Pokémon games are killing it as of late, announcing titles like Pokémon Snap and Unite. Even then, the monster tamer genre that defined the game has lesser titles every year. The ones that come out don’t have it as the main focus or are too mediocre for their own good.
Monster tamer life sims were always a niche genre, even in its heyday. The three titles that fought for the position were Pokémon, Digimon, and Monster Rancher. These games defined the genre, offering gameplay complexity ahead of its time.
Digimon World was the adult counterpart of Pokémon in the late 90s. It came from the Digital Monsters “tamagotchi” toys, which were a hit in Japan. The game was complex, offering a variety of gameplay better than merely “catching them all.”
In Digimon, it was the player’s job to feed, keep happy, and guide their monsters. Doing so offers a variety of evolutionary paths, and it was awesome. The game, while not as big as Pokémon, got its share of fans.
Digimon had a better anime series, multiple sequels, and has a strong following. Even now, the franchise is still relevant, with the upcoming Digimon Survive. Even then, they are moving away from monster taming and focusing more on RPG.
The same can’t be said about Monster Rancher. Koei Tecmo’s life sim tamer game brought one of a kind gameplay still irreplicable today.
With Monster Rancher, players took on the role of a tamer who takes care of different monsters. Many come from disc stones, derived by inserting a CD. Different CDs generated various monsters, each with its own stats and subspecies.
Unlike Pokémon games, Monster Rancher focused on care and training. The game received a Switch remake in Japan, with no news for a Western localization. After these titles, some games tried to keep the genre alive, only to die after a few years.
Among the titles that kept the game alive was EA’s Spore. The game focused on taking care of a bevy of microorganisms. Players handle everything, from their time as basic cells to their full growth.
Spore eventually died out, with Maxis no longer supporting the game. Others in the genre, like Niche, are more god simulation games than tamers. Slime Rancher and Ooblets keep the fire going, but they are more akin to farming sims.
Pokémon games are the survivors of a dying monster tamer genre. While Pokémon will likely carry the torch, everything outside it are dying one by one.
Featured image courtesy of Bandai Namco/Youtube Screenshot
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