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The best Pokemon games, ranked

We’ve ranked the mainline Pokemon games, and their remakes, from best to worst.

Key artwork from multiple Pokemon games is shown. From left to right: Pokemon Ruby, Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon White, Pokemon Sun, and Pokemon Sword
Image credit: The Pokemon Company

Gamers got their first taste for catching and battling pocket monsters back in 1996 when Pokemon Red and Green first released. Ever since, Pokemon fans - young and old, far and wide - haven’t been able to get enough of the series, with each game generally amassing more sales than the last, even when they’re riddled with issues. But that’s the thing, Pokemon’s gameplay is just so satisfying, so addictive, that when issues arise, they barely matter as long as there’s new ‘mons and Gym Leaders involved.

That’s not to say that these shouldn’t be addressed, which as you’ll learn while reading this list, is something that Game Freak and The Pokemon Company has seemingly tried to do to the best of its ability with each iteration and remake. Over the years, we’ve seen the games largely possess the same core mechanics and plot, but with grand innovations - the leap to 3D graphics, open-world environments, pivotal changes to combat - that have understandably seen Pokemon become one of the highest-grossing franchises out there. That, and the fact that Pokemon cards exist.

To make this list as easy to navigate as possible, given that there are a lot of Pokemon titles, we’ve decided to split this page into two ranked lists; mainline Pokemon games, and remakes. They’re also ranked from best to worst, so be sure to let us know how wrong (or right) we are, as well as what your favourites are, too!


Best mainline Pokemon games, ranked

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

  • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Starters: Torchic, Treecko, Mudkip

James Billcliffe: Generation 3 was Pokemon hitting its stride on the Gameboy Advance, gradually expanding the scale and complexity of 2D Pokemon until it reached the limits of the technology available to its handheld console.

So while Pokemon battles still had room to grow thanks to the physical/special split in Generation 4, Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald are the peak of the series in their original form.

The gameplay was quick and light, the exploration felt epic, and the roster of new Pokemon was full of fan-favourites like Flygon, Metagross and, who could forget, the all-powerful Ludicolo.

Generation 3 was also the first Pokemon story to raise the stakes of your mission to world-altering proportions, with a higher fantasy scope that the series would continue to lean on going forward. In the first two games you bust up a crime ring trying to make money stealing prototype tech, while in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, you break up a fight between the gods of the land, sea and skies so the ocean doesn’t evaporate and cities aren't drowned underwater. Not bad for a 10-year-old.

Pokemon Emerald in particular also had an incredible post-game, which, even though it didn't have the magic of revisting Kanto in Gold and Silver, had enough challenge and variety to stand out as another series high-point from a gameplay perspective.

Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

  • Platform: Nintendo DS
  • Starters: Turtwig, Chimchar, Piplup

Kelsey Raynor: Pokemon Diamond and Pearl was one of the first Pokemon games I vividly remember playing on my DS. Inviting us to the varied region of Sinnoh with some of the best starters - Piplup being my personal favorite, sorry Turtwig - it’s one of a few games I struggled to put down, and still feel very fondly about. Let’s not forget the mythological legendaries either, with Palkia, Dialga, and Giratina still up there as some of the best Pokemon.

Generation 4 was a pretty big deal for multiple reasons too, with some new features introduced that would shape the future of the Pokemon series. There’s the most blatant new feature was the ability to trade Pokemon and battle other Trainers online, making completing the ever-growing Pokedex much less of a slog. We also saw the introduction of the physical/special split too, which allowed ‘mons to use a much wider variety of moves. And, well, this made some otherwise middling ‘mons actually worth using, which is great.

Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal

  • Platform: Game Boy Color
  • Starters: Chikorita, Cyndaquil, Totodile

JB: Generation 2 is probably the hardest to rank of any, since I simultaneously hold the opinion that it’s the greatest sequel of all time and that it contains a slew of head-scratching and poor design decisions.

The achievement of making a game as beloved as the first generation of Pokemon, going away for a year, then coming back and bettering it cannot be overstated. As we see in modern gaming, it’s not a given.

