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The Best Pokémon Spin-off Games We Can’t Stop Playing

Pikachu Pokemon Mystery Dugeon DX
Credit: Nintendo

With Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on the horizon, everyone’s attention is locked on the main series entries. However, we ought to stop and consider the Pokémon spin-off games. Although the core RPGs evolve at a glacial pace, the side titles are constantly recontextualizing the franchise in unique ways.

From fighting games and puzzlers to MOBAs and dungeon crawlers, the Pokémon spirit is retained by a string of mechanically diverse adventures. However, these games aren’t all equal in quality.

The likes of Pokémon Dash or Picross aren’t much to write home about. However, these fifteen certainly are—and they’re far from the only worthwhile titles. Yet, they are arguably the best.

That is when considering key criteria such as the diversity they bring to the franchise and how well they use the IP, in addition to their overall quality.

Pokémon Snap: An Inventive Pokémon Spin-off Game

pokemon snap n64 - A top Pokemon Spin-Off Games pick
Credit: Nintendo Uk

While some may put New Pokémon Snap on this list instead, I prefer the original. It’s the stronger game—content to simply be a densely-designed, replayable photography adventure. The sequel is full of unnecessary, tiresome padding. But enough about New Pokémon Snap.

The N64 classic is such a fresh take on the Pokémon universe. The creatures truly felt alive, going about their routines as you observed them from a distance. Yet, while the game is passive in large part, its active elements elevate the experience. This is one part rail shooter and one part puzzle game.

Learning Pokémon patterns and having the reflexes to aptly photograph them is a timeless genre fusion for the Nintendo 64.

Pokémon Trading Card Game: A Top-Notch Pokemon Spin-off Game for Game Boy

pokemon tcg game boy: Top Pokemon Spinoff Games for everyone to play
Credit: Nintendo Uk

When you think of Game Boy Pokémon titles you think of Red & Blue. Maybe you consider Gold & Silver. But, what you should be thinking about is the Trading Card Game. Less of a tabletop simulator and more of a card-based RPG, this is a truly overlooked classic.

I’ve always loved this game’s ability to integrate the physical card game into the structure of the core titles. It’s maybe the most main series-feeling spin-off out there. While it can be a bit RNG heavy, it’s nonetheless worth checking out.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team Dx

pokemon mystery dungeon dx artwork
Credit: Nintendo Uk

It’s hard to pick the best Mystery Dungeon game. However, this Switch remake of the one that started them all is not only the most accessible but also arguably the most engaging. All the Mystery Dungeon games follow a dungeon-crawling gameplay archetype. It’s compelling, often-tense stuff.

But, what really cements Rescue Team DX as the best is its simple narrative framing. You wake up in the world of Pokémon, and you start an eponymous Rescue Team to save trapped Pokémon. As you grow in prestige you go on more complex quests, in turn meeting more compelling inhabitants of the local town.

Add in the dungeon-crawling and you have a lovely gameplay loop that deserves its place among the best Pokemon spin-off games. Throw in an all-time great soundtrack alongside the Switch remake’s lovely aesthetic and you’ve got a winner.

Pokémon Rumble

pokemon rumble logo
Credit: Nintendo Uk

Before the Rumble subseries devolved into derivative mediocrity, it got off to a good start. Essentially, this is a kid’s-first dungeon-crawler, complete with an inspired toy-art style. The gameplay isn’t that deep, but it’s satisfying in its simplicity.

It was certainly one of WiiWare’s most remarkable releases. For bursts of punchy albeit basic action, Rumble was unmatched. And, its engaging, RNG riff on the series’ capture mechanic kept its hooks in the player for hours. I lost weeks to this title in middle school.

Pokémon Battle Trozei (Link Battle)

pokemon battle trozei
Credit: Nintendo Uk

There are many Pokémon puzzle games. However, some of the most beloved, like Puzzle League, are incredibly derivative. Now, while Trozei’s take on the match-three is playing within a familiar archetype, it’s more than just a skin over Tetris Attack.

On the contrary, it’s a very affordable, endlessly replayable Nintendo 3DS puzzler that brings the spirit of battle to the puzzle grid. Its bright art style and mechanics refine and expand what its DS predecessor established while avoiding the free-to-play tropes of its sequel. For a contained, pocket-sized adventure, Battle Trozei is essential.

Pokémon Conquest

pokemon conquest zekrom - Pokemon Spin-Off Games
Credit: Nintendo Uk

To the Nintendo initiated, Conquest probably looks like Fire Emblem. It is a strategy RPG, after all. However, Conquest is actually linked to the long-standing Nobunaga’s Ambition series. This is a deep, tactical adventure that builds upon classic SRPG tenets.

Plus, its feudal military themes lead to a unique aesthetic iteration upon the Pokémon world. Conquest is regarded as arguably the best of the Pokémon spin-off games for good reason.

Pokkén Tournament Dx: Pokémon Spin-off Games Should All Be This Inventive!

pokken tournament dx key art
Credit: Nintendo Uk

Nintendo and Bandai Namco often go together like peanut butter and jelly. Apparently, Pokémon and Tekken do also. Like Conquest, this is a brilliant crossover. Pokkén not only posits very compelling 2D/3D fighting mechanics but also a brilliant art style.

It partially answers the call for a “realistic” Pokémon title. You come for the style but stay for the gameplay and roster bolstered by the DX release. The Wii U original is great too, but it’s lacking the extra characters of the Switch port. I mean, it has Blastoise (my favorite Pokémon), so it must be good.

