If you’re a Pokémon fan, you have no doubt experienced the mainline games with all their catching, battling, and being the very best like no one ever was. But the series has a wide selection of spin-off games that span different genres and subject matter. Even if you’ve only ever played the RPGs, there’s probably something for you in the spin-offs simply because there’s such a wide range of experiences out there. So what better to do with this eclectic list of Pokémon games than to come up with a qualitative ranking to decide which is the best? We’ve rounded up 21 of the most notable Pokémon spin-off games to rank them, from some real stinkers to some of the most important games and sub-series in the franchise.
21. Pokémon Dash
You might not have heard about Pokémon Dash, the Nintendo DS Pokémon racing game that launched in 2004. That’s because it was pretty bad. Yes, there are other bad games you’ve probably heard of, but Dash isn’t bad in any way that’s interesting. It’s just bad. It feels like a DS tech demo that somehow ended up on store shelves. The entire premise involves swiping on the handheld’s touchscreen to direct Pikachu as he runs from one goal to another. That’s pretty much it. Dash sometimes shakes things up by tying Pikachu up with balloons that you, once again, swipe to move the electric rat in the air. But all it ever really asks of you is to draw straight lines with your stylus so Pikachu knows where to go. It’s entirely unimaginative, ugly, and was all Pokémon fans had on the DS for a hot minute, so some of us bought it. Not me, though. Definitely not me.
20. Pokémon Rumble
In making this list, I was surprised to see just how many Pokémon Rumble games The Pokémon Company put out and that the latest one was as recent as 2019. The beat-em-up subseries has an off-putting visual style that re-imagines all your favourite pocket monsters as these weird, polygonal shapes, sanding them down to what essentially looks like a board game pieces. Pokémon Rumble then takes these dull board game pieces and throws them into a ring for you to control as you button mash away waves of enemies. The sub-series’ biggest impact were NFC figures you could buy and collect of a handful of Pokémon, but they were in the Rumble style and very ugly. My apologies to anyone who bought them.
19. Hey You, Pikachu! / Pokémon Channel
To my eight-year-old brain, the prospect of having a virtual pet Pikachu I could talk to through a microphone sounded like a dream. Unfortunately, the Nintendo 64 game’s tech wasn’t quite capable enough to achieve its ambition. Hey You, Pikachu! was notorious when it launched at the turn of the millennium for Pikachu’s frustrating and unresponsive AI. The idea is that the player can communicate with Pikachu through a packaged-in microphone to give him commands and directions, but Pikachu would often misunderstand or outright ignore whatever you said. In the time since, it’s been revealed that it wasn’t just a problem with programming, but the microphone itself was actually pretty terrible as well. The entire thing actually works better if you can hook up a proper mic. Poor guy wasn’t trying to be difficult, he just couldn’t hear us. While there was no direct sequel to the game, Pokémon Channel is considered to be a spiritual successor, as it once again allows you to keep Pikachu as a virtual pet. There’s just no piss poor microphone to get in the way.
18. Pokémon Café ReMix
The Pokémon series has tried its hand at several puzzle games over the years, and while Pokémon Café ReMix has a lot of really great charm to it, the actual gameplay just doesn’t hold a candle to any of the other games on this list. The Switch/mobile game’s greatest strength is its art style and character design, which are evocative of a children’s storybook. In Café ReMix, you run a cafe alongside your Pokémon and are visited by Pokémon customers looking for some sweets. Visits might come from the usual suspects like Pikachu and Eevee, but even Legendary Pokémon like Palkia or Mewtwo can show up. It’s ridiculous, but I love the idea of the actual god of space stopping by to get his silly little drinks. Still, the actual puzzle gameplay, which consists of making an order and then linking icons of Pokémon’s faces in a similar fashion to a match three game as you stir. The ReMix relaunch in 2021 added several new elements to give the gameplay depth, but it’s still not quite up to par with Trozei or Puzzle Challenge. It has, however, given us some of the cutest Pokémon character designs as it dresses up fan favourites like Charizard and Lucario in some adorable fits.
