Pokemon Hard Mode: A List of Nuzlocke Challenges

I grew up playing the Pokemon video games. In fact, Blue version was my very first portable video game. I really enjoyed taming the wild monsters and battling alongside them, and I played the Pokemon games well into my teenage years. However, for a long time I became uninterested in the series. The time it took to grind up levels, combined with the relative ease of the games and the usually lackluster story, led me to prefer other RPGs. I skipped two generations of Pokemon games, and I figured I was done with the series.

A friend of mine in college convinced me to pick up Pokemon Y and give it a try. He insisted the series had grown a lot and that I’d really enjoy the newest entry. I decided to try the game out and I did really enjoy it. It was the most fun I’d had playing Pokemon in years and it reminded me a lot of what drew me to the series as a kid. However, with the challenge of grinding levels now eliminated (a positive step for the series, trust me), the one challenging thing about the games was pretty much gone. I figured I’d play the game once and be done with it, but that’s when my buddy introduced me to a new way to play: the Nuzlocke.

If you want the full story about the origin of the Nuzlocke (and to read some funny comics) you can check out the creator’s website¬†here. But the basic story is this: a bored guy decided to challenge himself, and when he shared his challenge with the internet, it really took off. The basic Nuzlocke challenge is simple, with only two rules: you can only catch the first Pokemon on each route, and when a Pokemon faints, it is gone forever. A limited pool of Pokemon to choose from, combined with the fact that Pokemon can die, means that the Nuzlocke challenge makes it possible to “game over” in what is normally thought of as a game for kids.

In the years following the origin of the Nuzlocke, a number of new challenges have been invented and lots of optional rules added. Each one is designed to increase the challenge of the game, or at least change it up in a way that makes the game more fun and unique. Since my introduction to the Nuzlocke, I have attempted roughly seven different variants and successfully completed four (some multiple times for different games in the series). Nuzlockes were the final piece of the puzzle that would revitalize my interest in Pokemon games, and so I thought I’d take some time to share them with you.

Today, I’ll introduce you to various Nuzlocke variants, most of which I have played. Tomorrow, I’ll be offering some advice for first-time Nuzlockers (because that’s a word) to help you get through your first ever challenge. So open the door, get in the car, close the door, buckle up, and put down the sun visor, because our two-post Nuzlocke journey is about to begin!

The Basic Nuzlocke Challenge
I already explained this a little, but I’m going to go into a bit more detail here. As I said, there are two main rules to the Nuzlocke challenge. The first rule is that you can only catch the first Pokemon you encounter in each new area. Now “area” can be roughly defined as anywhere that you can catch a Pokemon. Some players prefer to do routes only, not fishing for encounters in towns, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule for that.
“What if my first encounter is a Pokemon I already have?”
Great question! There’s actually an allowance for that known as “dupes clause,” or “species clause.” Basically, if you already have a Pokemon (or something that Pokemon evolves in to, or that evolves into it), you can skip it and get a new encounter instead. This is an optional rule that’s great for adding some variety. Nobody wants to end up with three Rattata.
Another thing to keep in mind for first encounters is this: if you accidentally make the wild Pokemon faint, too bad. Your encounter is gone. Better luck next time. So you should always be careful when you know it’s time to catch a Pokemon.
In many of the Pokemon games, there are situations where you’re kind of forced to get a Pokemon. Perhaps it’s a wild Snorlax or Sudowudo blocking the road. Maybe someone just hands you a Pokemon for no reason. Those are called “event Pokemon,” and people deal with them in different ways. Some players treat them as a free Pokemon. Others treat them as encounters. A few won’t use them at all. It’s up to you – and how challenging you want the playthrough to be – whether you utilize these event Pokemon or not.
The second rule is that when your Pokemon faints, it is considered dead. There are two main ways to deal with this – releasing the Pokemon totally, or simply putting it in a PC box specially set aside for dead Pokemon. Either is an acceptable method. But whatever your choice, the defeated Pokemon is gone forever, never to be used again. This rule does not begin to apply until you have Pokeballs – in the early part of the game a critical hit can easily knock out your starter, and if you can’t enforce the capture rule yet it isn’t fair to enforce the death rule.
Now when it comes to losing the game, it again depends on how extremely you want to play. The most common approach is to say that whiting out (blacking out in the earlier games) is a game over. However, a beginning player may want to say that as long as there are Pokemon alive in the PC, the Nuzlocke is still going.
Another optional rule that many choose to use is the nickname rule. Every Pokemon has to be nicknamed in order to strengthen your bond with them and make every relationship more personal. This doesn’t have a huge effect on gameplay but is a good rule for the spirit of the Nuzlocke.
So, to summarize the rules of the typical Nuzlocke:
1. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route. You may re-encounter if you encounter a Pokemon whose species is already in your party.
2. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.
3. You must nickname every Pokemon you catch.

