Pokemon has built its global empire largely by staying true to its format, which has remained the same for over a quarter of a century.
You get your starter, you go exploring a vast new world, catching lots of new pocket monsters as you go, you beat Gym leaders, and then you become the Pokemon champ of the region. It’s tried and tested, and even though we have been there, done it, and have the T-shirt, we all flock back to the series when a new installment comes along.
Yet, despite this reliance on this format, you can’t accuse the Pokemon franchise of not being adaptable. This series has branched out from its gaming roots and become a goliath in the world of anime, film, the toy industry, and the trading card industry. It’s a big player in the plush world, and as of recently, Pokemon is even moving into the realm of sleep and recovery apps.
This adaptability is also present, not in their main gaming series outings, but certainly within their vast array of gaming spin-offs.
These titles take aspects of the main game, borrow the ever-growing cast of Pokemon, and offer a gaming format that is fresh and far removed from the typical Pokemon adventure. It would be a lie to say that all of these spin-offs have been a sparkling success, as some have been real duds. However, there have been more than enough standout spin-offs which justify the means.
With that in mind, we thought it would be a great idea to list some of these amazing Pokemon spin-off titles. If you are someone that doesn’t know where to begin, someone that wants to know which of these games are worth playing (and which suck), or if you simply aren’t aware of the cavalcade of Pokemon Spin-off options out there, then you are in the right place. Without further delay, here is our list of the Best Pokemon Spin-off games! Enjoy!
Hold up, Poke-fans! Before we hop into this list, we better lay down some ground rules. So as you might imagine, subjectivity will play a role here, but with the help of the criteria below, we hope to put together the most comprehensive list of great Pokemon spin-offs out there. So here are the criteria and considerations we took into account:
- No Pokemon Main Series Titles (This includes Pokemon ROM hacks)
- All Games must be directly related to the Pokemon series
- Only one entry per spin-off
- All games must have received a favorable reception upon launch
Okay, guys, put your gym badges and your Pokedex to one side; it’s time for something a little different!
#01 Pokemon Snap
- Release Date: 21st March 1999
- Platform: Nintendo 64
Let’s kick things off with what is perhaps my favorite ever Pokemon spin-off, Pokemon Snap. This title changed the role of the player from a trainer, to a Pokemon researcher, and armed with a camera, pokeballs, and some other props; the player would travel on rails through a series of Pokemon habitats and biomes, attempting to get a few photos of these majestic creatures in the wild.
The game blended photography and the collection-heavy mechanics of the series seamlessly and provided enough depth and variety to encourage multiple playthroughs of each level, with lots of secrets to uncover in each. It’s a game that served as the inspiration for Bugsnax, and it recently got a sequel decades later. So if you want to put your photography skills to the test, Pokemon Snap is perfect.
#02 Pokemon Ranger
- Release Date: 23rd March 2006
- Platform: Nintendo DS
This may be a little controversial, as a lot of fans have seen Pokemon Ranger as a bit of a lackluster title, especially the sequels. However, I always thought that the concept, core gameplay mechanics, and the narrative of the original title were rather strong, and while it has its flaws, it deserves a mention for sure.
Pokemon Ranger sees the player take on the role of, surprise, surprise, a Pokemon Ranger, and your role is to catch Pokemon and complete quests to maintain the status quo within the region of Fiore.
This made players feel like professional Safari Zone attendants, with a unique, puzzle-based capturing system that was fun to play around with. It was interesting to see a region where training Pokemon isn’t a thing, and it was nice to see Minun and Plusle in leading roles too.
Not everyone will remember this one fondly, but you can’t deny that it was a radical format change for the series and one that shone brightly at times throughout its run.
#03 Pokemon Showdown
- Release Date: October 2011
- Platform: Web Browser
Okay, so this is a bit of a wild card entry, as this isn’t a licensed Pokemon release, it’s a fan-made platform, and it takes a core aspect of the mainline games. However, I make a case for Showdown being included here because it is a format that leans into competitive battling more than any other main series Pokemon game ever has.
