Pokemon: The Long, Convoluted History Of Transferring Pokemon Between Games
Since its earliest days, the Pokemon series has encouraged players to collect as many of the eponymous pocket monsters as they can, summing up the entire premise of the franchise in its iconic tagline, "Gotta catch 'em all." Over the next two decades, however, that mission statement would become increasingly complicated as the series jumped to new consoles, making it difficult for players to bring along all of the Pokemon they've previously captured with them.
Barring a few exceptions, developer Game Freak has generally done an admirable job of giving players the ability to carry almost all of their old monsters over each time a new installment in the series arrives. However, due to the logistical hurdles the studio had to overcome to allow this across different handhelds and consoles, the methods of transferring your Pokemon between games have varied by generation, and they've often been remarkably convoluted, requiring you to jump through numerous hoops to bring your old monsters into newer titles.
Thankfully, the process of transferring Pokemon was streamlined considerably with the advent of Pokemon Bank, a cloud storage service for 3DS that lets you store thousands of monsters and easily move them between the series' sixth- and seventh-generation games. The upcoming Pokemon Home service looks to continue on in this vein, giving players the ability to store Pokemon from Bank, Pokemon Go, and Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee in one place and even bring them over into the series' newest titles, Pokemon Sword and Shield (provided they're in the Galar Pokedex, that is).
Pokemon Home isn't slated to launch until early 2020, so it'll still be a little while before you can bring your old Pokemon from 3DS to the Switch. In the meantime, we wanted to take a look back at all of the different ways of transferring Pokemon between games that Game Freak has come with over the years.
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Time Capsule (Gen 1 -> Gen 2)
Pokemon Red and Blue made their explosive debut in the West in 1998, and two years later, the games' first pair of sequels, Pokemon Gold and Silver, arrived. While the titles were still playable on the same hardware and featured numerous callbacks to their predecessors, Gold and Silver marked the beginning of a whole new generation for the series, taking players to a new region that was home to a fresh cast of characters and 100 newly discovered species of Pokemon to collect.
Despite belonging to a different generation, it was possible to link Gold and Silver (and their eventual third version, Crystal) up with Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow and transfer some monsters between them via the Time Capsule--a facility located inside every Pokemon Center across the Johto region. Once you reached a certain point in the story, you could access the Time Capsule and trade with a Gen 1 title--the only instance in series history that you could directly trade Pokemon between two different generations of games.
Of course, there were some restrictions to this process. First, you couldn't bring any Gen 2 Pokemon or eggs into the Time Capsule; only Gen 1 monsters were permitted. The Pokemon also couldn't know any of the new attacks that were introduced in Gold and Silver. Finally, and perhaps most prohibitive for younger players, you needed to have access to two Game Boy systems and a link cable to trade. Despite these hurdles, the Time Capsule ensured that players still had a way to continue using all the old Pokemon they had spent so many hours raising--something that wouldn't be possible again come the next generation of games.
Pokemon Box: Ruby & Sapphire
Pokemon Box is an outlier on this list in that it didn't facilitate transfers between different generations, but it is worth mentioning regardless because it served as a precursor to today's Pokemon Bank service. A standalone release for the Nintendo GameCube, Pokemon Box was more akin to a glorified application than a proper game. Using a GBA - GC link cable, you could connect your Game Boy Advance to the home console and store Pokemon you caught in any third-generation title (Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald or FireRed/LeafGreen) onto a GameCube memory card.
Pokemon Box had a few other ancillary functions--it also featured a Showcase mode that allowed you to display your Pokemon in different showrooms, for instance--but it existed primarily to give hardcore players a means of storing excess Pokemon and moving them more easily between Gen 3 titles. This niche purpose, however, meant the game didn't get a wide release, and it would go on to become an unlikely collector's item (you'd be stunned by the exorbitant prices it's going for on Ebay). Still, while it may not have been very practical tool at the time, Pokemon Box was an important release for the series because it paved the way for the cloud storage service that players use to transfer their Pokemon between games today.
Pal Park (Gen 3 -> Gen 4)
While the first two generations of Pokemon games made their home on the Game Boy, the series would transition to the Game Boy Advance for its third proper installments, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. The move to a more powerful system opened up a new range of possibilities for the series, but it also meant that any Pokemon raised in previous titles had to be left behind, effectively forcing players to restart their collections from scratch.
The series would jump platforms again with its first Gen 4 entries, DS's Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, but this time around, players were able to bring their beloved monsters with them thanks to a facility called the Pal Park--an in-game wildlife reserve that you could access after obtaining the National Pokedex. By inserting a Gen 3 title into the DS or DS Lite's Game Boy Advance cartridge slot, you were able to "migrate" your Pokemon over from the GBA game and recapture them at the park.
