We’re all familiar with the greats, but there are some hidden gems in the Pokémon franchise.
There’s something about Pokémon that manages to hook us fans every time. We’re at 30 core games in the series internationally (factoring in edition variants) before Pokémon Sword & Shield even releases. If you’ve enjoyed some of these core games but need a break from their tried-and-true formula, perhaps now’s the time to dive a little deeper into the Pokémon franchise. There are plenty of other great games to uncover!
Believe it or not, Pokémon has been regularly churning out some of gaming’s best experiences outside of gym badge-collecting journeys. That’s especially true of some earlier spin-offs you might have missed from the N64 and Nintendo DS eras. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of five Pokémon hidden gems that are wonderful to play and deserve more recognition.
- Pokémon Snap
- Detective Pikachu
- Pokémon Stadium
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue & Red Rescue Team
- Pokémon Conquest
Pokémon Snap – Nintendo 64
Pokémon Snap was actually quite the commercial success in its day, selling over 1.5 million copies by the end of 1999. It reviewed fairly well, too, and stood out from the numerous platforming and adventure games at the time. It provided a unique photo-taking experience and is based on one of the hottest media properties in the world. What’s not to like?
The main premise of Pokémon Snap is to take the best in-action pictures of Pokémon possible, and it’s just pure fun. Trying to get the coolest picture you can of a creature that doesn’t exist in real life is memorable, and there are little tricks required to get some of the rare ones to appear. One criticism the game did get was that it only features roughly 60 of the 151 Pokémon created at the time. But mind you, it did manage to snag many fan favourites, including Mew. Pokémon Snap never got a legitimate sequel, despite it being long overdue.
With no remake or sequel on the way, if you missed Pokémon Snap it’s time to circle back and play this treasured game. Just remember to knock that Charmeleon into the volcano. It sounds cruel, but you’ll thank me after you get a super-sweet photo.
Detective Pikachu – Nintendo 3DS
Detective Pikachu the film was a huge financial success this year and with good reason. It is exactly the sort of quirky, off-the-wall adventure that the Pokémon series houses so well, telling a story of growing up and doing the right thing in a setting where a yellow mouse wears a Sherlock Holmes hat and solves crimes.
Detective Pikachu the game, however, is an underappreciated title that deserves another look from fans. At the time of its release in 2018, Detective Pikachu sold decently but had mixed reviews, with some critics put off by the game’s drastic departure from “normal” Pokémon games. That’s what makes Detective Pikachu great, and why it’s well worth the playthrough. The game has one of the best Pokémon stories ever told, coupled with intriguing and fun puzzles to bridge the gap between narrative beats.
It’s also a unique look into the world of Pokémon that the film version borrows from but doesn’t completely copy. It’s an especially good play for fans who want more of what they saw on movie screens. Need one more reason to play this gem? The Pokémon Company confirmed a follow-up game is coming to Nintendo Switch—so now’s the time to play the original!
Pokémon Stadium – Nintendo 64
Pokémon Stadium is an N64 classic that also just so happens to be the best-selling console game in North America in 2000. At last count, the game had sold nearly 5.4 million copies total. With its incredible 3D visuals, the title inspired us to wonder just how big the Pokémon franchise could really get and helped lay the foundation for a core Pokémon game on console that we’ll finally get nearly two decades later.
It’s also another game that many younger fans likely completely missed. That won’t do—if you’ve never tried the original Pokémon Stadium, give it a shot. Beyond the extremely annoying announcer, there’s not much to dislike. It’s a different take on the series that cuts out the story and exploration parts and doubles down on intense Pokémon battles. The game consists of four cups and 80 battles, including challenging the eight Kanto Gym Leaders and the Kanto Elite Four. Since when has fighting Pokémon been dull?
Pokémon Stadium even has some cool tie-ins if you’re an old-school fan looking for bonuses. Importing certain Pokémon from a Game Boy cartridge rewards you with a Surfing Pikachu, one of the most iconic Pokémon variants from the early franchise days that still persists to this day.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue & Red Rescue Team – Game Boy Advance (Red) & Nintendo DS (Blue)
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue & Red Rescue Team are games that many fans, myself included, didn’t really know what to make of when they were first announced. It’s a dramatic departure from the tried-and-true collection philosophy. Instead of a trainer pitting Pokémon against each other, you are a human who is transformed into a Pokémon that must then help rescue other critters from natural disasters. You’ll need to delve into randomized dungeons to either complete a job request or explore it fully, and battling takes place here in a turn-based setting that puts a new spin on fighting.
Unfortunately, the game received mixed reviews, which likely contributed to the game’s lukewarm reception among fans. There’s certainly something to the negative criticism—the game is a very strange story and can be frustrating at times with exploration—but it’s also extremely addictive. The graphics have aged quite well, too, with the colourful pixel art successfully making the leap to nostalgic prettiness.
It’s not for everyone, but for a non-core Pokémon title is certainly has broad appeal. If you like dungeon crawlers or the quirky, wild story-telling of Detective Pikachu, this is the game for you.
Pokémon Conquest – Nintendo DS
Of all the games discussed here, this is the one I’m most confident fans might have missed. Pokémon Conquest is a bizarre mashup of Pokémon and the tactical strategy game Nobunaga’s Ambition. The weirdness doesn’t just stop with the crossover of genre, however, as Pokémon Conquest also asks you to unite the 17 kingdoms of the Ransei Region by conquering them through tactical battles involving Pokémon.
Underneath that strange sheen is a game that is truly one of the best Pokémon spin-offs ever made. Pokémon Conquest is a fantastic tactical game with a surprising amount of depth, but still serves as a great introduction to the genre for younger fans. Its traditional historical setting also gives us a taste of late 16th century feudal Japan as viewed through the lens of Pokémon, and the result is something fans simply need to try for themselves. From character design to gameplay to story, Pokémon Conquest is top-to-bottom the most underappreciated Pokémon game in the franchise.