Gold and Silver are home to so many great Pokemon (Scizor, Miltank, Donphan, Tyranitar, Octillery, just to name a few personal favs), and locations like the iconic Bug Catching Contest, mysterious Burned Tower with its three legendary dogs and puzzling Ice Path are all fantastic.

But then you have the piece de resistance: once you complete your journey through the Johto region you can ride a boat over to the original Kanto region and take on another gym challenge of 8 Gym Leaders, revisiting your old heroes and rivals before taking on Red and Blue’s protagonist in the ultimate battle.

It’s hard to communicate how mind-blowing this was at the time. It reinvigorated the world of Pokemon with a new sense of scale, only strengthening the idea that you really could live in this land of endless possibility, and crucially, left you wondering what else was out there.

But if Gold and Silver are so great, why aren’t they top of the list? Well, there are a few common criticisms floating around, and once you hear them, you can’t unhear them. The one that I agree with the most is that Gold and Silver’s loose mid-game, where you can access as far as the Lake of Rage (where you face the 7th Gym) as early as after the 4th Gym, undermines the game’s progression and ruins the level-curve, leaving you facing massively underleveled opponents for a large chunk of your adventure.

It wasn’t so much of a problem when you smashed through everything with just your starter as a kid, but it does make trying to play with any nuance a bit of a slog. However, with that said, difficulty and samey battles are problems in almost every Pokemon game, so it’s tough to knock Gold and Silver for this more than any other. They’re still excellent, pioneering Pokemon games in every sense.

Pokemon Black/White/BW2

  • Platform: Nintendo DS
  • Starters: Snivy, Tepig, Oshawott

KR: A Pokemon installment with so many features (and ones they couldn’t fit in time!) that they gave it a direct sequel, Pokemon Black and White first released in 2010, with Pokemon Black and White 2 arriving two years later. And, funnily enough, the events of B&W2 are also set two years after the events of its predecessor, which is neat. That also means, however, that to really get the most out of Generation 5 of Pokemon, you’ll actually have two full Pokemon games to get through. And considering they’re both great, solid games, that’s absolutely no problem if you ask me.

While many Pokemon games feature simple story-telling, Pokemon B&W saw the series try and do something a little deeper, introducing us to one of the most memorable antagonists, N. Throughout, it’s constantly queried as to how ethical battling with Pokemon is thanks to N, but their seemingly ‘positive’ plans (depending on how you look at it) are not all that, as you’ll quickly find out.

When it comes to deciding which one to play, I wholly recommend playing Black or White and then Black 2 or White 2 back-to-back, to really get the most out of things. B&W2 boasts more Pokemon to play with and a refined experience, but there’s nothing quite like the initial story of B&W. Though, if you just want to battle with as many Pokemon and Trainers as possible, I’d opt for B&W2.

Pokemon Sun/Moon/UltraSM

  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Starters: Rowlet, Litten, Popplio

JB: I think that Sun and Moon is one of the most underrated Pokemon generations, simply because it tried to do something fresh, exciting and truly different with its structure and setting.

Modeled on the Hawaiian archipelago, Sun and Moon is like a hybrid between traditional Pokemon games and some of the newer concepts that would be expanded in the more fully open-world Scarlet and Violet. As part of the “Island Challenge”, you take part in climactic battles against both island leaders and powerful Totem Pokemon, while participating in a more narrative-driven adventure than the classic games.

While the new Pokemon are a mixed bag (Rowlett rules, but the other starters are very poor), the Alolan forms of Generation 1 Pokemon are excellent to a tee. Psychedelic Muk, extremely long Exeggutor, fire dancing Marowak, surfing Raichu and handsome Dugtrio are all unbelievable highlights.

The expanded versions, Ultra Sun and Moon also hold the distinction of being widely considered the most difficult Pokemon games, something Game Freak seems to toy with every two or three games or so (Let’s Go and Sword and Shield after this, as well as X and Y before, were all very easy before Brilliant Diamond added truly competitive move sets and items to its Elite Four).

Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow

  • Platform: Game Boy
  • Starters: Charmander, Bulbasaur, Squirtle

JB: For most the original, and some still the best, Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow kickstarted a phenomenon that still captivates the world almost 30 years later.

The concept is almost perfectly executed, with a sparkling, interconnected world that creates a peerless sense of wonder and mystery as new creatures, challenges and classic songs wait around every corner. If you breeze through a rough rundown of events, it’s just one haymaker area after another.

Then, in case you’d forgotten, the Gen 1 sprites absolutely rule. They’re so weird and vibrant and exciting and evocative that it’s really no wonder the series caught on fire.

But, as a game you actually want to play though, because of some hardware and gameplay shortcomings, Generation 1 is unfortunately limited, despite its legendary design. As every kid that blasted through the game with just their starter and a level 2 Pidgey can attest, the battles are pretty easy and overpowered mechanics like 100% critical hits with fast Pokemon and infinite Wraps didn’t make things any harder.

Then there’s the frustrating and clunky interface, as well as the tiny in-game bag, which seemed to be modeled on how much a 10-year old could actually carry (it was actually because of technical restrictions with the Gameboy).

However, even though it feels its age, Generation 1 is more than a curio. It’s perfect in its imperfectness, where, before the internet, the inconsistencies, glitches and mistakes became folklore on the playground, and only added to the mystique of this unforgettable adventure.

Pokemon Yellow is also unique, in that it’s the only time I can think of where Nintendo really seized the zeitgeist and gave people what they wanted, adding and altering the flow of the game slightly to reflect the smash-hit anime. But whichever version you choose, they all reflect that same golden period of Pokemania.

Pokemon X/Y

  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Starters: Fennekin, Froakie, Chespin

KR: Back when I played Pokemon X and Y, I was enamored by it. It helped that I was 14 at the time and no doubt fit into the perfect target audience for the title, but it’s one of the few Pokemon games that had me really enthralled by its simple story. On top of that, Game Freak had finally made the technological leap to using polygonal 3D graphics which modern installments have only improved on.

Not only did the game look great, but fans were spoiled with plenty of new and returning features, too; Mega Evolutions, Fairy-type Pokemon, and of course, the glorious Kalos region, which boasted 72 new species of Pokemon. This was also the first game in the series that allowed players to customize their character, and while that was basic - and still remains so in recent installments - it was one of many small touches that made this game as innovative as it was. Oh, and let’s not forget that X and Y is where players were first introduced to new Fairy-type Eeveelution, Sylveon. It’s about time we had another Eeveelution thrown into the mix, though.

Pokemon Scarlet/Violet

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch
  • Starters: Sprigatito, Fuecoco, Quaxly

KR: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is a bittersweet installment to write about. The game launched in an unacceptable state for a Game Freak title, with poor performance, graphical glitches, and bugs galore. Even if, like me, you happen to have found some humor in ScarVi’s performance issues and the memes that arose from them - background characters moving at 5fps, ‘mons that run circles around you, and so forth - there is still no denying that fans ultimately expect more from this multi-billion dollar company.

Those issues aside, however, Pokemon ScarVi’s gameplay was brilliant. After the initial tutorial period, the player is given plenty of freedom to roam the open world at whatever pace they please. The lack of linearity between Gym Leaders and so forth did cause some confusion, but once you’d gotten used to these new mechanics - including Tera battles, which feel a lot like Gigantamax ‘mons - the region of Paldea was great fun to freely roam around. It felt like a Pokemon game that had finally nailed its audience - a mix of children and long-time, adult fans - when it came to difficulty too, especially when approaching the post-game. I just hope Pokemon’s next mainline installment happens to address those performance issues…

Pokemon Sword and Shield

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch
  • Starters: Grookey, Sobble, Scorbunny

KR: Sword and Shield is one of many mainline Pokemon games that I have incredibly mixed feelings about. While it showed that Game Freak was experimenting with ways to make the series feel fresh, - which I can’t discredit whatsoever - the game lacked a real challenge compared to previous titles, and insisted on holding your hand.

