Detective Pikachu and the wild world of Pokemon spinoffs

March 24, 2016 by Anne Lee

A game where Pikachu sounds like a hardboiled gumshoe is pretty weird, sure. But it's not even close to being the weirdest Pokemon game out there.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of Pokémon Red and Green, and the Pokémon Company is celebrating in full force. From local events and the announcement of Pokémon Sun and Moon to the recent release of Pokkén Tournament, there is something for nearly every Pokémon fan this year.

Among those is Meitantei Pikachu: Shin Konbi Tanjo (Great Detective Pikachu: The Birth of a New Duo), a Japan-only downloadable title for the Nintendo 3DS. A mystery adventure game, Great Detective Pikachu forgoes RPG battles in favor of point-and-click-based sleuthing. Adding to the weirdness of this release is the fact that the titular Pikachu is fully voiced and sounds like a middle-aged man, prompting nearly 50,000 western fans to sign a petition to have actor Danny DeVito play Pikachu if the game is ever localized into English.

But while Great Detective Pikachu may be a first in some regards, there are still a great many whacky Pokémon spinoff games in the series’s library. In honor of Pokémon’s 20th anniversary, here are a few of my favorites:

Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure

Pokémon has seen a number of educational spinoff games, but Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure stands out for basically being Typing of the Dead, but with Pokémon. Oddly enough, this title was released on Nintendo DS in Japan and Europe, requiring a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard that came packaged with the game. Players would sharpen their skills and capture Pokémon by typing their names as they appeared on screen.

Pokémon Conquest

Another DS game, Pokémon Conquest was a crossover of Pokémon and Nobunaga’s Ambition, a series of turn-based strategy RPGs taking place during the Sengoku period of feudal Japan. Pokémon Conquest fully embraces this premise by pairing Pokémon with historical Japanese figures such as the titular Oda Nobunaga himself, a famous 16th century warlord. Similarly, gameplay consisted of turn-based strategy combat where Pokémon would fight in historical Japanese locations on behalf of their feudal masters. Its relatively low difficulty makes the game a good introduction to the strategy genre.

Ah yes, just like we learned in history class. Ah yes, just like we learned in history class.

Pokémon Snap

Likely one of the first games to come to mind when we talk about Pokémon spinoffs, Pokémon Snap received extensive praise when it was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 and has many clamoring for a sequel to this day. As a first-person, on-rails photography ’shooter,’ the game sent players through environments to snap the best shots possible of all their favorite Pokémon in their natural habitats.

Oddly, this game doesn't come up a lot when we talk about the need for games preservation. Oddly, this title doesn't come up a lot when we talk about the need for games preservation.

PokéPark: Fishing Rally DS

Perhaps the most obscure Pokémon spinoff on this list, PokéPark: Fishing Rally DS was a DS Download Play title that could only be downloaded at a few select locations in Japan. And, believe it or not, it would disappear from your system after 12 hours or when you turned off your device, whichever came first. It’s a real shame, as PokéPark: Fishing Rally DS looked like an adorable fishing game featuring 25 water Pokémon to catch!

Pokémon Dash

Pokémon has even dipped its toe in the realm of racing games. Pokémon Dash for the Nintendo DS was more moderately received than some of the other titles on this list due to the fact that Pikachu was the only playable Pokémon in the single player mode, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting as a spinoff title. In fact, it was notable as a launch title for the Nintendo DS in Japan and Europe, as well as the fact that it featured Snorlax’s new pre-evolution Munchlax before it debuted officially in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

Pokémon Dream Radar

Pokémon always has to try out the latest Nintendo technology, so it makes sense that the series dived into the realm of augmented reality well before the upcoming Pokemon Go app. By playing this gyro motion-controlled AR shooting game for the 3DS, players were able to catch a variety of Pokémon to transfer over to Pokemon Black and White Version 2, including rare alternate forms of legendary Pokémon.

I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the wide range of Pokémon spinoff games The Pokémon Company has dreamed up over the past 20 years, but one thing’s for certain: no genre is safe from the eventual Pokémon treatment. With Great Detective Pikachu releasing in Japan as a budget eShop-only title, perhaps the future will see even more experimental releases in digital-only formats. Now, where’s my Pokémon dating sim…?

Just like that one AR haunted house game. Just like that one AR haunted house game.

Anne Lee is a freelance translator and professional fanmadam. You can follow her on Twitter @apricotsushi.