If you’ve read any of my recent articles you’ll notice a trend — I cover a lot of the Pokémon news. Growing up in the ’90s, I was a huge Pokémon fan, as surely many of you were. I’m still a Pokémaniac to this day, but since I’m an older, wiser, mature adult, I’ve come to realize how many different games rode the coattails of Pokémon’s success. In the years following the 1996 release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, a number of clones popped up on the market. Each game had something a little different to offer, but they were certainly going after that same fanbase with similar styles, creatures and elements. This is a list of the top five Pokémon franchise’s competitors, some of them good and some…not so good.
5. Robopon (December 4, 1998)
Robopon is a game that didn’t even show its potential. Their attempt at a fun, original idea just fell into a quick cash grab. Well, okay, this whole article is pretty much about how much these games lacked originality, but Robopon is different. At least the all the other brands tried harder.
First of all, they released two games at the same time, just like Pokémon. They created the Sun and Star versions, then Moon version and another thing weeks later. But, over here we only got Sun so that’s good. Can’t have anyone take over Pokémon’s top spot. When you start the game it looks exactly like Pokémon; the towns, buildings and even the characters look alike. At least they created new monsters, but you could just tell how much they wanted to reach Pokémon popularity. They even used a Pokédex-like way to describe each little creature and the introduction title sequence is a total ripoff. I couldn’t even play far enough into the game without feeling ripped off.
Okay, there are some good ideas in here, but they’re not enough. Robopons are pieced together using different software and equipment. They’ll learn new attacks with these upgrades. It’s like Pokémon are robots but with terrible names…Sunny and Screwy. Anyway, the games have a built-in infrared sensor allowing you to boost your Robopon’s power. A TV remote can be used to increase attack points just by aiming and pressing a button, but there’s still a serious amount of grinding needed to raise your level.
4. Little Masters (September 6, 2012)
If you thought Robopon was a Pokémon clone, all you had to was wait 13 years for an exact carbon copy. Little Masters is a total jip. It takes what you wanted from Pokémon and delivers a total lack of content to the iOS. We covered its release if you want to check out some images and a video from it.
It’s got pixel art and cute and cleverly named monsters, but it becomes clear upon playing how obvious a copy it is. The little fire guy is a lizard, like Charmander. There’s a water mammal that appears similar to Oshawott from Pokémon’s fifth generation which came out a few months before Little Masters. It has the same colors. There are a few of the same elements/types in the game that Pokémon has. It’s hard to think of new ones but hey, still have to chalk that up as a negative. Besides that, the name is a dead giveaway. You strive to be a Pokémon Master by catching them all and being the champ. So, they took that word and built an entire game around it, how original.
After seeing our article on the app and being the Pokémaniac I am, I downloaded it. I was pretty excited to experience a new Pokémon-type game all from my phone. As with any game, things are slow at first, but after a few minutes of tapping around, I realized it would take a lot longer to actually get into the game. It’s like some other app games where you have to wait hours maybe a day for you to continue with the “story”. By story I mean leveling up because there really is no story. You battle wild monsters once or twice…maybe three times a day just to gain a little bit of experience. You learn new moves and could even get your monster to evolve, but I never got that far. After taking about a week just to learn new attacks, I deleted the app. And now it’s no longer on iTunes. Drats.
3. Digimon (June 26, 1997)
When the pretty obvious Pokémon knockoff of Digimon first came out, it wasn’t a game per se. In 1997 Digimon made their first appearance in the form of little Tamagotchi toys because those were hot at the time and fun until they pooped all over the screen and died every time you reset. But after the Pokémon anime debuted in 1998, Digimon got their own screen time a year later and that’s when it gained massive followings. Digimon offered more monsters than Pokémon that could talk and there were actual villainous creatures. It was fun to watch the differences between both cartoons each Saturday morning.
The games were a different story. While entertaining enough to grab my young attention and look for all the monsters I’d seen on the show, some of the games were way too difficult to grasp. Digimon World, released here in 2000, was an open world exploration style of game. You play as a human summoned to the Digital World by Jijimon, who chooses you to partner up with a Digimon so the two of you can save the world from feral, infected Digimon. It took many elements from the old Tamagotchi formula. Your pal needs to be well-rested, fed, entertained and potty trained…or it’ll just go anywhere it wants. It’s annoying having to monitor your Digimon, which becomes more of a pet than partner, and the battling mechanics are time-consuming. I think I only got my Digimon to reach Champion once, but it died shortly after.
Another game, Digimon World 2, is nothing like the previous one. It’s a dungeon-crawler where you have a team of Digimon to take along on missions to hunt down evil Digimon in various locations. Fighting was cooler and easier, it requires strategy which I as a 12 year old did not have. You maintain a vehicle to let it last longer when exploring. The upside: no more tending to pooping monsters. The downside: making sure your vehicle can withstand a level. Digimon World 2 was difficult to navigate and harder to keep up with the strength of the enemies. There’s a serious amount of level grinding that goes into these games.
