Later this fall American Pokémon fans will be able to get their hands on Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2, the first ever sequels to a core Pokémon RPG. Unlike prior generational shifts, such as the one between say Pokémon Red and Blue and Pokémon Gold and Silver, Black 2 and White 2 are direct continuations of the story and universe established in the original Black and White and feature the vast region, hordes of Pokémon to battle and capture and everything else one would expect from a new Pokémon release.
These main franchises entries, evolutions of the original games we all fell in love with as children, take time to create. Luckily, there are many other places for fans to get their pocket monster fix in the meantime. For example, this June marks the release of Pokémon Conquest. This new spin-off, a crossover between Pokémon and the Japan-only historical real-time strategy series Nobunaga’s Ambition, may seem like a weird path for the series to go down. After all, who could imagine a game where actual Japanese warlords use Pokémon and their unique abilities to help turn the tide of battle? However, the Pokémon series is no stranger to odd turns.
The fact that the Pokémon series has seen its fair share of spin-offs should come as no surprise. After all, it’s a Nintendo series, the same Nintendo behind Mario Kart, Tennis, Golf, Soccer, Basketball, Olympics, Party and Paint. What makes the Pokémon spin-offs so unique though is how they manage to stay true to the spirit of the games while going off in such bizarre directions.
The all-time classic spin-off is Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64. While the premise may not sound too exciting – all the player does is take pictures of Pokémon – the various strategies needed to lure Pokémon into optimal poses is very much in line with the strategy behind traditional Pokémon battles. The more recent Pokémon Rumble series, which has players controlling wind-up Pokémon toys, requires players to build effective teams depending on the situation, another hallmark of the main franchise. Like the upcoming Pokémon Conquest, the Pokémon Ranger and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series take familiar Pokémon concepts and apply them to other kinds of RPGs. Other spin-offs like Pokémon Puzzle League and Pokémon Pinball may not have much to do with the main series outside of their aesthetics, but they are still good games in their own right.
Today, with indie games and fan tribute projects becoming better and better, quality Pokémon spin-offs don’t even need to come from Nintendo themselves. The popular flash game Pokémon Tower Defense, as its title suggests, beautifully marries the classic gameplay elements of Pokémon like monster catching and leveling up with the structure of a traditional tower defense game. The result is both enjoyably offbeat and utterly addictive.
“I wanted to keep as many components from the original Pokémon game while still maintaining the tower defense flavor. I really like both things and thought they would be great together,” said 25-year-old co-creator, programmer and long-time Flash user Samuel Otero in an interview with North by Northwestern. “A good example is at first I was going to let the player put more than six towers down. But later on decided that only having six would be better for the game and it matched Pokémon perfectly.”
The game, which has been online since last March, is still a work in progress. However, Otero has so far been pleased by the fan reaction. “It’s overwhelming. It's doing much better than I ever expected. I enjoy the pressure of having to deliver to fans who love the original game so much. I think of it as a test.”
Of course, not all Pokémon spin-offs can be winners. The tiresome racing game Pokémon Dash and voice-controlled nightmare Hey You, Pikachu! are both testaments to that. Still, considering that the Pokémon franchise is often accused of simply rehashing the same game over and over, it’s nice to see that it can still find ways to freshen itself up.