Which Pokémon game generation is the best? Over the last 20-something years, Pokémon has become one of the biggest entertainment franchises in history. With new generations every other year as well as a large number of spinoffs and as much merchandise as toy-stores can stock, the pocket monsters have remained steadfast for fans of all ages.
Game Freak, The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo have been clever in maintaining the longevity for the collectible creatures, releasing new iterations of the games while still making sure their branding stays recognizable. Each fresh generation may bring another wave of Pokémon and characters to the fold, but Pikachu, and a few others like Eevee and Jigglypuff, remain very much at the fore-front, having become cultural icons themselves.
As the Pokémon games progress with new territories and design ideas, Nintendo is happy to plum the nostalgia for Pokémon's Generation 1, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, with regular re-releases and Detective Pikachu, the first live-action Pokémon movie. But when it comes down to it, is Generation 1 the finest, or did the games peak later down the line, and who has the displeasure of being the worst?
7. Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald - Generation 3
Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire, the main titles of Generation 3, aren't bad Pokémon games so much as among the least good, and it isn't anything they specifically do that puts them there. One of the hallmarks of Pokémon is that every mainline game follows the same structure - you're a young trainer who receives a starter monster and goes on a journey to become a Pokémon master. Along the way, you fight bad guys who pose some sort of widespread threat and discover the mythology of the land as you explore and battle.
It's tried-and-tested, but it does make some of the older versions of Pokémon more difficult to revisit because they feel a touch mundane. Ruby and Sapphire, the first games to appear on the Game Boy Advance in 2003, later joined by Emerald in 2005, have that problem. The monster designs are decent and the Hoenn region looked great in the upgraded color scheme of the Game Boy Advance, but after 16 years they just feel a bit charmless in a way even their 3DS remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, couldn't remedy.
6. Diamond, Pearl and Platinum - Generation 4
Pokémon Generation 4 - Pokémon Diamond, Pokémon Pearl, and Pokémon Platinum on the Nintendo DS - is similarly humdrum in retrospect. By this point the formula was set in stone and playing these has an air of going through the paces. The thing that puts them above Ruby and Sapphire, though, is the plan of the central antagonists. Team Galactic, led by Cyrus, want to control legendary Pokémon in order to bend the universe to their will. It's a wild, hare-brained idea that has players competing for the fabric of reality. The heightened stakes are compelling and having monsters that control time, space and antimatter is the right kind of ludicrous, but not quite enough to make the games essential.
5. Sun and Moon - Generation 7
The latest generation is an experimental one. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon introduced, among other things, the most customizable player avatars yet and new Alola forms - Generation 1 Pokémon that have acclimatized a particular way to the Alola region, which was inspired by Hawaii. Human characters became more lifelike in proportion and the Poké Ride feature streamlined moving around the map. Generation 7 was another leap forward for the games, emphasizing that the developers still had plenty of ideas for ways to improve and evolve the series. Unfortunately, it's let down by a slightly lacking post-game compared to other installments.
4. Black and White - Generation 5
Pokémon Black and Pokémon White, the flagship titles of Generation 6, are the only to receive direct sequels, with Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2 coming out October 2012 - two years after their predecessors. Black and White are strange entries in Pokémon canon. The region is largely based on New York City, so the map has a far more contemporary, metropolitan vibe, and the villains, Team Plasma, are interesting in that they aren't necessarily wrong.
Plasma want humans to stop using and relying on Pokémon, instead letting the animals roam free. There's a strong argument that the premise of catching and using these things for fighting is antithetical to animal welfare. The problem is that Plasma will steal Pokémon from any trainer that defies them, breaking up perfectly healthy relationships - something the sequels circle back on with a Plasma splinter group trying to undo the damage the group did in the previous games. Black and White has the franchise demonstrate strong self-awareness after over a decade of releases, and it stands as one of the better versions as a result.
3. X and Y - Generation 6
Generation 6 is a reminder of the fundamentals that makes Pokémon so enjoyable to play. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are both a breezy chapter with a simple story of good versus evil and a set of new species that are some of the best designed in years. The early acquisition of Exp. Share - an item that gives your whole team of Pokémon experience when a battle is won - can make playing markedly easier for those that want the joy without the challenge as they zoom around the French-tinted Kalos region.
The new Fairy-type was brought in, essentially upending the balance of the series, and the fully 3D gameplay makes the adventure feel all the more vivid. X and Y are Pokémon at its purest, but as good as they are, they aren't quite the best.
2. Red, Blue and Yellow - Generation 1
There's a reason the first generation has become so ingrained. Nostalgia is a powerful thing as is, but nostalgia for something that's actually good? Unstoppable. Pokémon Red, Pokémon Blue, and Pokémon Yellow are timeless. The first 151 Pokémon contain some of the best designed, many of them recognizable to even the most lax of Pokémon fans.
Choosing between Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur is still one of the toughest starter decisions, likely to spark a fervent debate even now. Visiting the various cities and locales from the anime is forever exciting, especially in Yellow, which allows you to gather all three starters and have a Pikachu companion just like Ash Ketchum. The minimalist Game Boy pixel-art has aged gracefully, becoming a testament to the clarity and depth that can be derived from hardware limitations, and this is to say nothing of the monumental soundtrack, which is top-to-bottom catchy. Nintendo has wisely re-released these games over and over throughout the years. Generation 1 is excellent, yet only second best overall.
1. Gold and Silver - Generation 2
We can only imagine the pressure Game Freak was under to make a sequel to Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. Pokémon was at fever pitch hype and the expectation for the next generation was surely insurmountable, and yet, that's just what they did. Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver are perfect sequels, in that they're the first games but bigger and better in every feasible way.
Upgrading from the Game Boy to the Game Boy Color, the monsters suddenly resembled the bright colors of the anime and movies. Johto and its new 100 Pokémon were a delightful addition to the original 151, in several cases fleshing them out with new evolutions. Team Rocket make a return, only to be once again thwarted on your journey to becoming the very best, like no-one ever was. Beating Gold and Silver unlocks the Kanto region, giving players the best of both worlds. After Red and Blue it was clear the foundation was strong, fans just wanted more of it, and that's they provided, making Generation 2 the best generation of Pokémon.