Pokemon games - every Pokemon game ranked from worst to best (2024)

Pokemon games - every Pokemon game ranked from worst to best (1)

Cian Maher and Dave Aubrey

December 2, 2022 7:14 am ET

Pokémon is one of the most universally beloved video game series in history, and for good reason. Aside from the fact that everyone and their granny knows which ‘mon says “pika pika,” Nintendo’s iconic catch-’em-up has been consistently excellent for over 25 years – while certain entries are stronger than others, there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ Pokémon game.

Because we’re human beings, however, and therefore love to think about how one thing is better than another thing but worse than a totally different thing, it seems only natural that we should set ourselves the colossal undertaking of officially ranking every mainline Pokémon game since Red & Blue. Again, even the worst game on this list is excellent in its own right – we’re not calling your favorite terrible by ranking it lower than a game we like better, and we’re more than open to have a chat if you’d like to make your case for a rerank. We’re not saying we will rerank the entries (we won’t). We’re just willing to lend an ear to any naysayers.

Anyway, here’s our ranking of every Pokémon game – the mainline ones, at least. You won’t find Mystery Dungeon or New Pokémon Snap here, although you should still go and play them if you have any interest whatsoever in magical creatures claw-punching one another. New Pokémon Snap in particular would probably outrank about three-quarters of the mainline list, which consists of games from officially numbered generations including new releases, enhanced editions, and remakes, amassing 19 entries in total.

Want to know which game is the very best, like no one ever was? Here’s every mainline Pokémon game ever released, ranked.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl

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It might seem a little controversial to call the most recent Pokémon game the worst one, but a) Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl truly do mark the series’ weakest point to date, and b) sorry folks, we’re taking no prisoners here. While the original games fare much better on this list, BDSP is guilty of what is traditionally seen as Pokémon’s most enduring issue: a total fear of innovation.

Sinnoh is an exceptional region with great characters and inspired creature design, but part of what made the original Gen 4 games so special was how different they felt from previous adventures in this universe. The newly revised editions eschew this originality for a tonally dissonant chibi aesthetic and a structure young children would even consider juvenile – that’s not to mention an egregious ignorance of Platinum, which we’ll discuss a bit more later on.

Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are still great RPGs, and even their most brazen offenses are mostly innocuous – but they embody everything Pokémon shouldn’t be going forward. If I were a Psychic- or Fairy-type ‘mon, I’d definitely be making a Wish or two for the inevitable Gen 5 remakes to learn from BDSP’s many mistakes. And please, for the love of Arceus, don’t make your main antagonist look like a discount Funko Pop again.

Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire

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More remakes! While Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire are quite a bit better than Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl – thanks in no small part to the ambitious postgame Delta Episode – they also fail to fully recognize what made the games they’re based on shine. A lot of the big moments from Ruby & Sapphire – Diving down to Sootopolis City for the first time, finally climbing the waterfall at Evergrande, and so on – don’t translate well to the new art style, Meanwhile, most of the surrounding material is executed with far less finesse than the originals – they may be bigger and brighter, but they’re neither better nor braver for it.

It’s also worth noting that ORAS, like BDSP, wilfully ignores the enhanced edition of its generation. Emerald improved every single facet of Ruby & Sapphire, to the point where it holds a cosy position near the top of this very list. It seems strange to dismiss a definitive edition of a generation like this – it’s part of why Let’s Go, which takes cues from Yellow instead of just Red & Blue, is such a fascinating piece of Pokémon history. Partly because the chuds lost their minds over… nothing? But mostly just because it was really good.

All in all, ORAS are good games that are perfect for anyone who doesn’t have access to a GBA or is more used to contemporary graphics and modern, expected quality-of-life features. For the optimal Hoenn experience though, it’s probably best to ditch the 3DS for something a bit dustier – it might even increase the realism of that infamous desert sequence north of Mauville.

Pokémon Black & White

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Let’s just get it out of the way quickly: We know this is far and away the most controversial pick on the list. For some reason, people really, really love Pokémon’s fifth generation, which is understandable – it’s good! But it’s just that: good. Not great.

The main reason people usually cite for heralding Black & White as such great Pokémon games is that their story is – supposedly – a bit more mature than other games. Ghetsis’ motives for being a villain aren’t quite as flat as Giovanni wanting to rule the world or Archie thinking we should all grow gills and live in the ocean. Except… they kind of are. N. is a brilliant character, but Ghetsis is basically just a more present version of Cyrus with worse one-liners. The whole medieval theme to Team Plasma is also just a bit weird. At least it was always funny to imagine what Team Galactic grunts had to ask for whenever they went into a barbershop.

