s features into the game. Most notably, this included the ability to battle and trade online and a new menu system that used both screens.
The innovation of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl wasn’t limited to the new hardware, though.
The game made the critical change of individually deciding whether moves used the Attack or Sp. Attack stat. Previously, this was decided strictly based on the move’s type. Starting in Diamond and Pearl, this followed a more logical approach where a fire-type move like Fire Punch could be based on the Attack stat, while Flamethrower could be based on Sp. Attack. This allowed players to have more diverse moves and strategies with their Pokemon and made many stronger as a result.
While players were forced to leave their Pokemon behind with the jump from the Game Boy to the GBA, that wasn’t the case with these games. Players could import their Pokemon from the gen-three titles into gen four using the Nintendo DS’s dedicated cartridge slot.
Pokemon Platinum (2009)
Following in the footsteps of Emerald and Crystal, Pokemon Platinum was the follow-up title to Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. The Distortion World changed up which Pokemon were accessible to players at different points in the game and reordered the gym leaders, potentially making for a different experience. The game also added new post-game content.
Like Pokemon Emerald, Pokemon Platinum garnered mixed reactions due to the sameness of the game relative to Diamond and Pearl. It was also the last “third game” in the Pokemon series with the adoption of dual releases in future titles across the Nintendo DS and 3DS handhelds, and the pivot to DLC with the Nintendo Switch.
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver (2010)
The second set of remakes were Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are widely held among the best mainline Pokemon games ever, combining the new gameplay elements and features with the vast content offering of Gold and Silver.
The gameplay was largely the same as what was seen in Diamond and Pearl, with the only notable addition being the PokeWalker. The PokeWalker was a pedometer that had functionality with Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, allowing players to import their Pokemon from the games, catch Pokemon in “real life” and then send them back into the games.
Studies showed that the PokeWalker was actually one of the most accurate pedometers available at the time. It also served as something of a forerunner to the augmented reality Pokemon title Pokemon GO.
Pokemon Black and White (2011)
The fifth generation began with Pokemon Black and White for the Nintendo DS. The games frustrated some fans at the time due to their removal of all Pokemon from previous generations during the main story and the addition of quality-of-life improvements that made the game easier to progress through such as infinite-use TMs and NPCs that healed Pokemon.
Pokemon Black and White were the first mainline Pokemon games to take place in a region that wasn’t based on Japan. They instead take place in Unova, which is based on New York.
The games didn’t add much from a gameplay perspective, with the first run of Pokemon games on the Nintendo DS putting a greater emphasis on innovation. Pokemon Black and White instead made aesthetic improvements including fully animated sprites during battle, an overhauled style of character sprites, and battle themes that change based on the situation.
Pokemon Black and White are in line for a remake on the Nintendo Switch, but it’s unclear if this will happen as there has been discussion of an original game coming in their stead. Fans will likely find out whether Pokemon Black and White remakes are coming during the next Pokemon Day on February 27, 2024.
Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 (2012)
The fifth Pokemon generation bucked tradition in a number of different ways, including how it approached its follow-up games. Instead of a “Pokemon Gray” that added a bit of extra content, Black and White were succeeded by Pokemon Black 2 and White 2. These games were direct sequels that showed how the world had been impacted by the events of the previous games.
Pokemon Black and White notably steered away from Pokemon and characters from previous generations, but that was radically changed in Black 2 and White 2. Players were able to catch a variety of Pokemon from previous generations during their playthrough and could also get various legendaries in the post-game.
The games also added the ability to “fuse” legendaries with Black Kyurem and White Kyurem, which combined Kyurem with previous box art legendaries Reshiram and Zekrom. This idea was used several times in future generations.
Black 2 and White 2 also added new post-game content including the Pokemon World Tournament. This feature allowed players to use their team against gym leaders and Elite Four members from previous generations ranging from Brock to Cynthia. It also saw Game Freak add temporary challengers to the Pokemon World Tournament, including the teams of real-life Pokemon World Championship contenders.
All mainline Pokemon games on Nintendo 3DS
After Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, the series moved over to the Nintendo 3DS. The extra power offered by the Nintendo 3DS relative to the DS saw the games leave behind the signature pixel art of previous generations in favor of 3D models for both characters and Pokemon. The Nintendo 3DS also allowed games to receive patches and content updates, letting Game Freak fix bugs and other issues after the game’s launch.
