11 best Pokémon games ranked (2023): Emerald, Violet & Arceus

11 best Pokémon games ranked (2023): Emerald, Violet & Arceus
Images Via Game Freak | Genius Sonority | Bandai Namco Studios | Niantic

Written by 

Ben Williams


3rd May 2023 11:17

Having been around since 1996, Pokemon has become the biggest franchise in gaming, with dozens of titles in its wake. Throughout a quarter-century, we've seen the release of numerous mainline games and spin-offs across Nintendo consoles and mobile platforms.

Picking which is best is no easy feat, but we're going to try it. Let's get into the Top 11, covering the best Pokémon games of all time.

The 10 best Pokémon games

11 - New Pokémon Snap (Nintendo Switch)

Key Art from New Pokémon Snap featuring Meganium, Pichu, Scorbunny, Gooky and more
Click to enlarge

A follow-up or remake of Pokémon Snap, one of the most beloved titles on the Nintendo 64, had been anticipated for almost twenty years. Despite all of the high expectations built up by the time of this sequel's release, New Pokémon Snap is a charming addition that does justice to and builds on its predecessor's legacy. 

With more creatures, puzzles, and areas to explore - brought to life by the Nintendo Switch's more modern technology, New Pokémon Snap beautifully captures the wonder of photographing Pokémon in the wild. Amongst the various Pokémon spin-offs out there, Snap is still among the most engaging and more than deserves one of the top spots.

10 - Pokémon GO (Android and iOS)

Key art of Pokémon Go featuring Lugia, Zapdos, Articuno and Moltres flying around the logo
Click to enlarge

Beyond its initial summer 2016 launch that saw attention from the masses right into the mainstream, the free-to-play Pokémon GO's initial lack of wider features and limited Pocket Monsters later saw a massive drop-off. However, those who stuck around have been continuously rewarded with the AR game's constant evolution, as opposed to an array of forgettable mainline Nintendo games released in the last decade. 

Trading, Friends, PvP battling, Gift exchanging, Team Rocket, Shadow Pokémon, regular community events, and continuously adding new Pokémon is not only why Pokémon GO enjoys a dedicated fanbase who have stuck with the game in the last five years, but also why it has also seen a booming amount of lapsed players coming back to return and catch Pokémon on the go.

There are so many reasons why other franchises like Harry Potter and The Witcher have tried and failed to accomplish what Niantic has with Pokémon GO. But in short, it's because Pokémon GO is versatile, addictive, and, (most importantly) fun. 

9 - Pokémon Black and White (Nintendo DS)

Key art from Pokémon Black and White, showing legendaries Reshiram and Zekrom over the Unova Region map
Click to enlarge

The start of Pokémon's fifth generation was a time of resurgence for the franchise as a whole. Released fourteen years after the first games; Red, Blue, Green; Black and White saw the return of numerous players who had dropped off during Gen 4, along with a new legion of younger fans. 

With that, Black and White was a perfect fit, essentially being a soft reboot that lets you only collect 156 new-gen Pokémon. This was the highest of any generation since Gen 1, until the post-game.

Exploring an abundance of new concepts with a much more down-to-earth narrative than what we'd seen before, Black and White's exploration into the moral and ethical implications of catching wild Pokémon through brilliant rival, N, still has Black and White stand out today.  

8 - Pokémon Colosseum (Nintendo GameCube)

Key art from Pokémon Colosseum, featuring the protagonist Umbreon and Espeon
Click to enlarge

This Pocket Monsters series has seen many spin-offs, but by far the most interesting is arguably the most overlooked - one profoundly answering the question, "What if you could steal other people's Pokémon?". That was the wonderful Pokémon Colosseum.

Made for Day One Pokémon fans who were at the time entering their teen years, developer Genius Sonority decided to make an RPG older audiences had never seen from the franchise before. Even in the 2020s, Colosseum stands tall as the most adult and gritty Pokémon game to date, both in tone and narrative. 

A story of Pokémon having their hearts closed artificially to become wicked and soulless fighting machines, you playing as a former villain tasked with stealing them from a corrupt organisation, doing so with the tool you formerly used for evil - all set in a desert, crime-ridden dystopia - truly makes Pokemon Colosseum stand alongside its JRPG inspirations like Final Fantasy VII and Persona 2.

As a Pokémon game, it is not only of the most distinct but one of the most challenging, made even better by its vibrant soundtrack. Although mostly forgotten by gamers, the impact of 2004's Pokemon Colosseum is still felt today within the literal shadows, with its iconic Shadow Pokemon being an exciting part of Pokémon GO since 2019. As far as borrowing concepts go, it's not hard to understand why.

