Franchise Festival #18: Pokemon Spinoffs

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy franchises from the last several decades of gaming history. Older entries can be found here.

This week we’ll be doing what the Pokemon series does best and spinning off of the previous article!

Last week we discussed the main Pokemon games, but the spinoffs are so numerous that I thought they deserved their own discussion. Due to their proliferation, I hope you’ll forgive me covering only a selection of the spinoffs that have been published since the mid-’90s. I sourced extensively from Bulbapedia, especially their History of Pokemon, but quite a few YouTubers were instrumental as well; these include Tamashii HirokaRabbidLuigi and KingK. Dates are the American publication years of the initial releases in each generation along with their inevitable expansion, though the games often debuted slightly earlier in Japan.

Background

For the series background generally, I would encourage readers to consult last week’s article on Pokemon. The background for each specific spinoff will be addressed below. Two major series elements that we will not be covering are the television show and the manga – both are massive successes in their own right, but this article will be long enough handling only the games.

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Pokemon Trading Card Game (1999 – 2018)

Pokemon cards were first published in Japan by the corporation Media Factory in 1996. Pokemon Red and Green had debuted on the Game Boy console earlier in the year, and card games had proven a lucrative market during the decade – Magic the Gathering, in particular, had been a massive success for Wizards of the Coast since its 1993 release and was a significant influence on Media Factory’s creation. In fact, Wizards of the Coast would have publication rights when the Pokemon Trading Card Game moved West in 1999.

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A relatively recent hand of cards, containing Pokemon Sun and Moon‘s Primarina.

Players each have their own deck composed of cards depicting items, energy cards, and Pokemon drawn by Ken Sugimori, Mitsuhiro Arita and Keiji Kinebuchi; these capture the spirit of the video games’ unique supplementary art. Each player takes turns revealing cards from their deck, evolving their own Pokemon and using attacks (one or more on each Pokemon card and requiring a certain amount of energy) to reduce their opponent’s life force. The gameplay is extraordinarily reminiscent of Magic the Gathering, though the Pokemon Trading Card Game would evolve into its own unique identity over the following decades as new rules and cards were released.

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A boxer vs. a surfing electric rat in Pokemon: Trading Card Game (1998).

Interestingly, the card series – itself derived from a video game franchise – would be translated back to the digital realm in 1998 and 2000 on the Game Boy Color. Both of these titles include an overworld with art quite similar to Pokemon Gold and Silver. The art of the cards is drawn directly from their real-world versions, and the gameplay is a facsimile of the real world card game. These would prove surprisingly popular, but would go on to be the only digital representation of the Pokemon Trading Card Game until 2011, when Pokemon Trading Card Game Online debuted as a browser game (and later a standard downloadable title for PC and mobile platforms). This cut all of the elements drawn from the Pokemon video games and is instead a strict translation of the card game to a digital environment.

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Pokemon Pinball (1999 – 2003)

Fans may have expected Jupiter Digital’s Pokemon Pinball (1999) on the Game Boy Color to be a shoddy cash-in, but it turned out to be a surprisingly engaging experience. The basic mechanics are more or less standard pinball – players use flippers to bounce a Pokeball around one of two tables –  but include a number of interesting wrinkles. The first unique element of this game is a strangely revolutionary bit of technology for a portable game – if players insert one AAA battery into a slot in the oddly-shaped Game Boy Color cartridge, the game will produce a rumble effect when certain conditions occur on-screen! This ended up being a bit of a divisive matter, since many players found the effect irritating.

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Catching the elusive Mew.

The second, less controversial wrinkle is the game’s objective: over the course of multiple attempts at a table, players are expected to complete a Pokedex as they had in the standard Generation One Pokemon titles. This is done through striking certain spots on the pinball table a certain number of times, revealing a Pokemon silhouette than can be filled in by striking still other points. Once the Pokemon is revealed, it is caught and added to the Pokedex. Some must be evolved, however, and this is carried out after catching a monster by striking targets on the table reminiscent of the way that the Pokemon had evolved in Red and Blue; these targets include an EXP icon, elemental stone or link cable.

The Pokemon that appear are based on a location selected on the pinball table. Any given playthrough of a table will include three locations, chosen from three pools of potential locations. Pokemon Pinball‘s two tables – Red and Blue, featuring unique layouts – have their own largely unique set of locations drawn from the Generation One core Pokemon titles. The locations do not alter the appearance of the play field, aside from a depiction of the location in a box at the center of the table, but do impact which Pokemon can be caught.

