Pokémon GO has become a global phenomenon. A free-to-play phone app with a well-known franchise is a perfect storm of market penetration. It’s also proven the simple joys of augmented reality, and created a unique shared gaming experience from kids to grandparents.
Pokémon GO has also created a renewed interested in the Pokémon franchise. Fans and newcomers are getting excited about Catching ‘Em All all over again. With Pokémon celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and Sun and Moon launching this November, the timing couldn’t be better to jump back in.
Whether you’re a lapsed fan or simply want to dive a little deeper, we’ve created a brief rundown of each generation of main Pokémon titles. It’s also a fun walkthrough of the history of Nintendo’s handhelds. At the end, look for recommendations on where to jump in, and a special challenge mode if you already consider yourself a master trainer.
First Generation – Pokémon Red and Blue
US Release: 1998
System: Game Boy
New Pokémon: 151
Starters: Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle
The series first launched in Japan as Pokémon Red and Green in 1996. The rest of the world would know them as Red and Blue (which was released a year later) as it launched worldwide over the next few years (1998 in the US).
Red and Blue set the stage for the basic gameplay formula that would dominate for the next two decades. Players controlled a young teenage boy setting out on his quest to become Champion of the Pokémon League. Eight Gym Leaders around the region must be defeated to unlock the final path to the Elite Four.
The adventure took place in the fictional region of Kanto, home to 151 Pokémon, now known as the Original or Classic group (also the only currently available Pokémon in Pokémon GO). Pokémon Yellow launched a year later, featuring Pikachu as a new starter.
Pokémon Red and Blue/Green were the first games to be remade. FireRed and LeafGreen were released for Game Boy Advance in 2004. This allowed fans to play through the original, while also trading Pokémon into the then-current generation of games. Remakes of older titles would become a regular release for the Pokémon series.
Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow were recently released via the Nintendo 3DS virtual console. They’re a wonderful way to see where it all began. Best of all, you can transfer any of your Pokémon to the more recent generation of titles using the Pokémon Bank (more on that later).
Second Generation – Pokémon Gold and Silver
US Release: 2000
System: Game Boy Color
New Pokémon: 100 (Total 251)
Starters: Chikorita, Cyndaquil, Totodile
The hotly anticipated follow-up to Red and Blue arrived in 2000. The Game Boy Color allowed for enhanced graphics as players explored the all-new Johto Region with 100 new Pokémon to collect.
A third version, Pokémon Crystal, was released a year later. Crystal would feature a few new subplots. It’s also notable for being the first version to allow the player to change the gender of their main character.
Gen 2 did a lot more than add more Pokémon. A full day/night cycle was added using the internal clock, with some Pokémon only found at certain times of day. Berries and other special items were added. Pokémon could carry these into battle. Pokémon Breeding was introduced, a system for both hatching new Pokémon and teaching certain moves. Finally two entirely new Types of Pokémon were added – Dark and Steel.
All of these features became mainstays in the franchise. Many fans consider the Second Generation to be among the best. Not just because of all the new features, but the awesome post-game. After becoming Pokémon Champion of the Johto Region, you can travel to the original Kanto Region and beat the Gyms all over again, creating an incredible amount of gameplay in one game.
Gold and Silver were remade into HeartGold and SoulSilver for Nintendo DS in 2009.
Third Generation – Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire
US Release: 2003
System: Game Boy Advance
New Pokémon: 135 (Total 386)
Starters: Mudkip, Torchic, Treecko
The first real console change gave us a much improved world in the Hoenn Region. Ruby and Sapphire feature one of the stronger stories in the Pokémon franchise. In addition to the usual Collect ‘Em All and Gym Battles, players encounter either Team Magma or Team Aqua. These villainous factions want to enslave the new Legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre to alter the world’s climate.
The Third Generation added 2 on 2 battles. These multibattles added a unique mix to the standard fights, and many moves now affected multiple Pokémon. Weather now played a role in combat, with specific moves and conditions affecting the battlefield. Each Pokémon was also given multiple Abilities and Natures. This lead to even further customization and intricate planning and training.
The GBA generation of Pokémon games was relatively quiet. Pokémon Emerald was released two years later, while full remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire came out for Nintendo 3DS in 2014. They were the first games to be remade using the new 3D polygons.