Pokémon Masters Ex

pokemon masters ex trainers
Credit: The Pokémon Company

Mobile Pokémon games are a mixed bag. Cafe Mix and Magikarp Jump might have found an audience, but they’re far from the best Pokémon spin-off games. The awkwardly-named Masters EX, though, certainly deserves a mention.

It’s a celebration of the series’ most iconic and overlooked faces. The art style and fan service is fantastic. And, its turn-based combat smartly adapts the series’ core tenets to the phone. Given its continued updates, Masters EX is a perennial favorite.

Pokémon Unite

pokemon unite artwork
Credit: Nintendo Uk

I was one of the people who thought it was too late for a Pokémon MOBA. Clearly, I was wrong. The game is a smash hit. Combining simplified arena gameplay with the Pokémon aesthetics is evidently a timeless formula.

Between the ever-expanding roster and polished gameplay, it’s hard not to be tantalized by Unite. While multiplayer games of this ilk aren’t my jam, I’ve nonetheless appreciated Unite from a distance, just like Masters EX. For a persistent Pokémon experience, look no further.

Detective Pikachu: A Pokémon Spin-off Game for Mystery Lovers

detective pikachu key art
Credit: Nintendo Uk

I really need to play this 3DS adventure. It is, after all, tied into the surprisingly great film of the same name. If the sign of a good Pokémon spin-off game is its ability to provide a fresh Pokémon experience, then Detective Pikachu succeeds.

It’s a narrative-driven mystery title about unraveling clues. LA Noire this is not, but you can’t go wrong with detective games of any variety. The industry needs more of these. With such an inventive concept and solid reviews, Detective Pikachu certainly deserves its position.

Pokémon Stadium

pokemon stadium battle is a must have among Pokemon Spin-off games
Credit: Nintendo Uk

There’s a lot to love about Pokémon Stadium. Not only was it a compelling home console supplement to Pokémania, but it’s also a rich multiplayer experience. Its generation 1 battle simulation is compelling, as is its Transfer Pak compatibility.

However, what cements this title, and its sequel, as evergreen classics are its mini-games. They’ve effectively a Pokémon-themed counterpoint to Mario Party. Hopefully, we see this title on Nintendo Switch Online someday. Stadium with online play would rock.

Pokémon Trading Card Game Online

ptcgo samurott
Credit: The Pokémon Company

Yes, two trading card games are among the best Pokémon spin-off games. PTCGO isn’t an RPG though, but instead a more straightforward simulator. The game is a natural extension of the physical card game which nicely synergizes with the real thing.

It’s the strategic tabletop experience that everyone loves but accentuated with flourishes only a digital format could provide. Plus, it’s wrapped within a user-friendly, accessible package. This is a true lifestyle game, one that grows alongside your physical collection. I was obsessed as a kid.

Pokémon Showdown

Pokemon Showdown screenshot
Credit: Pokémon Showdown

So, I might be cheating here a bit. After all, Pokémon Showdown is not an official game.

However, it’s indisputably among the best games tangential to the series, and arguably one of the best Pokémon spin-offs. If you think it’s eligible, that is. Personally, I do.

Assuming you agree, it’s hard to dispute its placement. To some, it may just be a browser-based battle sim. However, those who know Showdown understand that it’s much more. There are just so many granular options here.

Generation restrictions, varied art styles, competitive and casual rulesets—Showdown has it all. It’s deeply customizable. If you enjoy Pokémon battling, Showdown offers an online experience perhaps better than the official titles.

Pokémon Colosseum

Pokemon colosseum main character - Pokemon Spin-Off Games
Credit: Nintendo Uk

Before Nintendo Switch, Colosseum was the biggest at-home Pokémon adventure. In some respects, it’s similar to the core games. However, it’s certainly a unique beast, recontextualizing both the narrative and capture mechanics.

The game isn’t without flaws. Yet, it’s fascinating to see the mainline gameplay tenets riffed on for a true home console RPG. Even the new Switch titles retain a handheld design philosophy in large part by merit of the system’s hybrid hardware.

Colosseum is Pokémon for GameCube, playable only on your TV with a commensurate scope. Aside from its sequel, there’s nothing else like it.

The Best of the Pokémon Spin-off Games: Pokémon Go

pokemon go fest
Credit: The Pokémon Company

Is there any compelling argument against Go being the best? I don’t think so.

The game was a phenomenon—a modern bout of Pokémania. That’s for good reason. Pokémon Go delivers on the lifelong fantasy of its world and ours being intertwined.

There is no better use of augmented reality in the gaming space than this. The immersive tenor to the experience is unparalleled. Combing real-world locales for your favorite Pokémon is a genius core concept, and it’s one that Niantic has continued to expand upon with new mechanics and creatures.

I’ll never forget traveling the US’ West Coast when the game launched, largely ignoring my family vacation in favor of the Pokémon around me. I’ll never forget afternoons spent exploring PokéStops with my friends. The game brought my childhood dreams to life.

Wrap Up

I’ll always treasure the core Pokémon games above all. However, the community would be remiss to ignore these excellent Pokémon spin-off games. Mystery Dungeon DX’s theme or a spinning PokéStop is just as important to me as my first steps in Pokémon Platinum, the game that started my proper Pokémon journey.

These side experiences exemplify this series’ strength—its imagination and world. You don’t need familiar RPG mechanics to be enveloped in Pokémon’s creative ethos.

Written by Abram Buehner

Abram Buehner is a part-time student and full-time dork. With a particular love for Nintendo and a nearly equal affinity for PlayStation and Xbox, Abram plays across all platforms. When he’s not digging into his backlog, Abram is probably writing about games instead. Otherwise, Abram can be found working toward his dual degree in English and Film & New Media Studies …or he’s babbling about Star Wars. The latter is more likely.

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