None of that accounts for why Black & White are so low on this list though. Gen 5’s main problem is how rubbish its creature design is. You’d think being the game with the most new Pokémon and lowest number of good designs should be mutually exclusive instances, and yet…

Black & White’s best ideas are at all times diminished by legions of Patrat and Pidove. To this day we have no idea how a supervisor at one of the most prestigious game studios on the planet saw a sketch of Palpitoad and thought, “Yes, put this in the game.” Bumping into Sawk and Throh wandering around Sword & Shield’s Wild Area constantly makes me want to trade the game in – that’s Black & White’s fault. Nobody even knew Alomomola existed until New Pokémon Snap. Not a single person on Earth cares about Heatmor – look, you get the picture already. All things considered, Black & White are fine. Just fine.

Pokémon Black & White 2

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Yes, Pokémon Black & White 2 are better than Black & White and we’ll hear nothing else of it. It’s not that their version of Unova is particularly special or that a significant part of the core experience has been radically improved as much as it is that BW2 are severely underrated despite how experimental they are. To this day, it’s baffling to think that some of their best bits have become products of the past.

The main detail that allows Black and White 2 to usurp their predecessors and become the best Unova games is their inherent status as sequels. In the entire Pokémon series, these are the only two games that are classed as such, and so they occupy a unique place in Pokémon history, where Cheren – one of your rivals in Black & White – can become a gym leader who refers to your previous protagonist by name. The closest thing to this is probably Koga’s ascension to the Elite Four in Gen 2, although that leaves a lot more to the imagination.

What’s more, Black & White 2 are the only Pokémon games that ever implemented an official difficulty setting, allowing you to replay the game in Easy Mode or Challenge Mode. While artificial difficulty modifiers like Nuzlockes have been popular in the Pokémon community for years, this was the one time Game Freak appeared to actually acknowledge a desire for more complex PvE systems. Despite being the lowest game on this list, BDSP’s Elite Four is the closest thing to this we’ve seen since, with Cynthia’s Milotic using full-blown Flame Orb/Marvel Scale strats – it’s really quite remarkable, and even more annoying,

Pokémon X & Y

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If this list was written a few months ago, there’s a decent chance X & Y would have been ranked lower than the four Unova games, although we’ve started to reevaluate the merits of Kalos recently. It’s not on par with the likes of Johto and Alola, but Pokémon’s take on France is inventive, nuanced, and quintessential to the series’ successes since, particularly when you consider its introduction of Fairy-types. That’s not to mention how retroactively great Megas look in comparison to Dynamax, one of the most ridiculous concepts Pokémon has ever touted.

Gen 6 marked Pokémon’s full transition from 2D to 3D, which occurred much more rapidly and gracefully than many people would have anticipated at the time – Lumiose City and the Kalos Pokémon League still look gorgeous today. More importantly though, X & Y actually have decent Pokémon designs, which automatically puts them above Black & White. Sure, the likes of Spewpa and Binacle are pretty… bad. But Talonflame? Florges? Greninja? Sylveon? Pokémon’s Paris is inhabited by some pretty cool ‘mons.

Team Flare are a little cartoonish and Lysandre’s constant rambling about his “beautiful world” gets old fast, but for the most part X & Y have a decent narrative structure that is unfortunately burdened with lackluster Legendaries and occasional jolts in pacing. It’s pretty wild that this is a bona fide Pokémon game with an antagonist who tries to kill literally everyone, but it still manages to be relatively tight despite that.

Pokémon Sword & Shield

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Pokémon Sword & Shield might just be the most contentious Pokémon games ever made. They somehow manage to be extremely tame and extremely weird at the same time, and ludicrously pair each and every one of their successes with an odd or downright bad design decision on the whole other end of the spectrum. The more we play them though, the more we can see how vital they are to the series’ future – Pokémon Legends: Arceus couldn’t walk in a world where Sword & Shield didn’t stumble first.

