Like so many of Nintendo's other marquee franchises, the Pokemon series has produced numerous spin-offs over the last 25 years, branching out into genres as disparate as puzzlers, dungeon crawlers, pinball, and even fighting games. Although not every one of these experiments turned out to be a success, there have been some wonderful off-shoot Pokemon games, many of which are now considered classics in their own right.
If you've been following the franchise for as long as we have, you've likely played your share of Pokemon spin-offs over the years, and there may even be some that you enjoy more than the mainline series. To celebrate the release of New Pokemon Snap, the latest off-shoot title to arrive on Nintendo Switch, we've rounded up our favorite Pokemon spin-off games and why they hold such a fond place in our hearts. While not every one of these titles is a classic in its genre, each one did something unique that captured our attention and enhanced our love for the series. Be sure to also tell us what your favorite Pokemon spin-offs are in the comments below!
New Pokemon Snap launched for Nintendo Switch on April 30, more than 20 years after the original Pokemon Snap hit the Nintendo 64. Despite this long wait for a sequel, the original game remains one of the most beloved Pokemon spin-offs among fans, making New Pokemon Snap one of this year's most anticipated Switch releases.
One can't have a list of the best Pokemon spin-off games without mentioning Pokemon Snap. The 1999 N64 game casts you as Todd Snap, a Pokemon photographer employed by Professor Oak, who summons you to an island that somehow has numerous climates and ecosystems of wild Pokemon. Each level takes you to a new environment, where you ride in a rail-powered cart on a set path, taking photographs of the wild Pokemon you spot to aid Oak's research. While some Pokemon will be out in the open, others you have to catch at precise moments and draw out in strategic ways using items like apples. You'll be rated by Oak based on how well your photos turn out, and your score will be higher if you catch Pokemon in special poses.
There are only 63 Gen 1 Pokemon in Pokemon Snap, but despite the limited number of Pokemon and restricted perspective you have for taking photos, Pokemon Snap was iconic. It was thrilling to capture a great photo of a Pokemon doing something cool, and the replay value was excellent--once you got the feel for which Pokemon would appear where, you could plan your shots accordingly. Flipping through the album of your favorite photos was nothing less than pure satisfaction.
After waiting patiently for over 20 years, it's wonderful that a new Pokemon Snap game is now on Nintendo Switch. It's a dream come true, and I'm honestly overjoyed to see Pokemon Snap return for a new generation. That said, I'd be thrilled if the original was brought back in some form as well--let's get some N64 games on the Switch Online service, Nintendo! | Jenae Sitzes, commerce editor
The Pokemon series has been spun off into many seemingly incongruous genres over the years, but one of its earliest offshoots remains among its absolute best: Pokemon Pinball. At first blush, Pokemon and pinball seem like an especially odd pairing, but co-developers HAL and Jupiter married the two together cleverly, producing what is still one of the most fun digital pinball games I've ever played.
At its core, Pokemon Pinball plays very much like HAL's previous pinball game, Kirby's Pinball Land, but what gives the title much of its charm is its Pokemon window dressing. Pikachu stands in the corners of the screen and can shock the ball (naturally, a Poke Ball) back into play, and the table's bumpers take the form of various Pokemon such as Voltorb, Shellder, and Diglett. Mirroring the original RPGs, Pokemon Pinball also offers two different tables, Red and Blue, each of which features its own unique elements and bonus stages.
As you knock the ball around and rack up points, you'll activate the game's "Catch Mode," which is where Pokemon's influence truly comes in. When Catch Mode is active, you'll need to hit the top bumpers to slowly reveal a picture of a Pokemon. Once the picture is completed, the Pokemon will appear on the field, and you'll need to hit it enough times with the ball to catch it--an ingenious way to integrate a core mechanic of the Pokemon series into a pinball game.
It's a shame the original Pokemon Pinball didn't receive a Virtual Console release on 3DS as a few other Pokemon spin-offs did, so the only way to experience it nowadays would be to track down an original copy for Game Boy Color. However, its GBA follow-up, Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire, was re-released on Wii U, and it's just as great. There's no shortage of fans clamoring for a sequel to Pokemon Snap (for good reason), but what we truly need is a new Pokemon Pinball game. | Kevin Knezevic, associate editor
Pokemon TCG (Game Boy Color)
It's impossible to discuss the early days of the Pokemon series without also mentioning the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Together with the anime and video games, the Pokemon TCG was a big reason why the franchise was so explosively popular in the late '90s. While I never had much interest in playing the actual card game with my friends, like other kids at the time, I was obsessed with collecting the cards, which is what led me to discover Pokemon TCG for Game Boy Color.
