Since its explosion onto the scene in 1998, Pokémon has become a household name in America, enticing gamers young and old with the dream of becoming a Pokémon master. Whether you are a newcomer to the series, looking for a sense of nostalgia, or like me and simply seeking your next adventure after Sword and Shield, these are the mainline Pokémon games that I consider to be among “the very best”.
Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver: Nintendo DS
The second generation of Pokémon games (Gold, Silver, and Crystal) introduced us to a whole new world to explore in the Johto region. They expanded upon what made the original games so gripping, and ironed out many of the bugs and broken features that hindered Red and Blue. Many of the features that we consider mainstays today, such as day/night cycles and breeding, found their beginnings here. However, we are here to praise the remakes of these games that launched on the Nintendo DS as the definitive Johto adventure. HeartGold and SoulSilver took arguably the best Pokémon games out there and tweaked them ever so slightly with quality of life improvements that make them as close to perfect as you can get.
Highlights: Pokémon that follow you around the world, a difficulty that is rarely matched in other entries, and the longest and best post-game content in the series (I won’t spoil it for you)
Pokémon FireRed/LeafGreen: Game Boy Advance
Once again, we have a pair of remakes topping this list of Pokémon games, but hear me out. Pokémon Red and Blue started it all and are considered some of the best video games ever created, but this is not a list of the most influential Pokémon entries. Red and Blue have not aged particularly well, and many quality of life improvements have since become standard in the series. Nevertheless, if you are like me, and love playing games that give you a nostalgia trip, then FireRed and LeafGreen is where you should look. These are nearly shot for shot remakes of the originals, only with improved visuals, sound, and gameplay.
Highlights: The iconic original story and 150 Pokémon, better pacing with updates to modernize the gameplay, and bonus content in the late and post-game
Pokémon Platinum: Nintendo DS
Generation 4 is often considered a dropping-off point for early fans of the series. Up until this point, we had received much more of the same formula, and the launch of Diamond and Pearl only served to sour a lot of gamers. These entries were slow, unbalanced, and had uninteresting stories, which all held them back from reaching their full potential. With their backs up against the wall, the developers at GameFreak released Pokémon Platinum (a third entry to Generation 4) which served to solve all of the problems previously mentioned. Once you dive into Platinum, you will realize that the Sinnoh region is not only incredibly fun to explore, but also introduced some of the strongest and best designed Pokémon of the series.
Highlights: Online functionality to finally trade wirelessly around the world, some of the best Pokémon designs of the series, and the most exploration among all of the games
Pokémon Emerald: Game Boy Advance
Generation 3 benefited from the move to a new handheld console (the Game Boy Advance), which allowed the developers to craft the most beautiful region in the franchise: Hoenn. From windy deserts to a town made of treehouses to ashy volcanoes and a vast ocean, Ruby and Sapphire was home to a vibrant and sprawling ecosystem with plenty of new Pokémon to discover. On top of that, we were introduced to many new features that would stay for good, such as weather and berries. Yet, it was with the third entry to the generation where GameFreak really hit their stride. Emerald introduced a more interesting story, gameplay balances, and great post-game activities.
Highlights: A memorable cast of characters, secret bases to customize to your liking, and one of the best post-game activities in the franchise: Battle Frontier
Pokémon X/Y: Nintendo 3DS
For more than a decade, Pokémon was a 2D franchise that used pixelated sprites to animate its world. However, while we had received teases of what a 3D Pokémon game could look like with the Stadium and Coliseum franchises on home consoles, it wasn’t until the introduction of the 3DS where the mainline series could finally make that jump. Enter: Pokémon X and Y. While not perfect games, they act as a solid starting point for new players and long lost Pokémon fans alike. This is due to the easy difficulty and the inclusion of a ton of original Pokémon. On top of that, some great new features were introduced in order to balance out the game and keep things fresh, like Fairy types and Mega Evolutions.
Highlights: The choice of an original starter from Red and Blue, 3D Pokémon battles, and the introduction of character customization (which would later make its return in Pokémon Sword and Shield)
My hope is that this list inspires you to either play something new or revisit an old favorite. While these entries are not listed in any particular order, they are indeed my opinion of five offerings in the Pokémon universe that are worthy of your time. If you enjoyed this article, please like it and follow me on twitter @TheGameLounge5, or click the “Follow Blog via Email” button at the bottom of the page. Until next time, keep trying to catch em’ all!