The 9 Best Pokémon Games in 2020

Gotta catch 'em all

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Pokémon Sword at Amazon

"Perhaps the most important change in Pokémon Sword and Shield are the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms."

Best Spin-Off: Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee! at Amazon

"Its setting, the Kanto region, will evoke wistful childhood memories for longtime series veterans."

Best Mainline: Pokémon Ultra Moon at Amazon

"In addition to the 81 new Pokémon introduced in Sun and Moon, Ultra Moon brings five new monsters to your pocket."

Best Story: Pokémon White 2 at Amazon

"Over 300 Pokémon can be captured natively in the Unova region of Black and White 2, gracing it with the largest regional Pokédex to date."

Best Remake: Pokémon SoulSilver at Amazon

"In some regards, Pokémon Go is the natural evolution of SoulSilver and HeartGold."

Runner-Up, Best Remake: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire at Amazon

"Its charming characters, creatures, and world more than make up for any shortcomings."

Best Battles: Pokémon Platinum at Amazon

"Brings new forms to legendary Pokémon — such as Giratina and Shaymin — and reinstates older legendaries, now available to capture."

Best Competitive Fighting Game: Pokkén Tournament DX at Amazon

"Pits two players together in an active 3D fighting arena as you compete in one of two modes."

Best Point-and-Click Adventure: Detective Pikachu at Amazon

"Centers around a talking, bad-tempered Pikachu who is understood only by a random boy he stumbles across in Rhyme City."

Pokemon has been a classic genre since the 90's, spawning games, cartoons, toys, movies, mobile games, and more. What makes Pokemon games so attractive are their mix of adorable monsters, the compelling rock-paper-scissors style battle mechanics, and the addition of some RPG elements. We've reviewed and researched a number of Pokemon games to put together a list of the best ones. You should also check out our list of best Nintendo Switch games if you own the console.

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Best Overall: Pokémon Sword

What We Like
  • Fun new Wild Areas

  • Cool Dynamax and Gigantamax forms

  • Lots of activities

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't include all the Pokemon

  • Some graphical rough edges

Controversial for its inclusion of just 400 Pokémon — as opposed to the near-900 that exist now — it might come as a shock that the best Pokémon game we've played is also the first to forego a complete national Pokédex. Nevertheless, the improved gameplay and mechanics in Pokémon Sword and Shield more than make up for this inconsequential shortcoming.

You can, for instance, explore the Wild Area, a segmented open space within the larger Galar region wherein the camera is fully controllable using the right thumbstick. Here, weather is dynamic, changing from rain to snow to hail to thunderstorms. Depending on the conditions outside, you'll encounter new Pokémon you otherwise wouldn't have seen. Other activities include taking your Pokémon out to camp to play or make curry. Because Galar is based on the UK, you'll find numerous Easter eggs alluding to British and Indian culture.

But perhaps the most important change in Pokémon Sword and Shield are the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms. After receiving the Dynamax band, you'll begin seeing the option to activate the Dynamax of your Pokémon in battle. Do it and your Pokémon will grow to an immense size with increased strength for three turns. Join up with a few friends and you can engage in Max Raid Battles, which let you cooperatively take down and then catch Dynamaxed Pokémon in the Wild Area.

"Pokemon Sword isn't perfect, but for the Pokemon player that's been craving a genuine open world to battle and explore in, this is the game to get." — Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor

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Best Overall: Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu!

What We Like
  • Casual and fun gameplay

  • Cute, clean graphics

  • Appropriate for all ages

What We Don't Like
  • Not competitive

  • Lacks much strategy

While some will claim it’s a stripped-down version of an otherwise complex turn-based role-playing game (RPG), we like to think of Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! (and its counterpart, Let’s Go, Evee!) as a return to form for an overcomplicated franchise that, in recent years, has alienated some of its most devoted fans. 

Taking cues from the overwhelming success of the Pokémon Go mobile game, Let’s Go, Pikachu! removes the battle-to-capture element common to previous games in the series and replaces it with an active — and motion-controlled — Poké Ball throwing mechanic leveraging the unique functionality of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons. Generously considered a remake of the 1998 Game Boy title Pokémon Yellow, Let’s Go, Pikachu! also reduces the number of creatures you’ll find in the wild, from a headache-inducing 809 to a more manageable 151. 

Its setting, the Kanto region, will evoke wistful childhood memories for longtime series veterans, while newcomers will enjoy traversing the Kanto region for the first time.

"Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a brilliantly designed game that speaks to the idea that sometimes simple is better. It’s appropriate for all, from a six-year-old who loves to collect creatures, to a forty-year-old who just wants to de-stress playing a fun game." — Kelsey Simon, Product Tester

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Best Mainline: Pokémon Ultra Moon

What We Like
  • Good remake of older game

  • 5 new Pokemon

  • Numerous unique islands

What We Don't Like
  • No gym battles

  • Repetitive storyline

Returning to the Hawaiian Islands-based Alola region of the Pokémon Sun and Moon games before it, Pokémon Ultra Moon is the latest game in the mainline Pokémon franchise. Released in 2017 for the Nintendo 3DS, it is the first "enhanced" third installment in any Pokémon generation to include a new cast of creatures, even if the selection is thin. In addition to the 81 new Pokémon introduced in Sun and Moon, Ultra Moon brings five new monsters to your pocket.