17. Pokémon Battle Revolution
When Pokémon Battle Revolution launched on the Wii in 2006, it was understandably dragged through the coals for not really being a game as much as it was a platform for competitive play. You could link your DS and play Pokémon Diamond and Pearl battles on the big screen and in 3D, and while that might be neat to the average Pokémon fan, it was light on content of its own, which made it a hard sell for many of people. That being said, it did have some of the best 3D animation of thethe series, and the developers brought Rodger Parsons, who narratrf the anime, to do the in-game battle commentary. And if that’s not the coolest shit you’ve heard all day, then I don’t know what is.
The PokéPark series has been lost amid much of the Wii-era shovelware. But while it’s not the most robust action game, there’s a lot to like in these games as a neat exploration of the Pokémon world in a way that is demonstrably uninterested in human’s relationship to it. Both PokéPark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventure and its sequel PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond follow a Pikachu who sets out on a quest through the titular PokéPark to save the area from threats unknown, all within the framework of a mediocre to bad action game. But the premise — which feels evocative of something like a Super Mario game in the way you explore its worlds, fight enemies, and interact with other Pokémon — feels really fresh, even more than a decade after launch.
15. Pokémon Masters EX
While most of the Pokémon series is focused on the titular pocket monsters, Pokémon Masters EX put the spotlight on the trainers we met in the mainline games, and to great effect. The gacha game from developer DeNA had you collect trainers and teammates as you would normally collect Pokémon in most games, creating your dream team composed of heroes and villains alike. With voice acting and character stories to follow, many of these trainers feel the most alive they’ve felt in any game, and seeing them all together warms the heart. It also gave me Raihan in formal wear, so thanks for adding that, DeNA.
14. Pokémon Trozei
The Pokémon Trozei subseries is another set of games often lost in the conversation of great Pokémon spin-offs, but the original DS puzzler was a delight back in 2006. The first Trozei game’s framing is also a breath of fresh air as it focuses on Lucy Fleetfoot, a secret agent who saves kidnapped Pokémon by matching their icons on a 5 x 11 grid. OK, it’s a little silly, but the vibes were immaculate, and the puzzle mechanics were a lot of fun. Pokémon Battle Trozei, the 3DS sequel, expanded upon the matching systems with new dangers and challenges, like wild Pokémon who could interfere with your combos, as well as opening its multiplayer modes up to more people. It’s really solid, but there is, ultimately, another Pokémon puzzle game that comes out on top.
13. Pokémon Stadium
Pokémon Stadium and its sequel Pokémon Stadium 2 were probably what people were hoping for with Battle Revolution. The games were primarily battle simulators, but came with enough side content that it felt like a more fleshed out experience. From some silly Mario Party-style mini-games and chances to battle long-time favourites with new teams, the Stadium games felt like both a chance to play out Game Boy game battles on a Nintendo 64 screen, as well as their own things not entirely built on the systems of something else. With the mainline games now on console, a lot of the appeal of what these games did might be lost on younger players. But back then? It was incredible to see pixel art Pokémon on the big screen.
12. Pokémon Art Academy
Full disclosure: I can’t draw to save my life. So Pokémon Art Academy is not my cup of tea. But watching just how much better artists were able to get out of the game on a 3DS touch screen speaks to how effective a tool it is for teaching people to draw Pokémon or anything else. You hand me a 3DS with that game in it, and I’ll maybe get you a Pikachu whose eyes and ears are in the right place, but I’ve seen some people draw some pretty incredible pieces, all thanks to Art Academy’s suite of art and educational tools. I’d love to see it ported onto mobile devices with better touchscreens, though the lack of a pack-in stylus might undermine it. Based on the art I’ve seen people make with this game on a 3DS, I’d love to see what they could pull off on a tablet.