Wonderlocke Challenge
This challenge is only applicable in Pokemon XY and ORAS (as of the time of this post). The Wonderlocke works exactly the same as the basic Nuzlocke challenge except for one tiny thing – each Pokemon you encounter is actually a token that allows you to Wondertrade for a new Pokemon. You must Wondertrade every Pokemon you catch and form your party from Pokemon received in Wondertrades.
Species clause for Wonderlockes does not apply to the Pokemon you capture, but instead to the ones you receive. For example, catching three Poochyena in a row doesn’t matter – you’re going to trade them all. But receiving three Wurmple in return for them would activate species clause.
Because Wondertraded Pokemon could be of any level, chances are you’ll eventually receive one that is too high of a level for you to control. You have two options when this occurs. Option one is to keep the Pokemon, but wait to use it. It can join your party once you have a badge that allows you to control Pokemon of that level. Personally, I like to add to this rule that the Pokemon can only be ten levels above your highest-leveled team member. After all, you can control level 100 Pokemon after the eighth badge, but your enemies will not be anywhere close to that level. Anyway, the second option is to trade the Pokemon off again until you get something that is possible for you to use.
Otherwise, all the rules are the same. So, to summarize:
1. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route.
2. Upon catching a Pokemon, you must immediately Wondertrade it. If the Pokemon you receive in a Wondertrade is too high of a level, you must not use it in your party until you can control it or you can trade again. If you receive a Pokemon whose species you already own, you can trade it off again.
3. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.

Wedlocke Challenge
This challenge adds difficulty to the standard Nuzlocke by adding rules about switching and team building. You start with the basic Nuzlocke rules, with one exception – when encountering Pokemon, you must capture Pokemon that keep your parties gender balanced. For example, if your starter is male, your second Pokemon will have to be female. This is because each Pokemon must be in a Wedlocke pair – one male and one female together. Egg groups and species don’t matter.
Wedlocked Pokemon are together forever until one of them dies. This means that you can’t put one in the PC without also boxing the other. Either both Pokemon are in your party, or neither one is. During combat, the two Pokemon can only be switched between each other. This can be problematic; imagine if you have a pair with the same weaknesses! When one Pokemon dies, you can still use the other, but you have to catch a new partner for it.
The switching rules force you to approach every battle more strategically, and having Pokemon paired together means that you may sometimes have to keep a weak Pokemon in order to keep a strong one on your team. The Wedlocke definitely adds some challenge to the standard Nuzlocke and is not for the faint of heart. Personally, I have tried a Wedlocke once. I gave up after awhile because I got bored with it, so while I technically have not lost a Wedlocke, I definitely haven’t completed one either.
Rules summary:
1. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route. You may re-encounter if you encounter a Pokemon whose species is already in your party. If you have a gender majority in your party, you must re-encounter until the new Pokemon balances out the genders.
2. When you get two Pokemon of opposite genders, you must put them together as a Wedlocke pair. Wedlocked Pokemon cannot be separated – they must both be in the party or both in the PC. In combat, they can only be switched between each other.
3. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.
4. You must nickname every Pokemon you catch.