7 - Pokémon Platinum (Nintendo DS)

Key art from Pokémon Platinum showing the legendary Pokémon, Giratina
Click to enlarge

Diamond and Pearl, along with their remakes, are lower-but-passable iterations of the typical Pokémon adventure experience. However, it's 2009's Pokémon Platinum that was and still is the peak of what the modern-day Sinnoh region has to offer, going above many other games that proceeded it. 

Utilising a plethora of improvements through the Wi-Fi Plaza, new Pokémon, the Battle Frontier, additional characters, and a much-improved story - Platinum took the foundations laid out by Diamond and Pearl and constructed one of the finest examples of the words "value for money" from a Pokémon game. 

6 - Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 (Nintendo DS)

Cover art for Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2, featuring the legendries Reshiram and Zekrom
Click to enlarge

The only Pokémon games to ever be given a numbered title, Black 2 and White 2 also serve Black and White as the first connected follow-up to a previous Pokémon game since Gold and Silver did so to Red, Blue, and Green. Although, Black 2 and White 2 are the only sequels of the same Pokémon generation.

With what we were given, it's a shame we haven't had more Pokémon games like this. Even though based in the same region as its predecessor, Black 2 and White 2 brought an array of new content. This included new areas of Unova, previous-gen Pokémon, and the brutal but awesomely challenging Pokémon World Tournament and Battle Subway.

All of the above brought an entirely new experience, which only added to what made Black and White so refreshing. By being a direct sequel, the best of Black 2 and White 2 lies in the continuing of Black and White's story, carrying on N's unforgettable arc and better connecting the legendary Kyurem with the overall plot.

When combined with Black and White, Black 2 and White 2 make for the only combination of mainline Pokémon games that make for a consistent and narratively massive Pokémon outing. 

5 -Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Sprigatito, Quaxley and Fuecoco. The Starter Pokémon from Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
Click to enlarge

Despite a rocky beginning, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the latest mainline entries in the series, have done their best to capture the hearts of players. Set in the vibrant Paldea Region, Trainers will be heading back to school as they embark on an entirely new way to play.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet attempted to change up the traditional Pokémon formula by making the game more open world, incorporating multiplayer elements and allowing players to choose their path in a series of new adventures, rather than just the usual gym battle gauntlet.

And when it comes to Pokémon, there are plenty of new and adorable entries to the roster (who doesn't love Lechonk?!) With two sets of DLC on the way as well, who knows what else is in-store? 

  • Looking for more fantastic franchises? Check out the best Star Wars games too!

4 - Pokémon Emerald (Game Boy Advance)

Key art from Pokémon Emerald showing the legendary Pokémon, Rayquaza
Click to enlarge

Pokémon's third generation brought a good few interesting changes first seen in Ruby and Sapphire, from Double Battles and Abilities to Pokémon Contests, stat-altering Natures, and full-colour visuals courtesy of the Game Boy Advance. Nevertheless, it wasn't until Pokémon Emerald that the true potential of Gen 3 was established. 

Although brimming with additional third-version improvements like Platinum did for Diamond and Pearl, Emerald majorly delivered major enhancements on Ruby and Sapphire on two fronts: story and challenge.

Supplementing the campaign in the already great Hoenn region, Pokémon Emerald takes the story to an epic scale by making Rayquza the star legendary - putting you in the middle between Team Magma and Aqua rather than being pitted against one the other. 

The second big improvement of what ranks Emerald amongst the best Pokémon games is the post-game introduction of the Battle Frontier: having you take on seven dauntingly difficult Frontier bosses at different facilities to test your skill. If you wanted to be pointed to a time before Pokémon games became too easy, this was the peak of high difficulty. 

3 - Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)

Cover art from Pokémon Legends Arceus, showing the player characters and a group of Pokémon looking out at Mount Coronet
Click to enlarge

After almost a decade of an increasingly stale taste in new Pokémon games building up to its release, Legends: Arceus injected the reinvigoration so desperately needed after twenty-six years in business - is the absolute best Pokémon game on current-gen hardware by far.  

By shaking up the whole formula, Pokémon: Legends Arceus took Pokémon back to its roots and back in time. In a unique yet fascinating Breath of the Wild-style setting and narrative in an ancient Sinnoh, the early 2022 RPG's honed focus on catching Pokémon - paired with its story mechanic of thinking of Pokémon as wild and dangerous creatures - Legends: Arceus reawakens the sense of wonder that comes with hunting Pocket Monsters.