In terms of usability, the Pal Park was perhaps the most user-friendly method of transferring Pokemon that Game Freak had ever devised. However, it too came with a couple of notable caveats. While you didn't need any extra hardware to migrate Pokemon from Game Boy Advance to DS, you were only able to bring over six monsters at a time, which made transfers a time-consuming process. You also weren't able to migrate Pokemon that knew HMs (Hidden Machines), and every transfer was a one-way affair--monsters you brought over could not be returned to their original game. Even with these limitations, however, the Pal Park stands out as a mostly seamless attempt to bridge two different generations of Pokemon games, particularly compared to the method that would follow next generation.
Poke Transfer (Gen 4 -> Gen 5)
The fifth generation of Pokemon kicked off in 2011 with the release of Pokemon Black and White for the DS. This marked only the second time to date that two different generations of games were released for the same system, but rather than allowing players to directly trade their old Pokemon to the new titles, as they could from Red and Blue to Gold and Silver, Game Freak concocted a different method for bringing your monsters over: Poke Transfer.
In essence, Poke Transfer worked similarly to the aforementioned Pal Park, as it also allowed you to migrate up to six Pokemon at a time. Instead of using the DS's GBA cartridge slot, however, it utilized the system's Download Play function to interact with a second DS housing a Gen 4 title. To initiate a transfer, you first needed to visit an in-game facility called the Poke Transfer Lab, which could only be accessed after defeating the Pokemon League and clearing the main storyline. The actual transfer process, however, would turn out to be much more convoluted than Pal Park.
After migrating a handful of Pokemon over, you couldn't simply recapture the monsters as you could in the Pal Park; rather, you had to play a mini-game to retrieve them. This game involved launching Poke Balls from the system's lower screen to the top one, where your Pokemon would hop between different rows of bushes. What made this whole process particularly cumbersome was that the mini-game had a strict time limit, and any Pokemon that weren't captured before the time expired were returned to their original game.
Fortunately, there was no limit to how many times you could use Poke Transfer each day, so it was possible to simply resend any monsters you failed to catch and try again. However, having to play a mini-game to reclaim your own Pokemon seemed like an unnecessary hoop to jump through when Pal Park simply allowed you to recapture them. On top of that were the usual restrictions: you couldn't migrate any Pokemon that knew HMs, and each transfer was permanent--any monsters you migrated over could not be returned to their original game. There was also one Pokemon that couldn't be transferred at all: Spiky-eared Pichu, a special version of the electric mouse from HeartGold and SoulSilver. Those limitations aside, Poke Transfer was fundamentally no worse than previous Pokemon transfer methods, but it certainly made you work to bring your monsters over.
Pokemon Bank / Poke Transporter (Gen 5 -> 3DS)
The Pokemon series jumped systems again in 2013--this time to the 3DS--for its sixth-generation entries, Pokemon X and Y. Several months later, Game Freak would roll out Pokemon Bank, a cloud service that functions much like the PC storage systems found within the games themselves. For a small annual subscription fee ($5 per year), Bank allows you to store your Pokemon to the cloud and retrieve them in any Gen 6 or Gen 7 title you have inserted in your system.
Not only did the arrival of Pokemon Bank eliminate the need to wade through complicated transfer processes to keep your old Pokemon, the service also provided a simple way to migrate over monsters from Gen 5 games and even the 3DS Virtual Console versions of Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow and Gold/Silver/Crystal through a related app called Poke Transporter. Using this app, you could transfer Pokemon from the first box in a Gen 5 or Virtual Console game and store them in Pokemon Bank, allowing you to then access them in a Gen 6 or Gen 7 title.
Of course, even Pokemon Bank has a few restrictions. Monsters you transfer over from the Virtual Console Pokemon games can only be used in Gen 7 titles, and any Gen 5 or Gen 6 monster you've taken into a Gen 7 entry can no longer be used in earlier games. Even with these few caveats, however, Pokemon Bank finally provided longtime fans a simple, unified way to maintain their Pokemon collections, and it looks like that spirit will continue in the upcoming Pokemon Home service for Switch.
Pokemon Home (3DS / Mobile -> Switch)
We're still a couple of months away from the release of Pokemon Home, and while few details about the service have been confirmed thus far, we do know some basics about it. Announced during a press conference ahead of E3 2019, Home will be a Pokemon Bank-like service for smartphones and Nintendo Switch. Not only will it allow you to migrate Pokemon over from Bank on 3DS, it will also let you store Pokemon from Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee and even Pokemon Go to the cloud and then retrieve them in Pokemon Sword and Shield (if they're available in the Galar Pokedex), as well as future titles.
In addition to being able to store all your Pokemon in one place, Game Freak says you'll be able to trade Pokemon from within Home itself if you have a smartphone, although exactly how that will work has not yet been explained. The service will also integrate some of the functionality previously available through the Pokemon Global Link website, such as the ability to view online rankings, events, and more.
Beyond that, however, there's still much we don't know about Pokemon Home, such as when it will launch. The Pokemon Company has said the service will go live in early 2020, although it hasn't pinned down an exact date. It's also unclear whether Home will require its own subscription fee to use, as Pokemon Bank does, or if it will be rolled into the Nintendo Switch Online service. Whatever the case, Pokemon Home is shaping up to be an exciting service for hardcore Pokemon fans.