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The Pokémon franchise is 25 years old, which means its officially time for me to kick off my quarter-life crisis.
While I look into getting some new piercings and starting a blink-182 covers band, why don't you take a look through the good, not-so good, and absolute best Pokémon has offered fans over the years? From the original 151 to the current 500,000 or however many there are (I've lost count), It's been a real rollercoaster, that much is for sure.
There's a moment in Pokémon Sword/Shield I'll never forget - and not in a good way. During what you assume is going to be a pivotal story moment, you're told by another trainer not to worry about the world-ending disaster and carry on getting Gym badges. The worst part? That's exactly what the game forces you to.
For the first mainline Pokémon game on a home console, Sword/Shield is maddeningly devoid of any real substance. From the barren open world areas to the non-existent story that you're just barely allowed to be a part of. Pokémon can be so much more than this.
Simply put, the first 3DS Pokémon RPGs weren't the massive leap forward we were hoping to see for the series. Pokémon X/Y played things frustratingly safe in a by-the-numbers adventure with an entirely forgettable cast of characters.
The beautiful Kalos region, as well as the inclusion of some great new monsters (hello, Greninja) were a saving grace in an otherwise fairly dull Pokémon game.
The second pair of 3DS Pokémon games, on the other hand, were a lot happier to take some risks. As a result, Pokémon Sun/Moon is a bright and vibrant chapter in the series' history, introducing some delightfully weird new Pokedex entries, exotic twists on established designs, and a potentially world-ending threat that felt more central to the experience than ever before.
In fact, I'd argue that Sun/Moon - more than any other Pokémon game - put the "save the world" side of the story over the "be the greatest trainer" side to brilliant effect. Some players might miss the addition of classic Gyms, but I felt it only served to make our Alolan adventures stand out even further. A shout out also goes to Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon for taking everything that made Sun/Moon great and improving on the flaws.
It often feels to me that a lot of the gamers like me who grew up with the franchise decided to move on just before Pokémon Black/White dropped. That's a damn shame, because Black/White represents one of the biggest leaps forward for the series to date, and one that made a ton of changes to the series both large and small.
Aside from numerous welcome quality of life improvements, Black & White pushed the DS to its limits to make the 2D monsters feel truly alive in battles. Mention must also go to Team Plasma, a group who believe no Pokémon should belong to any one trainer, making them the most interesting "bad guys" the series has ever had.
I put a genuinely terrifying amount of time into Pokémon Diamond/Pearl when it first came out, and there's a very simple reason for that: this was the first game in the series that introduced the ability to battle and tried via the internet, and it changed everything.
There isn't much else Diamond/Pearl did to shake things up beyond touch-screen controls and improved graphics, but it didn't need to go much further. The series' first DS outing is one of the tightest iterations of classic Pokémon, with great minigames, smart features, and a world full of mysteries to discover.
At the time of release, I remember feeling a little let down by Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire. Things I loved about predecessors Gold/Silver, like a day/night cycle and the inclusion of a second region to explore, were suddenly gone.
Still, hindsight is 20/20 and I can recognise now that Ruby/Sapphire were beautifully vibrant adventures that kicked the series up a gear on Game Boy Advance. Gorgeous new sprites and music made everything feel so much bigger, while the Hoenn region itself was a much larger world than either Kanto or Johto, one with so many more surprises and dangers.
Take everything that worked about Ruby/Sapphire. Give the entirety of Hoenn a massive graphical overhaul. Add 3D battles, new moves, and hundreds more monsters. Throw in an awesome epilogue that introduces a Pokémon multiverse for good measure. Bravo, you've just made Pokémon Alpha Sapphire + Omega Ruby!
Should the video games that kicked off one of the biggest franchises on the planet be higher or lower on this list? It really depends on the way you want to look at it. Technically speaking, it's a simple fact that Pokémon Red/Blue are clunky, dated, and kind of ugly... yet they still have a captivating magic about them, even after all these years.
Kanto remains one of the safest and reassuring worlds in video games, the original 151 Pokémon still run the gamut from genuinely awesome to brilliantly idiotic, and the simple yet super effective rock-paper-scissor style battle system is as easy to pick up and play as it's ever been. Some of us might moan about the fact Pokémon has barely changed over the years, but when they got it this right on the first try, who can blame them?
One of the few direct sequels in the entire franchise, Pokémon Black 2/White 2 are a criminally underrated pair of games with immensely challenging battles and an absolute corker of a story to uncover. Set one year after Black/White, players explore a version of the Unova region that's been changed by time and circumstance.
It absolutely feels more like a stopgap between Black/White and the first 3DS games, but Black 2/White 2 make some smart improvements on their predecessors, not least the ability to use multiple repel in caves without having to go into your bag constantly. Life-changing stuff.
Do sequels really get any better than Pokémon Gold/Silver? The second generation of Pokémon showed us all that the original Game Boy was far from a fluke as developer GameFreak delivered an astounding RPG that improved upon its predecessors in every imaginable way.
New Pokémon! A mysterious new region steeped in history! A day/night cycle that dictates what Pokémon appear! End game content that asks you to head back to the first game's region and ultimately face off with the original game's main character! Pokémon Gold/Silver have it all.
Pokémon FireRed/LeafGreen breathed new life into the original Game Boy classics with a stunning visual makeover that transformed Kanto from a mess of blocky grey pixels into a beautiful world of lush green trees, deep blue rivers, and rocky peaks.
Throw in new features like wireless trading (thanks to a shiny new adaptor), as well as a series of brand-new islands to explore that pad out the runtime considerably, and you've got the perfect remake.
What else? Pokémon Gold/Silver remained the ultimate Pokémon experience for years, mostly because of the sheer level of content they offered. You saw my thoughts above, you get it. So of course, when DS remakes of the best Pokémon games ever made finally rolled around giving us the chance to explore souped-up versions of Johto and Kanto? Well, that was one heck of a deal.
To sweeten an already beautifully sweetened pot, HeartGold/SoulSilver retained all the quality-of-life improvements and touchscreen features introduced in Diamond/Pearl, plus the ability to battle and trade online, import monsters from the third and fourth generation games, and choose one Pokémon to follow you around outside its ball, Pokémon Yellow style. The perfect blend of old and new, and a wonderful example of the dizzying heights this wonderful series can hit when it's at its very best.
Check out more articles in GAMINGbible's Pokémon Week, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the franchise:
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