Well, as I’m sure pretty much everyone is aware by this point, Pokémon made a bit of a comeback in the public eye this year. Most people will naturally be thinking of Pokémon Go as the cause of it, but, honestly, the franchise was always a moneymaker for Nintendo, even after the franchise’s popularity left the eyes of the mainstream.
That, in a way, is what has motivated me to do this article. After all, with Pokémon Go still being popular and the most recent generation of the main franchise, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, selling a truckload of copies (to the extent that it is already one of the best selling 3DS games ever made), one might well be inclined to wonder what else the franchise has to offer a curious returning gamer.
Well, ask no more, for I’m going to count down five spin-off games that any Pokémon fan should check out! Now, I’m going to be running on the assumption that all reading this have a 3DS system and a Nintendo Wii U, so all games selected will be games that are compatible with those systems or have been re-released on the Nintendo eStore. Other games ARE available (like Pokémon Colosseum), but this article will focus on games that one could feasibly order and play without needing to find older systems as well, so consider this less a definitive guide and more a starting off point into the larger world of the Pokémon games.
A rather unusual game, by all standards, and possibly the weirdest crossover you could ever imagine, Pokémon Conquest is a game that crosses over Pokémon (duh!) with Nobunaga’s Ambition, a turn-based grand strategy game that is based upon the battles of Odu Nobunaga, an ancient Japanese warlord from the Sengoku period of feudal Japan.
…I swear to God, I am not making this up. Here’s the trailer if you don’t believe me!
Surprisingly, it’s a rather fun game once you get past the weirdness of the idea and actually plays like a cross between Risk, Fire Emblem and (of course) Pokémon. The map layout of the game during the grand strategy part is, admittedly, not very intuitive and one would definitely need to be a fan of grand strategy games to get the most out of it, but, if you want a very unique Pokémon game to play, then you couldn’t get more unique than this!
Available on: Nintendo DS
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Another rather unusual choice on first glance, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-offs (now comprising four localised generations of the game) are roguelike games that result in a game that is probably best described as “Nethack meets Pokémon” (man, I’m really starting to show my age when Nethack is the first point of reference I bring up for roguelike games…).
The games seem to favour basically telling the same story again and again, as you play as a human who has been turned into a Pokémon and goes on missions to hunt through dungeons to complete quests and advance a storyline where you slowly discover that you were transformed into a Pokémon so you could save the world (…what are you looking at me for? I don’t know how that makes sense either!). Which isn’t exactly deep, but the weird part is that it actually works surprisingly well thanks to some top notch storytelling and some solid mechanics.
One would certainly be required to already be on board with roguelike games to get the most out of this spin-off series, but, if one does not mind a change of pace, them one can certainly enjoy the games for what they are. With four generations of the games, you could happily spend days playing this spin-off series, so, if you’re interested, get cracking!
Available on: Wii U eStore (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Explorers of Time, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness & Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky), Nintendo DS (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Explorers of Time, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness & Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky) & Nintendo 3DS (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity & Super Pokémon Mystery Dungeon)
The last real oddball of the spin-offs, but probably the one that also makes the most sense, in its own weird way.
Best described as Pokémon as a fighting game (I know, technically Pokémon already IS a fighting game franchise in that you fight battles with monsters, but I’m talking the Tekken/Street Fighter/Dead or Alive/Mortal Kombat type of fighting games here!), Pokkén Tournament is the game which arguably gives longtime fans of the franchise the game they’ve always wanted by making Pokémon battles the most visually spectacular yet and shows off battling fluidity that can rival that of the anime. However, it is also combined with a pretty solid combat system and is strong enough to appeal to fighting games fans who aren’t necessarily fans of the franchise, but are willing to try out the game.
So, if you find Super Smash Bros. (which I’m not including in this list because it isn’t a Pokémon game: it’s a game with Pokémon as fighters, but it isn’t specifically a Pokémon game) doesn’t really scratch the itch you’d like from playing a fighting game with Pokémon, then Pokkén Tournament might well be the thing you’re looking for!
Available on: Nintendo Wii U
Pokémon Dream Radar
Technically an app rather than a game, but it is worth noting this one if you’re hoping to catch em all, because not only does this game have compatibility with the main Pokémon franchise via Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2 (and, in a way, the fourth generation Pokémon games) and the main professor from it makes a return in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, but it’s an interesting app in its own right.
Originally released as a companion game to Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2, the game is a very cheap 3DS app (it costs less than £3) which plays somewhat like a 3DS motion control shooter, with the goal being to shoot dream orbs so that you can eventually obtain Pokémon which you can transfer over to the main franchise to play with (and is a good way to catch some Pokémon which you might not get a chance to encounter otherwise). It’s not really a deep game and, to those who aren’t aiming to complete the Pokédex to the best of their ability and/or don’t have a copy of Pokémon Black 2 or Pokémon White 2, it isn’t really worth the time, but, for those of you with copies of Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2 who also have a subscription to Pokémon Bank, it’s a really good way to catch several new Pokémon to transfer over to Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon and is a nice change of pace if you want something else to play while still having a Pokémon flavour.
Available on: Nintendo 3DS eStore
Taking an interesting twist on the usual Pokémon design, the Pokémon Ranger spin-off franchise is noteworthy for arguably being the sort of Pokémon game that shows a non-trainer focused side of the franchise, as, while the main basic ideas are still present in that you capture Pokémon, you instead don’t keep them in Pokéballs, instead letting you look after them like, well, you would an actual pet.
Beyond that, however, there’s just enough familiarity with the main Pokémon franchise (there’s still Pokémon battles, you have challenges to complete that, funnily enough, bear more than a slight resemblance to the island trials in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, all that jazz) that one could feasibly call this a more realistic take on Pokémon (well, OK, maybe using the word “realistic” near Pokémon is a bit of a stretch, but you get the basic idea). While this spin-off franchise hasn’t seen a new game since 2010 (so it’s likely a dead spin-off franchise after a respectable three games), if you’re wanting a twist on the usual Pokémon games, then this is worth a look into!
Available on: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii U eStore
All of this, of course, is just scratching the surface of the spin-off games available for the franchise: Pokémon Picross, Hey You, Pikachu! and the Pokemon Rumble series all spring to mind as well as options for the curious gamer eager to dig deeper in the franchise. However, the five that I have listed are the ones that I would say are most worth a look into, as they have interesting ideas behind them and they are generally well regarded by the fandom, so they should serve you well in terms of introducing yourself to the wider franchise.