Arceus is made even better when watching and interacting with each Pokémon in its active overworld.  Introducing mechanics like crafting, Strong and Agile Styles, and Primal Pokémon, Legends: Arceus' gameplay overall feels packed with features that aren't just generational gimmicks like Sun and Moon's Z-Moves, X and Y's Mega Evolutions, Sword and Shield's Dynamaxing and curry-making, or Scarlet and Violet's Tera Raids and picnics. 

Yes, Pokemon Legends: Arceus had a few minor technical issues upon release. Be that as it may, patches and a nine-month distance now only makes us look back at the Hisui adventure with a fondness toward the prosperity of advances it brought to Pokémon as a whole. Plus, compared to the technical disaster that is Scarlet and VioletPokémon: Legends Arecus is an undisputed masterpiece.

2 - Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (GameBoy Advance)

Key art from Pokémon Fire Red and Pokémon Leaf Green, showing Charizard and Venusaur
Click to enlarge

The original 1996 games will always be held dear in our hearts, as well as the delightful Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee. Nevertheless, it's Red, Blue, and Green's 2004 remakes in FireRed and LeafGreen which are the finest takes on the first Pokémon journey. 

Given its source material, FireRed and LeafGreen is as classic a Pokemon adventure as any. Choosing your starter Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, travel across the land of Kanto, searching far and wide for the original 151 Pokémon, taking down the villainous Team Rocket, battling your way up the gyms, and Victory Road to become Champion.

This first iteration of the beloved Pokémon formula still looks nostalgically great in the aged but timeless 32-bit art style. What's more, incorporating Gen-2 and Gen-3's improvements followed the original games with new types, moves, strategies, and a decent post-game exploration of the Sevii Islands. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen still hold up as sensational experiences with a perfect level of innovation for all manner of fans.

What is the best Pokémon game?

1 - Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (Nintendo DS)

Key art from Pokémon Heart Gold and Pokémon Souls Silver, the best Pokémon game, featuring the legendries Ho-Oh and Lugia
Click to enlarge

Released in 1999 on the Game Boy Color, Pokémon Silver and Gold was everything a sequel should be: taking what was done so well in Red, Blue, and Green, before expanding on its building blocks to make the series better than ever. That was only made clearer when both games were remade on the Nintendo DS in 2010 as HeartGold and SoulSilver

Including Generation Two's 100+ new Johto Pokemon, HeartGold and SoulSilver carried over everything its namesakes excelled at, and brought it to a new life in Gen 4's clean yet stylish pixel art style that still holds up today as the best-looking 2D Pokémon games.

Breeding, day and night cycles, trainer rematches, Shiny Pokémon, friendship levels, new Pokéballs, additional moves, and the introduction of the balancing Dark and Steel types, were all introduced in Gen 2 and are still mainstays in the Pokémon games of today.

However, these Pokémon staples are still at their best when painted on the canvas of HeartGold and SoulSilver's story and these remakes' gameplay adjustments - becoming a sleek, heart-filled, and epic tale in both versions. Of course, the true thrill of HeartGold and SoulSilver lies in the scope. Like their Gen 2 equivalents, these are the only Pokémon games where your journey challenges gyms and becoming Champion doesn't end in your home region.

You're also allowed to visit the Kanto region and take on the gym leaders of the previous game for sixteen gym badges in total, still the biggest amount of any Pokémon title. The cherry on top is finally getting to face Red - the protagonist of Red, Blue, and Green - to become the true champion. It's a pinnacle of boss battles for a sequel and remains one of the best legendary in gaming. 

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are the best Pokémon games because not only do they recapture the masterfully-crafted and incredible value for money that Gold and Silver were as sequels to the original games, but also because their massive quantity of content never sees a drop in quality. That's even more so with the incredible care put into these remakes that make them an everlasting classic and the best of what Pokémon has to offer.

That's a wrap on our list covering the top 10 best Pokémon games of all time. For even more Pokémon content from news and reviews, to guides, and original pieces, you can find them right here at GGRecon. 

The 10 best weapons in gaming history
The Top 10 Indie Games Of 2022
I'm Begging You To Please Stop Talking About Bedding Pokemon
We Can't Stop Thirsting Over The New Pokemon Scarlet And Violet Professors
I've Only Known Lechonk For An Hour, And I'd Already Die For Her