Pokémon Crash Course

If you’re looking for the best place to start your journey to becoming a Pokémon master, Justin has you covered in his Crash Course!

Crash Courses are designed as an introduction to different topics and where to go next if you enjoyed them! If you want to know more about the series, check out our introduction. Now, on to Pokémon.

I first picked up a Pokémon game in 1999, when I received a Gameboy Color and Pokémon Red for my 8th birthday. What I didn’t know at the time is that it was about to start a lifelong obsession with these adorable pocket monsters. Now 8 generations (with a 9th on the way) and 905 Pokémon later, these games have become the centerpiece of one of the most profitable media franchises on the planet. The world of Pokémon is inhabited by these monsters and humans alike, who live together in relative harmony, often forming strong bonds. Humans known as Trainers set out for various purposes including achieving the franchise’s motto of “gotta catch ‘em all” or becoming champion of the competitive league established to show the prowess of one’s Pokémon and Trainer combat ability. But of course, there are factions in this world who are looking to use Pokémon for their own nefarious and selfish purposes. But more than that, it is easy to fall in love with these digital creatures. The teams of Pokémon that you have in each game feel like they become part of your family, as you battle your way to the top, defeating evil intentions along the way.

My obsession with Pokémon began immediately upon playing Pokémon Red, but one of the most impressive things about this series is that, with rare exception, each entry in this series improves and builds upon the previous. Hit titles like Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon Black and White, Pokémon Sword and Shield, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus have routinely seen success with new players and returning fans alike. Beyond the mainline series, a number of side games, including New Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon provide other opportunities and formats to explore the world of Pokémon, while a manga and anime series/movies and a trading card game provide even further options to dive into the world. Be on the lookout for the newest entries to the series, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, which will most likely release in the 4th quarter of 2022!

P.S. Did you know that GateCrashers did a Pokémon podcast episode?

The Bread:

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield

A Gigantamax Toxtricity / Pokémon Sword and Shield, Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Sword and Shield are the main titles of the 8th generation of the Pokémon series. Centered in the Galar region, based on the United Kingdom, you travel through various cities and countryside, forming a team of Pokémon to take on the Gym Challenge with the ultimate goal of becoming Champion. This classic Pokémon structure will feel reminiscent to players who maybe only played the early games, while the new graphics and open world areas will appeal to modern gamers and first time Trainers alike.

89 new Pokémon are featured for the first time, while hundreds of other species return to the game. If you haven’t played since the 1st or 2nd generations, tons of great Pokémon from later generations feature, allowing you to create any variety of teams. Sword and Shield were also the first mainline Pokémon games to receive DLC, adding the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra to the already expansive world. In addition, Sword and Shield include a number of features that simplify preparing teams for competitive online play.

As one of the first mainline Pokémon games to release on the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon Sword and Shield are a great point to start or return to your journey as a Pokémon Trainer!

New Pokémon Snap

Snapping a pic of Psyduck / New Pokémon Snap, Bandai Namco Studios/The Pokémon Company

Not feeling like battling? Turn-based combat not for you? You just love how cute all the different Pokémon are? Then New Pokémon Snap might be for you! Released for the Nintendo Switch, New Pokémon Snap is based on the classic Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Snap. Featuring hundreds of new Pokémon from across all eight generations, New Pokémon Snap has you taking research photos of these adorable pocket monsters in their natural habitats. Special items are used to get new reactions from the Pokémon as you go across a variety of locations and biomes.

This game is incredibly wholesome. If the capturing-and-making-them-fight nature of regular Pokémon games just doesn’t appeal to you, but you can’t stop thinking about just how cute some of these Pokémon are, then pick up your camera and give this game a whirl. You’ll be surprised by just how much fun you will have snapping these cute little guys!

Pokémon Go

Catching Pokémon in your own backyard! / Pokémon Go, Niantic

Do you remember Summer 2016? Everyone, and I do mean everyone, seemed to be walking around their local parks and businesses with their smartphones looking for Pokémon on the brand-new mobile app Pokémon Go. Many say that summer was the last time we experienced peace and unity as a nation, but honestly, Pokémon Go was controversial from the start. So many people were mad that “these kids” were playing this phone game, even if it saw increased foot traffic to local businesses, parks, historical areas, recreational facilities, and more. Many people, hunting down Pokémon in their hometown, were getting more steps in than they ever had before. But many people did not like that this physical activity and community engagement were based around a video game.