That’s an important point to linger on: while Sword & Shield were pretty wanting at launch, the expansions, particularly Crown Tundra, are excellent. Combined with brilliant online functionality, an enormous roster of Pokémon, and some great new Gen 8 designs, there’s a whole lot to love about Galar – it’s the region that inspires the most hope that Game Freak will pull off a miracle with Arceus instead of accidentally using Judgment on the series’ future.

Pokémon Let’s Go

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If there has ever been a Pokémon game more controversial than Sword & Shield, it’s this one. Despite being one of the more ambitious Pokémon titles from recent years, Let’s Go was lambasted at launch for being too easy. You know, the game designed for kids – it’s not difficult enough for us big-brained adults. Who cares whether or not the five-year-olds are having fun?

Sounds a bit silly when it’s framed like that, eh? Besides, while Let’s Go’s friendship mechanics, overabundant freebies, and automatically enabled EXP Share certainly made the road to the Indigo Plateau easier, it also incorporated a whole lot of experimental and fascinating ideas, some of which have gone on to influence Sword & Shield and, by extension, even Legends: Arceus. That’s not to mention converting the entire catching experience into a region-spanning Safari Zone a) improved wild encounters, and b) made trainer battles more meaningful by untethering them from random fights against level 4 Pidgey every ten seconds.

Let’s Go is probably the weakest Kanto game, but it should be relatively high up on any list of the best Pokémon games in general – it’s definitely among the better titles from post-2010, at the very least.

Pokémon Diamond & Pearl

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While the highly anticipated remakes ended up being a bit disappointing, the original Diamond & Pearl games still slap. In general, the entire atmosphere of Sinnoh is superior in Gen 4 because of how well-suited the region is to the art style depicting it. They’re quite a bit tougher than Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl, meaning they might not necessarily be for the faint of heart, but Diamond & Pearl definitely deserve to be revisited every now and then – especially for anyone whose first experience with this era of Pokémon was with BDSP.

In a lot of ways, BDSP players will notice a lot of similarities with the original Diamond & Pearl – that much should be obvious. The art and music are loads better here though, leading to an overall superior experience. Just remember that neither these games nor the remakes are the best way to explore Sinnoh – more on that later.

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet

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A new entry for the list, Scarlet & Violet are borderline broken at launch. And still better than Diamond & Pearl. I kid – mostly. The reality is that Scarlet & Violet introduce some of the most ambitious and interesting mechanics that Pokémon games have ever seen, streamlining certain aspects, removing others, and making the whole thing open world. If it weren’t for constant technical issues at launch, it’d be an incredible game, and one of the best in the Pokémon franchise.

Sadly, because of its issues, it’s just pretty good instead.

Pokémon Red & Blue

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The original Pokémon games are probably the hardest ones to integrate into a list like this. On one hand, without Red & Blue we wouldn’t have any of these games at all, so their importance to the series at large is both immeasurable and impossible to contest. On the other, they’re obviously quite a lot older than most of the other games here, and are absolutely incapable of hiding it.

By modern standards, Red & Blue can be tough to play – a lot of people revisit them these days using emulators on mobiles or tablets and generally set the speed to around 16x to offset how sluggish the controls can feel. More recent Pokémon games are faster, smoother, and just generally better designed, although it’s difficult to dismiss the classics for those reasons alone.

Coming out of the Rock Tunnel and heading south to Lavender Town is still as impactful as ever. It took the series years to design gyms as good as Koga’s and Blaine’s. Silph Co. still has arguably the best rival fight in any Pokémon game. Yeah, they’re not as snazzy or shiny as more recent efforts, but there’s a kind of grit and attitude to Red & Blue that’s akin to how unpretentiously clever your grandparents can be. To relegate them to a lower spot on this list just because it takes a little bit longer for animations to play would be to ignore genius that’s had a real impact on the shape of this series.

These aren’t just the words of a nostalgic genwunner, either – they’re the words of someone who has played every single one of these games and can appreciate them all for their own individual Strengths. See that pun? That’s the work of a real PokePro. You’re in good hands here.

Pokémon Yellow

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Obviously Yellow is very similar to Red & Blue, although the definitive version of Pokémon’s first generation slightly outranks its older siblings for a few simple reasons. While the main story is mostly the same and the visual fidelity is only slightly improved, Yellow has a much better roster of Pokémon than the two games before it, largely thanks to version exclusives.

Both Red and Blue featured extremely popular Pokémon that couldn’t be caught in the opposite game – you could either get Arcanine or Ninetales, Scyther or Pinsir, and so on. While Yellow is also missing some ‘mons, most people would probably rather have a massive fire dog than a Kakuna.

