Pokémon has been going strong for 20 years now. In that time, they’ve published seven generations of games and created dozens of spin-offs. But with each additional generation has come the increasingly high demand for games. The public didn’t just want more, they needed more. Arise the modding community, spawning countless new games, some slightly different than their source of inspiration, and some far superior. Although many are barely equal to the original material, here’s a list of some that go above and beyond without any input from Nintendo whatsoever.
Pokémon games have followed a fairly similar series of events since the very first game: You get a starter (choice of grass, fire or water), collect and level Pokémon to build your team, face off against your rival a few times in your journey, take down the eight gym leaders and finally, conquer the Elite Four. Pokémon: Advanced Adventure, based off of the GBA title Pokémon: Leaf Green, follows that structure up to a point. But here you find that your rival, generically named Gary, is now a bloodthirsty maniac who rules the world, and the only way to stop him is to best his eight equally evil subordinates.
That plot contributes a fairly strange tone to the game, as you might imagine. It’s not the only strange change to the story: Advanced Adventure‘s protagonist (a.k.a. you) comes from an extremely poor family, something the game makes sure that you never have a chance to forget. At one point, the usually kindly Professor Oak reveals that your character once ate nothing but dirt for an entire week. Brutal!
The game does feature one other major change to the Eight Gyms/Elite Four standard formula: Each area you travel through is also tormented by the aptly named “Tyrant Pokémon,” which are mutated forms of the game’s standard monsters. In order to fully complete the game, you have to either take out or capture those Tyrants, which include a Zangoose that wields metal claws, and an Arcanine equipped with Water-type abilities.
Though most ROM hacks are built upon Game Boy Advance-era titles, Pokémon Prism is a modded version of Pokémon Gold for Game Boy Color. What’s fascinating is that its roster features pokémon from the first four generations of the series, all the way up to the Diamond and Pearl titles on Nintendo DS. That means more recent pokémon have been graphically simplified to match the game’s 8-bit aesthetic.
Prism is ambitious and bizarre, featuring minigames, side-scrolling exploration segments and even areas where you manually control the pokémon in your party. Like Advanced Adventure, its tone is also fairly idiosyncratic; in one cave, you have to square off against a team of super-powered “Pallet Rangers,” modeled after their Mighty Morphin’ kin. According to the official Facebook page, Prism has recently shifted from Pokémon Gold to Pokémon Crystal for a large variety of reasons but posts have indicated that this game is nearing completion.
For anyone who has ever seen the original series of the Pokémon anime series, AshGray is an absolute must. It’s a hacked version of Pokémon FireRed that closely follows the plot of the TV show’s first season with startling accuracy. So many familiar events are depicted: Ash’s reluctant partnership with Pikachu, his escape from a flock of Spearow, his run-in with the Squirtle Squad, his discovery of Bulbasaur’s Hidden Village, his survival of the sinking of the St. Anne. It’s all there and it’s all interactive.
AshGray doesn’t force you to follow the course of the series to the letter — you can catch pokémon Ash never caught in the series (like all of them), and build your team as you see fit. But the way that it interprets the TV show’s main plotlines in the form of over 100 in-game events is truly impressive. It also features events based on Pokémon: The First Movie, in which Ash dies and is resurrected by Pikachu tears.
Also noteworthy of this recreation: Some of the functions filled by pokémon moves, like Cut and Surf, are actually performed with tools like a Hatchet and a Raft. It’s an act of mercy for which we will be forever grateful.
Pokémon Quartz isn’t the best hacked ROM out there, but it’s definitely not lacking in inventiveness. The sprites may occasionally be pretty ugly, the translation can be rough and gameplay might not be especially captivating. What’s completely bonkers about Pokémon Quartz is the fact that it features a roster of completely made-up pokémon. Every single creature in the game is original; there’s not a single Rattata or Zubat to be found.
A few of the new cast are simply palette-swapped versions of their original counterparts in Pokémon Ruby, the source material for this hack. But for the most part, they are entirely new sprites, all with completely new names. It’s a pretty remarkable effort, even if the quality of the finished product is a bit mixed. Unfortunately, this ROM was poorly translated from Spanish to English and, as a result, suffers from numerous grammatical and spelling errors, and also contains some profanity.
A common theme among Pokémon ROM hacks is the enhancement of difficulty, and few hacks will ever take that idea further than Pokémon Dark Rising. Based off of Pokémon FireRed, it’s not uncommon to wipe out several times before even reaching the game’s second town — and it doesn’t get much easier after that. Dark Rising forces you to keep up a punishing pace to keep your team at an appropriate level for the area, from the first gym to the final battle, in which you square off against six level 99 legendaries. Just double check that last line and update your will.
Of course, the extreme difficulty isn’t the only thing that Dark Rising has going for it. It also features a whole roster of pokémon from the series’ first five generations, moves and abilities from later titles and an incredibly huge world to explore. True to the name, it has a darker-than-usual storyline, focused around stopping a nefarious entity capable of controlling the minds of pokémon trainers. A decidedly ambitious project, it also has plans on continuing on in a sequel that’s currently in beta. The sequel actually incorporates Pokémon from the most recent 3DS titles, Pokémon X and Y.
Another interesting fact about this hack: All your starters are Dragon-type, which actually makes for a refreshing change of pace.
