The Greatest Pokmon Game Launches in UK History | UK Time Tunnel

Pokémon is 25 years old. Well, that’s it, if you live in Japan. For those in the US, the franchise is only 23 years old, and for Europe it is only just turned 21.

With the successful launch of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, our friends at GfK have unveiled the biggest Pokémon game launches – ie. first week’s sale – from the ‘mainline’ series of games. This data is only physical box sales and does not include digital downloads.

The ‘Mainline’ series of games are Pokémon RPGs that follow the capture, combat and training mechanics for which the series is famous. So it includes all new ‘generations’ (from red and blue to sword and shield), improved versions (such as Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon) and remakes (including Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee). Where there are two versions of the same game (as in most cases), we have put together the sale.

The games that are not included are spin-offs: Snap, Dash, Mystery Dungeon, Pokken, Stadium, Ranger, Art Academy, Pinball, Trading Card Game and so on.

Pokémon Red and Blue was launched in the UK in October 1999 and its debut was relatively subdued. In Japan it was launched for the original Game Boy in February 1996 and in the US in September 1998. When it landed in the UK, the original Game Boy had made room for the improved Game Boy Color, but neither red nor blue made use of the new hardware.

It’s still the least selling Pokémon game launch so far (unless you count the retro re-release of Gold and Silver on the 3DS).

Still, Red and Blue, along with a popular trading card game and a hit anime series, sent Pokémon into the British mainstream. It became a phenomenon. In June 2000, Pokémon Yellow was launched. This was an improved version of Red and Blue, with elements from the cartoon and even included some splashes of color that were absent from the 1998 Japanese release (as it was before Game Boy Color was released). The game was a hit and remains the eighth largest Pokémon game launch in the franchise’s history.


Pokémon Yellow included color enhancements on Gameboy Color

The first full sequels, Pokémon Gold and Silver, arrived in the UK in April 2021. The games made full use of Game Boy Color this time (although they could still be played on the original Game Boy), and were widely recognized. However, launch sales were marginally weaker than Yellow as Pokémon mania continued to decline. In fact, Pokémon Crystal – an enhanced version of gold and silver that only worked on Game Boy Color – was one of the weakest Pokémon game launches when it came out later that year.

Although Pokémon remained a big name, launch sales continued to decline as the series moved to Game Boy Advance. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire arrived in July 2003, and again sales fell compared to the previous Gold and Silver. Game Boy Advance was popular in the UK, but did not have the installation base for the original Game Boy line, which was on sale through the 1990s.

Ruby and Sapphire remained the pinnacle of Pokémon at the GBA. In October 2004, the first Pokémon remakes appeared – Fire Red and Leaf Green. At launch, the games sold more than double what the originals managed back in 1999, but sold half the number of copies of Pokémon Yellow.

The following year, in November 2005, Pokémon Emerald – an enhanced version of Ruby and Sapphire – arrived on the shelves. This game sold almost exactly the same number of copies as the previous ‘enhanced’ game – Pokémon Crystal – and was the weakest of all Pokémon launches on the platform.

Came the launch of the Nintendo DS, and after years of decline, Pokémon began to grow again. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl was released in July 2007, and its launch sales were above anything achieved at the GBA, and only marginally below Pokémon Gold and Silver.

The Nintendo DS was one of the largest game consoles on the planet at the time, and Pokémon was one of the platform’s most successful games. In May 2009, we had the release of Pokémon Platinum, an enhanced version of Diamond and Pearl. This game would be the last time The Pokémon Company would release an improved ‘third’ version of its latest Pokémon games, and Platinum fared significantly better than previous ‘third versions’ – Pokémon Crystal and Emerald (but not Yellow).

Less than a year later, in March 2010, Pokémon’s growing popularity continued. The second set of remakes – Pokémon Heartgold and SoulSilver – were released on DS in large numbers. The two titles outperformed the original gold and silver games at launch, continuing a trend that remakes outperformed the originals (a trend that is still the case today).

Pokémon’s DS highlight came in March 2011 with the blockbuster launch of Black and White. Despite the aging nature of the DS (3DS would be launched later that month), sales of these games in the first week were huge, and it was at that time the largest Pokémon launch to date. It is still the fourth largest today and is loved by fans.

