Every Generation of Pokemon Games Examined
It’s gratifying to fans when a franchise stays popular for decades. You’ve got Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Godzilla, and lots more that don’t ever seem to run out of steam.
But there’s something different about video games. We as fans get to participate in the stories, choosing adventures and changing the events at the touch of our fingertips. The world of Pokemon is a fantastic example. Though we don’t really get to choose much of the plot, each Pokemon experience is tailored to the player’s tastes and preferences. Which monsters will you raise? Which side journeys will you take? Which cheats and GameShark codes will you hate yourself for using to make the game even more your own?
Since the late ’90s, gamers all over the world have obsessed over the options in the main series Pokemon RPGs. In honor of Pokemon Day, let’s take a look at how these games have changed over the years.
The first Pocket Monsters titles, Pokemon Green, Red, and Blue were released in Japan in 1996 for the original Game Boy handheld system. For the English translation, we received Blue, Red and Yellow.
Nearly every generation afterwards has for the most part followed the same formula. The main series editions are always released as two slightly different cartridges with an occasional third game releasing later. Each version has a few specific Pokemon not available in the other cartridge, so if you want to catch them all, you have to trade with other players.
Those two elements, trading and catching, have remained with the series ever since. Battling, leveling up, and progressive boss fights have also stayed, which is a testament to just how great these original games were. The same idea still works 24 years later.
As for the OG games themselves, they haven’t aged very well visually. The graphics are certainly charming, but the newer titles are definitely more pleasing to the eye.
Touted by many as the best Pokemon games ever made, the Game Boy Color titles Gold, Silver, and Crystal mostly stuck to the original blueprints. But 100 new monsters were added on top of the original 151, and they were so well-designed that the original games don’t even come close.
Generation 2 introduced the PokeGear (in-game cellphone, radio), new Pokeballs, an in-game clock, baby Pokemon, new moves and types, and a brand new region called Johto. These games were also much longer – you not only explored Johto, but also went back to the original region, Kanto.
We also got some fantastic legendaries, including Pokemon that roam across the map and must be hunted down (Raikou, Entei, Suicune). All in all, there was a lot more to do in Gen 2 than before.
Ruby and Sapphire were released in Japan in 2002 and then to the rest of the world in 2003. These games were gorgeous. Kids couldn’t tear those boxes open fast enough to get to the sleek Game Boy Advance cartridge within. Once the game powered up, the player was greeted by an even bigger tapestry of color than the almost candy-coated packaging.
The graphics, though dated by today’s standards, were a sight to behold for those used to Game Boy Color’s simple offerings. The buildings and caves were all excellent, and there was more water to explore than ever before, including with the new Dive feature.
The monster designs, including the starters, were excellent. As for legendaries, they were on par with the best monsters offered by sci-fi films. Kyogre, Groudon and Rayquaza conveyed a sense of power not often found in handheld games (before smartphones, anyway).
Overall, Generation 3 gave us the most natural looking Pokemon ecosystem. New features like the berry planting mechanic made this even more so. Other Gen 3 features, like Pokemon Contests, were also kept in later generations.
Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green were released in 2004, combining the best elements of the original games with the awesome visuals of Ruby and Sapphire. Serving as remakes of Blue and Red, the last games of Gen 3 were a nostalgic dream, and this trend was followed in later generations with even more remakes.
Ruby and Sapphire were updated with Emerald, the third title in the latest generation, in 2005.
Like Generation 3, Generation 4 came in two parts – original games called Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, and then a set of remakes released a few years later.
The original titles were the first main series Pokemon games for the Nintendo DS. They were mostly well-received by fans, but the graphics didn’t really improve upon the previous generation. This was related to games’ only major problem – it was basically more of the same, with no real revolutionary features (though the Dowsing Machine was a lot cooler than the old Itemfinder).
The next phase of Gen 4, Soul Silver and Heart Gold, were remakes of Gen 2. These were better received, and many fans put them at the top of the list for best Pokemon games. Nostalgia is quite powerful.
The names of Generation 5 titles are deceptive- Black and White. It sounds like the games are going back to basics, but nothing could be further from the truth.
While they still follow the same catch-fight formula, the Gen 5 games had such great new features and side quests that it practically felt like a franchise reset. These features included seasonal changes and rotation battles. It was also the first game based on a region outside of Japan, inspired by New York.
