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The Only Pokémon Game That Didn't Release In Japan

The "Pokémon" franchise has been flourishing for well over two decades at this point, but that doesn't mean that every game has been a worldwide sensation. Although the mainline titles and many of the spinoffs have delighted fans across the globe, others have been a bit too niche or limited in their release to be crossover sensations. For instance, the Nintendo DS game "Pokémon Conquest" was so rooted in Japanese history that it mostly only made sense to fans in Japan, and therefore wasn't a smash success in North America. But did you know that there was a "Pokémon" game that never made it back to the series' country of origin?

In the late-90s, Pokémania was at an all-time high on North America, and so it makes sense that developers in the United States would find a way to cash in on the series. Rather than a turn-based RPG, however, this title took the form of a match-three puzzle game.

Pokémon Puzzle League was released in the US first

"Pokémon Puzzle League" was an N64 title that followed a set of rules that should be familiar to fans of "Tetris Attack." Players must clear a series of line puzzles by matching up lines of three or more blocks. As difficulty ramps up, "Pokémon" anime protagonist Ash Ketchum will find himself challenged by multiple Gym Leaders, Team Rocket, his rival Gary, and finally Mewtwo, all in the name of becoming Puzzle Champion. The game is notable for being one of the few Pokémon titles to prominently feature Ash, who wouldn't make another official appearance in a Pokémon game until he returned in a "Pokémon Master EX" event for in 2022.

While some critics have pointed out that the game is essentially "Tetris Attack" or "Panel de Pon" with a Pokémon skin slapped over it, reviews of the title have still been largely positive, both upon release and in more modern write-ups. "Pokémon Puzzle League" was never given a release in Japan back in the day, however. Instead, it was developed for release in North America in 2000, then made its way to Europe the following year. Luckily for Japanese fans who missed out on "Puzzle League," 2000 also marked the release year for "Pokémon Puzzle Challenge," a Game Boy Color title with nearly identical gameplay.

Thanks to the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pack for the Nintendo Switch, curious gamers can now check out "Pokémon Puzzle League" on a modern console and take it on the go.