However, Pokémon Go has been one of the biggest hits of the Pokémon franchise. And it’s still going strong! New events occur every few weeks, while new Pokémon are being introduced on a regular basis (they are up to the 7th generation!). Pokémon Go has revitalized so many people’s love for this franchise, that The Pokémon Company even introduced two new Pokémon, Meltan and Melmetal, through this app.

The most appealing thing about Pokémon Go is that it can add a layer of fun to a number of activities. It’s always fun to see what Pokémon are available as you visit a new place or you’re on a trip, while catching Pokémon along the way as you go on a hike or walk can make exercise more exciting. And the best part? It’s free to download and play!

The Meat:

Pokémon Black and Pokémon White

Skyarrow Bridge, leading to Castelia City, Unova / Pokémon Black and White, Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

The 5th generation of Pokémon was set in the Unova region, based on New York City and surrounding areas. Pokémon Black and White follow the same traditional structure of battling, gym challenges, and defeating an evil team that is trying to use Pokémon for their evil purposes, but what makes this game stand apart is that it broke out of many of the usual ruts that Pokémon had fallen into over the last four generations.

Pokémon Black and White were released on Nintendo DS in 2010, following a previous generation of games that heavily relied on established content. By basing the game in Pokémon’s version of the United States, The Pokémon Company made a conscious decision to separate these games from previous editions. You can only catch new Pokémon in the wild, with even classics like Pikachu and Magikarp unavailable, and these new 156 Pokémon constitute the largest expansion of the Pokédex ever. The world that was created for this region was also large, diverse, and impressive; it featured the first non-white/non-Asian characters in the cast and cities like Castelia City actually looked like a city. The plot of these games were more fleshed out than previous games, with the antagonistic Team Plasma actively involved in your journey as a Trainer.

Pokémon Black and White are a great starting point to jump into the later generations of Pokémon. The biggest constraint to playing these games, however, is that they exist on an old system, meaning that you would need a Nintendo DS or Nintendo 3DS to play these games. Alternatively, emulators do exist to play these games on computers, but playing games in this way does come with risks.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus

New Hisuian regional forms for Zorua and Zoroark, the first normal/ghost dual types / Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

The newest mainline game for Nintendo Switch, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a mold-breaking entry in the Pokémon series. Releasing in January 2022, this game features a historical setting that predates all other mainline Pokémon games. Introducing a handful of new Pokémon and regional forms with a majority of the game taking place in open-world areas, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has firmly established the future of the Pokémon franchise. A focus is placed on catching and gathering Pokémon for research, as you join a settlement that has an uneasy relationship with Pokémon. But there are plenty of battles and, of course, some evil machinations that need to be addressed as well!

This game is less of an easy jumping-on point for this series, as a grasp on Pokémon mechanics and lore is needed to truly understand everything going on in this game. It certainly is enjoyable and playable without this context, but the deeper cuts and references made throughout the story make this game an incredible entry to the series. While exploring a historical time period is a great change of pace, quality-of-life changes made to many of the standard mechanics make this game a home run. For fans of the franchise, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a must-buy!

For more on Pokémon Legends: Arceus, check out my review here.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX

Rescuing Caterpie! / Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, Spike Chunsoft/The Pokémon Company

Do you like the adorableness of New Pokémon Snap, but wish it had more aggression? Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX might be just what you are looking for. A Nintendo Switch remake of the classic Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team, this game is different in that you do not play as a Trainer, but as a Pokémon! (Well, more accurately, a human that has been turned into a Pokémon.) You can choose from a number of Pokémon from the first three generations to be your main character, and you gather a team of companions to dungeon dive and help rescue fellow inhabitants of this world.