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A table in Pokemon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire featuring Plusle, Minun, Wailmer, Pelipper and Shroomish.

A handful of bonus tables are also included. These are not full pinball experiences, but rather engaging minigames using pinball mechanics. In one the player might need to play whack-a-mole with a field of Digletts by flipping their ball repeatedly into a formation of the Ground type Pokemon. In another, the player might need to strike the head of a Seel with his or her ball when it surfaces from swimming around underwater. These are humorous distractions and serve to liven up the main gameplay, which can become stale over time. A sequel would be released in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance featuring new tables and Pokemon drawn from Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, but the gameplay would remain identical to 1999’s Pokemon Pinball.

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Pokemon Stadium (2000 – 2007)

People were introduced to the Pokemon series on the Game Boy, but many of those young fans owned a Nintendo 64 by the end of the 1990s and were eager for a high-tech realization of the portable franchise. Unfortunately, translating the experience to the TV screen was a challenging endeavor. The Game Boy games were inherently something of a visually stripped-down franchise, and Game Freak lacked a background in programming complex 3D titles. At the same time, the concept of Pokemon hinged on trading and battling with friends on their own hardware, as well as exploring a world in bite-size increments over a long period of time. This was a series designed, from the ground up, for handheld consoles.

Happily, Nintendo and HAL Laboratory were up to the task. They opted to concentrate on the battle elements of the franchise in its first appearance on home consoles, effectively turning it into a turn-based fighting game. The original Pokemon Stadium was exclusively published in Japan in 1998, and includes only 42 of Generation One’s 151 monsters. It was still fairly popular with fans, however, as it was released with a controller peripheral that permitted transfer of Pokemon from Pokemon Red, Green and Blue to the Nintendo 64 game. The visuals, while crude by modern standards, were a dramatic improvement on the Game Boy’s graphics; seeing special moves and formerly two-dimensional creatures rendered in full 3D was very thrilling.

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It was easier to impress us in 2000.

A sequel was published in Japan the following year, and was localized as Pokemon Stadium in North America in 2000; the localized version was packaged with the Transfer Pak that had formerly been exclusive to Japan. This version of the game is functionally identical to its Japan-only predecessor with several key differences – all 151 monsters from Generation One were included and minigames have been added. Outside of these charming (if insubstantial) minigames, the gameplay still consists only of turn-based battles similar to ones in the Game Boy core series. These battles are structured into multiple tournaments, however, including fights against Generation One’s gym leaders, the Elite 4, and an overpowered Mewtwo. As a bonus, players who succeed in defeating the Elite 4 are given a rare Pokemon as a reward; this could be Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee, Eevee, Omanyte or Kabuto – all are difficult to obtain in Pokemon Red and Blue, and are a nice touch of fan service.

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A Lickitung eating contest minigame.

A handful of interesting additional features are available in Pokemon Stadium. Notably, players can actually play their Game Boy Pokemon title on the television when plugged into the Transfer Pak, similar to the Super Game Boy peripheral on the Super Nintendo. This has the added benefit of permitting play of the games at two times or three times the standard speed. Players could conceivably speed through leveling up Pokemon in the Game Boy game using this method, so it proved to be quite popular. Multiplayer battles are also supported in Pokemon Stadium; these are functionally identical to the battles on players’ linked Game Boy systems, but with the compensating virtue of being rendered in lush 3D polygons rather than monochromatic sprites. Finally, a third Pokemon Stadium game was published in Japan in 2000 and was localized as Pokemon Stadium 2 for North American audiences in 2001. It is largely the same as its predecessor, but new minigames are included and it adds support for Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal, bringing the total roster of available monsters up to 251.

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The cover to Pokemon Stadium 2, a game I genuinely don’t remember ever seeing in stores.

In 2007, North American Wii owners got access to the first Pokemon title for that console. It had been published in Japan a year earlier, and was effectively a new generation of Pokemon Stadium under a new name: Pokemon Battle Revolution. While gameplay is quite similar – the player takes part in turn-based battles using either rented Pokemon or ones imported from a Nintendo DS console – a handful of interesting new features are layered onto the Pokemon Stadium template. The player is now able to customize his or her avatar, including appearance and clothing. Pokemon attacks are now depicted as occurring in a single continuous space rather than cutting between discreet angles of one Pokemon attacking and another reacting. Finally, each of the stadiums in which battles take place have their own rules impacting play. Completing challenges in the game accrues currency, which can be exchanged for rare items to transfer back to players’ Generation Four Pokemon games on the DS.

