Did you know there are more spinoff Pokémon titles than there are core games? It’s true even when you factor in the third version in a generation like Pokémon Yellow, or Pokémon Emerald. What’s even crazier is that they’re all generally bad. There doesn’t seem to be a need, or a want for quality control within Nintendo and Game Freak. It’s insane. Financially, it makes sense to throw Pokémon on anything you can think of though. They seem to sell regardless of quality. When you compare another massive Nintendo franchise like Mario, his games are way better on average. Nintendo seems more protective of the Italian plumber, but he has some pretty tragic skeletons in closest as well. Again, on an average though, spinoffs and all, Mario has a better track record.
That said there are some fantastic Pokémon side projects out there. My favorite? Pokémon Conquest. I had no love of Nobunaga’s Ambition and it seemed silly to cross those two series over, but the baby they made was beautiful. I can’t believe there hasn’t been a sequel yet even with my problems with the original. Seems like a crime against humanity! Anyway, as for these other spinoffs, well, they have decent ideas, but they’re just lazily implemented. That’s less than half of this list though. The rest are just cheap knockoffs with the Pokémon named slapped on for a quick buck. It’s all about the Benjamins, my dear readers. So without further delay, let’s look at some of the most shameful games out there daring themselves to be called Pokémon.
First of all, what child would want to play a card game over a core Pokémon title? I mean, if it was something along the lines of Yu-Gi-Oh where monsters are virtually recreated on the field I’d understand, but that's not the case with the Pokémon Trading Card Game. It’s also not a bad game in reality. I collected the hell out of these cards during the initial Pokémon craze and played the game every once and awhile too. It wasn’t as cool as, say, Pokémon Blue, but sitting down with friends had its own pleasures. However, if you have a Game Boy then why would anyone chose the video game version over the real thing? It’s confusing to say the least and it only gets more maddening from here.
I will admit that when I went over to my friend's house and saw Pokémon Stadium on the Nintendo 64 I was blown away. The 2D sprites from the Game Boy were now fully realized in polygonal form. It was awesome! Then I found out that all you practically do is battle. There's no catching, or training involved. You're a renter. Yes, Pokémon is all about battling in general, but there's more to it than that and Pokémon Stadium boils the series down to its most primal level. It wouldn’t so bad if said battles didn’t take so damn long. The sequels aren't much better either. I hope that the Switch Pokémon game will be what I've always wanted from a console experience and not another game like this.
This has to be one of the weakest tie-ins to Pokémon on the list. At the very least the other two had you battling with Pokémon. This is just a reworked puzzle game like Tetris with the Pokémon dancing on the side. Couldn't they have at least made the blocks be represented by Pokémon? I have my doubts this started development as a Pokémon game. Someone probably saw how boring it was and worried about money so they quickly added in some Pokémon stuff to guarantee sales. That's how most of these games get developed, I think. Marketing 101 I guess. Best thing I can say about it? The title screen depicting Pichu and Pikachu ridding a balloon is adorable. I just want that as a screen saver now.
Taking away the violence and instead focusing on another job in the Pokémon universe is a great concept. Going out into the wilderness, taking photos, and jotting down notes on new species would be wonderful, but that’s not really what this game is. Instead it’s an on-rail shooter, but instead of harming anything you’re just taking pictures over and over and over again until that old grump Oak is satisfied with your work. Just take my damn pictures and don’t make me repeat that course for the billionth time professor! So yes, Pokémon Snap has its problems, but I am surprised it never got a sequel. Again, the core idea is great. Technically there has been a sequel of sorts, but we’ll get to Pokémon GO later.
The Nintendo 64 fooled me on Pokémon Stadium and I was hoodwinked once again with Hey You, Pikachu. First of all, I recognize it as a brilliant marketing move. That said, it’s another in a long line of a stupefying ridiculous Nintendo peripherals. The microphone bundled inside, or Voice Recognition Unit, allows players to communicate with the electric rodent. Think of it like a bigger version of a Tamagotchi. It's about as complex as one those digital pets too. You can interact with the world, gather items, play mini games, or just pal around with Pikachu. It's a fun, albeit simple toy with diminishing returns, but I wouldn't call this a game exactly. That’s where my problem is with the game. It’s just an insanely expensive toy.
As is the case for a lot of Pokémon games, this double spinoff features two versions. The split is different compared to how it’s normally released though. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team was for the GBA and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team was for the DS. Except for the graphics and few other minor details, both games are virtually the same. You’re a human thrust into the body of a Pokémon in this roguelike dungeon RPG. Most of the games in the Mystery Dungeon series are pretty brutal so it is nice to have something kids can enjoy too to sort of dip their toes in this genre’s water. That said it may be a bit too easy and boy does it love to talk.
