Cary’s Favorite Pokémon Spin-Off Games

I’m really excited about the upcoming release of New Pokémon Snap.  The original was a special game to me, and I’ll explain why in this blog.  The mainline Pokémon games are great, but I haven’t played any of the more recent ones because I feel they are all pretty much the same game.  Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Why fix what isn’t broken?  And with every new generation of Pokémon game comes a new generation of kids to enjoy them, and while they may be the same game to me, it’s new to them.  While I haven’t played a new mainline Pokémon game since Black & White, I still like the Pokémon settings and characters and do enjoy a lot of the spin-off games.  So in this blog we’re going to take a look at some of my favorite Pokémon spin-off games in honor of the upcoming release of New Pokémon Snap!

But first, I’ll explain a little bit about my background with Pokémon.  Many people talk and write about their fond childhood memories of the game, but since I was born in the mid to late 70’s and was an 80’s kid, Pokémon wasn’t a part of my childhood.  It didn’t come out until I was already in college!  But by then, I was already writing game reviews for The Dallas Morning News.  The first E3 I went to after getting that gig, that was the E3 that Nintendo was first showing off them bringing Pokémon to the US. I remember reading about the game a year before in Nintendo Power, when it was quietly released in Japan as Pocket Monsters.  I saw how Nintendo was going to market Pokémon in the US, and I knew it would be big.  I immediately called my editor and requested that I cover everything Pokémon related when it came out.  He said, “yeah sure, whatever” but stayed true to his word.  So for the next few years, I was reviewing Pokémon games and writing Pokémon articles left and right.  I even did things like watch the cartoon and familiarized myself with the card game!  Pokémon really helped my game reviewing career take off, and I was making a lot more money because of it.  I like to say that Pokémon helped pay my way through college!  Of course, a little while after I graduated, one of the editor’s sons was old enough to write, and they had him write all the Pokémon game reviews after that.  Yay nepotism!  Part of the reason why I don’t play the mainline Pokémon games now is because I kind of OD’ed on the original game since I was getting paid to know everything about it.  So that’s not entirely the series’ fault either.  So that’s my history with Pokémon.

Now let’s take a look at my favorite Pokémon spin-off games, since I’ll still play most of those.  Keep in mind that these aren’t in any particular order of favorites.  Just ones that came to mind that stuck out to me.  OK, let’s begin!

Pokémon Snap

This was an on rails N64 game where you took photos of Pokémon.  It was such a good idea, and I consider it somewhat educational because you were graded on if the Pokémon was in the center of the frame, if it was facing you, etc.  So some photography basics, I think.  This was a special game to me because it was one of the only reviews I got a front page tagline for when I was writing for the newspaper.  I even remember what I wrote for that tagline: “Smile and Say Pikachu!”  Back then, you could also take your N64 memory card to BlockBuster Video and print your photos out on tiny little stickers.  My brother Jeff was really excited to do that!  Many years later I saw one of those printing stations at a used game market and you could buy it!  It was too expensive and way too big, but wouldn’t it be funny to have one of those in your house?  I also think it’s cool that the original Pokémon Snap was made by HAL Laboratory.  A lot of people are worried about New Pokémon Snap because it’s not made by HAL.  But my favorite video game company, Namco, is making New Pokémon Snap, and if anyone can do it, they can!  Besides, Namco has had previous experience with Pokémon games, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Pokémon puzzle games

OK I know this is just a catch all category that covers many games, but it’s my list so I’ll do what I want.  Anyway, I love puzzle games so I’ll play most of the ones they slap Pokémon on.  Pokémon Puzzle League for N64 is the same game as Tetris Attack/Panel de Pon/Puzzle League, but they used the anime license very well.  And there was a neat 3-D mode where the playfield was around a cylinder, and they haven’t had a mode like that in a Puzzle League game since!  Pokémon Trozei played a lot like Yoshi’s Cookie with Pokémon heads.  I’d like for them to revisit that one sometime.  Even though Pokémon Shuffle was just a free-to-play match-three puzzler on the 3DS, it held my interest longer than what I thought it would.  And there was also a Pokémon Picross game on the 3DS as well.  I wish Nintendo would make more video game themed Picross titles!

Pokémon Pinball

I also love video pinball, so this was a no-brainer as well.  There are actually two games in this series.  The first was on the Game Boy Color and the cartridge even had a rumble pak with a battery you’d put in to make it work!  This first game was made by HAL.  They’ve had previous experience with video pinball games like NES Pinball, Rollerball, Revenge of the Gator, and Kirby’s Pinball Land.  So this one’s good, too.  The next game was made on the GBA and was done by Intelligent Systems, but they did a good job also.  I love how they implemented catching Pokémon into the pinball gameplay, and you could play for a really long time, too!  I remember one game on the GBA version took me over an hour!  These are some of the best video pinball games around!