The storyline is almost identical to that of its immediate predecessors — you’re an 11-year-old residing on Melemele Island and, to become the next Pokémon League Champion you have to complete nine Island Trials and four Grand Trials before contending with the Elite Four. Since there are no gym battles, Pokémon Ultra Moon might estrange those confined to series mainstays. On the other hand, if you've grown tired of the traditional "wash, rinse, repeat" formula, you'll relish the chance to explore new Pokémon forms and mechanics.

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Best Story: Pokémon White 2

What We Like
  • Continues old storyline

  • Largest regional Pokedex

  • Interesting setting

What We Don't Like
  • Plot is still similar to Black and White

Traditionally, every mainline Pokémon game is broken into two different versions, with subtle differences between each, which are then followed by a third, "enhanced" composite of the two not long thereafter. After Pokémon Red and Blue came Yellow. Silver and Gold were reimagined one year later as Pokémon Crystal. And so on. Pokémon Black and White 2 deviate from this norm, opting instead to serve as a sequel to Black and White.

Under the assumption that you played the first Pokémon Black and White, White 2 takes place two years after the events of the first two games. In the wake of Ghetsis' arrest and N's brooding monologue rescinding his earlier condemnation of humanity, you play as an entirely new character, born and raised in Aspertia City, where you and your rival set out to procure all eight gym badges, conquer the Elite Four, etc., etc. Until the end, which we won't spoil, the plot is similar to that of Black and White. It's the Pokédex that has changed. 

Over 300 Pokémon can be captured natively in the Unova region of Black and White 2, gracing it with the largest regional Pokédex to date. For those feeling bummed out by the absence of an international Pokédex in Sword and Shield, Black and White 2 is a sobering retreat.

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Best Remake: Pokémon SoulSilver

Pokémon SoulSilver
What We Like
  • Lots to see and do

  • Battle Frontier returns

  • 16 gym badges to get

What We Don't Like
  • Still mostly a remake

A decade on from their debut on the Nintendo Game Boy, Pokémon Gold and Silver were starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. Considering they were — and still are — the only games in the franchise spanning two regions, their remaking was long overdue in 2009. But, even more so than Red and Blue remakes FireRed and LeafGreen, which came out five years prior, Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold did their source material justice, introducing a suite of new features to an already content-dense foundation. 

Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold, like every mainline Pokémon release, are variants of the same game, with specific creatures exclusive to each. Though it can also be captured in HeartGold, Lugia is featured on the front cover of Pokémon SoulSilver, therefore it is the superior of the two. Bundled with SoulSilver and HeartGold is a PokéWalker accessory. Clip it to your pants and you can level up and catch Pokémon while leisurely walking around.

In some regards, Pokémon Go is the natural evolution of SoulSilver and HeartGold. These remakes paved the way for the ultimate Pokémon experience, with a never-ending list of things to see and do, including the return of the Battle Frontier, 16 gym badges, new areas, interregional wild Pokémon, and much, much more.

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Runner-Up, Best Remake: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire

Another remake, albeit on a more recent platform, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire launched alongside Omega Ruby back in November 2014. For Pokémon fans of the early 2000s, Alpha Sapphire might evoke feelings of nostalgia. Its fully orchestrated soundtrack features a wide array of brass instruments while the PokéNav has been updated with some of the functionality that originated in Pokémon X and Y. 

PSS, Pokémon Aime, and Super Training keep you not only connected with other players outside your game but allow you to develop hidden stats as well. Those who prefer the classic Pokémon formula will appreciate the inclusion of HMs, or hidden moves, obtained in the game that streamline traversal of the Hoenn region, as they were removed in its successor, Pokémon Sun and Moon. 

Although the abundance of water and water-type Pokémon are commonly used to disparage Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, its charming ensemble characters, creatures, and world offset these minor criticisms.

"Alpha Sapphire and its counterpart Omega Ruby were stand-out games on the Nintendo 3DS. They reprise older games, but are much more playable due to innovations to the classic formula." — Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor

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Best Battles: Pokémon Platinum

Pokémon Platinum

Sadly, 12 years after their appearance on the Nintendo DS, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl have not been remade. That said, you can still take a trip to the Sinnoh region in Pokémon Platinum, the "enhanced" remaster of Diamond and Pearl, which was released two years later. The biggest change from those games is the reintroduction of the Battle Frontier, first demonstrated in Pokémon Emerald four years earlier. 

In Pokémon Platinum, the Battle Frontier is home to five facilities, most of which will drop you into sets of seven battles at a time. After facing each batch of powerful rivals, they continue to grow stronger, and it becomes increasingly more challenging to prevent your Pokémon from fainting. What's more, certain Pokémon deemed too unbalanced for the Battle Frontier are barred from entry. So if you were hoping to wield the might of Arceus, the Pokémon god itself, you are unfortunately out of luck. 