11. Pokémon Ranger
Similar to Pokémon Art Academy, I would love to see the Pokémon Ranger series continue on tablets (or even Switch) because it’s so reliant on the DS touchscreen. The Ranger series still revolved around capturing and working with Pokémon, but not in Pokéballs for battling. Instead, the titular rangers used a device called a Capture Styler to befriend wild Pokémon and use their abilities to preserve the nature around them. The Capture Styler appears as a top that circles around a Pokémon to capture it, and the player controls the Capture Styler by using the DS’ stylus and touchscreen to draw circles around wild Pokémon. The challenge is in maintaining your circles while the Pokémon fights and thrashes about, intercepting your stream. It was simple in terms of how you interacted with it, but it introduced a new view on how humans and Pokémon co-exist, and it’s a shame we haven’t had a new entry in the Ranger series since Guardian Signs launched on the DS in 2010.
10. Pokémon Conquest
It’s a real shame 2012’s Pokémon Conquest ended up being a one and done spin-off as the prospect of a Pokémon tactics game still sounds appealing 11 years later. Developed by Koei Tecmo, Conquest is a crossover between Pokémon and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series and weaves characters and concepts together to create an original story grounded in both universes’ lore. That’s all fine and well, but it also paved the way for some deep tactical battles and gorgeous sprite work. Then Nintendo just never did it again. Such a shame.
9. Pokémon Unite
I likely never would have played a MOBA if Pokémon Unite hadn’t come along and sucked me in back in 2021. I’ve fallen off the game a bit, but before that, I put in over 200 hours as a Pikachu main exclusively because I’m relentlessly stubborn and like the little yellow guy a lot. While the game is very much a “baby’s first MOBA” and doesn’t have quite the same intricacies of something like League of Legends and Dota, it’s such a neat use of the Pokémon competitive sport culture to retool those ideas for something team-based and cooperative. With each new character added, Unite finds new mechanical intricacies that are honestly even daunting to go back to after a long time away. But every time I see that TiMi Studio Group has decided to add some weirdo like Comfey or Dodrio to the roster, I know it’s going to make the game more interesting to play and master.
Not that I’ll ever play them though. I’m a Pikachu one-trick until I die.
8. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Spike Chunsoft is responsible for one of the longest-running spin-off series in all of Pokémon, and given how good the Mystery Dungeon games are, it’s not surprising that the dungeon crawlers have had over 15 years of staying power. The series puts the player in the shoes of a Pokémon in a world completely separate from humanity and explores the most fantasy JRPG-inspired storytelling the series has ever had (short of Pokémon Legends: Arceus). Each game has you form teams to enter hazardous zones with to rescue other Pokémon, leading to leaps in status, growth, and clientele. The series’ remixes mainline Pokémon mechanics to fit a dungeon crawling format, and in doing so, are able to carve out an identity distinct from Game Freak’s entries, while maintaining the RPG spirit fans love.
7. Pokémon Pinball
While Mystery Dungeon is still getting new entries semi-regularly, Pokémon Pinball is a subseries Nintendo and friends should get back to because we haven’t had one of these delectable collections of Pokémon Pinball tables in over 20 years, and there’s a lot more Pokémon to pull from nowadays. While a real-life Pokémon pinball machine would have been a more straightforward experience, Pokémon Pinball and its sequel Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire riff on pinball with different modes, gimmicks, and mechanics to make it feel more in-line with the franchise as a whole. That ranges from catching Pokémon who appear on the table and fighting bosses like Mewtwo through bonus stages. For something that could have easily been a throwaway cash-in, the Pokémon Pinball games are a robust imagining of how these two disparate things can come together, and I can’t believe we’ve gone this long without a new one.