Pokemon X and Y were also the first mainline Pokemon games to get a simultaneous worldwide release, with prior installments having a long block of time between the Japanese and Western releases. This would become the standard for the series moving forward.
Pokemon X and Y (2013)
Pokemon X and Y were arguably the most transformative mainline games in series history.
The extra power of the Nintendo 3DS relative to the DS allowed the Pokemon games to have fully 3D graphics, something that was previously only seen in console spin-offs. They also introduced the concept of generational battle mechanics with Mega Evolution. Mega Evolution is fondly remembered by fans, with many calling for its return with each game. The fairy type was also introduced in Pokemon X and Y, resulting in a major shakeup to the type chart and changing the typings of various Pokemon.
Pokemon X and Y ultimately have a mixed legacy with fans, though.
The games were panned for their more simplistic story. While Black and White and its sequels featured a gritty narrative that questioned the ethics of the series as a whole, X and Y had a whimsical story with a fairy tale motif. The transition from 2D to 3D also wasn’t completely seamless, with the game having an eight-directional movement system rather than full 360-degree movement for the player.
Arguably the most infamous change was how Pokemon X and Y changed the Exp. Share item by making it a Key Item and having it share experience points across the entire party. This made it significantly easier to progress through the game, something that has frustrated fans over the years. If a player sticks with a party they build at the start of the game they can become wildly overleveled very early in the story.
X and Y were also the only mainline Pokemon games to that point to never receive any manner of follow-up title. While there are many hints that a Pokemon Z was in development at some point, none was ever released.
Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (2014)
The Pokemon remakes received high praise and Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were no different. The games took the overhauled graphics and gameplay of X and Y to the Hoenn region of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire for the Game Boy Advance, giving players a brand new experience.
This was accentuated by a heaping helping of brand-new content. Elements of Pokemon Emerald were included in the “Delta Chapter,” a post-game story that let players capture Rayquaza and another notable Pokemon from the third generation.
The most influential addition to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire was the addition of ridable Pokemon. While Pokemon X and Y had short moments where players rode on Pokemon, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire let players catch and ride their own Latios or Latias. The ability to ride on Pokemon became the norm moving forward, with each game having its own take on this concept.
Pokemon Sun and Moon (2016)
The seventh Pokemon generation began on the Nintendo 3DS with Pokemon Sun and Moon. The games continued the trend of adventures outside regions based on Japan, with the Alola region being themed around Hawaii.
The gameplay was modernized in many ways with improvements made to the UI, movement, and progression. Pokemon Sun and Moon took advantage of the 3DS circle pad by giving players 360-degree movement. HMs were left in the past in favor of summonable Pokemon that could push rocks or surf on water. These were also the only games in the history of the franchise to retain multiple unique battle mechanics, introducing Z-Moves while also keeping Mega Evolution from Pokemon X and Y available.
Sun and Moon also introduced the concept of regional variants to the series, Pokemon that were introduced in previous generations that had a new look and typing that were different from the originals. Pokemon like Meowth and Vulpix returned but with new looks, typing, and movesets across their evolutionary lines. Meanwhile, Pokemon such as Cubone and Exeggcute look the same but evolve new forms of Marowak and Exeggutor.
The games were also controversial in some ways. Pokemon Sun and Moon dropped the traditional Pokemon conventions with new elements based on the games’ story. Alola was a region that hadn’t yet established a traditional Pokemon League and had its own unique type of legendary Pokemon with the Island Guardians and Ultra Beasts. This means that there were no gym leaders, which sees the story plays out in a different way than what fans were used to.
Marring this were a handful of of steps back for the series.
While previous mainline Pokemon games had taken different approaches to online features, Sun and Moon segregated much of the online functionality with the Wonder Plaza. The Wonder Plaza was an area of the game that had no connection to the actual world, where players could meet other players who then became NPCs that ran booths in their plaza.
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (2017)
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were arguably the last major original releases for the Nintendo 3DS, and were the last games in the series on any DS-family platform. The games arrived eight months after the Nintendo Switch launched and two months after the first Pokemon spin-off game, Pokken Tournament DX, landed on the console-handheld hybrid.