As its name suggests, Pokemon TCG for Game Boy was a digitized version of the card game, featuring the same rules and cards as the physical game. What made the title so compelling, however, were its RPG elements. Just as in the mainline Pokemon games, your ultimate goal is to travel to different clubs, each of which specialized in a particular type, and defeat the eight Club Masters. After collecting their badges, you earned the right to face off against the Grand Masters--TCG's equivalent of the Elite Four.
Compared to other card games, the Pokemon TCG was fairly simple, but that accessibility was another reason it translated so well into a video game. As in the mainline titles, Pokemon cards have different elemental strengths and weaknesses, and you need to exploit them if you hope to defeat the Club Masters. Of course, given the nature of card games, battles often hinged in part on luck (there was only so much you could do if you drew a bad hand), but it nonetheless felt very satisfying to devise strategies and build a well-rounded deck.
The Game Boy Color game would receive a sequel in Japan, but that, unfortunately, was never localized. While it seems unlikely that we'll ever get another proper Pokemon TCG video game, its spirit lives on in Pokemon TCG Online, a free-to-download digital version of the card game. It's not a proper follow-up to the Game Boy title--TCG Online doesn't have RPG elements like the Game Boy game, for instance--but it's a lot of fun in its own right, which shows why the trading card game has been able to remain so popular for over two decades. | Kevin Knezevic, associate editor
Hey You, Pikachu!
Full disclosure: I was probably seven or eight years old when I played Hey You, Pikachu! on N64, but I'd play it again in a heartbeat if I still owned the game and its necessary equipment. Released in 2000, Hey You, Pikachu is basically a pet simulator, except your pet is a wild Pikachu that you slowly befriend over the course of the game. Professor Oak has tasked you with learning to communicate with this Pikachu using a handy voice device he's created. To do this, you needed the N64's Voice Recognition Unit, which plugged into one of the system's controller slots and had a little microphone with a yellow foam cover that you'd speak into.
After you slowly gain Pikachu's trust, it'll come hang out with you in your house. There are numerous activities the two of you can do together, like babysitting Caterpie or gathering food for Bulbasaur's picnic. To guide Pikachu in these tasks, you use the on-screen pointer and the VRU to give it verbal commands. Pikachu's understanding of the human language is limited to about 200 words and phrases, but learning to communicate clearly and accomplish tasks together are the moments I remember most fondly. Of course, I wanted to talk with Pikachu about more than just fishing or gathering food. I wanted to tell Pikachu about my day. I read entire books to Pikachu using the VRU. Its look of confusion during these one-way conversations I'll never forget, but I like to think it brought us closer.
With its emphasis on interactivity and cooperation, Hey You, Pikachu sucked me into the world of Pokemon in a way that no other game has. It's a game that will probably never (and probably shouldn't) be remade, but if you owned it back in 2000 and were the target age group, Hey You, Pikachu was absolutely thrilling. It gave me a digital friend I'll never forget. | Jenae Sitzes, commerce editor
Pokemon XD: Gale Of Darkness
12-year-old Jordan thought the idea of shadow Pokemon was one of the coolest things in the world, almost as cool as a Pokemon spin-off that retained the mainline games' traditional turn-based combat but didn't tell the usual story about beating Gym Leaders. Someone probably should have told him about Pokemon Colosseum. Perhaps a friend, if he had had any.
But since that was not the case, Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness was my first foray into playing such a game. I love the challenge of Gale of Darkness--it's harder than many of the mainline games, largely because you're trying to juggle both defeating and catching your opponent's Pokemon. I'll still occasionally boot up the ol' GameCube and mess around in Gale of Darkness, only to quickly remember that its Battle Tower is no joke and I'm woefully ill-prepared.
Purifying shadow Pokemon offers another wrinkle to the traditional gameplay formula as well, since they're all powerhouses for their level but can't grow stronger until they're purified. And you don't start with the typical choice of starter in Gale of Darkness--the game gives you an Eevee, letting you essentially begin the game with a Fire, Water, Electric, Psychic, or Dark Pokemon. Or, I guess, you could just stick with Normal if you're so inclined to remain boringly dull.
And honestly, that's why I like Gale of Darkness so much--it's just a small tweak to what the mainline games do, not a complete transformation. And that's really all I need, just a wee taste of something different to cleanse the palate.