6. Pokémon Snap
Both Pokémon Snap and its sequel New Pokémon Snap (didn’t take long to think of that one, I imagine) are delightful ways to portray the Pokémon world without having to delve into the way humans just came in and started capturing these poor critters in balls and made them fight each other. These games are about being as non-invasive as possible by playing as a nature photographer who travels through various Pokémon habitats to get pictures of how these creatures act when humans aren’t around. It’s a serene and joyful ride through the Pokémon world as you take photos and throw food to wild monsters, and each track is full of fun discoveries to stumble upon. New Pokémon Snap took 20 years to come out, but hopefully we won’t have to wait quite as long for a Newer Pokémon Snap.
5. Pokémon Puzzle League
Here it is, the king of Pokémon puzzle games. Pokémon Puzzle League and Pokémon Puzzle Challenge were top tier puzzle games in their own right, but their added charm as Pokémon games gave me and every other kid in the early 2000s something competitive to get invested in, as every puzzle was framed as a battle. Looking at footage of Puzzle Challenge gets me pumped even 20 years later as I remember how cathartic it was to take out tough opponents. My cartridge for Puzzle Challenge may be gone, but Puzzle League was added to Nintendo Switch Online last year, and it’s starting to feel like I need to subscribe to play one of these games again.
4. Pokémon Trading Card Game
While there are video game versions of the Pokémon Trading Card Game out right now, the Game Boy Colour game included an entire RPG that elevated it to near the top of this list. In premise, it’s kind of silly to imagine someone being more invested in the trading card game when actual real-life Pokémon are in this world, but the framing of trying to be a TCG champion gave me and others back in the day a great tool to learn how to play the card game through our Game Boy, and no doubt catapulted plenty of kids’ obsession with collecting the cards to new heights.
3. Pokémon Colosseum / Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness
Pokémon Colosseum and its sequel Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness are the only games that could reasonably be considered traditional Pokémon RPGs on this list, but while they share much of the battle mechanics with the mainline games, they’re not quite the same “catch ‘em all” affair. Set in the Orre region, these two games reframe the usual Pokémon catching loop to let the player steal opposing trainers’ Pokémon who have been distorted by the antagonistic Team Snagem. You can then add them to your team and purify them. While the mechanical twists are notable, Colosseum and Gale of Darkness also leaned into a darker storytelling, which gave them a distinct tone separate from other Pokémon games. They’re not quite to the levels of Pokémon Legends: Arceus and Scarlet and Violet’s endgame, but they still stand out as some of the coolest explorations of the Pokémon universe. Oh, and antagonist Miror B. is forever an icon.
2. Detective Pikachu
Everything about Detective Pikachu shouldn’t work. It’s a mystery game all about a talking Pikachu who teams up with a sad teenager who’s trying to find his missing father, and does so through the format of an adventure game. It’s not as mechanically complex as something like an old LucasArts game or as narratively complex as a Danganronpa, but its mysteries, deductions, and mechanics are an entertaining spin on what you would expect from a Pokémon game. On top of this, it’s also one of the most fascinating takes on the Pokémon universe as its set in a city where Pokémon and humanity live together as equals. Pokémon, such as a Ludicolo who works as a barista, hold down jobs, and battling is outlawed. Detective Pikachu asks you plenty of questions as you solve its mysteries, but it also tacitly asks if life can be different for Pokémon in this world, and more importantly, can it be better?
1. Pokémon Go
I know it might be tough to hear for a lot of the hardcore Pokémon community, but there really isn’t a Pokémon game as important as Pokémon Go. Niantic’s mobile collect-a-thon game has fundamentally changed what Pokémon is to most people. When the game launched on mobile in 2016, that was the closest we ever got to world peace. It brought entire communities of people together, served as the basis of regular gatherings like Pokémon Go Fest, is somehow still coming up in reports about people doing crimes while playing it, and changed the way Game Freak thinks about post-game support for mainline entries like Scarlet and Violet with the introduction of raid battles. As a game, it has its issues, though Niantic has supported the game for nearly seven years now after multiple other projects have failed to take off. But as a moment? Pokémon Go is the most important game in the franchise since the original Game Boy games.