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Things had gotten a bit flashier by 2007. Dig that bloom effect.

Unfortunately, much had changed in the gaming landscape between 2001 and 2007. In particular, an intervening series of Pokemon spinoffs – Colosseum and XD: Gale of Darkness – would reveal that more complete RPG experiences were possible in home console Pokemon titles. The novelty of seeing one’s Pokemon team in 3D had worn off, and the Pokemon Stadium spinoff series was consequently canceled.

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Pokemon Snap (1999)

Though Pokemon Snap would debut before Pokemon Stadium in North America, it was preceded by the original Pokemon Stadium in Japan; consequently, it makes sense that this rather odd, avant-garde game would be developed by HAL Laboratory only after they had cut their teeth on a more standard home console Pokemon experience. For North American players, though, this first-person-shooter/photography title was their introduction to Pokemon in 3D.

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Jigglypuff karaoke in Pokemon Snap.

And what an odd experience it was. It features none of the hallmarks of standard Pokemon games – players do not battle, collect monsters, or travel around a large region. Instead, they take photographs of Pokemon from within the confines of an on-rails vehicle across seven levels. At times, the player can interact with these wild Pokemon in their natural environment by throwing pester balls at them to irritate them or by dropping food to attract them. By moving them toward certain environmental features, the player can even cause exciting events (like a Pikachu floating on balloons) or Pokemon evolution (a Magikarp flung into a waterfall evolves into Gyarados, pointing players towards the Chinese myth that inspired that evolutionary line).

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Let Snorlax rest, you jerk.

Unsurprisingly, Pokemon Snap was not originally a Pokemon game at all. In an ‘Iwata Asks’ interview segment on Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the legendary HAL Laboratory President and Nintendo CEO explained that the basis for Pokemon Snap had been a camera game that was otherwise unconnected to an existing IP. When it was believed that the fundamental gameplay was good but the game lacked a hook, it became a Pokemon game and took on new life. The game was originally in development for the failed Nintendo 64DD peripheral – a Japan-exclusive device intended to bring CD-ROM technology to the otherwise cartridge-based Nintendo 64 hardware – but was converted to being a cartridge game, avoiding another brush with becoming abandonware.

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Pokemon Colosseum & XD: Gale of Darkness (2004 – 2005)

Players had experienced traditional JRPG battle mechanics in a console Pokemon game with the Nintendo 64’s Pokemon Stadium games, but a proper JRPG narrative-oriented exploration game remained elusive outside of the core entries on Nintendo’s portable devices. Into that gap stepped Pokemon Colosseum, developed by Genius Sonority and released on the Nintendo Gamecube in Japan in 2003 with a North American release in the following year.

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Exploring the Steampunk Orre region.

Elements of the game recall Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2, as multiplayer stadium battles can be engaged in at the player’s leisure. More noteworthy, however, is the alternative game mode – a full narrative JRPG set in a heretofore unseen Pokemon region called Orre. This region features a harsh, desolate landscape and few Pokemon by comparison to its parent series, but has the compensating virtue of 128-bit polygonal visual design and a more intense narrative than those offered by its portable predecessors.

Players take on the role of Wes, rather than a player-created avatar. Wes is a rogue member of the humorously-named Team Snagem, and sets about both foiling his former group and rescuing the corrupted Shadow Pokemon. Team Snagem’s name is more than a bizarre localization quirk, however; they have developed technology that permits people to steal other trainers’ Pokemon – a mechanic unexplored in the Game Boy games, which becomes a key element of the player’s arsenal in Colosseum. Shadow Pokemon are also a newly introduced wrinkle in this spinoff. They appear identical to standard Pokemon (aside from Lugia, which takes on distinct visual characteristics in its shadow form), but are actually Pokemon who have been corrupted by Team Snagem closing the door to empathy in their hearts; unlike regular Pokemon, they use unique ‘shadow moves’ and can attack trainers rather than simply battling other monsters.

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Shadow Lugia in Pokemon XD.

The goal of purifying these Shadow Pokemon continued on into the sequel, which was also published on the Nintendo Gamecube hardware. Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness is very similar to its predecessor – Team Snagem remains the enemy, the game is again set in the Orre region, and the player once more takes on the role of a predetermined character named Michael. This time, however, wild Pokemon make their appearance and can be captured by the player. Five years have passed, and players who had enjoyed Pokemon Colosseum have the opportunity to see how the landscape and culture has changed.