This format allows players to choose their team from an entire roster of Pokemon via a web browser app. Players can choose their movesets, EVs, IVs, Abilities, and more. Then they are placed against other trainers, and they must battle until one trainer is left with no Pokemon left to fight. It’s accessible Pokemon battling that literally anyone can enjoy.
No longer do you have to concede and buy a Nintendo console to participate. It’s a steep learning curve when playing Showdown, but believe me, before long, you’ll know the inner working of Pokemon battles more intimately than a lifelong casual Pokemon player.
#04 Pokemon Colosseum
- Release Date: November 21st, 2003
- Platform: Nintendo Gamecube
Many modern gamers will likely think that Pokemon Sword and Shield we’re the first ever 3D console Pokemon adventures. However, long before then, Pokemon Colusiuem came along and introduced the fan base to a much darker, grittier Pokemon adventure, where shadow Pokemon were the main attraction.
In this title, you play the role of Wes, a reluctant anti-hero type, who was once one of the bad guys, and now must right his wrongs and cure the corrupted shadow Pokemon of their afflictions. It’s very Cloud Strife in FF7 if you need a point of reference.
The game admittedly does have a pretty limited roster of Pokemon, considering that there were three generations of Pokemon to pluck from at this point, but thanks to the uniquely dark setting and tone, plus a few cool gimmicks like the snag system, a duo of Eeveelution starters, and trading compatibility to Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, the game still has a lot to offer fans.
It was a very interesting direction for Nintendo to take the series, and the sequel Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is also a banger. So if you missed this one, dig out your Gamecube and try this out!
#05 Pokemon: The Trading Card Game
- Release Date: 18th December 1998
- Platform: Game Boy Color
If you were around in the 1990s, then there is no way you could have missed the Pokemon Trading Card boom. Before there was Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic The Gathering, there was the Pokemon TCG.
So to cash in on this success, Pokemon decided to do a tie-in game on the GBC that allowed players to battle against other TCG players, build decks, win cards, and become a certified TCG whizz. Now, compared to modern apps like the Official Pokemon TCG app, this game merely serves as a tutorial that will show you the basics of the TCG, and offer a little bit of challenge at the back end of the game, but nonetheless, it was a whole lot of fun.
Much like card builder games such as Yu-Gi-Oh: Forbidden Memories, Slay the Spire, and Inscryption, there was an additive quality to this game.
Players got a lot of satisfaction out of building the best decks to beat certain opponents, and obviously, there was the art of collecting all the available cards that kept players interested in playing after you had beaten all that stood in your way. By modern standards, it’s primitive, to say the least, but for nostalgia alone, this is something you have to try.
#06 Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team
- Release Date: 17th November 2005
- Platform: Game Boy Advance
Now, I have something to declare. I do not like the Mystery Dungeon series. I thought that, even for the typically watered-down and pandering Pokemon series, this game was far too kid-centered, and the gameplay was rather repetitive and lifeless.
But hey, that’s just me, as there is a laundry list of Poke-fans out there that adore this series. This is perhaps why it received a ream of sequels after the initial release of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue team. The format blends traditional dungeon crawling and roguelike elements, along with traditional Pokemon battling altered to an RTS style, culminating in a fresh and interesting concept.
While I can’t personally recommend the game for its gameplay alone, I do have to concede that the writing and core premise of humans becoming Pokemon, allowing us to get to know our favorite Pokemon more intimately, is very cool.
It also looked quite appealing, considering the limitations of the GBA as well. Look, I’m not going to shower the series in praise, but equally, they don’t make seven games in a series for no reason, so go out there and make your mind up for yourself.
#07 Pokemon GO
- Release Date: 6th July 2016
- Platform: Mobile
The Pokemon series is known far and wide and has spanned across generations, but it’s rare that a Pokemon game transcends the medium and becomes part of the general populous’ daily routine.
Well, back in 2016, Pokemon Go, a game powered by augmented reality that allowed players to travel around in reality and capture Pokemon that could well be just loitering up the street, did just that. Casual fans, newbies to the series, and veterans alike were all wandering aimlessly around towns and cities in search of the rarest of the original 151 Pokemon.
