The Pokémon franchise is over 25 years old, and the best Pokémon games can be a subject of heated debate.
In fact, the Pokémon game series will move into its ninth generation with the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet later this year, making now the perfect time to rank every Pokémon generation to date, from our least to most favorite. That’s right: we call the shots here.
Sure, it’s no easy feat to round up the very best entries in a series that spans over two decades. Nostalgia plays a large role in where you will rank certain titles, and of course the sheer number of games makes building a tier list a laborious task – but we think we’re up to it.
Below, you’ll find our ranked list of all eight Pokémon generations and the mainline Pokémon games within them. We have based our rankings on how much of an impact we felt the generation had on the game series as a whole, as well as how enjoyable we found the generation overall. This is certainly going to be somewhat divisive, but we want to make ourselves clear: we really don’t think there’s a single bad Pokémon game; t’s kind of hard to make a bad game when you basically stick to one proven formula.
Read on for our guide to the best Pokemon games of all time, based on generation ranking.
Best Pokémon games
Best Pokémon games: Ranks 8 to 4
Pokémon Sword and Shield were the first mainline Pokémon games to be released on the Nintendo Switch and expectations were high from the initial announcement. They certainly had the most tumultuous pre-launch period of any of the Pokémon games when it emerged that Game Freak would not be including every single Pokémon across the eight generations’ National Pokédex and would instead limit the number to around 400 in a Regional Dex.
Despite the furor, the eighth generation seemed to weather the storm and both titles have gone on to have great critical and commercial success. Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Galar region, inspired by the United Kingdom, is charming and generally well-liked, and its wild areas added a much-requested open-world feature to the series.
There are a few important issues that keep Sword and Shield from being the very best but these games are undeniably fun and make many convenient gameplay changes that we’ve been crying out for. Unlimited Escape Rope use; an open-world area; autosave for crying out loud!
Pokémon Legends Arceus later expanded upon Sword and Shield, freeing players in search of a simpler experience and offering arguably the best storytelling of the series to date. It was a breath of fresh air and we were glad to see GameFreak experimenting with its long-running series, particularly in how it reimagined how we battle and capture Pokémon – it was this experimentation that earned it its place on our best Switch games list. But, for some, Arceus was far too relaxed and it felt held back by the Nintendo Switch hardware.
Generation 8 also included Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, remakes of Generation 4’s Diamond and Pearl for Nintendo Switch. Now, these remakes aren’t the work of Game Freak (they’re by the studio ILCA) but they’re pretty damn faithful. There are positive and negative aspects to that. If you’re visiting Sinnoh for the first time then it’s the perfect way to do so but it’ll likely be a slightly less spectacular experience if you’re re-visiting and hoping for something fresh and utterly revitalized. They’re not the most ambitious remakes in the Pokémon series but a lot of affection for the originals clearly went into them and that does wonders for the nostalgia factor.
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl do also bring some of the series’ more modern innovations to a classic game and they work in a great many instances, for example, HMs are drastically improved and a much less irritating experience. Most of the modernizations are the subtle quality of life changes that make for a smoother and more user-friendly experience. However some, like the always-on Exp. Share, are likely to grate.
Generation 8 certainly brought Pokémon into the modern era with experimental features and gameplay but, while we’re pleased to see the series get a breath of fresh air, not all these experiments paid off.
No list of the best Pokémon games is complete without Sun and Moon, which introduced the Alola region, a definite departure from the series’ earlier environments, complete with region-specific Pokémon forms and challenges. Gone were gyms – replaced instead by island trials, and Totem Pokémon and themed challenges surrounding them. Even HMs disappeared.
Sun and Moon and their Ultra follow-ups were the most graphically intense Pokémon games on the DS platform, and you can really tell pushed the 3DS console to its limits in their successful efforts to bring the Pokémon world more to life.
Sun and Moon took Generation 5’s attempt to craft a more involving story and Generation 6’s attempt to be more of a traditional RPG, and brought them together in a way that almost hit the mark. There is the drawback, however, in that there were more un-skippable cut-scenes than ever before, and unfortunately, they weren’t always interesting, but you can tell Game Freak was working towards something good here.
Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon continued what Sun and Moon started, but rather than simply rehashing the same story in the kind of director’s cut, they were more of an attempt to recreate the sequel structure we first saw with Black and White 2 in Generation 5. There was brand new story involving dimensional wormholes, brand new legendary Pokemon and an attempt to continue the tale of Sun and Moons rather than re-tell it.
Intriguingly, Game Freak took its foot off the pedal when it came to introducing new Pokémon in this generation, which is probably a good idea. With so much changing in Sun and Moon, it was kind of nice not to have to contend with a frankly excessive number of new creatures. Instead, Game Freak focused on introducing Alolan variations of the original 151 Pokémon in Sun and Moon, which is an excellent compromise and something we wish had been done for previous regions.
But Sun and Moon weren’t the only Pokémon games in Generation 7, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee fall under the same generation. Pokémon Let’s Go is a hybrid that blends the best of the franchise’s hit mobile game, Pokémon Go, with game mechanics from Sun and Moon. The resulting mix elicited different responses from different gamers. Some were put off by the lack of competitiveness of the entry while others enjoyed the simpleness of the new direction.
The idea behind the games was to streamline everything and reduce the parts of the game that frustrated audiences. Personally, we hated using a valuable move slot for a worthless HM like Cut or Flash. In Pokemon Let’s Go, HMs no longer existed. We hated walking through caves just to be bombarded by Zubats. Again, that just wasn’t a problem in Pokemon Let’s Go as random encounters were gone and you could see where the Pokemon were in the map. Sure, that took away some of the joy of running into a rare Pokemon like Pinsir out in the Safari Zone, but it also means less of the tedious grinding that wasted precious hours of our lives in the ’90s.
Generation 7 certainly tried something new. Sun and Moon were the biggest departure for Pokémon games in years, and breathed some much-needed new life into a series that was slowly beginning to stagnate, while Pokémon Let’s Go was a small twist on the franchise that made the games less grind-y, more fun and a bit less competitive.
Pokémon X and Y were a visual revolution for the Pokémon franchise, being the first games to be released on the 3DS console with truly 3D graphics.
Graphics in X and Y were absolutely gorgeous, and we think we’ll always remember our first-ever time in Lumiose City. Additionally, we got a new type (fairy type), Mega Evolution, Pokémon-Amie and new character customization settings to go along with them.
Let’s not get too far, though, as X and Y do have the problem of trying to feel more like traditional RPG games without the compelling narrative to back them up. You certainly get the sense the series was heading in new directions with X and Y but it seems GameFreak didn’t quite know how many elements from past games it should keep. What we got, despite this, is a generation that was a perfect gateway into the Pokémon series.
But it’s the release of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, remakes of Generation 3’s Ruby and Sapphire that were the real standout entries of this generation. These remakes were great, not because they drastically changed the story, but because they added some new features and quality of life improvements that were successful in X and Y. Plus, seeing the Hoenn region in 3D was inspiring. When you play these remakes, you get a better sense of why Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald were such indispensable additions to the series.
It’s due to these efforts that we had no issue including Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in our list of the best Nintendo 3DS games, where another set of Pokémon games also makes an appearance, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to earn this generation a high ranking place on this list.
Generation 5 was the first Pokémon generation to have, instead of an expansion, a direct sequel, and it was also the generation that most notably dabbled in a different kind of storytelling.
The Pokémon games aren’t exactly known for their storytelling, but Black and White and their sequels did actually do a fairly good job of creating something that felt different and engaging, particularly after the fairly stagnant Generation 6.
In this generation, we went well over 600 Pokémon and, as a result, some of the new additions here are pretty perplexing in terms of design. These games also made the controversial change of making it possible to use TMs more than once. This was a change that, while not unwelcome, did start to create the feeling that the Pokémon games were pandering slightly and becoming less challenging.
The particularly great thing that Black and White 2 managed was that, although they were direct sequels, they still managed to hold their own as individual games.
It was therefore easy to play Black and White 2 even if you hadn’t played the originals – or any other Pokémon game for that matter. Managing a level of depth that’s engaging while maintaining accessibility is a commendable achievement for Generation V.
Best Pokémon games: Ranks 4-1
Game Freak was hustling across Generations 2 and 3 of the Pokémon series, as Generation 3 saw the introduction of more interesting and necessary changes. Continuing from Gold, Silver, and Crystal, Ruby and Sapphire gave us better animations, double battles, contests, secret bases, and (to the relief of everyone) the ability to run.