The seventh Pokemon generation bucked many traditions of the franchise in an unpopular fashion, which was demonstrated best with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. The games took a page out of the Black and White playbook by having two successors but had a content offering more similar to titles like Emerald or Platinum.
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon made some modest changes to their predecessors’ story and made some additions of their own. Ultra Beasts from Sun and Moon teased the idea of alternate dimensions, something that was explored more deeply with the Ultra Recon Squad and a handful of new Pokemon. The games also added new mini-games, including the ability to fly through Ultra Wormholes and catch legendaries from previous generations.
The games were met with a largely negative reaction due to the decision to release two separate games with a small number of differences relative to what was seen in Pokemon Black 2 and White 2. There were in-game hints and suggestions that another game entitled Pokemon Stars would succeed these titles, but none was ever released.
All mainline Pokemon games on Nintendo Switch
The seventh generation of Pokemon games was actually split across two different platforms, something that was only seen once before with Pokemon Gold and Silver on the Game Boy and Crystal on the Game Boy Color.
From there, the eighth generation of Pokemon games saw the series focused entirely on the Nintendo Switch. This was a major transition point for Pokemon as it moved from dedicated handheld platforms in the DS and Game Boy to a modern console. This brought modern sensibilities to the series such as DLC and seasonal content updates.
Unfortunately, Game Freak’s ambitions seemingly exceeded what the Switch was capable of, or the studio’s ability to work within those limitations. The eighth Pokemon generation was largely defined by big ideas hampered by clumsy execution.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee (2018)
While precedent suggested that remakes of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl would be part of the seventh Pokemon generation, that didn’t actually happen. Instead, the Pokemon game order was disrupted when Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were followed by Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee were the first Pokemon games released on the Nintendo Switch. The games boasted a significant graphical upgrade relative to their Nintendo 3DS counterparts and brought Pokemon back to a single screen for the first time since Pokemon Emerald.
Pokemon GO led a slew of new fans to the franchise, and the Let’s Go games were likely meant to usher those newcomers into the series proper. This was done in Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee by taking various elements from the 3DS Pokemon titles and Pokemon GO and cramming them into a remake of the Game Boy’s Pokemon Yellow.
Rather than battling wild Pokemon, players use the motion controls of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons to throw Poke Balls, similar to Pokemon GO. In order to advance through the story, players have to win turn-based battles like those seen in other mainline games.
Though the games are remakes of Pokemon Yellow, features such as Mega Evolution, regional variants, and the ability to pet directly interact with Pokemon are all on tap. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee have built-in functionality with Pokemon GO, allowing players to migrate Pokemon from GO onto the Nintendo Switch.
Pokemon Sword and Shield (2019)
The eighth Pokemon generation officially started with Pokemon Sword and Shield. The games brought players to the Galar region based on England, with the vague concept of a “Pokemon League” being reimagined as something more akin to British soccer.
While Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee were the first games in the series on Switch, Sword and Shield were the first to truly take advantage of the hardware upgrade. The biggest addition from a gameplay perspective was the Wild Area, a terminus on the map that allowed players to freely control the game’s camera for the first time. It also streamlined gameplay by removing HMs from the game, with players instead gaining new options for traversing the map by upgrading their bicycle.
Pokemon Sword and Shield garnered intense criticism on social media for a variety of reasons. The biggest cause of frustration among fans was “Dexit,” which saw the games launch with just 400 Pokemon available to players at launch and many never getting added ot the game. Performance issues and underwhelming graphics also garnered widespread criticism. The game also removed Mega Evolution and Z-Moves and replaced them with Dynamax, which let players grow Pokemon to a gargantuan size for a few turns.
Despite that loud frustration from fans, the games enjoyed generally solid reviews and enormous commercial success. Pokemon Sword and Shield are the best-selling games in the series next to the original Red and Blue for the Game Boy. The games also boasted a much longer shelf life than their predecessors.
Game Freak gave fans steady injections of new content in order to keep Pokemon fans coming back, something that wasn’t possible on games for the Nintendo DS, 3DS, or Game Boy. Limited-time events, giveaways, a rotating ban list for ranked battles, and special online tournaments gave players new ways to enjoy the games.
