When people outright talk about the Pokemon franchise, they always think of the core series. You have got such memorable pairs such as Red and Blue, Gold and Silver, and so on and so forth. People are constantly comparing these games from which one had the best starters to which region they preferred. However, the spin-off games don’t seem to draw as much hype or attention compared to any of the main series games. Whenever a company decides to produce a spin-off to their much loved franchise, fans would be quick to say that it is nothing but shovel ware intended to line their pockets until the next big release. While this may be true for some companies, the wide variety of spin-off Pokemon games and the amount of them may suggest that clearly Nintendo and The Pokemon Company don’t view them in this light. If these companies just wanted to produce low quality content until the next big release, why are some of these titles remembered so fondly, and why do some of them even have demands for a sequel? Well, today we are here to emphasis why these smaller projects weren’t a waste of time at all and may have actually encouraged you to stick with the Pokemon franchise in the first place.
Looking back on the 90s, it was Pokemon’s first time on the world wide stage. Red, Blue, and Yellow were out, and things had just imploded. Suddenly every kid with a Gameboy was talking about this new craze called Pokemon, little creatures that fought each other, and there were at least 150 of them to collect. Back in those days, we didn’t have the vast amount of information available on the internet that we currently have now, so finding out about new games was pretty difficult. However, towards the later part of the 90s, we got this strange, quirky cartridge that fit so snug into our Nintendo 64s called Pokemon Snap. Of course, another game with Pokemon in the title would get the rabid hyper 90s kids excited for another game similar to their new obsession, yet this one was so incredibly different. There were no battles, no catching Pokemon, and no Team Rocket to vanquish. Instead you had a slow moving-on-rails experience where you took pictures of Pokemon, and not even all of the available ones. What may have seemed like a bit of a let down at the time went on to become such an insanely popular spin-off. It’s popularity among hard core fans of the franchise is easily seen by the amount of times they request a sequel to it, whether it be for the Wii U or even for the handheld 3DS. With Pokemon Sun and Moon featuring a little side quest option of snapping Pokemon you find in your environment, it does hold some promise that maybe we are taking a little glimpse at what could happen now that the 3DS is capable of holding 3D models of over 700 odd Pokemon. If this one spin-off was considered worthless to Nintendo, they wouldn’t have ported it several times to their home consoles, so that is certainly worth chewing on.
As our Nintendo handheld evolved from the chunky Gameboy through to the Gameboy Advance and finally on the Nintendo DS, we Pokemon fans were treated to even more games to the main series while also being supported by some side titles that certainly helped to fill in those little gaps between releases. The DS itself launched with a rather odd launch title known as Pokemon Dash which, while it wasn’t exactly building an avid fan base, did give a little glimpse to what the DS could potentially do and what tricks it had up its sleeve. It was also on the DS that we were introduced to another side series of the Pokemon franchise known as Mystery Dungeon. These games took the idea of turn-based combat in Pokemon and managed to apply it to the dungeon crawling genre of games. It was certainly very different to what the normal Pokemon fan was used to. You were finally able to play as one of these beloved Pokemon, which you could now understand and listen to, as well as recruit them to your team. Its immense popularity meant that that the Mystery Dungeon games became a series practically on its own merit with sequels and even its own anime special. The stories of the Mystery Dungeon titles were also a bit different to the norm; there was no human team trying to steal Pokemon or attempting to take over the world, but there were teams of Pokemon who worked together to help others. Sure, these games also had their own villains or antagonists, but they were a welcome change and felt so much more sincere when it was coming from the Pokemon themselves. These games gave us a taste of a new aspect of Pokemon, from their perspective, seeing how they cope themselves when left to their own devices and without human influence. Though they may not necessarily be canon to the core series of games, they certainly were an enriching experience.
The DS saw the arrival of another spin-off which wasn’t as popular as the Mystery Dungeon series, the Ranger saga. This series was practically made for the DS since it utilized the touch screen in order to draw circles around a Pokemon to briefly capture them. This was an entirely knew way at looking at Pokemon, and while the games had quite cheesy story lines (harping on about protecting nature too many times to count) and limited Pokemon in the actual games, credit has to be given for yet again trying to do something different with the Pokemon series. The drawing mechanic did become stale rather quickly since it was literally the only method of capturing Pokemon in the game. A player would quickly gain hand cramps from furiously trying to capture a legendary Pokemon with a certain amount of circles against an AI, which could be rather unfair at times. This series wasn’t nearly as successful or popular as Mystery Dungeon, but the quirky nature of the game play certainly meant it wasn’t a totally forgettable series.
Overall, it is fair to say that there are almost as many, if not more spin-off games under Pokemon’s belt than there are entries in the core franchise. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as in the twenty years of this wonderful series, we have yet to play a main game that has universally been declared as a bad entry. This may in fact be because Nintendo and The Pokemon Company have had the luxury of exploring different genres and crossovers for their beloved IP, and in doing so allows their creators a venting space to get their new ideas out. Next time another spin-off game is announced, perhaps you should refrain from groaning and complaining about when the next real game will be coming out. Thanks to these little nuggets of gaming, Pokemon has managed to gain new fans and try out a plethora of new ideas that has helped the entire franchise as a whole stay relevant and fresh after twenty long years. Now let us hope and pray to Arceus that Pokemon Snap 2 one day becomes a reality!