Fourth Generation – Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
US Release: 2007
System: Nintendo DS
New Pokémon: 107 (Total 493)
Starters: Chimchar, Piplup, Turtwig
The Fourth Generation arrived after a solid four years from the previous main entries. Now the Nintendo DS was in full swing, and Pokémon could finally enter the online arena. The Global Trade Station was created as a central hub to share and trade Pokémon online.
The new Region of Sinnoh also added an extensive Underground system. This unique area was specifically used for multiplayer. Each player could decorate and show off their own secret base.
Diamond and Pearl’s story was mostly a forgettable copy and paste of Ruby and Sapphire’s, complete with its own evil outfit. The games were successful, however, and online functionality was exactly what the franchise needed to bring it back to glory.
Pokémon Platinum, the requisite third version, arrived in 2009 and capitalized even more on online play. Gen 4 would be the last time a third version was released. If you’ve been following the dates along, Gen 4 would be the next games to receive the remake treatment.
Fifth Generation – Pokémon Black and White, Black and White 2
US Release: 2011 (BW2 2012)
System: Nintendo DS
New Pokémon: 156 (Total 649)
Starters: Oshawott, Snivy, Tepig
An odd thing happened in Gen 5 – we got two main Pokémon titles, and the first ever direct sequel. Black and White featured the Unova Region, and added the most new Pokémon of any game to date. Unlike previous entries, it also ONLY included the new Pokémon, making it really feel like an all-new entry.
Pokémon Black and White focused on what worked well in previous games, and expanded on them. MultiBattles now went up to 3v3 with Triple Battles and Rotation Battles. The Day/Night cycle added four seasons, with certain Pokémon changing appearance each season.
A direct sequel was released a year later, at the very tail end of the Nintendo DS’ life cycle (Nintendo 3DS had already arrived in 2011). Many fans may have missed it, since it didn’t add any new Pokémon (though it did add some old ones back in). But the way it returns you to the world of Unova two years later for a tougher challenge brought back many of the fondest memories of Gen 2.
Sixth Generation – Pokémon X and Y
US Release: 2013
System: Nintendo 3DS
New Pokémon: 72 (Total 721)
Starters: Chespin, Fennekin, Froakie
And now we’ve made it to the current generation – at least until November. Pokémon X and Y were the first in the series to finally leave sprites behind for 3D polygons.
Gen 6 featured the lowest number of new Pokémon yet, instead focusing on Mega Evolutions for many existing Pokémon.
Mega Evolution was the big selling point for X and Y, and played a large role in the story. Certain Pokémon, when equipped with a unique item, could transform into an ultimate form, once per battle. Gen 6 also added the Fairy Type, bringing the total number of Pokémon Types to 18.
This generation introduced the new unified Pokémon Bank. The Bank is a digital storing and trading service for Pokémon. While it does cost a yearly subscription fee, the convenience of a central hub for your Pokémon across any number of games and versions is very handy for collectors. X and Y built upon previous online features to create a robust system of tools and services to trade and battle with strangers and friends.
New details and Pokémon reveals continue to roll out for the Seventh Generation – Pokémon Sun and Moon, launching November 18. It looks to build upon the exciting 3D world of X and Y in a new tropical location.
If you can’t wait for November, I would heartily recommend X/Y as your go-to title. The 3D graphics and online features truly make Pokémon feel like a modern game, while still using its classic gameplay design. For nostalgic fans, playing Red/Blue/Yellow on the Eshop can be pure magic. Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire lies somewhere in the middle, a classic title that’s been updated with a new 3D world and online functions.
For the true Pokémon Masters, look no further than the Nuzlocke Challenge. This is an entirely new, self-imposed way to play the game, and there are only two rules.
- You can only capture the first Pokémon you encounter, per area. If it runs or is defeated, that’s it.
- If a Pokémon faints, it must be released (permanently removed).
The Nuzlocke Challenge was designed to make any Pokémon game more challenging. It also promotes a much closer bond with the few Pokémon you find. It was named after the webcomic artist who drew a Nuzleaf that looked suspiciously like John Locke from LOST. For a fun example, Polygon’s Griffin McElroy is currently doing a Nuzlocke run of Pokémon Y on YouTube.