On top of that, as well as setting out with Pikachu like Ash does in the anime, you can also get all three Kanto starters in Pokémon Yellow without trading – we love a Pokémon game that doesn’t make you rely on other people to get your faves.

Pokémon FireRed & LeafGreen

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Ah, the best versions of Red & Blue. Originally launching as part of Gen 3 alongside Ruby, Sapphire, & Emerald, Pokémon FireRed & LeafGreen completely reinvented Kanto, kicking off the entire premise of reenvisioning older Pokémon games in adherence with contemporary quality. The thing is, despite being the first games to do it, only one other remake to date has managed to surpass FRLG – another thing we’ll get to later.

The jump in quality from Red & Blue to FireRed & LeafGreen isn’t quite as drastic as the one between the latter and Let’s Go, but there’s something about the 2D, top-down Pokémon games that affords them a charm that radically supersedes mere nostalgia. What’s more, FireRed & LeafGreen added one of the best postgame sections in the series’ history with the Sevii Islands. They’re the definitive versions of Gen 1 at this point, which is funny considering that technically speaking they’re part of Gen 3. Haha.

Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire

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While ORAS ranked pretty low on this list, the pair of Hoenn games they’re based on are much more deserving of a spot nearer the top. Pokémon’s third generation introduced some of the best and most beloved ‘mons the series has ever known, while places like Lilycove and Sootopolis have become iconic in the eyes of fans. Steven is also probably the best champion in the series outside of Cynthia and Blue, and is probably the reason Steel-types extended beyond “Onix but, you know, made of steel.”

There’s not a whole lot to critique about Gen 3. It probably relies a little bit too much on water routes, but that makes sense when you consider how integral the Dive gimmick is to the game, and it’s useful to have at least one region that’s dominated by the ocean. One of the only things against Ruby & Sapphire is that they’re not the best way to experience Hoenn and are therefore kind of irrelevant now – otherwise, they’d probably be a position or two higher.

Pokémon Sun & Moon

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It’s always been a bit odd how a lot of Pokémon fans seem to take umbrage with Sun & Moon. Despite being the strongest games in the series since Platinum, Pokémon’s seventh generation is weirdly polarising. Yes, there are probably too many tutorials at the start, and yes, the total absence of gyms takes some getting used to – but all in all Gen 7 has a phenomenal roster of ‘mons and experiments with a variety of ideas that have massively benefited the series’ formula since.

Sun & Moon are games that will age extremely well. As Pokémon continues to grow and shake things up, people will look back on their innovation and retroactively appreciate their brave and novel will to flirt with new ideas instead of just telling the same vague story with slightly different animals to make fight one another. Don’t get us wrong – we love new ‘mons. It’s just that the best Pokémon games have always had much more than just that, which is why Sun & Moon earned its spot here in the first place.

Its new ‘mons are really good too, though. I’d probably lay my life on the line for Rockruff and Mimikyu.

Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon

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To be frugal with words, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon are basically just Sun & Moon, but better. Ultra Beasts are great, Team Rainbow Rocket is still a brilliantly absurd concept, and in general they just feel like a slightly more fleshed-out version of Alola. If you liked Sun & Moon, you’ll love Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon. If you didn’t like Sun & Moon… Well, you still might like USUM! They’re really good – you should probably play them.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

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A truly new and strange Pokémon game that took everything open world, but also removed almost all trainer battles, and revolutionsed how players catch Pokémon and interact with the world. It’s truly an odd one, because it’s quite unlike any other Pokémon game on this list, and yet it’s incredibly good fun. While you won’t be battling to be the best or strongest trainer, you will be working with Pokémon creatures as you discover things about them, and also, yourself. Also this is basically an isekai where Arceus is a god that flings you through time.

Pokémon Gold & Silver

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Up until now, Gen 2 is the only generation that hasn’t been mentioned at least once. Want to know why? Because this is a list of the best Pokémon games, ranked, and every single game set in Johto is in the top five. That’s not even a matter of opinion – it’s an irrefutable fact.

There’s just something special about Johto. With ‘mons like Tyranitar, Heracross, Scizor, Houndoom, Typhlosion, and more it easily has the best lineup of any individual Pokémon generation. The story is a bit strange, if not mostly non-existent, but it doesn’t really matter when the game it’s set in is this good. Like, 16 gyms? Two Pokémon Leagues? Blaine deciding to live inside an actual volcano? Gold & Silver went hard.