Plus, for as long as I live, I'll never forget Lotad, Lombre, and Ludicolo dancing to the sick beat of the Miror B. Battle Theme--and that's a beautiful mixture of sight and sound that no Pokemon game has managed to match. | Jordan Ramée, associate editor
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team
With Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX finally out on Nintendo Switch, we'd be remiss not to look back at the 2006 games that inspired the remake: Red Rescue Team on Game Boy Advance and its near-identical Nintendo DS version, Blue Rescue Team. While I never owned a DS and therefore didn't play Blue, I have a special place in my heart for Red Rescue Team, which I knew absolutely nothing about when I first picked it up.
The Rescue Team games, which kicked off the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series, are strange entries in the world of Pokemon games. The story follows a human who wakes up one day as a Pokemon, quickly becomes best friends with another Pokemon, and forms a small business where they take on Pokemon rescues and other odd jobs. Oh, and you take a personality quiz at the beginning that decides if you play as a Pikachu, Totodile, or maybe a Machop (there are 16 options). Before you know it, you're dungeon-diving and engaging other Pokemon in increasingly challenging turn-based combat as you complete jobs, such as escorting a client or delivering an item. Dungeon exploration and battles take place on a top-down, grid-like map, and there's also a hunger mechanic--if your team gets too hungry, they'll start taking damage.
I had no idea I was in for any of this when I first booted up Red Rescue Team on my Game Boy Advance, but the game soon won me over with its charm. The game was rightfully criticized for the tediousness of its dungeons, but the slowly unraveled mystery of my character's identity and the camaraderie formed with my fellow rescue team members, especially my partner Pokemon (I still remember it was a Squirtle), left a lasting impact. None of the later Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games captured the charm of Red Rescue Team in my eyes, so it's a pleasant surprise to see such a stunning remake of Rescue Team on Nintendo Switch. While there's no reason to dig up your Game Boy Advance or DS and play the original Rescue Team at this point, I'm glad a new generation of Pokemon fans can experience its charms. | Jenae Sitzes, commerce editor
It's impossible to overstate the impact Pokemon Go has had on the franchise in its relatively short existence. When it first arrived back in Summer 2016, it seemed like everyone in the world was enamored with the game. Videos of crowds stopping traffic to catch Pokemon and stories of expectant fathers capturing Pokemon while their wives were in labor dominated social media in the weeks that followed its launch, and you couldn't go anywhere without seeing groups of people huddled together, phones out, hunting pocket monsters.
Of course, I was among the many players swept up in Pokemon Go's hype, which is ironic as I don't think the game is particularly fun to play. Compared to other Pokemon spin-offs, Go is fairly rudimentary. Tap on a Pokemon, flick your finger across the screen to throw a Poke Ball at it--rinse and repeat. Like many other mobile games, Pokemon Go is also grind-heavy; evolving Pokemon requires you to feed them a sufficient amount of Candy, and the only way to obtain that is to repeatedly capture Pokemon of that species, which can take weeks.
And yet, despite all the complaints I have about the game, there's something inherently appealing about Pokemon Go that encourages me to keep coming back to it. I think it's the camaraderie it fosters. Even though I'm not particularly invested in building up a team and battling in Raids, I still fire the game up while out on a walk just to see what Pokemon and Poke Stops are around. The Community Day events are especially enjoyable; my girlfriend and I often go out to the park on these days and capture Pokemon together, which is always a pleasant way to spend a sunny morning. It's these kinds of moments, more than the actual gameplay, that make Pokemon Go one of my favorite Pokemon spin-offs. | Kevin Knezevic, associate editor
I play Pokemon pretty intensely, so it's not often that a spin-off that lacks competitive edge grabs my attention. But Detective Pikachu is absolutely delightful. Before the movie (which is also very good), Detective Pikachu on 3DS combined Pokemon with another of my favorite things, crime drama, in a delightful, silly, fun-loving way that endeared me immediately.
Like the movie, Detective Pikachu brings the world of Pokemon to life in a way the main games don't. The streets are lined with Trubbish; Yanma work as cameramen on flashy TV sets; and white-collar crime dominates the scene. With the help of a Pikachu with an old man's voice--unfortunately not Danny DeVito's, but what can you do--you get to solve mysteries wholly unlike the walloping you give to every Team Rocket-like in the main series. I was actually surprised by some of the twists and turns, too, even though the process of collecting evidence isn't exactly difficult.
Detective Pikachu came out in the West toward the end of the 3DS' life cycle, so there's a chance you may have missed it. But I think it's a good, goofy time, and it cleverly uses the Pokemon universe to craft mysteries for you to solve. Plus, it's hard not to love Detective Pikachu, one of the weirdest cop characters I've ever had the pleasure of getting to know in a video game or otherwise. | Kallie Plagge
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