Instead of a follow-up title, Sword and Shield introduced true DLC to the franchise. The DLC was split into two parts which reintroduced Pokemon to the games and added new areas. While it’s unknown why none of the Nintendo 3DS Pokemon games had DLC when other major releases on the platform did, these moves ultimately kept Pokemon Sword and Shield alive and active for two full years.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (2021)
The remakes of the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl games for the Nintendo DS finally arrived on the Switch with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are the only mainline games in the series not developed by Game Freak. They were instead made by Pokemon HOME developer ILCA.
While there was excitement over the games being brought to modern platforms, both fan and critical reaction was generally negative.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were pitched as recreations of the original DS games but with improvements made to streamline the experience. They used a graphical style similar to the original games and expanded on some of their unique online features. Beyond that were seemingly random decisions on what was kept, changed, added, or removed.
Online multiplayer features like the Underground and secret bases were expanded upon. The controversial Exp. Share Key Item was added to the game and legendaries from previous generations were made catchable in a new area named Ramanas Park. From a gameplay perspective, the fairy typing was added alongside a variety of new moves and abilities.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the game removed quality of life improvements from modern games such as reusable TMs and streamlined HM usage. The game brought back the Poketch, a series of tools that were used on the Nintendo DS’s touchscreen. The Switch only has one screen and the game doesn’t have touchscreen support. The games also also dropped all regional variants and left out other Pokemon that could have been included such as Sylveon.
Many players were also frustrated by the sheer amount of content that was locked to the post-game, or even further in the game. Players needed to beat the game or even complete the Pokedex in order to catch or evolve certain Pokemon.
The games were also rife with bugs, most notably including the ability to duplicate entire boxes of Pokemon. The titles also lacked basic functionality for some of the features it launched with, such as Union Rooms not having the ability to host a group of players until months after launch. The games boast some of the worst reviews in series history, with few fans coming to their defense since.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus (2022)
While Game Freak handed over the keys for the gen-four remakes, the studio was at work on Pokemon Legends: Arceus. The title was a radical departure from previous mainline Pokemon games in terms of its setting, gameplay, and story.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus takes place 2000 years before the other games, in an archaic version of the Sinnoh region known as Hisui. The protagonist of the Nintendo DS’s Pokemon Diamond and Pearl is transported back in time by the mythical Pokemon Arceus, where they encounter the ancestors of various major characters from previous games. They are tasked with serving as an intermediary between competing factions in Hisui while also completing the first Pokedex.
All of these concepts are reflected in the gameplay, with players needing to traverse unsettled environments and avoid wild Pokemon attacks.
This saw Pokemon Legends: Arceus move to large, open areas where players could freely explore on foot or by riding newly introduced Pokemon like Wyrdeer. While the game isn’t fully open-world, it was much more freedom than anything seen in the series to that point. Pokemon Legends: Arceus also saw players forced to forage for materials for items, including Poke Balls. Players were able to catch Pokemon by surprise, allowing players to flesh out their party without even battling.
The goal of completing the Pokedex isn’t just completed by catching Pokemon. Unlike previous games, players need to fulfill various missions in order to actually “research” Pokemon they catch. These missions include catching the same species of Pokemon a certain number of times, having the Pokemon use specific moves, or completing side quests.
The game also sets itself apart by having boss battles directly between the player character and wild Pokemon. Players need to dodge-roll and hurl projectiles at Frenzied Noble Pokemon, revered figures among the groups of Hisui who have suddenly become hostile.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus was widely criticized for its graphics but drew very strong praise for its gameplay and story. The relatively high difficulty level, new approach to catching Pokemon, and more intense story resonated with fans and propelled the game to very strong sales. Despite not having a companion title, Pokemon Legends: Arceus enjoyed sales comparable to mainline Pokemon games. Though it didn’t match the sales of Pokemon Sword and Shield, many fans hold it in higher regard.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet (2022)
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet brought the Pokemon franchise forward by adding fully open-world gameplay for the first time. The games were the full realization of the experiments performed in other Pokemon titles on the Nintendo Switch, going a step further than either Sword and Shield or Legends: Arceus.
With its fully open-world gameplay, Scarlet and Violet allowed players to complete objectives in any order they wished. Players once again were tasked with sorting out the troubles within a new region, breaking up a team of ne’er-do-wells, and becoming the champion.
The key difference is that instead of having a rigid path to follow, players could make their way to any objective at any time. The levels of both wild Pokemon and trainers were consistent regardless of how far the player was into the game, but it still presented players with stiff challenges. Players could find respite in this harsh region with actual local and online co-op multiplayer, as well as by making sandwiches during picnics with their Pokemon.
The games also made DLC the standard for mainline Pokemon games. Following Pokemon Sword and Shield’s The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra, Scarlet and Violet had the two-part DLC The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero. It also carried on the faux games-as-service model of Sword and Shield by maintaining a regular rotation of new content including event raid battles, online tournaments, and competitive formats.
Unfortunately, while the games held up well after their release, a difficult launch undermined their reputation. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are the worst-rated mainline Pokemon games according to review averages. This stems from significant performance issues and bugs that were present in the game at launch. Some of that has been fixed over time, but the game’s legacy will likely remain stained from that.
Do I need to play the Pokemon games in order?
The Pokemon games can be played in any order. It’s easier to start at the beginning and move forward in order to fully appreciate the new features, but the lack of quality-of-life in older games can be difficult to adjust to. While Pokemon Yellow on the Game Boy is one of the most beloved games in the franchise, features like the ability to run and map specific items to buttons are sorely missed.
Because the Pokemon games don’t feature an overarching story, players don’t need to tackle the games in a specific order to understand what’s happening. There are several good entry points to the Pokemon series that players may want to consider.
What is the best Pokemon game to start with?
Pokemon Black and White, Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, and Scarlet and Violet are all great starting points for the mainline Pokemon series. The exact “best” Pokemon game to begin with varies based on what players are looking for and whether they want a classic on the Game Boy or DS, or a modern game on Switch.
Those looking to get in touch with the series’ roots can look to any of the gen-five Pokemon games from the Nintendo DS. While some might want to play the Pokemon games in order, many of the older games haven’t aged especially well. Pokemon Black and White and their sequels are the definitive classic Pokemon experience in many ways. They offer a relatively stiff challenge with great 2D graphics and quality-of-life features that keep them from feeling outdated.
Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are the best games to start with for new console gamers and returning Pokemon fans. The games trade complexity for pure, whimsical fun. Features like Held Items and abilities are swapped out in favor of features like feeding the starter Pokemon berries and riding around on Pokemon in the party. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee also have couch co-op, and are the only Nintendo Switch Pokemon games to offer this.
For experienced gamers who just want to get started playing Pokemon, there’s no reason not to start with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. The gen-nine Pokemon games have the most modern feel of any Pokemon game with a fully open world and relatively gritty story. While Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have a bad reputation based on performance issues they had at launch, the games are definitely worth playing today.
Best Pokemon spin-off titles
Separate from the mainline Pokemon games is a vast assortment of spin-offs. From Pokemon Pinball on the Game Boy to Conquest on the DS to Cafe Mix on the Switch, the quality of these games has varied wildly.
Some have been thematically appropriate and made in-house by The Pokemon Company, while others just had the Pokemon branding tacked onto them in order to stand out. These are the best, with some adding a new spin to the mainline series while others take iconic characters and use them in completely different games.
Pokemon Snap (1999)
One of the most beloved Pokemon games isn’t about catching, battling, or training Pokemon. It’s about photographing them.
Pokemon Snap was released in 1999 and tasks players with taking snapshots of Pokemon in the wild. The player sits in a vehicle that takes them on a fixed path through several environments, allowing them to snap photos of Pokemon they pass along the way. A few different items can be used to interact with the environment, offering opportunities for unique photos. In order to advance in the game, players had to fulfill various conditions including photographing a certain number of Pokemon or luring them to specific locations in a level.
After clearing a level, photos are submitted to Professor Oak, who gives a score for each photo. Scores are based on the framing of the shot and what the Pokemon is doing.
The game didn’t receive especially strong reviews due to its relatively short runtime, as players could beat it in just a few hours. There were also only 63 of the original 151 Pokemon in the game. Despite that, Pokemon Snap stands as a fan-favorite game and received a sequel in 2021 with New Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo Switch.
Pokemon Trading Card Game (2000)
While the Pokemon TCG is a sensation in its own right, a video game adaptation was released in 2000. Simply entitled “Pokemon Trading Card Game,” the Game Boy Color game lets players enjoy the title without the costly barrier to entry.