On top of its stimulating battles, Platinum brings new forms to legendary Pokémon — such as Giratina and Shaymin — and reinstates older legendaries, now available to capture.

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Best Competitive Fighting Game: Pokkén Tournament DX

What We Like
  • Lots of combos and attacks

  • Cool Mega Evolutions

  • Good competitive gameplay and multiplayer

What We Don't Like
  • Not a traditional Pokemon game

If Tekken were a Pokémon game, it would be Pokkén Tournament. In fact, Pokkén Tournament was developed by Bandai Namco, the studio that created Tekken, so it's safe to say the similarities aren't merely coincidence. Pokkén Tournament and its Nintendo Switch variant, Pokkén Tournament DX, pits two players together in an active 3D fighting arena as you compete in one of two modes. Over time, by using various combos and attacks, you can build up a "Synergy Gauge" to fuel special moves and Mega Evolutions. 

Whereas the original Wii U version of Pokkén Tournament would require you to unlock individual fighters (which are, to be clear, Pokémon), Pokkén Tournament DX has 21 playable characters out of the box, including five that were omitted from the Wii U game. You can also employ a number of support Pokémon to layer on basic support attacks, namely "Attack," "Disrupt," and "Enhance." New playable fighters include Aegislash, Blastoise, Croagunk, Darkrai, Decidueye, Empoleon, and Scizor. 

As for multiplayer modes, you can play "ranked" or "friendly" in either the Group Match or Team Battle Modes. The latter, exclusive to Pokkén Tournament DX, lets you select a three-Pokémon team, with the ultimate goal of knocking out the party chosen by your opponent.

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Best Point-and-Click Adventure: Detective Pikachu

What We Like
  • Unique plot and setting

  • Fun to play as Pikachu

What We Don't Like
  • A few too many cutscenes

Before it was a jarring live-action film starring Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith, Detective Pikachu was an adventure game for the Nintendo 3DS. Released worldwide in March 2018, Detective Pikachu centers around a talking, bad-tempered Pikachu who is understood only by a random boy he stumbles across in Rhyme City named Tim Goodman. Together, Pikachu and Tim conduct an investigation into the disappearance of Tim's father. However, they become sidetracked along the way upon learning of a drug called "R" causing Pokémon to go "berserk."

Similar to L.A. Noire, you'll spend much of your time in Detective Pikachu talking to non-player characters (NPCs) in the world and searching for clues. Time-sensitive quick time events (QTEs) also make up portions of Detective Pikachu's roughly 12-hour campaign but worry not: If you fail, the story persists, just with inconsequential changes to the animated cutscenes that ensue.

Final Verdict

Depending on what you're looking for, you can find a Pokemon game to suit your tastes. If you own a Nintendo Switch and want the latest and greatest game, Pokemon Sword or Shield will suit your needs. They have the newest platform, newest gameplay mechanics, and are getting new DLC. If you're nostalgic for older Pokemon games, Let's Go, Pikachu! is lots of fun, has the original Pokemon, and a little yellow buddy to boot. Your choices increase if you pick games from older platforms, both Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire still hold up well.

About Our Trusted Experts

Kelsey Simon has written for Lifewire since 2019 and been a gamer for even longer. She owns both a Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite, and she enjoyed playing Let's Go, Pikachu! for its lighthearted, child-friendly gameplay.

Ajay Kumar loves Pokemon in general, and Pikachu in particular. As Tech Editor at Lifewire, he's reviewed everything from games and game consoles, to phones and laptops. As an aspiring Pokemon Master, he's played Pokemon Yellow, Red, Blue, Crystal, Silver, Gold, Omega Ruby, Sword, and Let's Go, Pikachu!, and watched too many episodes of Pokemon. He likes Pokemon Sword for their wild areas, where wild Pokemon can be encountered in an open world at any level, and Let's Go, Pikachu! for its nostalgia.

What to Look for When Buying Pokemon Games

Adorable Monsters - Each Pokemon game has its own set of Pokemon. With Let's Go, Pikachu! You have the Pokemon from the original 150 in Red, Blue, and Yellow. Omega Ruby have the same Pokemon you'll find in Ruby, while Pokemon Sword takes a mix of Pokemon from across all the various titles, along with some new ones. If you're looking for nostalgia, you might want to look for one of the older games or remakes, while if you're playing for the first time, you can jump right in.

Gameplay - If the party-based battle system is what you're looking for, you can find that with pretty much all the games. It all centers around capturing, training, and building your team to become a Pokemon Master. The only exception is Detective Pikachu, which has more in common with the Ace Attorney series, and Pokken Tournament DX, which is more of a fighting game.

RPG-Elements - The RPG elements in Pokemon come from the turn-based, rock-paper-scissors combat and building and training your team. For the most part, all the games have this element (aside from the two games we've already mentioned), but you'll want to keep in mind that not all games have Exp. Share. This lets you share experience points with your team, making it easier to level up and evolve. Older games won't have this, while newer games will.