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A characteristic battle sequence, reminiscent of Pokemon Stadium.

Both console Pokemon RPGs were well-received by fans, though critics noted that many assets in Pokemon XD were recycled from Pokemon Colosseum. That did not deter fans from buying the game, however, and both titles sold over one million copies. In spite of this, no future RPGs in the series would be developed for home dedicated consoles. Fans would need to turn their attention back to Nintendo’s portable devices for their traditional RPG Pokemon fix.

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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon (2006 – 2015)

Back in the portable realm, Pokemon actually expanded upon its RPG foundations by branching out into another sub-genre. Since the 1980s, rogue-like mechanics had become uncommon in mainstream games; two franchises had picked up the visual design, randomized dungeon layout and interface, however, if not the permanent character deaths standard in that genre. Developer Chunsoft published Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon for the Super Nintendo in 1993, blending the popular Dragon Quest character Torneko with dungeons and character movement inspired by 1980’s Rogue. Two years later, it followed up on that with Shiren the Wanderer, which would go on to become known as the standard-bearer of the Mystery Dungeon series.

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Torchic and Squirtle exploring a mystery dungeon in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team.

Chunsoft would go on to create other Mystery Dungeon games featuring characters and settings from Final Fantasy, but would create its biggest franchise by fusing Pokemon with its well-honed formula for a Japanese release in 2005. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team were published on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, respectively, in North America a year later in 2006. Both games are roughly identical but, like their namesakes, include a handful of Pokemon unique to each version.

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A town sequence.

The success of these spinoff games would inspire an entire series, leading to the release of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness and Explorers of Time on DS in 2008, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky on DS in 2009, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity on 3DS in 2013, and Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon on 3DS in 2015. Surprisingly, the only series entries on consoles were a trio of games released exclusively in Japan on the WiiWare marketplace in 2009: the whimsically named Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Keep Going! Blazing Adventure Squad, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Let’s Go! Stormy Adventure Squad, and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Go For It! Light Adventure Squad.

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I love how huge Rayquaza is here in Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.

All of the series’ games are quite similar, sharing a set of mechanics and overall plot structure. The player takes the role of a human who has been transformed into a Pokemon and can speak with his or her fellow creatures. Typically, the player’s Pokemon type is determined by a quiz at the start of the game. By meeting other monsters and completing sidequests, the player can join up to three team members and explore randomly generated dungeons while enjoying rather engaging narratives. It’s very jarring to see Pokemon speaking in readable text rather than their characteristic noises, but the player rapidly builds a sense of community in their home base, a village of wild Pokemon. Team members are controlled by AI rather than directly by the player, and their special attacks are informed by moves from the core series. Unlike most earlier spinoffs, every Pokemons that had appeared in the core series at the time of each Mystery Dungeon release was included in this side series. 

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Pokemon Conquest (2012)

Perhaps due to the commercial success of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, Nintendo began to explore more bizarre crossovers using its beloved Pokemon IP. One of the more peculiar spinoffs in this style was Pokemon Conquest, a Nintendo DS strategy RPG published by Tecmo Koei in 2012. Fans had long speculated about the viability of a game featuring Pokemon characters and type match-ups in the context of a large-scale strategy title, and it seems that the relevant studios had been thinking along similar lines – The Pokemon Company’s President Tsunekazu Ishihara and Tecmo Koei’s President Kou Shibasawa were fans of one another’s IP and had long sought a collaboration.

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A battle sequence reminiscent of console SRPGs like Disgaea.

This took the form of a turn-based strategy game featuring Pokemon characters and mechanically informed by the long-running Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise. Players take the role of a trainer leading his or her Pokemon across a gridded field to do battle with an enemy team. Each Pokemon has one attack, and placement of characters is key to success. The characters themselves are all associated with noteworthy figures in Japanese mythology and history, while the art style of human characters is drawn from Tecmo Koei’s recently-released Samurai Warriors 3.

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Nothing screams Pokemon like deciding where to send your reinforcements.