Mystery Dungeon is a turn-based strategy game, where movement across the dungeons and attacks all contribute to the ongoing progress of the game, and that is often quite challenging. Ultimately, you work to rescue tons of Pokémon that become your friends and neighbors, including legendary companions like Mewtwo, Kyogre, and Rayquaza. Plus, how could you not love walking around as a cute little Psyduck, Cubone, or Mudkip with an adorable rescue scarf on!

Special Sauce:

Pokémon Emerald

Groudon vs. Kyogre / Pokémon Emerald, Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

Pokémon Emerald might just be the greatest Pokémon game ever made. Released for the Gameboy Advance in 2004, Emerald is the third game in the 3rd generation of Pokémon. Set in the Hoenn region, Emerald’s story is unmatched; blending together the differing storylines from both of its 3rd-gen predecessors Sapphire and Ruby, Emerald’s plot sees you taking on both morally ambiguous Team Magma and Team Aqua. In addition, the introduction of the Battle Frontier, which still ranks as Pokémon’s best post-game to date, leads to a game that provided hours more enjoyment and replayability than any previous title, and many titles since then. Some of the greatest Pokémon, including some of my all-time favorites such as Sableye and Swampert, were introduced in this generation, leading to a game that has stood the test of time, despite antiquated graphics and controls.

Pokémon Emerald really deserves a spot in The Bread and is a great game to jump into the world of Pokémon, but the biggest issue with this title is that it has not been rereleased since the Gameboy Advance. Therefore, in order to play this game, you would need to get your hands on a Gameboy Advance or a Nintendo DS with a Gameboy Advance card slot, or download an emulator to your computer/smartphone. But if you can get your hands on something like this, then you will be in for the greatest that Pokémon has to offer.

Pokémon Unite

A Slowbro taking on the opposing team’s Alolan Vulpix / Pokémon Unite, TiMi Studio Group/The Pokémon Company

The Pokémon Company has always branched out into a number of other genres for their side games including mystery, puzzlers, and more, but only recently jumped into the world of online multiplayer combat games. A multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), Pokémon Unite, is available on Nintendo Switch and smartphones, and brings the world of Pokémon into a new realm. This game is free to play and is a twist on traditional Pokémon battles that will appeal to players who enjoy a more real-time combat system. Similar to other MOBAs like League of Legends, Pokémon Unite sees you controlling a Pokémon alongside your team to battle and score points across an arena. As of this writing, 34 Pokémon, each with its own skills and abilities, are available to play, with a number of events occuring on a regular basis that introduce new costumes and mechanics.

Pokémon Unite is a lot of fun, but just like any other MOBA, it can be incredibly frustrating as well. The game itself is well designed, but the nature of the game is online competitions where you are competing alongside and against other real players. If I have a good team of players who know how to use the Pokémon they’ve chosen, this game is some of the most fun I’ve had playing a Pokémon game. But if the support from my teammates is not there, or the other team has the synergy and skill that makes them hard to overcome, it is easy to get annoyed.

However, if you enjoy MOBAs or want a Pokémon game that can be played in shorter bursts, Pokémon Unite is an option worth checking out!

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Ryan Reynolds hugging a Psyduck! Living my dream! / Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Legendary Pictures/The Pokémon Company

From the beginning of the franchise, Pokémon has always included manga, anime, and anime movies. The anime is definitely enjoyable, but it is certainly not one of the greatest anime (fair warning though, the manga, which is not connected to the anime, can get quite dark). Some of the anime movie tie-ins, such as Pokémon: The First Movie and Pokémon The Movie 2000: The Power of One, were certainly hits among fans. But Pokémon’s first jump into live action with 2019’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu was a massive success. Starring Ryan Reynolds as the eponymous Pikachu, this live action/CGI film was a commercial success, and for fans of the franchise, an incredible adaption of the world that we had fallen in love with.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is based on the 2016 side game Detective Pikachu, which on the surface seems like a peculiar choice for Pokémon’s first live action film. However, it proves to be just the right source material, as the plot-driven nature of this game translated well to film. This film certainly has appeal to anyone who has played Pokémon, but without the context of the game series overall, much of the world might be a bit mystifying. But if you have spent countless hours playing these games over and over, completing your Pokédex, and otherwise diving into the world of Pokémon, Pokémon Detective Pikachu feels like a love letter.

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