The gameplay felt fresh, and the Pokemon sprites actually moved around for the duration of each battle. In a couple of past games, the monsters had a 2 second sequence of animation every time they were called out, but Black and White took it much further.
This generation did have one major problem – the Pokemon. While the final starter evolutions were amazing, there were a few downright silly additions that made it look like the franchise was running out of steam. Vanillish was just an ice cream cone, for crying out loud.
Black and White also produced two direct sequels, Black 2 and White 2. They featured the same map and region with a continuation of the previous story.
Pokemon X and Y (2013) were literally game changers. The system was now the 3DS, which gave this generation lots of cool graphics and an improved sound system. Features added to X and Y included better graphics and fully 3D characters. New temporary Mega Evolutions were also included.
72 Pokemon were added, some of them pretty cool. Still, the overall list didn’t match the design quality of Gen 4, the last games where nearly every Pokemon looked decent.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS) were released in 2014. Despite the huge changes to the graphics, it’s amazing how faithful the ORAS games were to the original Gen 3 games on which they were based. The delightful, uber-positive music themes received a major update while still following the same basic notes of the original songs.
One awesome feature of ORAS was the glide ability. Rather than flying to a different town at the press of a button, players now had the option to control either Latios or Latias and fly through the sky, which led to a better view of the environment and even more levels of exploration.
Pokemon GO isn’t technically a main series game, but it’s very important.
A 2016 mobile game, GO remains popular to this day. It’s very different from all the Game Boy and DS versions, as the strength of your Pokemon is directly linked to the amount of creatures you catch.
Walking around in the real world and letting our phones augment reality breathed new life into the franchise. The game encouraged fans to move around, searching for Pokemon at gas stations, supermarkets, fields, and everywhere else. Many praised the game for making exercise more mainstream.
Some players took it a bit too far and trespassed onto private property or even played while driving. But as long as people are sensible and safe, the overall experience of Pokemon GO is often incredibly rewarding.
With Pokemon GO sweeping the world by storm, Nintendo had a lot to live up to with the next main series generation. Thankfully, they succeeded once again with Sun and Moon.
Released for the 3DS in 2016, Sun and Moon improved on the formula by adding powerful Z-Moves, Pokemon subspecies native to the Alola (based on Hawaii) region, and Ultra Beast legendaries.
Sun and Moon never got as popular as Pokemon GO, but they were still loved by millions of players all over the world. 81 Pokemon were added, and a few of them, like Mimikyu and Solgaleo, were totally boss.
Enhanced versions called Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were released in 2017, but Gen 7 didn’t stop there. Moving on to the Nintendo Switch in 2018, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Let’s Go, Pikachu! were remakes of Pokemon Yellow. More than any other game, this set took players back to where Pokemon all started with the same story and setting as the originals.
Beyond the amazing new graphics, the games introduced a host of new features, including a welcome change to the catching mechanic. No longer did players have to find random and often repeating Pokemon in the grass. Now, the screen showed players each Pokemon in the area. This gave the option of picking which creatures to confront, which saved a lot of time and avoided repetitive boredom.
Generation 8: Sword and Shield
The latest Pokemon games, Sword and Shield, arrived November of last year. 81 new Pokemon were added, along with special subspecies native to the Galar region, bringing the grand total to nearly 900 catchable creatures.
Galar was modeled after the United Kingdom. Simply put, the architecture and the landscapes make Gen 8 the most beautiful experience in the whole franchise.
The games added some cool new features, including the Wild Area where you could explore in any way you wish, and camping, a break from the action that allowed players to give their Pokemon toys and cook unique curries to restore health and raise affection. Elements from Pokemon GO, including outfit customization, also made their way into this generation.
You can also grow your Pokemon to ridiculous sizes with the Gigantamax and Dynamax mechanics. Unfortunately, the popular Mega Evolutions and Z-moves of Generation 7 are nowhere to be found, but Generation 8 still pleased most people with the crisp visuals and interesting legendaries.
There has even been an announced DLC for Sword and Shield coming later this year, the first of its kind, which will add new Pokemon, gym leaders, and an entirely new island to the Galar region.
Which Pokemon games are your favorite? Which starters did you choose? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments!