Nobody has the time (or patience) to document every single Pokémon game in existence and rank the entire franchise in a catch-all list. And let’s be honest, it wouldn’t make much sense, either. After all, how does one even begin to compare the merits of Pokémon Stadium with Pokémon Snap? A fool’s errand. What is possible (and absolutely worth courting controversy for) however, is taking a magnifying glass to the core RPG series, discussing the pros and cons of each, and their rightful placement in the ever-growing hierarchy of Pokémon games. Let’s get the (Poké)ball rolling…
14) Black & White
Game Freak’s attempt to infuse the series with a more mature—though still child-friendly—storyline in Black & White didn’t land with the impact it had hoped. The result, instead, being a noticeable disconnect between content and story. Couple that with some of the most uninspired creature designs of any generation, and you’ve got what can only be described as a swing and a miss.
13) Sun & Moon
Credit where it’s due, Game Freak finally attempted to shake up the formulaic nature of Pokémon’s Gym Crawl for the first time ever with Sun & Moon. But their replacement, unremarkable puzzles (and that’s stretching it) book ended by a clash with a more powerful version of an already existing ‘Mon, felt like little more than wasted potential. The lack of any meaningful post-game content did little to keep hardcore Trainers around, either, though the latter of these complaints would be somewhat remedied a year later in new and improved versions, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon.
12) Black 2 & White 2
The first (and currently only) time that Game Freak has ever tried its hand at delivering direct sequels to an existing generation, Black 2 & White 2 inch out their predecessors’ thanks to some rejigged world maps and the inclusion of the Pokémon World Tournament, a terrific post-game activity that allowed players to challenge Gym Leaders and Champions from previous entries. Some much-needed quality of life improvements thrown in for good measure made recommending the pair much easier, though some issues, namely the lack of any interesting new Pokémon, keep them out of the top 10.
11) Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
Adding more Pokémon from past games to catch, added story emphasis on the box Legendary and the inclusion of Team Rainbow Rocket were all welcome additions for Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon. Sadly, a near-identical Island Challenge quest and several forgettable mini-games far from justified shelling out full price for what was ultimately a mild incremental upgrade over the original Gen 7 entries.
10) Ruby & Sapphire
Pokémon’s debut on Game Boy Advanced ushered in a new era for the franchise. But what Ruby & Sapphire boasted in technical advancement, it lacked in innovation. The Gen III titles would also mark the first instance of essentially requiring a purchase of both games to catch every available Legendary and experience all the story, the latter of which differed drastically (i.e. Team Magma vs. Team Aqua) depending on the version. Bonus points have to be awarded for the genuinely tough-to-solve post-game Regi hunt, however.
9) Red & Blue
A controversial placement for many veteran fans, perhaps, but while Red & Blue are responsible for kicking off the franchise, they’ve long since been surpassed by more modern installments. The absence of gender (and therefore breeding), Shiny hunting and much, much more that’s taken for granted today results in a thoroughly vanilla adventure worth checking out for the legacy aspect alone, but little else, especially as several remakes since universally improved upon the source material.
8) Let’s Go, Pikachu & Let’s Go, Eevee!
No, they’re not to everyone’s tastes, but that’s the point. Game Freak achieved exactly what it set out to do with the Let’s Go! games: deliver a more casual-friendly entry into the universe for new and prospective Trainers alike. By wholesale ditching the deep RPG systems intended for competitive players, the Switch spinoffs served a dual purpose of giving the developer time to acclimatize itself to new hardware in the Nintendo Switch, the end result being a joyous experience for all ages to enjoy.
7) X & Y
Boasting arguably one of the series’ best narratives (a low bar, we know) and a delightful world based on France’s capital of Paris, X & Y deserves recognition for pushing the envelope in more ways than one, not least Mega Evolution. Besides giving previously overlooked critters such as Audino and Banette some much-needed love, the mechanic delivered a huge shake-up of the series’ increasingly stale competitive metagame and remains, by a country mile, the best ‘gimmick’, far outstripping Z-Moves and Dynamaxing in entertainment value and ingenuity.
6) Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire
No doubt a direct result of Mega Evolution’s instant popularity, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire would continue the trend of adding new temporary forms for existing Pokémon, iterating on the feature with unique attacks and a revamped story accounting for the phenomenon. Particular praise goes to the pair’s postgame Delta Episode, however, for introducing a new form for fan-favorite Rayquaza as well as an origin story for the Legendary and its enemy, the extraterrestrial Deoxys. The optional content remains one of Game Freak’s best-written and well-paced stories.
5) Sword & Shield
Understandably, Sword & Shield‘s reputation will forever be tarnished by Dexit, but look past that controversial chapter in Pokémon’s history, and you’ll find games that depict Game Freak realizing its creative potential. It’s here, in the IP’s home console debut, after all, that Gyms, long considered to be a worn-out cliché, were given a new lease on life by incorporating British football culture to create genuinely hype set pieces. It certainly doesn’t hurt, either, that the pair’s Wild Area, a first proper punt at delivering an open-world experience, delivered the multiplayer Pokémon experience that millions of fans have dreamed of ever since taking their first tentative steps in the Kanto region.
4) Diamond & Pearl
A Pokédex packed with incredible creature designs? Check. A region brimming with personality? Check. Some of the best postgame content, novel evolution methods and secrets of any mainline entry to date? You know the answer. Endless requests from the fan base for Game Freak to deliver Diamond & Pearl remakes as a result of the above were finally reduced to a deafening silence when exactly that was announced earlier this year. How will they stack up against the OG version of Sinnoh? We’ll just have to wait and see.
3) Fire Red & Leaf Green
A superior version of the monochrome original in every way, Fire Red & Leaf Green is the OG Kanto experience as we all remembered as kids, only this time with less archaic animations, buckets of extra color and additional content in the form of the Sevii Islands – a post-game area bustling with Legendary and Mythical species of Pokémon aplenty.
2) Gold & Silver
Anyone who took a whistle-stop tour of Johto in the original Gold & Silver will recall the sense of wonder that washed over them when the region’s champion was bested, only to realize that what essentially amounted to an entire game’s worth of content still awaited. The surprise reveal that was a return to Kanto years after Red’s defeat of Blue is a gaming moment that’s hard to beat (and likely won’t be anytime soon). Clawing your way to the top of Mt. Silver to take on the ‘true’ Gen II final boss is as epic as Pokémon gets.
1) HeartGold & SoulSilver
How do you guarantee that a Pokémon title is lauded as the best entry to date? It’s easy: you remake the most acclaimed installments and make them better in every conceivable way. Upgraded visuals, expanded areas, completely overhauled gyms and, the bread and butter, even more Pokémon to hurl Poké Balls at make HeartGold & SoulSilver the ultimate adventure in Game Freak’s beloved universe bar none.