This is one of the more inexplicable Pokemon spinoff games, and yet was quite well-received. The strategy mechanics are actually quite deep, featuring the ability to grow links between Pokemon and trainers, randomized weather events, and numerous new scenarios with which players can challenge themselves. Sadly, no sequels have been published as of 2018. This apparent one-off seems to have been a lucky bit of happenstance, though the ongoing relationship of Nintendo and Koei Tecmo (renamed in 2014) has resulted in Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors in recent years; perhaps we shouldn’t write off a new Pokemon Conquest game yet.

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Pokken Tournament (2015 – 2017)

In 2015, Bandai Namco released Pokken Tournament at arcades in North America and Japan. The game is an odd blend of Pokemon characters with mechanics based on Bandai Namco’s Tekken property. It was released on Wii U in 2016 with an expanded character roster and on the Switch in 2017 with still more characters available as downloadable content. Humorously, due to problematic connotations of the word pokken in Germany, the title was released in that territory as Pokemon Tournament.

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Weavile wailing on Machamp.

Across the versions, 22 total Pokemon are available to play in combat. Unlike the cosmetic predecessor to this spinoff – Pokemon Stadium – battles occur in real time and have more in common with a modern fighting game than an RPG. The roster, consequently, favors Pokemon with more humanoid characteristics rather than the quirky or cute designs typical in the core series.

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Pikachu Libre!!!

Still, some odd roster choices are present. Chandelure and Pikachu Libre, a luchador-themed version of the series’ mascot, are personal favorites, but Generation Two’s legendary dog Suicune is another delightfully peculiar option. Quite a few ‘assist’ Pokemon are available as well; these creatures run the gamut of generations and types, broadening out representation.

The game was fairly popular, and it is likely that a sequel will appear on some future Nintendo console.

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Pokemon GO (2016)

Twenty years after the franchise’s debut, a spinoff was finally released that totally eclipsed the original version in mainstream popularity. Pokemon GO was originally conceived as a 2015 April Fool’s joke by Google in a rare collaboration between the American tech giant and Nintendo. The Pokemon Company licensed its characters for a humorous prank in which users of the Google Maps mobile app would encounter Pokemon on the topographical map of their surroundings.

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Salamence appearing on Google Maps’ April Fools’ Day prank in 2015.

Niantic, a company which had spun off from Google in 2015 as the pet project of John Hanke after gestating as an internal division since 2010, was simultaneously experimenting with augmented reality and mapping technology. It launched Ingress, a mobile augmented reality game, on iOS in 2014. Ingress involved players tagging noteworthy geographical landmarks as ‘portals’ and seeking to claim designated from rival players.

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A player encountering the ubiquitous Oddish.

If this sounds familiar to Pokemon GO players, it is because Niantic’s earlier game formed the backbone of its 2016 collaboration with Nintendo. In fact, The Pokemon Company’s Tsunekazu Ishihara and his wife were avid Ingress players in 2014 and were eager to further explore augmented reality after the success of Google’s 2015 gag. By early 2016, Nintendo had invested funds into Niantic and later that year Pokemon GO was released to the world’s vast mobile market. Junichi Masuda – the core series’ composer – was heavily involved in Pokemon GO‘s development, composing new music and extensively playtesting it ahead of publication.

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Urban Krabby!

The game itself is fairly simple, yet utterly novel: players explore their physical surroundings while an onscreen app indicates the presence of wild Pokemon throughout the real world. Once the player is standing adjacent to that Pokemon’s virtual location, he or she can click the on-screen monster to initiate a Pokemon battle. At this point, unlike the turn-based core series, players can toss food or Pokeballs at the creature onscreen depicted either against a fictional backdrop or against the real world backdrop captured using the mobile device’s camera.

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Reducing an Eevee infestation in the workplace.

The game would initially include the original 150 Pokemon (more or less, as some legendary Pokemon were initially unavailable), and was free to download. As with most freemium titles, players had the opportunity to purchase more in-game goods for their real-world currency. Gyms were a major feature, as players choose one of three teams at the game’s start and have the opportunity to claim these places through battling the Pokemon of whoever had claimed them first. In fact, gyms and Pokestops – at which players could receive items for free – were drawn from Niantic’s earlier Ingress. This had the unfortunate result of placing Pokestops in dangerous or shocking locations, like the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone or the United States Holocaust Museum; in a more humorous twist, a Pokestop was associated with the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church and was rapidly claimed by a player who installed as its champion a Clefairy named “loveislove”.

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Charmander in the park.