At the time, a decent amount of these changes were divisive, and Ruby and Sapphire aren’t really the most beloved Pokémon games. Still, many of the new features, including secret bases and individual Pokémon natures, had a very positive influence on the direction that future games would take. Contests also added a new competitive dynamic that wasn’t entirely focused on battling.
The music in Ruby, Sapphire, and the enhanced Emerald was amazing, and the Hoenn region felt like a really dramatic change for the series, bringing a lot more water to the map.
There were quite a few problems with these games, though, including the confusing change to the day and night cycle after it had worked so well in Gold and Silver, not to mention the frequently odd new Pokémon designs.
While Generation 3 did have its issues, it brought us Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, remakes of Pokémon Red and Blue that added new features and improved visuals – though they’re not the easiest games to get your hands on for a decent price.
Diamond, Platinum, and Pearl came at a precarious time for the Pokémon series. It almost felt like the series was beginning to grow stale, and Game Freak was using these titles as something of a transition point before Generation 5’s changes.
As a result, they’re games that play very well and offer a lot to enjoy, but they also don’t particularly stand out in memory for any particular reason. The Sinnoh region wasn’t really fresh or exciting, and the story and its legendary Pokémon aren’t exactly series high points.
That said, Platinum did improve a lot, not just by adding numerous new Pokémon and improving the story, but also by refurbishing some of the cities and locations to make them a little more visually exciting.
We’d definitely recommend picking up Platinum if you want to experience this generation on its original platform. But, the easiest way to experience these games is definitely the modern Switch remakes: Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl (though these are technically Generation 8).
But it’s Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver that have stopped this Generation from simply being a middling entry in our list. HeartGold and SoulSilver were enhanced remakes of Gold and Silver released in 2010 that also included all of the changes made in Crystal. If you ever get the chance to pick up these versions you definitely should, because even though they’re remakes they are even better than the originals, making it possible for Pokémon to visibly follow your character as Pikachu does in Pokémon Yellow.
Generation 1 may have been what introduced us to the wondrous world of Pokémon, but Generation 2 is when developer Game Freak really got into a rhythm and brought the world of pocket monsters to life.
In Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal we saw the implementation of a day-to-night cycle, days of the week, and breeding. These features brought an exciting new depth to catching and battling Pokémon and made it worth exploring at all times of day, especially as certain Pokémon could only be encountered at night. Increasing the number of Pokémon to 251 was a good move too, especially as one of them was Cyndaquil. No bias here.
In addition to these interesting and game-changing new features, Generation 2 allowed you to explore the new region of Johto as well as Kanto from Generation 1, which was not just a great gift to fans of Red and Blue, but made the game feel like it had a really big world.
Gold and Silver were released at the same time, as is tradition with Pokémon games, between 1999 and 2001, depending on which region you lived in. Later, though, Crystal released and managed to improve on Gold and Silver in major ways by adding a new subplot, the ability to choose your gender, and the Battle Tower which allowed players to try and fight as many battles as they could before taking a loss.
These improvements, combined with the power of nostalgia, make these some of the most exciting games in the series.
The original Pokémon games are, in our opinion, the series’ best generation. Is that mostly nostalgia talking? Maybe. Are they a bit rough around the edges? Certainly. But these are the games that kicked off our obsession with the Pokémon game series and introduced many of us to the first generation of 151 pocket monsters that, at one point, you might have been able to list off by heart.
Generation 1 Pokémon games consolidated into the anime, movies, and merchandise very well, creating a Pokéfrenzy that anyone who grew up in the ’90s would have had a hard time avoiding. But it’s not simply the nostalgia that makes these games great.
Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow mark a time when GameFreak focused on the core pillars of the series: capturing Pokémon, battling, and making your way to the top of the Indigo League. The Pokémon designs were straightforward (though sometimes questionable (opens in new tab)) and memorable, with no trash bag or car key Pokémon in sight, and the gameplay was straightforward enough that pretty much anyone could pick up and play.
This generation also boasts some of the series’ most memorable faces, with the infamous Team Rocket serving as the main villains and Gym Leaders like Brock, Misty, and Lt. Surge putting trainers through their paces.
Compared to more recent generations, Generation 1 does feel outdated and has its fair share of glitches and balance issues but, without it, none of these other generations would exist.