As long as Pokemon remained the same, it also changed a lot over the years. Nintendo’s decades-long biopic of Ash Ketchum (game bio?) stayed true to its turn-based monster-collecting roots. But each new iteration comes with something that sets it apart from its immediate predecessor. We have previously classified these main entries. Now, as we did with Borderlands and Haloit’s time to review the best and worst features of each.
Pokemon Red and Blue (1998)
The best: The whole thing. Pokemon Red and Blue started with a basic concept so solid that it hasn’t needed to change for almost three decades. The feedback loop was easy to grasp and intoxicating too. You find and capture monsters (151 of them!), train them, watch them change and evolve, and battle them against other trainers’ monsters. Your goal is simply to become the best trainer in the world by beating all eight “Gym Leaders” – considered the best for their respective regions. You were constantly progressing and advancing, and you did so with a loyal team of often lovely buddies.
The worst: The audio. Yes, Pokemon Red and Blue were creatures of their time and should therefore be assessed through that lens. However, some of the sound effects – the cry of a Zubat, the ding ding ding from a low health bar – creaked unbearably. Too bad, considering how iconic most of the music was.
Pokémon Gold and Silver (2000)
The best: The return to Kanto. One of the greatest tricks Pokemon never fired happened more than two decades ago. Beat the match after defeating all eight gym leaders in the new Johto region. Then you realize there’s more, a whole other region to conquer – and that just so happens to be Kanto, the setting of the original game. In doing so, pokemon gold and Silver were able to dive together into the wonder of a new space and the nostalgia of an old one. Great.
Worse: chasing legendaries. The three legendary beasts of Gold and Silver – Suicune, Entei and Raikou – were awesome. They were also a total pain in the ass to catch. First, you will have to meet them randomly, in one of the patches of tall grass on the various roads connecting the city of Johto. Then, because they would probably run away, they would have to be found. Each time you moved roads, they also moved, with a margin of one. Trying to line up your journey such that you passed a beast was a never-ending job. Three? Let’s go.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire (2003)
Best: Double battles. People often laugh at Pokemon games to be “glorified paper scissors,” and for a while you could generally see how that deal was done. Pokémon are each affiliated with types; each type has a number of other types it is strong or weak against. Water beats fire beats grass beats water, and so on. You can just swap the types to make sure you have the advantage. That changed drastically with the introduction of Dual Battles, which allowed each trainer to field two Pokemon at once, allowing for defensive combos – and a whole new dimension in noble strategy.
The worst: diving. Maybe I’m just claustrophobic, but I couldn’t stand Ruby and Sapphireunderwater sections. The fact that they were tied to Dive, a water-type move that took two turns and barely dealt any damage, was a travesty. Pokemon reached its nadir of requiring annoying hidden machines – combat moves that could also be used to cross out of combat – with Ruby and Sapphire. And Dive was the worst of them.
Pokémon Diamond and pearl (2006)
Better: Move the differentiation. Pokémon deal damage based on their attack or special attack stats. Before diamond and pearl, both of these were type-related, with more basic type moves (fire, water, grass) dictated by a special attack, and more tangible types (rock, steel, fighting) dictated by a physical attack. In other words, if you had a grass-type Pokemon with a high attack stat but a special attack in the basement, they were functionally useless on offense. diamond and pearl made it so specific that the moves, rather than the types they were affiliated with, were characterized as physical or special attacks, instantly turning a wave of useless Pokemon into unstoppable fighting machines.
The worst part: the stakes were too high. Pokemon the games always present you as a young coach on a quest to be the (very) best (like no one has ever been). Ruby and Sapphire raised the stakes a bit by introducing Legendary Pokemon that could cause severe regional flooding or drought – extremely bad, don’t get me wrong, but not exactly Thanos-level stuff. Pokémon Diamond and pearl, however, kicked things up to 11 with legendary Pokemon that could shatter time or space, plus a literal god Pokemon that is responsible for all of creation. It’s here that PokemonThe stories started completely jumping the shark.
Pokemon Black and White (2010)
Best: Seasons. Pokemon games often affected by day and night cycles, dating back to the days of Gold and Silver. Depending on the time of day, different Pokémon would appear. Pokemon Black and White went a step further by introducing seasons. Not only did this dictate what Pokemon would appear in the seasons, but it also had a cosmetic effect: Seasonal changes caused some Pokemon to change their appearance. It was a nifty way to get players playing long after they hit the credits, provided they really wanted to catch them all.
Worse: triple battles. Double battles reigned. Triple fights? Not really. As with everything Pokemon games before and since, you are allowed to have up to six Pokemon in your party. Some of the tension in Pokemon battles are a guessing game – not knowing who makes up your opponent’s formation, what batter they might be sitting on. Having half a team on the battlefield from the jump diffuses that tension.
Pokemon X and Yes (2013)
Best: The fairy type. PokemonThe type chart is the mechanical backbone of the series, but it has remained stagnant for over a decade; the previous biggest overhaul of its formula returned during Gold and Silver, when Dark and Steel-type Pokémon joined the mix. That finally changed when Pokemon X and Yes introduced fairy-type Pokémon. While weak to Poison and Steel-type moves, it served as an effective counter to Dragon- and Dark-type Pokémon then overpowered. Additionally, it put long-time gamers on their toes for the first time in a long time.
The worst: the mega evolutions. Pokémon can evolve, sometimes twice. With each new form, they would gain a noticeable stat boost and a cool new look. Pokemon X and Yes introduces probably the most misguided twist on this mechanic: mega evolutions, which temporarily allowed certain Pokémon to evolve past their final stage. Although the Mega Evolutions only lasted for one battle, they significantly boosted the Pokémon’s stats, turning it into an asset. Worse still, there were very few things stopping you from just…doing it all the time. By the time X and Yes rolled, there were hundreds of Pokémon you could choose from to build your team. But why do that when you could just choose one of around 50 Mega Evolutions?
Pokemon Sun and Moon (2016)
The best: Litten!!! Starter Pokemon – the one you choose, from a selection of three, at the start of the game – always cause a stir. Fans argue over which generation had the better trio. Then they fight over which is the best Pokémon of a specific trio. But the thing is, it’s already a dispute settled: Litten, the baby fire kitten, is the best starter Pokémon of all time, ever.
Worst: Alolan types. Vulpix, a bushy-tailed fox Pokémon, has been a fire type since the 90s. Come find out in Pokemon Sun and Moon, and the move is obvious: hit it with a water-type attack. Turns out it only deals standard damage…because Vulpix is now ice-type? ! Pokemon Sun and Moon changed the long-standing types for a number of classic Pokémon. Say it with me: Booooo. (Although, in retrospect, perhaps my dislike for it is less of a comment on Sun and Moon than on my own longing, and the weak grip on the joy I get from cherishing it.)
Pokémon Sword and Shield (2019)
The best: the wild area. Pokemon has always hung its hat on random encounters. You’re walking through the tall grass, in any game, and you’re not entirely sure what Pokemon will come out. Pokémon Sword and Shield, the first games to be released on Nintendo’s Switch console, added a region called the Wild Area, where you would actually see wild Pokemon roaming around and could choose whether or not to engage with them. Whatever your thoughts on the region, it was cool to see the series finally experiment with open-world sensibilities. (This will be confirmed this fall Scarlet and Purple versions, which are fully open.)
Worst: DLC. Seriously? I can’t upgrade my Slowpoke without paying for the extension?