When Pokémon first landed, 25 years ago this fall, it broke a lot of fundamental assumptions about video game design. There was its instant inescapability, obviously, with the accompanying animated series and its compulsively catchy theme song, immediately burying themselves in the minds of the planet’s children while the games themselves colonized Game Boys everywhere. There was the crafty marketing scheme that split the original title between its Green and Red (or Blue and Red, Stateside) releases, encouraging kids to peer-pressure their friends into joining their new blood sport pyramid scheme. But most importantly, there was the injection of collectability into the body gaming. Before Pokémon, you collected power-ups or allies in games because they helped you win; afterwards, you collected to collect. It was brilliant, genre-defining, possibly a little sketchy, and tremendously lucrative.
Which explains why it took roughly zero time for the imitators to come rolling in, dragging whole zoos full of robots, monsters, and scannable UPC barcodes in their wake. From established gaming franchises, to direct rivals, to the true oddballs lurking on the edges, everyone wanted a shot at Pikachu’s throne, luring kids in with another set of brightly colored characters and the chance—more often than not—to command a literal god to kick the ass of your third-grade rival. And since we’ve always argued that you can tell a lot about a franchise by examining the aspects that others choose to rip off from it, we present you with this: 13 games and franchises that tried—and failed—to be the best, like no one ever was, and beat Pokémon at its own game.