Remember back in the original Pokémon games when you find a Pokémon passed out in Bill’s laboratory? And then it turns out that Bill was actually experimenting with Pokémon fusion? Now imagine a world in which Bill, the oddball creator of the Pokémon Storage System, didn’t stop for petty things such as the ethical boundaries of modern science and ended up creating monstrous Poke-hybrids in defiance of almighty Arceus’ will. You have just imagined Pokémon Fusion Generation, a GBA-era fan-made game in which players can capture and train pokémon from several different generations, as well as 103 pokémon that have been blended into entirely new monstrosities.
These fused pokémon are reminiscent of the creations of the Pokémon Fusion web app and actually add a devilish strategic twist to the game, as you’re never quite sure which constituent attributes have been carried over when you face off against a fused monster. The game also takes on the ethics of fusion, which is to say, the un-ethics: Bill’s machine literally combines two monsters into one, meaning … one of them gets destroyed? Do they both get destroyed? Are there two brains in that Gyarados/Dragonite hybrid? Are there two souls?
Unfortunately, Nintendo requested that the game be taken down but there is always the chance to find a copy on the internet.
Easter egg alert: If you can, find your way into the basement of Bill’s lab and check out the cages.
Pick an apocalypse. Any apocalypse. Now pick the rest of them as well. Pokémon Snakewood contains bits and pieces from all the major world-ending scenarios: zombie apocalypse, demon apocalypse, biblical apocalypse, etc. For those maniacs (you know who you are) who dared imagine who comes out on top, Four Horsemen or Pokémon trainer, this is the game for you. Although a surprisingly high percentage of fan-made Pokémon games still follow the series’ Gym-tackling, Elite Four-conquering formula quite closely, this hack of Pokémon Ruby takes a decidedly different route. Sure, there are still gym badges to be found, but you’ll pull a lot of them off the zombified husks of former gym leaders who perished in the apocalypse. It’s throwing apocalyptic spaghetti at the wall and using what sticks to make a Pokémon game.
The story does get pretty dark, as you might imagine; most of the trainers you fight are zombies, some of whom train zombified versions of actual pokémon (with amusing names like Boilbasaur and Gorelax). There’s also a fair number of original pokémon in Snakewood, some of which belong to an entirely new “Disease” type. Also, sometimes you can actually use pokémon to fight the trainers themselves; something we’ve wanted to do ever since Gary first showed his smug face.
For all of that gloom (and occasionally excessive gore), Snakewood actually has a fairly good sense of humor about the apocalypse, leading to one of the more surreal ROM hacks out there.
Compared to some of the other games on this list, Pokémon Light Platinum doesn’t exactly think outside the box. What’s notable about Light Platinum is this: It feels more like a real Pokémon game than most of the hacked ROMs out there. With two enormous regions to explore, Pokémon from four different generations, entirely new sprites and tile sets and a level of polish that no other game on this list can top, it’s more like two games crammed into one.
It began as a Pokémon Ruby hack, but actually ended up being a larger endeavor than the game upon which it’s based. There are a total of 16 badges to collect, two Pokémon leagues to take down and a climactic World Championship waiting at the end of the game. Again, whilst not especially inventive, it feels authentic and official, which is something of a feat in and of itself.
Like Snakewood, Pokémon Reborn is set in the wake of a pokémon catastrophe — but unlike Snakewood, Reborn‘s take on Armageddon is far less jovial. In Reborn, pokémon have become something of a scarcity; many breeds are on the verge of extinction. The player is tasked with discovering the cause of this problem and reversing their disappearance, working together with scientists and conservationists to keep pokémon from disappearing entirely. All the while, various extremist groups are carrying out acts of terrorism to destabilize the already unstable Reborn City. It’s bleak, bleak stuff.
Pokémon Reborn‘s story is its most fascinating feature, but there’s a ton of mechanical innovation going on behind the scenes, too. The developers have updated the game frequently, and hope to add all 721 Pokémon to the title eventually — a feat requiring an outrageous amount of sprite work. There’s also some clever functionality in Reborn, like a quick save option, a streamlined training method and a feature that changes the effectiveness of certain attacks based on the weather and environment in which a battle is taking place.
Firstly, I applaud Reborn for trying to incorporate all 721 official pokémon and kudos to Fusion Generation for increasing the roster a fair way. Now stand aside for the truest test of a Pokémon Master ever.
Whereas Pokémon Fusion Generation is reminiscent of the Pokémon Fusion webapp, this game is based off of it. Boasting 22,801 pokémon, this game is set in the Kanto region but the graphics have been updated to the equivalent of generation five games. The genius creators have also introduced wild double battles, something that was missing from the first games and several new areas such as underwater areas, Cinnabar volcano and an expanded Safari Zone.
All trainers also now incorporate an event after they’re beaten, whether it’s an item, rematch or offering a trade. Aside from backstory and a ridiculous amount of pokémon, this game is quite similar to the original. Although only the most stubborn players will complete their expanded Pokédex, the shocking variety of pokémon will constantly throw players off of their game and can make progressing through this game amazingly difficult. Take your first battle. Pick the Bulbasaur and face down the dreaded (and unheard of) Squirtmander! Nothing can be expected or prepared for in this game.
You genuinely want to catch them all? Don’t forget that Ash has officially caught only 46 Pokémon during his weird limbo years of never growing up. So that puts him just 22,755 away from completing Infinite Fusion. Pokémon Mastery could still be yours if you have the insane patience and dedication to actually try and catch every Machamp and Tentaking Infinite Fusion has to offer. Or maybe you could save the world and face off against every apocalypse in Snakewood. If you like the more Dark Souls path, try Dark Rising.
A final note, the games listed above are all unofficial and free to download from the internet. Beware that some have been illegally bootlegged onto cartridges. Do not fall for these scams.