For all our talk of Pokemon’s refusal to step outside of its comfort zone and try anything truly new – which, let’s face it, is more or less true – there’s one fact that nobody can deny- that in over two decades, this is a series that has been remarkably consistent as far as its mainline titles are concerned. Enjoyable and solid at worst and absolutely stellar at best is a track record that not a lot of franchises can boast of having, but Pokemon is definitely one such franchise.
With Pokemon Sword and Shield right around the corner and looking to truly shake things up, we think now is a great time to look back at what’s come before. And in this feature, that’s exactly what we’re going to do, as we give our ranking of all the Pokemon generations, from worst to best.
Do note that in this feature, we’re only talking about the mainline entries for each generation, so third versions, sequels, and remakes are not being considered here. With all that out of the way then, let’s get started.
#7. POKEMON SUN AND MOON
Pokemon Sun and Moon had a lot going for them. Alola was a visually stimulating region, with an excellent Hawaiian aesthetic, a charming and breezy atmosphere, and great art design to back it all up. Gen 7 was also the first time in many years that Pokemon really took some risks, as it replaced the traditional Pokemon Gyms and the Island Trials Challenge, while smaller new elements like Z-Moves and Ultra Beasts also added a little bit of spice as well.
At the same time though, Sun and Moon also made some errors that weren’t easy to ignore. For some time now, Pokemon games have been coming under criticism for being too easy, and for being too linear, and with Sun and Moon, the series was at its worst in both these areas- though at least Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon made some improvements in terms of difficulty. Alola as a region felt wasted because of how restrictive Sun and Moon’s design was and how little room for exploration and going off the beaten path there was. And at the end of the day, the Island Trials really just felt like putting on a different coat of paint on the same structure as the older games in the series. Trekking through Alola in an adventure that felt quite different from usual Pokemon journeys was still a lot of fun, but Sun and Moon’s flaws ensure that Generation 7 places at the bottom of this list.
#6. POKEMON X AND Y
Of all the Pokemon generations so far, the one that’s most easily forgotten is Gen 6. That may sound harsh, but the issue with Pokemon X and Y was that they seemed to lack a solid identity of their own. From a forgettable story and unchallenging difficulty to Legendaries that didn’t make much of an impression and a region that failed to leave its mark, X and Y felt just a little too vanilla for their own good.
Depending on what sort of Pokemon game you’re looking for though, that vanilla nature can actually be a good thing. Pokemon X and Y were pure Pokemon – if a bit too easy – boiled down to the series’ simplest essence. While with every passing generation the series has grown flashier and flashier with its regions and its stories, X and Y instead felt like just a quintessential Pokemon journey. Is a lot of that because of the game’s own failure to make an impact with many of the things it attempted? Sure. But I guess it’s the end result that counts.
#5. POKEMON RUBY AND SAPPHIRE
Following up on Pokemon Gold and Silver was always going to be a gargantuan task, and in that respect, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. After the content-heavy Gen 2, Gen 3 felt like a step back for the series, with the omission of a substantial portion of the Pokemon roster, as well as features such as the real time day/night cycle, multiple regions, or even backward compatibility with the preceding generations.
Then again, Ruby and Sapphire had a lot going for them, too. From the Battle Frontier to the excellence of Hoenn as a region, from the solid soundtrack to the meaty campaign, from the memorable roster of new Pokemon to great new features like Contests and bases, Ruby and Sapphire were by no means lacking in cool ideas. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that major core mechanics that are now considered integral to the series – like EVs and IVs (as we know them today), Natures, and Abilities – were all introduced with Ruby and Sapphire.
#4. POKEMON DIAMOND AND PEARL
After Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl almost felt like a return to what had made Gold and Silver so good. Many features that had been missing from Gen 3 were brought back, the new mechanics introduces in Gen 3 were retained, while Diamond and Pearl also introduced new features of their own, most notable of which was online trading and battling, something that’s become a core part of the series in the years since.
But the single greatest strength of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl was the region. Sinnoh was an excellent setting, deceptively large and an absolute joy to explore with loads of hidden mysteries, secrets, various biomes, and more. The Legendaries and Mythical Pokemon in Gen 4 were also excellent, and Team Galactic’s mission to control the universe by using Sinnoh’s Legendaries to distort the fabric of time and space made for a truly high-stakes narrative foundation. Add to that an excellent soundtrack and what were at the time pretty impressive visuals – especially for the Nintendo DS – and Diamond and Pearl were, by and large, absolutely unmissable for anyone with a passing interest in Pokemon.
#3. POKEMON BLACK AND WHITE
Pokemon Black and White are that rare case of Pokemon games being known, first and foremost, for their story. A greater focus on narrative and storytelling isn’t the first thing most look for in a Pokemon games, but Black and White really surprised the Pokemon community. Team Plasma and Ghetsis were excellent villains, N was a fascinating and complex character, and the central impetus of the story – exploring whether or not Pokemon are, in essence, being oppressed by Pokemon Trainers – was surprisingly nuanced.
Even beyond the story, Black and White had plenty of notable strengths. The decision to not include any older Pokemon in the base games themselves was a bold one, but one that proved very effective, seeing as it forced players to experiment and truly learn and understand the strengths and weaknesses of completely new Pokemon species- which is something this series hasn’t really done since… well, since Gen 1, actually.
Oh, and let’s not forget all those bridges. Has there ever been another Pokemon game with as many cool bridges as Black and White?
#2. POKEMON RED AND BLUE
The ones that started it all. Under ordinary circumstances, you’d think that placing the first game of a long-running series so high in such a list is, plain and simple, a case of nostalgia, but that is far from true in Pokemon Red and Blue’s case- they’re just that good. With their very first crack at Pokemon, Game Freak established an airtight formula and ethos that has persisted and influences the industry to this day.
But Pokemon Red and Blue deserve praise for more than just the impact they had when they first came out. The true test of any so-called “classic” is how well it ages, and Red and Blue have aged wonderfully. Even today, playing through them is an addictive, joyous, and magical experience. Sure, they’re lacking in some of the core features the series introduced in later years, and the bells and whistles that their sequels brought with them, but Red and Blue are pure, unadulterated Pokemon– and that, really, is the biggest praise anyone can give to these games.
#1. POKEMON GOLD AND SILVER
A bit of an obvious choice, but it’s obvious for a reason. For two decades, the question on everyone’s lips with each new Pokemon game has been- will it be able to top Gold and Silver? And the answer is invariably a resounding “no” (unless you count HeartGold and SoulSilver, of course). This right here is the essence of Pokemon, everything that is great about this series gathered up into one single package.
Excellent music, a great region, solid Pokemon design, great starters and Legendaries, perfectly balanced difficulty- Pokemon Gold and Silver had it all. And best of all was the post-game, which, really, was actually the second half of the game. After beating the Johto Elite 4, players journeyed across Ge 1’s Kanto, battling eight more Gyms before facing off against Red himself. Not only was it great fan service, it was also a great way to provide a deluge of excellent content. Pokemon Gold and Silver are the benchmark this series has been aspiring to for twenty years, and the fact that it’s failed to achieve Gen 2’s heights in all the years since it first came out should tell you something about how stellar it was.