In terms of the sheer number of things there are to do in a Pokémon game, very little else is capable of rivaling Gen 2. They may be a little old and it’s understandable if you don’t have a Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance handy, but on the off chance you’re able to play these games as they were originally intended, you certainly won’t regret doing so.

Just beware of the fact this is the generation where Team Rocket went through a bit of a… phase. What better way to run a supervillain organization than to chop off Slowpoke tails next to a village where some guy fashions PokeBalls out of apricorns? Look, we swear it’s actually really good.

Pokémon Platinum

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Platinum is pretty much the entire reason that Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl seem so disappointing. While Diamond & Pearl were obviously much higher on the list than the remakes, neither of them have a patch on how excellent Platinum is. On top of tons of quality-of-life improvements, a much better lineup, and a whole new postgame section, Platinum just feels premium compared to its predecessors.

It also leans into what made Sinnoh intriguing. Characters like Cynthia are given more time to shine, while the region itself is an absolute joy to explore. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the best way to enjoy Sinnoh in 2022 isn’t to play the games that came out a couple of months ago – it’s to go all the way back to 2008 to beat up Cyrus in the Distortion World, which for some ridiculous reason was left out of BDSP. Honestly, someone at Game Freak should just hire us instead,

Pokémon Crystal

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Coming in with the bronze medal, Pokémon Crystal is still an outstanding game in basically every way despite the fact it came out over 20 years ago. It’s to Gold & Silver what Platinum is to Diamond & Pearl in that it’s an enhanced edition of a numbered generation launched within that same generational window. That sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.

Like the other enhanced editions in Pokémon – of which all four are pretty great – Crystal’s mission is to take what came before and reinvent it with quality-of-life updates, a better version-exclusive distribution, and a varying number of changes to the overarching story. It basically features all of the same merits as what we mentioned in the blurb for Gold & Silver above, but it’s a much smoother, tighter RPG overall.

Again, it’s a slightly older Pokémon game and you’re not going to be able to get it on your Switch, although you can play it via the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, which is nice. We obviously wish it was on Switch too, though.

Pokémon Emerald

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While Ruby & Sapphire are great, no Hoenn game holds a Chandelure to Emerald. Being yet another enhanced edition, Emerald doesn’t just make a host of minor improvements to how clear and cohesive the experience is. Instead, arguably its biggest achievement is its integration of the Battle Frontier, a sprawling postgame area filled with challenges and tournaments that could keep you occupied for dozens of hours after rolling credits.

There’s obviously a lot of other great stuff about Emerald, too – given that Gen 3 has one of the more interesting Legendary triangles, seeing how all three members of the Weather Trio behave in Sootopolis is great. On top of that, there are a bunch of little narrative changes that enrich the game overall, accomplishing a lot with very little.

It’s the Battle Frontier that nets Emerald a silver medal, though. The fact it was left out of ORAS still makes me think Archie was right and we should just let the whole world be swallowed by water.

Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver

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After silver comes gold, so it’s weirdly fitting that the absolute best Pokémon games of all time are quite literally Gold & Silver. While the original Gen 2 games made the top five, HeartGold & SoulSilver are on a whole other level. In Pokémon terms, they’re like, level 1 million, or something.

Originally launching in 2009, these titles have been the best Pokémon has had to offer for almost 15 years, They epitomize exactly what any self-respecting remake should aim for in that they are stylish, tasteful homages to their source material that pay credence to what made them special without being too afraid of modernization. There’s definitely a lot of restraint exhibited here, but they feel like exactly what they are: New versions of old games they’re designed to bring into the future. When we talk about the necessity of preservation in the games industry, HGSS should be heralded as the gold standard. We legit believe they belong in a museum.

So, there you have it – every mainline Pokémon game, ranked from worst to best. If you reckon we’re full of rubbish and have made a mess of this, be sure to let us know. Although, again, we won’t be changing anything on account of the fact that BDSP being the worst Pokémon games and HGSS being the best ones is just impossible to argue against in this day and age. Sorry, but we’re right. Best of luck on your journey to catch ‘em all!

Written by Cian Maher on behalf of GLHF.

Pokemon games - every Pokemon game ranked from worst to best (2024)
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