Maybe the fact that Galar is based on the United Kingdom is one of the reasons I have a disdain for the title, but the reality is, it’s one of the only Pokemon games that has failed to have me hooked. While open-world exploration and Gigantamax evolutions were interesting, the Pokedex was still lacking - among other things - and it simply wasn't enough to form a game as engaging as the likes of Black and White, Gold and Silver, and so forth.

Best Pokemon remakes, ranked

Pokemon Heart Gold/Soul Silver

  • Platform: Nintendo DS
  • Starters: Chikorita, Cyndaquil, Totodile

KR: Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are arguably the best in the entire series. They possess a perfect balance between classic areas, Pokemon, artwork, characters and more modern mechanics. With the physical/special split introduced during Generation 4’s Diamond and Pearl - and this game coming out within the same time frame - the remake also benefited from these new battle mechanics, which saw otherwise poor-performing ‘mons actually stand a chance in your party.

This was also one of the first Pokemon games to introduce breeding mechanics, the ability to let your beloved ‘mons follow you around the overworld, and on top of that, you could now use the Nintendo DS’ touch screen to navigate your bag, party, and so forth. Both graphics and sound were improved, with the ability to change your game’s music to the original chiptune tracks from Gold and Silver also added once players manage to wrap up the majority of the game. Ultimately, HGSS provided many much-needed quality of life improvements and an abundance of Pokemon to battle and catch, making it stand tall as one of the best entries in the Pokemon series to date.

Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green

  • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Starters: Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander

JB: The first Pokemon remake is also one of the best, meaningfully updating the graphics and gameplay of the idiosyncratic originals to the standard of Generation 3 - probably the most timeless era of Pokemon, even if it was just before the most game-changing mechanic was added to the series.

Before Diamond/Pearl there were only physical types (like fighting, rock and ghost) and special types (like fire, water, grass), but after Gen 4 you could have physical and special moves from all types, giving a new lease of life to Pokemon like Magmar (a physical fire Pokemon) or Gengar (a special-attacking ghost Pokemon) and grant a massive new depth to battles. If FireRed and LeafGreen included the physical/special split introduced from Generation 4, then it’d be as close to perfect as you could reasonably expect.

There’s a reason that this is one of the most popular games to ROM-hack then, adding those last few modern mechanics - as well as more Pokemon, enhanced difficulty and new stories.

Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire

  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Starters: Treecko, Torchic, Mudkip

JB: Generation 6 was a solid if safe era of Pokemon, so while Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were more liberal with some of their aesthetic changes than even Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, they didn’t advance the formula of the originals as palpable as FireRed and LeafGreen or HeartGold and SoulSilver.

However, if your nostalgia lies in Hoenn - or even if it doesn’t - these games look great and play well, and are the best expression of the classic Pokemon formula in the 3DS style.

Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl

  • Platform: Nintendo Switch
  • Starters: Piplup, Chimchar, Turtwig

KR: Generation 4 - Diamond and Pearl - was finally remade in 2021. I can’t believe it’s been three years already, but it was nice to see my favorite Gen get the remake treatment at last. While the remake took on a new 3D art-style, it still remained faithful to the style of the original, with a revamped Grand Underground that you could roam around alongside your friends as one of the stand-out, fun features to me.

It was a shame to see some of Pokemon Platinum’s features ignored here, and well, there were definitely performance issues that you’d think would’ve been ironed out. Alas, while the remake wasn’t quite as innovative as it could’ve been - and the inability to turn Exp. Share off - put a dampener on things, I’d argue that BDSP was still a real treat for fans of Generation 4. Especially once you finish filling out the regional Pokedex and suddenly have the 493 Pokemon of Gen 1-4 available for you to find.


That’s it for our list of the best Pokemon games, but be sure to let us know what your favourite one is and why. We’d love to hear it!

For more best of lists, take a look at the best Sonic the Hedgehog games, the best Resident Evil games, and the best free-to-play games.

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