Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokemon: Let's Go, Eevee! are coming out later this month, descending upon humanity like a beautiful apocalypse. And, many Pokémon fans are feeling all nostalgic. It just makes me want to go back and replay every other Pokémon game in preparation for them.
But, I can't do that, because it would mean that I wouldn't be able to dive into Pokémon: Let's Go until roughly 2021. So, let's limit this quest to be a Pokémon Master all over again to just the best games in the series.
Here are the top 10 Pokémon games of all time. So if you're trying to get in a quick Pokémon fix before Let's Go comes out, maybe give one of these a shot.
Right off the bat, I need to make it clear that I'm not just talking about the top 10 Pokémon "main series" games. There are enough of those on the internet already. So I'm gonna throw in some side titles to keep this thing interesting. And the first side title on this list is also the first entry: Pokémon Stadium.
Seeing Pokemon battling in glorious Nintendo 64 3D was mind-blowing to me and my fifth-grade friends, and it quickly joined the Quadrilogy of N64 Games That Are Destined To Ruin Friendships: Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Pokémon Stadium. And honestly, it's still pretty fun to play today. The mini-games are charming, the Stadium mode is constantly pleasant, and the Gym Leader Castle, where you take on the Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow gym leaders and Elite 4 members can be punishingly difficult if you're not prepared.
Pokémon Black/White & Black 2/White 2
This is a bit of a cheat, since it's technically two games and their sequels, but it makes sense because of how connected the Black and White games are. While other Pokémon games pay lip service to the timeline of the series ("I remember hearing about a KID from PALLET TOWN that BEAT THE ELITE 4 and became a CHAMPION!"), Black/White and Black 2/White 2 is Game Freak actually attempting to tell a story that evolves, in a setting that changes with characters that grow.
And, since you can't capture any Pokémon from any other regions other than Unova in Black/White (at least until you beat the game), these sets of games almost serve as a soft reboot for the franchise. It's an experiment that pays off for the series, and even if we never see anything like it again, I'm really glad that we got it.
Pokémon Trading Card Game
The Pokémon Trading Card Game is very, very fun. Well, unless your parents can't really afford to buy you pack after pack of cards on a consistent basis. At the height of the card game craze in the late '90s, my parents couldn't really justify it. So, they got me the Pokémon Trading Card Game....game for the Game Boy instead. And I am eternally grateful.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game doesn't have all the twists and turns of a regular Pokémon game. And, for the most part, it consists of you standing around in Pokémon energy type-themed rooms as you take on gym leaders in card battles. But building decks and creating new strategies to defeat gym leaders and the Grand Masters is surprisingly awesome.
It's a game that could've easily been a quick cash-in on the card craze that actually turned into a journey that I find myself revisiting more often than some of the more classic Pokémon titles.
Whereas Pokémon Diamond and Pearl felt sluggish and pondering, their "improved" third version, Pokémon Platinum, is a few steps above. Through some design changes, the mountainous territory of Sinnoh actually becomes an engaging environment. Through some Pokémon line up alterations, the choices for your Poké-team becomes more diverse. And through some much needed story edits, the pacing improves by leaps and bounds.
Basically, Pokémon Platinum takes games that had once felt flat and uninspired and molds them into a classic Pokémon experience. The stakes feel higher, the gameplay feels smoother, and the challenges feel like something actually worth tackling.
I debated with myself for a long time over whether this spot on the list would be filled by Pokémon Yellow or by Pokémon Fire Red/Leaf Green. Would I take the updated graphics and more modern gameplay of the latter, or the Pikachu-based cuteness and seemingly unforgettable experience of the former? Well, to figure it out, I ended up replaying both in the last few months, and Pokémon Yellow took the prize.
Yes, it doesn't change that much from the original Red/Blue. However, what it does do is give everyone that was a dual fan of the Pokemon anime and games in the late '90s a chance to meld their loves. You're not just Red anymore. You're Ash Ketchum, the delightful, excitable, bone-headed kid that you see on TV every week. And Pikachu is following you around! No matter how much the game series has evolved, I will never forget the first time I turned around and found out just how little Pikachu thought of me.*
*We later became friends. Don't worry, people playing Pokémon Yellow for the first time. Eventually, Pikachu comes around.
Pokémon Puzzle League
The Pokémon games have always prided themselves on how addicting they are. One of their main selling points is the fact that, when a new Pokémon game comes out, you can kiss your sleep schedule goodbye for the next few months. That said, there still few Pokémon games that deliver on the addicting quality like Pokémon Puzzle League.
Yes, this is basically Pokémon Tetris. But I have spent so many hours with my eyes irreversibly locked on a television screen due to this game that I refuse to excise it from this list. It is a near perfect blend of reward and challenge, a fun, colorful game that seems like a round of Pikachu blocks on the surface, only to reveal an inescapable death pit of fun underneath. "It's a death pit!" was the game's main tagline, too. Don't fact check me on that.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series has always felt like a hidden treasure. I've recommended these games to countless people, but my words have constantly fallen on deaf ears. Maybe it's because they think that these games will be too childish, or maybe they think that these games aren't different enough from the main series to warrant a playthrough. Or maybe I just need better friends. Yeah, that's probably it.
Regardless, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky is a perfection of the Mystery Dungeon formula of allowing you to play as Pokémon (instead of a Pokémon trainer) as you traverse dungeons and make Poké-friends along the way. Explorers of Sky is equal parts heartwarming, cute, and exciting, and you're doing yourself a disservice as a Pokémon fan if you don't at least give it a shot.
Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
The 3DS Pokémon games have been a mixed bag. I used to loathe Pokémon X/Y until my most recent playthrough. Now I find its setting and overall aesthetics to be super charming, even if I'm not wowed by the battling or the selection of Pokemon. And while I adore the islands and creatures of Alola in Pokémon Sun/Moon, the pacing of those games (where someone seems to stop you every ten feet to tell you about things that you should be able to figure out on your own) can be abysmal at times.
And so, even though they're remakes, I find Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire to be the best of the "modern" Pokémon games, if only because they feel more complete. The Hoenn region has the best selection of Pokemon in the entire series, even if I'm not 100 percent on board with the layout of the region itself, and the ability to explore gives Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire another leg-up over the more linear X/Y and Sun/Moon.
I wrote about Pokémon Snap for my article about Nintendo 64 games that deserve a remake, and all of my points from there still stand here. Pokémon Snap is a gem that proves that you can't dismiss a Pokémon game just because it's not one of the "main" ones. It's constantly replayable, quirky, and adorable, and I go to bed every night praying for a remake or an updated version for the Switch.
Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver
Pokémon Crystal got me through high school. Yes, it came out a few years before I ever entered my freshman year, but it was always the thing that comforted me whenever I felt overwhelmed or depressed. I put hundreds of hours into Pokémon Crystal, and I tell you this partly because if they had never remade it into Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, this list would probably be just ten entries of me telling you why Pokémon Crystal is a perfect experience.
So, when Heart Gold/Soul Silver came out when I was in college, it felt like my Pokémon journey had come full circle. I had made it out of the roughest patch of my life, a patch where I felt like I didn't matter to anyone in the world, and now my favorite series was rewarding me with a near flawless remake of a game that I loved. It was a nice moment.
Heart Gold and Soul Silver are beautiful games, illuminating the best Pokémon region (Johto). They're colorful, exciting, and deep, and you can lose a whole day in them without even realizing it. Whether you've been playing Pokémon for years, or are just now dipping your toes in the series, Heart Gold and Soul Silver are the games that I'll be recommending to you. They're a pinnacle that I hope Pokémon achieves again one day.