As a result, Pokémon abandoned its ‘third’ game approach and instead developed a direct sequel to Black and White – Black and White 2. Pokémon Company decided to keep these games on DS instead of developing for the new 3DS. The UK had long since moved on from the DS at this point, and Black and White 2 remains the smallest Pokémon games on the DS, right after Pokémon Platinum.


Diamond and Pearl remakes are the fifth largest Pokémon launches, without counting digitally

The growing popularity of Pokémon continued on the 3DS. Despite the fact that the 3DS was nowhere near as large as the DS, Pokémon X and Y had a major launch in October 2013 and were only narrowly behind Black and White (it is currently No. 6 in the all-time rankings). The following year came another remake, Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby. These games were launched in what is now seen as Pokémon’s traditional release window in late November, and it was a huge commercial hit. It narrowly surpassed Black and White and was at the time the franchise’s highlight.

What followed was the return of Pokémon mania, as the game’s 20th anniversary and the launch of Pokémon Go on smartphones. Pokémon games were constantly on the charts, and when Pokémon Sun and Moon was launched in November 2016, the new releases flew off the shelves. Sun and Moon are the biggest Pokémon game launches so far, and nothing has come close to matching them. At launch, the game sold for twice what Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby managed.

As with Black and White 2, the next set of Pokémon games was released on a console that had been slightly replaced. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were improved versions of the previous year’s game, and they actually did quite well. They remain the second most successful ‘improved’ games in the series so far, behind Pokémon Yellow, and the Ultra games had a much bigger launch than Pokémon Black and White 2.

Now we are in the Switch era. The first Switch games, in November 2018, were Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Let’s Go Pikachu. These games were designed to appeal to the new audience that had come in via Pokémon Go, with more accessible gameplay. They are technically remakes of Pokémon Red and Blue, and the launch was strong. It sold better than previous games in the same world (including red / blue, yellow and leaf green / fiery red), but the games were not as popular among hardcore players.

A year later, again in November, the first new mainline Pokémon games came on Switch – Sword and Shield. The Switch was the hottest console on the market at the time, and it was no surprise to see the games become the second-largest Pokémon game launches to date, and one of the Switch’s fastest-selling games. At this point, digital download accelerated, but we do not have access to these numbers.

Then Pokémon took a rare year off – so to speak. Instead of ‘enhanced’ versions or sequels, The Pokémon Company decided to support Sword and Shield with DLC instead of extending the life of these games through added content, rather than the same game enhanced.

And that takes us to 2021 and the latest set of Pokémon remakes – Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. The game is the fifth largest Pokémon launch in the history of British charts, but is only narrowly behind Black and White in fourth place and Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby in third place. Sales of the remakes are 53% higher than the original Diamond and Pearl. With digital, it would have been even higher, and it is reasonable to assume that the game would have been No. 3 in the UK.

Biggest UK Pokémon Mainline game launches (GfK Entertainment data)

Position Year Title Format
1 2016 Pokémon Sun and Moon Nintendo 3DS
2 2019 Pokémon Sword and Shield Nintendo Switch
3 2014 Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby Nintendo 3DS
4 2011 Pokémon black and white Nintendo DS
5 2021 Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Nintendo Switch
6 2013 Pokémon X and Y Nintendo 3DS
7 2018 Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee and Let’s Go Pikachu Nintendo Switch
8 2000 Pokémon yellow Gameboy / Gameboy color
9 2010 Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver Nintendo DS
10 2001 Pokémon gold and silver Gameboy / Gameboy color
11 2007 Pokémon Diamond and Pearl Nintendo DS
12 2003 Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Gameboy Advance
13 2017 Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon Nintendo 3DS
14 2009 Pokemon Platinum Nintendo DS
15 2012 Pokémon Black and White 2 Nintendo DS
16 2004 Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red Gameboy Advance
17 2005 Pokémon Emerald Gameboy Advance
18 2001 Pokémon Crystal Gameboy color
19 1999 Pokémon red and blue GameBoy

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