Nearly every mainline Pokémon game has changed up how we engage in battles alongside our favorite little (nongendered) guys. Whether pitting multiple monsters against each other at once or full transformations for your team, each Pokémon game puts a specific twist on its fights. But even though the series has seen different gimmicks come and go, fans still have a lot of feelings about which of these are best, and still fight about them to this day. So now let’s take on the Gigantamax task of ranking them.
Welcome to Exp. Share, Kotaku’s Pokémon column in which we dive deep to explore notable characters, urban legends, communities, and just plain weird quirks from throughout the Pokémon franchise.
6. Triple Battles
I do admire Game Freak’s attempt at iterating on Ruby and Sapphire’s Double Battles with Black and White’s Triple Battles. It feels like a lot of classic turn-based RPGs in which you have a party of three and are making decisions about how best to utilize a round based on your opponent’s team composition. But triples just didn’t have the longevity of double battles, which are still a standard format for competitive play. Because they didn’t have that staying power, it’s hard to imagine triple battles ever coming back when so many strategies and abilities are geared toward the 2v2 structure. It was interesting, but I imagine a lot of people are glad it didn’t become the standard.
The one thing Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves have on most other gimmicks is that they’re applicable to all Pokémon. These super-powered attacks are only usable once per battle, but they give any Pokémon, from the smallest Pikachu to the biggest Lunala, a chance to turn the tide of a fight with an exceptional attack. Some Pokémon have unique abilities that help them stand out, but on the whole, a Z-Move is a universal piece of any Pokémon’s arsenal if you’re carrying a specific Z-Crystal.
But Z-Moves left less of an impact on our relationships to certain Pokémon, the series’ world, and the imagery we associate with specific series games. Most Pokémon gimmicks are somehow transformative, whereas Z-Moves feel like a one-time glass cannon that we don’t really talk about in the same breath as Mega Evolutions or Dynamax. It was a neat, equalizing mechanic, but just not quite as memorable.
From a visual standpoint, Dynamax is probably the coolest gimmick Pokémon has ever had. In Sword and Shield, any Pokémon on your team can turn into a massive, giant version of themselves that towers over a battlefield. Some Pokémon got special forms from this called Gigantamax, and it’s still pretty incredible to see some of these critters reimagined as huge kaiju versions of themselves.
But for all the visual splendor, it did ultimately end up amounting mostly to a big power boost that flattened moves into generic “Max” elemental attacks that, for as striking as the image of a giant Meowth elongated above a crowd of onlookers was, diminished some of the personality of these monsters. Gigantamax Pokémon still look friggin’ killer, though.
3. Mega Evolutions
For a lot of Pokémon fans, Mega Evolutions are the gold standard the series’ battle gimmicks will always be beholden to. These temporary transformations enhanced established Pokémon by letting them temporarily evolve into stronger (often edgier-looking) of themselves. It was evocative of something like Digimon, with Pokémon briefly enhancing their capabilities to rise to the occasion of a fight.
A lot of the Mega forms were cool as shit, and gave Pokémon cool typings on top of a new look. Charizard finally got to be a dragon-type and Mewtwo got to throw hands as a fighting-type. It’s one of the coolest reimaginings of old Pokémon, even if not every new design was that stellar. Imagining Pokémon in a Mega form they never got is still a trend among fandom artists. I’m still bitter about Raichu not getting a Mega Evolution, though.
2. Tera Types
The most recent battle gimmick from Scarlet and Violet is incredibly silly, at least visually. When a Pokémon uses its Tera Type, it gains a giant, unwieldy crystal crown that represents a different element sitting on its head. But the actual tactical utility of Tera Types is one of the best gimmicks in the series.
Using a Tera Type allows you to overwrite a Pokémon’s base typing so it has an entirely different set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s not limited to any specific type or combination, and that makes it one of the most versatile and strategic gimmicks the series has ever done. It allows you to mix up play styles to subvert expectations and accommodate for a Pokémon’s inherent weaknesses. The possibilities offered by Tera Types are incredibly open-ended compared to every other gimmick’s, and that’s what makes it one of the best core mechanics a Pokémon game has ever offered. Even if your Pokémon have to wear a silly little (big) hat to make it work.
1. Double Battles
There’s a reason Double Battles have lasted long beyond their introduction in Ruby and Sapphire. It’s the standardized structure of competitive play, it’s the format so many attacks and abilities have been built on, and it opens up so many interesting plays that go beyond the main story’s usual “rock-paper-scissors” format of exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses for big damage. Double Battles made your team no longer feel like islands that operated primarily as different, rotating damage dealers, and now created new synergies that have become foundational to everything in Pokémon design.
Double Battles felt like a cool, iterative recontextualizing of an established formula back in 2002, but no one could have foreseen how it would completely reshape how we play Pokémon.
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