Pokémon is one of Nintendo’s most enduring franchises, and it’s got an impressive pedigree that’s hard to fault. Each generation brings new and exciting features to the games like global multiplayer and trading, secret bases, non-gym trainer challenges and Pokémon popularity contests. They all add something new, and help keep the Pokémon train chugging.
This year, the franchise celebrates its 25th anniversary — and there’s never been a better time to look back on the franchise, how we got here and what’s still to come. With Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl and Legends Arceus just over the horizon, let’s take a look at each Pokémon generation and what it added to the long-running franchise.
When Pokémon is good, it’s great — but not all titles are created equal. Here are Kotaku Australia’s definitive Pokémon generation rankings.
Diamond | Pearl | Platinum (Gen IV)
Diamond and Pearl represent the biggest leaps between Pokémon generations. This was the era that gave us multiplayer hangouts in the Underground. It gave us the Global Trade System (GTS) that made swapping Pokémon with other trainers so fun and revamped Pokémon Contests.
Sinnoh is also one of the best regions of the entire franchise, and it introduced us to a fantastic new set of starters in Piplup, Turtwig and Chimchar. Mix in a great story and a gorgeous world, and you have one of the best Pokémon games around.
With rumours pointing towards Diamond and Pearl getting remakes sometime this year, we could soon be experiencing the greatness of this generation once again.
Silver | Gold | Crystal | SoulSilver | HeartGold (Gen II)
Pokémon Gold and Silver were so good, Nintendo made them twice (not exactly a rare feature for the franchise, but notable). Both versions are great, but the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes are simply excellent. They represent the very best of Pokémon and prove how early on Nintendo perfected the formula.
Not only did the games introduce us to Chikorita (the GOAT), it also had an excellent, town-spanning story and finessed the world of trainer battles and levelling.
Black | White | Black 2 | White 2 (Gen V)
To date, Black and White are the only Pokémon games to recieve sequels, and there’s a good reason for that. These twin games were the first to really focus on worldbuilding and story over simple battles, so they made for a very intriguing adventure.
Small tweaks made it one of the most visually impressive Pokémon games to date, and the addition of features like Musicals made this generation a delightful package. Arguably, Black and White and their sequels also boasted the best new line-up of Pokémon to date, including Snivy, Audino and my personal favourite, Trubbish.
Sapphire | Ruby | Emerald | Alpha Sapphire | Omega Ruby (Gen III)
Rayquaza, Kyogre and Groudon are the best legendaries of the entire Pokémon franchise, and these games deserve all the accolades they get. While the story doesn’t quite reach the heights of Black and White or Gold and Silver, this lot of games was another mad flex by Nintendo and proved they had the Poké formula down.
It only loses points for being so similar to the second generation.
You don’t mess with perfection, and Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald proved just that. They’re not the very best of Pokémon but they’re pretty darn good.
Red | Green | Blue | Yellow | FireRed | LeafGreen | Let’s Go (Gen I)
It all started here. Without the original Red and Green, there would be no other Pokémon games. It established the formula we all know and love today, and set the games on their path to greatness.
Today, the originals are incredibly dated — but the remakes and reiterations that came after it proved how impressive the traditional Pokémon formula was. They’re simple, but very good fun.
Let’s Go is the definitive way to play the original games (minus the battling system) so if you’re looking to get a glimpse of the franchise’s humble origins, start here.
X | Y (Gen VI)
Pokémon X and Y for the Nintendo 3DS felt like a new dawn for the franchise. The formula had stabilised, graphics were breathtaking and the world was bigger and better than ever. While this generation didn’t do anything particularly ‘new’ X and Y were still fun and enjoyable adventures (even if they were mostly forgettable).
This was the generation that introduced the ability to pet your Pokémon, and it certainly deserves brownie points for that.
Sword | Shield (Gen VII)
Pokémon Sword and Shield for Nintendo Switch introduced players to a brand new region and gameplay style based on European culture. While it did occasionally fall into stereotype territory, it made both games feel different to other titles in the franchise. There were plenty of great locales to explore, and a truckload of new ‘mons to catch.
It was only let down by its poor multiplayer functionality and the Wild Area, a location which often featured egregious texture pop-ins and long loading times.
Sun | Moon (Gen VII)
Sun and Moon were great experiments for the franchise that did away with the familiar gym-based gameplay structure. Instead, players were tasked with completing island challenges and traversing a vast, sun-filled world. To be clear: ranking this game last doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. It tried things the franchise had never done before, and introduced a vast array of gorgeous places and Pokémon.
But the franchise has stuck to a traditional formula because it works, and arguably Sun and Moon were a little bit too different. The lack of gyms meant a lack of difficulty, and that the adventure felt more like a pleasant trip than a true Pokémon game.
Still, there’s plenty to love about this generation.
Do you agree with our rankings? Have some wildly different thoughts? Pop on down to the comments below and share your opinions.
This article has been updated since its original publication.