The game proved a massive success, getting players out of their homes and exploring their neighborhoods. As it launched with very little supplementary material or instructions, players needed to interact with fellow players to figure out exactly how the game’s mechanics worked. Impressively, the gamble worked – by 2018 the game had been downloaded by over 800 million users, including the Prime Minister of Norway (caught playing the game in Parliament in 2016 and ahead of a meeting with the US President in 2018). It has evolved over time, of course, and now includes multiple generations of Pokemon and Alolan forms of the original 151 monsters as originally depicted in 2016’s Pokemon Sun and Moon. Despite slowing down after its initial brush with unescapable mainstream attention, it remains a major pillar of the series’ modern identity and will likely be so for the foreseeable future, even influencing console titles like the upcoming Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee on Nintendo Switch.

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Miscellaneous (1996 – 2018)

Of course, there is no way that I could hope to cover all of the Pokemon spinoffs released over the past 22 years. I’ve attempted to highlight the ones that I found most interesting, but a brief survey of other oddities may be worthwhile.

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The rare Pokemon game unique to non-Japanese territories.

Puzzle games have repeatedly attracted the Pokemon IP. The earliest of these was Pokemon Puzzle Challenge on the Game Boy Color and Pokemon Puzzle League on the Nintendo 64; both were released in 2000, though the former was published first in the Japan and the latter was published exclusively in North America and Europe. Both are based on the Panel de Pon series of Japanese puzzle games localized in North America as Tetris Attack. Years later, Pokemon Picross (2015) would be published on the Nintendo 3DS. It is more or less a standard Picross game featuring Pokemon as the images revealed through puzzles and the ability to use a power associated with each Pokemon type to aid players in uncovering squares.

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The title character getting frustrated in Hey You! Pikachu.

A handful of odd, quasi-games have been released over the years on consoles as well. These include the Nintendo 64’s Hey You! Pikachu (2000), in which the player interacts with a virtual Pikachu using a microphone, the Gamecube’s Pokemon Channel (2003), an odd virtual pet/simulation experience in which the player effectively acts as a test audience for core series’ mainstay Professor Oak’s various television networks, and My Pokemon Ranch (2008), a WiiWare spinoff in which the player can wander among his or her Pokemon uploaded from Pokemon Diamond and Pearl as a Mii character in a rural setting. In a similar vein, two minigame collections were published on Nintendo Wii featuring Pokemon characters – PokePark Wii: Pikachu’s Adventures and PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond

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Exploring surprisingly lush environments of Pokemon Ranger.

A handful of spinoff series have been published on Nintendo’s portable devices in tandem with the core franchise entries over the past 15 years or so. The first of these is Pokemon Ranger, which received entries on the Nintendo DS from 2006 to 2010. These titles emphasize their narrative more than the core series and feature a mechanic by which the player temporarily captures Pokemon by drawing circles around them using the DS stylus. The second major long-running spinoff series not covered above is Pokemon Rumble, released across the Wii, 3DS and Wii U from 2009 to 2015. This is something of a beat-’em-up dungeon crawler in which the player battles waves of enemies as a Pokemon before taking on a boss. Other one-offs have occurred, but the most notable of these so far is Detective Pikachu (2018), an adventure game that took two years to be localized and features a gruff, speaking Pikachu working with a young boy to untangle a noir-inspired mystery.

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Peak 1990s.

Finally, some games have been released on entirely non-Nintendo hardware. Pokemon Pikachu (1998) is a standalone virtual pet device that doubles as a pedometer, while Pokemon Mini (2001) is a series of monochromatic minigames released on a similarly standalone device. Pokemon Duel (2017) is a digital board game on mobile devices featuring Pokemon characters; it has sadly been described as “pay to win”. Magikarp Jump (2017), on the other hand, is a bizarrely Dadaist mobile title in which the player seeks to coax a Magikarp – the core series’ worst monster – to jump as high as it can.

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Jump, Magikarp, jump!

Of course, I’ve still missed some games – who can forget Pokemon Dash (2005), Pokemon: Wobbuffet Fell Down! (2006, Japan-exclusive) Pokemon Tug of War Tournament: Absolutely Get Medal! (2010, Japan-exclusive), Pokemon Art Academy (2014), or Pokemon Quest (2018). Still, there’s only so many hours in the day and I need to be moving on.


What are your favorite Pokemon spinoffs? Heaven knows there’s one for every player. Alternately, what’s a genre that’s so far been neglected by The Pokemon Company, Game Freak and Nintendo? Let’s discuss below!

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I just love this image of Meowth from Pokemon Snap so much.