Pokemon Trading Card Game features an arc directly inspired by the mainline games. Players need to defeat eight gym leaders to collect badges before moving on to the Elite Four to vie for champion status. The Pokemon TCG video game includes all of the cards from the base set, and the Jungle and Fossil expansions. It also added several other brand-new cards that incorporated true RNG for effects from attacks.
This classic Game Boy game received a digital re-release on the Nintendo 3DS and is available to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers via the Game Boy app. It’s actually the only Pokemon Game Boy game available on the service, with none of the mainline titles currently available.
Pokemon Colosseum (2004)
Though a number of Pokemon spin-offs were released for the Nintendo 64, Pokemon Colosseum was the first that offered an experience similar to what was available on handhelds. Players could catch, raise, and battle Pokemon while defeating a rival team in a new region on the Nintendo Gamecube.
Whether Pokemon Colosseum qualifies as a “mainline” game is a debated topic. The game wasn’t developed by Game Freak, while all other mainline Pokemon games to that had been. It also had features that never appeared in other Pokemon games including an exclusive focus on double battles, the complete absence of wild Pokemon, and the necessity of stealing Pokemon in order to build a collection.
That said, Pokemon caught in Colosseum could still be transferred to the Game Boy Advance titles and can hypothetically be transferred forward all the way into Pokemon HOME. The game also introduced the concept of “Shadow Pokemon” which was later revisited in Pokemon GO.
Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness (2005)
Pokemon Colosseum received a follow-up in Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness. As with Colosseum, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness’ “mainline game” status is questionable, but players were able to transfer their Pokemon into the GBA and can potentially migrate them all the way forward to modern Pokemon games by using Pokemon HOME.
The game is largely the same as Colosseum with its focus on Shadow Pokemon, Pokemon theft, and double battles. It saw a mixed critical reception because of this. Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness was released at an awkward time, with the game boasting Game Boy Advance functionality more than a year after the Nintendo DS had launched.
This was the final mainline-esque Pokemon game on a Nintendo console until the launch of the Nintendo Switch. While there were a number of Pokemon spin-off titles on the Nintendo 64, Wii, and Wii U, none offered the ability to catch, raise, and battle Pokemon.
Pokemon GO (2016)
Pokemon GO is the most popular Pokemon game ever according to a number of metrics, being downloaded over 1 billion times. The game grossed over $6 billion in revenue as of 2020, which is likely larger than the gross revenue of every 3DS and DS Pokemon game combined. The game has been wildly profitable and still enjoys a nine-figure active player count several years after its release.
Developed by Niantic, Pokemon GO is an augmented reality mobile app that uses the device’s camera and GPS to simulate Pokemon appearing in the real world. Players catch Pokemon by hitting them with Poke Balls that are thrown using the touchscreen. There was initially little to the game beyond collecting Pokemon, but this changed over time with players being able to take part in raids, battle other trainers, and complete missions.
Players can also transfer Pokemon they catch in Pokemon GO into the mainline games through Pokemon HOME. Unfortunately, there’s no way to send them back.
Pokemon GO has suffered from several controversies over the years. The biggest came in 2021 when Niantic reduced the distance afforded to Pokemon GO players in order to interact with in-game landmarks. In 2023, increases to the price of certain items also resulted in significant fan backlash.
Pokemon Unite (2021)
Pokemon Unite for the Nintendo Switch and mobile devices is one of the most controversial games in the franchise. The game garnered significant backlash with its announcement alone, with the reveal trailer getting heavily downvoted on YouTube. Tempers cooled from there, but things were reignited when the game actually launched.
While Pokemon Unite’s gameplay and graphics received praise, the inclusion of blatant pay-to-win mechanics frustrated many. Held Items are upgraded with a special currency which can be earned slowly over time, or purchased outright using cash. This issue was partly solved over time as more players earned their way to fully upgraded Held Items, but the introduction of another pay-to-win mechanic, Boost Emblems, once again encouraged Pokemon fans to take out their wallets in order to enjoy success in the game.
Despite that, Pokemon Unite’s unique take on the MOBA genre has allowed it to survive. With games capped at 10 minutes, it’s a lighter alternative to games like Dota 2 or League of Legends.