It was a fun gimmick that got players out of the house, and introduced players to the Pokemon series at a time when it was struggling to maintain fan interest, and you could argue that Pokemon GO cemented the Pokemon series’ place in the cultural zeitgeist for years to come.
Years on, you can now catch just about every single Pokemon on the roster, there are lots of raids and live events that players can attend, there is a refined trading system, the battling aspect of the game is much stronger, and technically the game performs much better than it did upon launch.
The hype may have settled around Pokemon Go, with only dedicated, real-world trainers remaining within the player base, but even still, if you haven’t played Pokemon GO, now is the time to get out there. Who knows what Pokemon are right around the corner?
#08 Pokemon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire
- Release Date: 1st August 2003
- Platform: Game Boy Advance
When Pokemon Pinball was announced, you could almost hear the collective groans of the Pokemon fanbase in unison. A pinball game? Why would we want that? I certainly felt that way back in the day. It felt like a shameless cash grab.
A quick filler game to tide fans over until they could put something of substance together. Well, simply put, I was wrong. We all were. Pokemon Pinball is one of the most underrated gems within the whole Pokemon gaming catalog, serving as an addictive arcade-style take on the collection-based Pokemon format, and 2003’s Ruby and Sapphire edition is the best version of this format.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, at its core, it’s just a pinball game, but it’s a bloody good one, because, as a gamer that grew up during the Playstation X era, I have played my fair share of pinball games, and they pretty much all sucked.
This is a bit of a deep cut, but this game had the same fun factor as Space Cadet Pinball, a default game for Windows 98, but with the addition of Pokemon.
You would have to trigger certain situations to catch certain Pokemon, while still trying to rack up a high score. It was casual, addictive, and cathartic gameplay, and even now, I wouldn’t mind spending an hour with this title. Try it; I promise you won’t regret it.
#09 Pokken Tournament
- Release Date: 16th July 2015
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
Pokemon are friends, loyal companions, and cute as a button, but when push comes to shove, they are fighters. Without Pokemon battles, the series wouldn’t have got very far, and Pokken Tournament runs with this notion.
Taking the skills and movesets of Pokemon, and then placing them in a beat-em-up title akin to the likes of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Tekken. This game offers a modest selection of Pokemon, including fan favorites like Pikachu, Greninja, Blastoise, Gengar, Mewtwo, and has players face off in a head-to-head smackdown; precise timing and button inputs (or button mashing in my case) will be essential to succeed.
This game is one that is hard to recommend as a pure fighting game, because, when compared to the industry leaders, this game doesn’t have that same tactical refinement and balance needed to offer a fair, competitive experience.
However, if you are a casual fan of fighting games, and love the Pokemon series, then this is a fun arcade departure from the main series and will offer something fresh and new for you to enjoy.
#10 Pokemon Stadium
- Release Date: 1st August 1998
- Platform: Nintendo 64
We move all the way back to the Nintendo 64 era once again for another ‘oldie, but goodie.’ Pokemon fans love the series for its blend of RPG and turn-based battling elements, but not all fans love the narrative of these games, and I can understand that criticism, the writing, and world-building have never been standout aspects within the franchise.
Well, this was the spark that led to Pokemon Stadium, a game that cuts out all the narrative and focuses solely on battling. It’s not unlike Pokemon Showdown in a lot of ways, but it’s much more primitive and simplistic.
I would love to say that this game has aged well, but as the franchise and the gameplay mechanics have evolved, it has left this title in the dust. The battling feels very limited and tactically straightforward. It’s not a challenging title by any means.
The game was largely praised for the move to 3D and the inclusion of local multiplayer, and while it was great then, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill now. However, at the time, this was a step in the right direction, and many fans still look back don’t this game fondly. So if your nostalgia is getting the better of you, just give in and boot this one up.
#11 Pokemon Unite
- Release Date: 21st July 2021
- Platform: Nintendo Switch + Mobile
With such a huge roster of Pokemon with unique typings and abilities, it was only a matter of time before the Pokemon Company decided to cash in on the MOBA scene and create a title in line with others like League of Legends, Smite, and DOTA.
