When you think of Pokémon, you probably imagine the traditional games: pick a starter, fight eight gym leaders, and so on.
However, the series has experimented with fantastic spinoffs over the last two decades. Total sales for Pokémon have reached over 200 million. While most of that comes from the main games, these extra title have help the series remain fresh and exciting for fans who want more than a new release every few years. It also helps to keep fans invested in the popular Pokémon cartoon, card game, and movies.
To celebrate Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, two of our biggest Pokéfans, staff writer Jeff Grubb and community manager Mike Minotti, each picked two of their favorite Pokémon spinoff games.
Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64, 1999)
The spin: It was the 1990s, so it was inevitable that Nintendo would turn its hottest franchise into a “shooter” — and Pokémon Snap was the result (note from Mike: Har, har, Jeff). This 1999 Nintendo 64 release has you playing as a photographer who must use combinations of food and attacking items to stun and attract certain creatures to get the best shot possible. It was a thoroughly Nintendo-like solution, and it ended us as one of the most beloved entries in the Pokémon series.
What made it so good: Pokémon Snap found a way to make the compulsion to catch every creature in the pocket monster universe into a more immediate experience than the core games. The game is on rails, which means you don’t control where the character goes. But this simultaneously enables players to focus on taking photos while also creating tense moments where you just barely are able to click the shutter before a legendary Pokémon escapes. It’s also important that this was one of the earliest ways to experience this franchise on consoles. And it was magical to see Mew and Gyrardos as fully polygonal creations.
Pokémon Puzzle League (Nintendo 64, 2000)
The spin: Nintendo took a fantastic puzzle game and combined it with Pokémon. Tetris Attack is one of the original head-to-head match-3 battlers. It has two players (or one versus a computer-controlled opponent) trying to eliminate blocks by shuffling and matching while more continuously push up from the bottom. Pokémon Puzzle League is exactly that, but with art and characters from the animated TV series.
What made it so good: Tetris Attack was already amazing, but the Pokémon license helped this franchise find a much larger audience. At the same time, this is the only game Nintendo has ever made based on the anime. It has Ash Ketchum and other characters from the series. Considering that is something we haven’t seen before or since, it makes Puzzle League a standout experience for Pokémon fans.
Pokémon Pinball (Game Boy Color, 1999)
The spin: Sometimes, simple association can result in a great idea for a game. Someone must have looked at a Pokéball and thought, “Huh. That kind of looks like a pinball.” And Pokémon Pinball was born. It’s a clever game that combines the mechanics of pinball with the “gotta catch ’em all” spirit of Nintendo’s beloved franchise.
What made it so good: Role-playing games are great and all, but this game’s mechanics worked perfectly as a portable “play for 10 minutes here and there” experience. It saw a sequel in 2003 with Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire for the Game Boy Advance, but the original will always hold the closer place in my heart.
Pokémon Trading Card Game (Game Boy Color, 1999)
The spin: Back when we were starving for new Pokémon games, this portable masterpiece bridged the gap between the original’s quest structure while replacing the core gameplay with a digital version of the popular trading card game. Instead of Pokémon, you’re earning new cards, but you’re still traveling the world searching for battles.
What made it so good: Keep in mind, this was 1999. Today, playing a digital card game like Hearthstone isn’t that big of a deal, but getting to play the Pokémon TGC without carrying a binder and plastic bags of damage counters felt like a miracle.