Pokémon Channel

Whenever people make “Worst Pokémon Spinoff” lists, they always feature this one.  But I don’t know why!  Because aside from Pokémon Snap, Channel is probably my other favorite Pokémon spinoff game because it’s just so weird!  You’re tasked with watching special Pokémon related TV channels with your pal Pikachu.  As if the game about watching TV isn’t weird enough, the channels are like those old kids’ activity center play games you could get on the PC a long time ago.  You could color pictures of Pokémon and have Smeargle show them off in the Art Channel for instance.  Nintendo even marketed this game towards a younger audience, with ads running in magazines like Nick Jr. and Parents.  There was also a game show channel where you answered trivia questions about Pokémon, and you could use your winnings in the shopping channel to order Pokémon themed furniture for your room, so it kind of had a slight Animal Crossing vibe to it as well.  One of your ‘goals’ is to collect parts of a disc so you could watch a game exclusive episode of the Pokémon anime called “Meowth’s Party.”  If that sounds familiar, it’s because when the GameCube first came out, they had a tech demo at shows called “Meowth’s Party” that showed off how many 3-D Pokémon could be together at once.  So yeah, they built this game out of a minute-long tech demo!  I love how weird this game gets!  You could also collect trading cards as well as “Pokémon Mini” games.  Back in the day, Nintendo released a keychain sized game machine where you could buy separate cartridges to play Pokémon themed mini games.  But they were REALLY hard to find!  So hard that I couldn’t even get review copies for the newspaper!  But Pokémon Channel let you collect and play all of them, and then some, so it was like a classic game collection as well!  So yeah, when you hear people say Pokémon Channel is bad, don’t believe them right away.  Try it for yourself if you can, and then make that decision.

Pokémon Stadium

Being able to battle Pokémon in 3-D was a big deal back then, and the Mario Party style mini-games were fun and later ones like Colisseum and XD had neat little single player story modes.  I think it’s really cool that Satoru Iwata himself helped program the first one.  It wasn’t the first time that he helped with Pokémon games either.  When GameFreak was struggling with programming Pokémon Gold and Silver, Iwata stepped in and his programming prowess was so good that they were able to fit the region from the first game!  But it’s the special memory I have with Pokémon Stadium that I like the best.  You see, back when I wrote for the newspaper, I covered everything Pokémon related.  This included card game competitions at shopping malls and such!  One time Nintendo was hosting one such event at a mall and they were giving out Mew and showcasing the upcoming Pokémon Stadium up on a stage.  Since I was considered a “special press guest” I got to go up on stage with my little brother Jeff and we used our Pokémon games to play Stadium in 3-D!  I chose Snorlax because I wanted to see what he looked like in 3-D, and Jeff chose Mewtwo because he wanted to win!  What’s funny is that the whole time we were up there, the kids in the audience were actually cheering for our Pokémon!  I heard stuff from the audience like, “Go Snorlax, go!” and “Oh wow, Mewtwo used Swift!”  I wanted turn around and say, “Guys, it’s just a game!”  The whole time we were doing this, little six year old Jeff was just grinning ear to ear!

Pokémon Ranger

These were neat little overhead viewed action puzzle games where you’d befriend Pokémon and use their skills temporarily to help others, solve problems, and bypass obstacles.  And how did you befriend them?  By drawing circles around them on the DS touchscreen!  HAL made the first game, but I think Intelligent Systems did the other two.  I didn’t play them all, but I enjoyed what I did play.


There were two of these on the Wii.  They were 3-D action games where you played as (mostly) Pikachu and did a lot of fetch quests.  But sometimes you got to battle Pokémon in real time with action moves, or play chase with them.  They skewed toward the younger side, but they were still fun games for Pokémon fans who are young at heart.

Pokken Tournament

Remember how I said Namco has had experience with Pokémon games?  Well this was the other game they made.  It’s a 3-D fighting game featuring Pokémon, and Namco is known for their 3-D fighters like Tekken (which is why this is called Pokken).  I really liked this fighting game.  Not enough to get the deluxe Switch port, but I enjoyed it a lot on the Wii U.  It was one of the last great games for that console.

Pokémon Conquest

When people make lists of weird crossover games, this one usually makes the list.  It’s a crossover of Pokémon and a NES era strategy series called Nobunaga’s Ambition!  It’s just so weird seeing historical Japanese warlords being paired up with cute Pokémon!  Gameplay is a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, and it’s good for SRPG beginners.

Pokémon Art Academy

I loved the Art Academy games.  It’s not the same as drawing or painting on an actual piece of paper, but you still learn a lot of artist techniques.  This one focuses more on cartooning skills.

Detective Pikachu

This point and click adventure game was so charming!  They even made a movie about it!  And it was actually pretty good, too!  The game and movie have pretty much the same plot, it’s just the characters are slightly different and the game has more areas that wouldn’t translate as well to an action packed film.  Like a Pokémon science lab, for instance.  Anyway, best way to describe the game is that it’s Phoenix Wright for kids.  I wish they’d make another one!

And those are all the Pokémon spinoff games that I can think of that I really liked.  In the comments section, let me know what YOUR favorite Pokémon spinoff games are.  And tell me your favorite Pokémon as well.  Mine are Snorlax, Wobuffet, Delibird, and Meowth.  Later!  –Cary

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