This is sort of a sequel to Hey You, Pikachu. It refined the concept of the first game, but retained the more casual nature at the same time. There's not much of a gimmick to it, like with the microphone in the other game, although the Game Boy Advance e-Reader unlocks content in the game. As the name would imply, all of your interactions come through a TV screen. You watch programs with Pikachu in order for Professor Oak to collect data, or something. There are mini games like quizzes you can participate in, or you could literally just watch anime. There’s not much to it for a GameCube game, but I think it would work well as an app on your phone. Granted, that’s only if Nintendo can figure out how to port it.
Pokémon Dash is easily the worst game on this list. It's a racing game starring Pikachu, of course, wherein each race is determined by how fast you can make it through rings. My problem starts with the controls, as the Nintendo DS Stylus is the only way to play. This is understandable as it was released during the launch year of the system, before Nintendo and every other developer figured out touch controls weren’t a fun way to interact with a game. Pokémon Dash also looks like a prototype. Pikachu and his fellow monsters have never looked more ugly. They’re 3D, but the models look unfinished. I theorize this was on the cutting room floor but someone discovered and decided to release anyway, because Pokémon sells no matter what.
Here’s another job worth exploring, like in Pokémon Snap. Imagine if our real world park rangers needed to deal with Pokémon. Well, that’s the idea with Pokémon Ranger, but unfortunately this title tries too hard to be different while staying the same... albeit in a clunkier manor. Instead of throwing balls to make Pokémon your permanent slaves, you instead use your stylus to capture and temporarily control Pokémon. You do this by drawing circles around them. That's literally it. Oh sure, there's HP, and having a Pokémon with you will imbue your hoop with water, fire, electricity, or what have you, but it doesn’t offer any new gameplay mechanics. Simply put, it's really dumb and incredibly frustrating to play. Why should drawing a circle be this hard?
Okay, this one is actually better than all of the other previous Pikachu adventures. That’s not saying much though. You actually get to control him in this weird open-world adventure game. You're tasked with finding some legendary items and can gather a party while you do so. Various Pokémon can be used to solve puzzles in the world, which then open up new areas to explore. There's also a big, heaping helping of mini-games because why not. While I like the idea of a more kid-friendly 3D Metroid experience, nothing is well-defined. Controls are off thanks to it being on the Wii. It's also just pretty boring and overall drawn out. Again, what’s with these solo Pokémon games and their insistent chatter?
As a collector of weird peripherals and box sets, I'm a little bummed North America never got this. It made it out of Japan into Europe, so what's the deal? Ah, anyway, despite my wanting this doesn't exactly look fun. It's basically a typing program, as the title implies. Anybody play PAWS for the Apple II in school? That's what I had to learn with back in the day, and it sucked. This version is better than that, but at the end of the day no school is going to shell out money for a Pokémon game. Most kids wouldn’t either unless they’re dumb, or think this is more than a typing game. Sorry kids, it’s not. Pretty cool collectable though, and not that expensive either to import.
This is actually the third game in the Pokémon Rumble series and the only reason I checked it out is because it's free to play on 3DS. It’s an action RPG wherein you can choose an allotment of Pokémon to then go through mini dungeons and whack the hell out of other Pokémon. You can even capture them for your team! The Pokémon are basically toys and look as such. The aesthetic is cute, and while I admit to having mindless fun with this pseudo brawler, it got old fast. There's only so much you can do before the game locks out content. You then either have to pay, or grind like crazy to unlock stuff, which is the case with most free-to-play games.
Here's another spinoff of a spinoff, and this is a game that should have been free as well. First of all, coloring and drawing are two great things every kid loves to do. On a cramped 3DS screen though? No, thank you. Even on the XL series there's not much room. The only thing that’s good about having two screens compared to one is seeing the Pokémon you’re drawing above you, but again, it’s on a small screen so it doesn’t really help that much. What we have here is another cheap attempt to cash in on that Pokémon name. It launched at $30 too! Are you kidding me right now? Even $10 would be pushing it for me, but that would be more reasonable at least.
I was never big on Tetris, or any block puzzle game for that matter. That is until Puzzle Quest came along in 2007, which redefined the genre by adding in my bread and butter: RPG elements. Now clones are a dime a dozen and they're perfect for both handhelds and phones. That’s what Pokémon Shuffle is more or less. It’s free to play and you can get it on both your 3DS and phone. For me it makes more sense on phones, but whatever. Either way, it’s sadly not that good. It’s more complex than Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, but it’s a cheap rip-off with only money on the brain. Like Pokémon Rumble World, content gets locked out fast if you don’t pay up, or work yourself crazy.
Pokémon GO came close to being the ideal phone experience. It was an insane summer last year that was one of the coolest gaming experiences I've ever gone through. However, thanks to vapid mechanics I grew tired of it after a month and so did a good portion of the world. First of all, encouraging people to actually get up and take a walk was a good thing, but I was already active anyway so it didn't really cause any sort change on my end. On the downside, there's nothing fun about throwing balls at Pokémon wildly, especially when the physics seem to be off. Catching Pokémon through an AR filter in the real world is a gimmick. Yes, they’ve improved the mechanics of the game and added new Pokémon, but it’s still boring.