There’s leveling up. You have little fellas with you all the time. They even included a trading card in the packaging to compete with the Pokémon cards. There was Digimon anime, good. Digimon game, bad. Digimon cards, they’re alright I guess. Plus, if you went to Taco Bell and got a kid meal you could get cool metallic ones. So, it tried being like Pokémon but never reached the same craze level.
2. Monster Rancher (July 24, 1997)
Less than a month after Digimon made its debut, a new monster-filled franchise popped up. Monster Rancher was a lot different from Pokémon but still had that general feeling. You raise and train monsters by putting them through grueling courses. Once their levels are high enough, you pit them against other monsters in competition battling. The goal of the game is to raise your monster high enough in rank to gain fame and access to rare creatures.
I never played the first game, but I did play the mess out of Monster Rancher 2 which was released in 1999. My brother and I played so much that we had to get another copy of the game because of all the scratches and smudges. We played it to death. In the sequel, I had a few strong monsters that I absolutely adored. I even drew them on my 5th grade homework folder. Then we lost the PlayStation memory card and that was it, I never played it again until 2011. Anyway, the game is fun but time consuming. It had the same drawback as Digimon; whenever your monster reached a high level it would die. You did, however, have the option to freeze them allowing you to play with them in versus mode against friends. The coolest feature of Monster Rancher games is the ability to receive random monsters from CDs of various media. You could use a blink 182 album to get a monster or TurboTax to get another. The game has such a variety of monsters which makes this technique worth trying.
There were also spin-off games to the series such as a card battling game (which is another fun one). You build your deck of three monsters and face other players. Last I saw my record is pretty good. But, if ever run across Monster Rancher Explorer for Game Boy Color, do not pick it up. Even if it’s dirt cheap at some flea market, don’t. It’s not like the others. You run through a tower looking for keys and it’s just ugh…worthless. It seems the older the franchise got, the more their games stank. Pokémon never had that problem; everything they made was worth keeping.
It seems these brands have a similar formula– games, anime and cards. The Monster Rancher anime aired while Pokémon and Digimon were at the top. It probably didn’t gain much attention, but whenever I watched it, there was an old 80’s-90’s cartoon feeling. Like, it didn’t seem like an anime but was entertaining to watch. Basically, it had the main kid, his best monster pal, a ragtag group and they all journeyed together just seeking answers of their lives while constantly being distracted by some super evil bad guy. Wait, that sounds just like Pokémon…strange. While the monster did have an array of appearances, they were all just mash-ups of two different ones. Maybe that was one thing Monster Rancher lacked, not enough differences. It probably left kids uninterested. Now I want to watch it again.
1. Dragon Warrior Monsters (September 25, 1998)
Dragon Quest out-dates Pokémon by a decade, but this particular spin-off of the series came years after Pokémon. In Dragon Quest you fight against monsters as a human, but in Dragon Quest Monsters you use your monsters to battle. You have a team of three (what’s up with the three thing?) and travel around various levels to defeat their bosses. By beating each one, you unlock more and more warp gates allowing you to explore new places. Your goal is to win a tournament so you may be reunited with your sister; the only way to win is by training the strongest monsters.
You want to be able to collect and train them all, but there’s just no space available. The storage feature is pretty terrible. You can’t keep many and if you don’t use them they start to hate you. Then when you want to use them they’ll disobey. And you can’t even name them anything cool because the characters are limited to four letters! When fighting the final bosses, you never know when it’ll end. It’s one of those classic “non-visible health point things”. So, you just keep plugging away and hope it’ll end soon. There’s not much of a way to tell which monster is weak to what, so you have to risk it and test everything.
The reason I owned this game was solely due to its Pokémon characteristics…and because my brother had it first. Don’t know what it is about little kids and monsters but they love them, just look at Skylanders. Anyway, the creatures in Dragon Warrior Monsters were cool, some cute and more importantly, they’re classic. Slimes and a few others from Dragon Quest are back. Each monster belonged to a family, like Pokémon types, but with no real advantage. Just some of the rare ones are supposed to be stronger. You could also end up battling other trainer-type people throughout the game. Encounters are scarce but you do get to see some exotic monsters. They even have those pesky mimic treasure chests…and they’re tough. Like Pokémon, your monsters level up and can learn attacks, but after a certain one (which could be early), they stop growing stronger.
There’s something else that relates all these to Pokémon: the use of a mascot monster. We all know Pikachu is the face of Pokémon because of the anime, same with Agumon from Digimon and Mocchi from Monster Rancher. But Dragon Warrior Monsters never had a cartoon — perhaps that’s a reason it wasn’t as popular as the rest. At least it has a stronger following in Japan. The breeding aspect of Dragon Warrior Monsters is a big draw. It’s something Pokémon didn’t have until its second generation. With it, you combine two monsters to create a new one, but it’s risky because the parents will disappear afterwards. There’s some strategy to it, but when Pokémon started “doin’ it” too, the payoff for strategy was worth it. There’s multiplayer option but it’s kind of messy from what I recall. My file is still saved; wonder if my brother kept his? We should battle.