I’m, of course, referring to Pokemon Unite. This game is a 5v5 team-based arena battling game where players must work together to capture wild Pokemon, power up, earn points and eventually win the match. This, along with Pokken Tournament, was part of the Pokemon Company’s push to enter the world of Esports, and the game has featured at the Pokemon World Championships.
While the game is a serviceable MOBA with a decent roster of 36 playable Pokemon and some unique gimmicks like Unite moves, but as a whole, it falls into the same trap as Pokken Tournament. Within the MOBA genre, it’s average in a field of stellar titles, and this means that unless you are a Pokemon fan, you might not get a lot out of this game.
But credit where it’s due, it’s free-to-play, and as a mobile game, it’s very competent. If you like Pokemon and MOBAs, it’s at least worth a try.
#12 Pokemon Conquest
- Release Date: 17th March 2012
- Platform: Nintendo DS
Then lastly, we have a cult classic within the Pokemon gaming catalog. Many players may not remember, or may not have even heard of this traditional RPG based within the Pokemon Universe. This game sees the player travel around the Ransei region fighting Pokemon warlords, and as weird as that sounds, it’s actually pretty cohesively written and offers an overworld that is very in touch with Japanese culture.
Battles felt much more strategic than that of traditional titles, with warlord powers offering a puzzle-like feel to proceedings. Then when you add in the simple and accessible Rune Factory-esque minigames, and you have a game that really keeps things varied and fresh throughout.
The criticism for this game would be that there aren’t a lot of Pokemon on show here despite having nearly 700 to choose from at the time.
Plus, the graphics are a little underwhelming. However, thanks to deep, varied gameplay and great writing, this is very easy to look past. Many fans see this as the best, most polished Pokemon spin-off ever, and when you look at all Pokemon Conquest has going for it, it’s hard to argue against that. It’s a hidden gem that you need to uncover!
There are some Pokemon spin-offs I omitted from this list, not because they were bad, or because they aren’t memorable, but simply because they don’t serve as the best of the best. It’s fine margins when you are discussing a top-tier gaming franchise like Pokemon. So here are some of those titles that just missed out on the top ten:
- Hey You, Pikachu
- Detective Pikachu
- Pokemon Art Academy
- Pokemon Puzzle League
For every successful foray into new areas of gaming for the Pokemon series, there is an absolute stinker that has come before or later, showing that this series doesn’t always churn out instant hits. Some of the lesser-known spin-offs have ranged from poorly conceived, to just plain awful. So with that in mind, let me give you a list of titles you will want to give a wide birth:
- Pokemon Dash
- Pokemon Rumble Rush
- Pokemon Channel
- Pokemon Quest
- Pokemon Trozei
Question: How Many Pokemon Spin-Off Games Are There?
Answer: At the time of writing, there are twenty-two main series entries in the series, and then there are a further one-hundred spin-offs that players can sink their teeth into. That being said, though, I would say that 50% of those titles aren’t worth your time.
Question: What Was the First Pokemon Spin-Off?
Answer: It was a pretty close call between two of the games on the list above. Pokemon: The Trading Card Game was pretty early on, but the first-ever spin-off was Pokemon Stadium. This game was released on the 1st of August 1998. Pokemon: The Trading Card game would soon follow in December of that year.
Question: What Spin-offs are Free to Play?
Answer: It depends if you want to make use of an emulator, because if you do, then practically all of these games are free to play. However, speaking purely in the traditional sense, these are the games that you can play with no need to break out your wallet:
• Pokemon Unite
• Pokemon Showdown
• Battle Trozei
• Pokemon Go
Best Pokemon Spin Off Games: Final Thoughts
Change can often be uncomfortable and scary, but thanks to the fun factor that the Pokemon series brings, these new gaming formats offer a truly unique and exciting experience that excel in their own right.
While the spin-offs on offer have been a mixed bag, I’m still very appreciative that the series has tried to grow and expand into new areas of gaming. You miss every shot you don’t take, and thankfully, these games listed prove that these big swings paid off.
We hope that this has expanded your Pokemon knowledge and given you some new games to check out. After all, a true Pokemon master should be multi-faceted and adaptable. So get out there and play!
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