Restartlocke
This is definitely one of the more challenging Nuzlockes I have tried – and it’s definitely the most challenging one I have completed successfully. A Restartlocke complicates the Nuzlocke by adding rules about how many Pokemon you can keep after beating each gym leader. Each time you earn a badge, you must permanently box a number of living Pokemon until you only have either one, two, or three remaining. Depending on how many you keep, there are restrictions about what you do after the next gym.
If you keep three Pokemon, you must keep less than three after the next gym. If you keep two Pokemon, you cannot keep those two again – they must be boxed after you get your next badge. If you only keep one Pokemon, there are no other restrictions. But, uh, you only have one Pokemon, so that’s a problem.
This Nuzlocke is really challenging because you are constantly losing Pokemon. Often I found myself facing gyms with only one or two Pokemon in my party, particularly when gyms were very close together with few routes in between. I actually battled the entire Elite Four and the champion with only two Pokemon, making it a very harrowing experience. And selecting how many to keep brings a lot of pressure – particularly the decision to keep two. Knowing that the two Pokemon you are keeping will be gone after the next gym really stings.
Summary:
1. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route. You may re-encounter if you encounter a Pokemon whose species is already in your party.
2. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.
3. You must nickname every Pokemon you catch.
4. After each gym badge, you must permanently box all of your living Pokemon except three, two, or one. If you keep three, you must keep less than three after the next gym. If you keep two, you must box those two after the next gym. If you keep one, there are no other restrictions.

Apocalocke Challenge
Based on the idea of an apocalypse, this is a rule-heavy challenge designed not only to make the game more challenging, but to emulate a particular setting and feel for the game. For this Nuzlocke, you’ll need a four-sided die and a six-sided die – or a dice rolling app.
Before you start the game, roll a four-sided die. This decides the kind of apocalypse that you survived. One is a tsunami, two is a heat wave, three is an ice age, and four is a nuclear apocalypse. Whichever apocalypse you survived decides what types of Pokemon are legal for you to catch. For a tsunami, only water, grass, flying, and dragon types are legal. For a heat wave, only fire, electric, rock, and ground types are legal. For an ice age, only ice, steel, dark, and fighting types are legal. And for a nuclear apocalypse, only bug, psychic, poison, and ghost types are legal. In all four scenarios, normal types are legal, but fairy types are not legal in any scenario.
In addition to these rules about what types are legal to catch, when you enter a route, you roll a six-sided die to see what kind of survivor you will meet. Each survivor type has different rules applied to it, making them trickier to use during your adventure. One is a loner, two is a couple, three is a fearful survivor, four is a lucky survivor, five is a true survivor, and six is diseased.
Lone survivors cannot be switched out during battle. If you get a couple, you may catch two Pokemon on that route, but must treat them as a Wedlocke pair. Fearful survivors won’t let you use items on them. Lucky survivors have no restrictions, but can only be one of the allowed types. True survivors have no restrictions and can be any type. Diseased survivors can only have three moves – one move slot must never be changed and the move never used.
Apocalockes have a lot of rules, and it adds a ton of challenge to the game. I personally have one in progress, and so far I like it – the random factor makes encounters pretty exciting, and the type restrictions certainly add challenge to the game.
To summarize the rules:
1. At the beginning of the game, roll a four-sided die. On a one, you are in a tsunami and can only catch water, grass, flying, and dragon types. On a two, you are in a heat wave and can only catch fire, electric, rock, and ground types. On a three, you are in an ice age and can only catch ice, steel, dark, and fighting types. On a four, you are in a nuclear fallout and can only catch bug, psychic, ghost, and poison types. Normal is always permitted, and fairy is always forbidden.
2. When you enter a new route, roll a six-sided die. On a one, your encounter is a loner who can’t be switched out during battle. On a two, you encounter two opposite-gender Pokemon that cannot be separated and can only be switched between each-other. On a three, your encounter is fearful and will not accept any items. On a four, your encounter is a lucky survivor with no penalties, but it must be one of the appropriate types. On a five, your encounter is a true survivor and can be of any type. On a six, your encounter is sick and may only ever use three of its moves.
3. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route. You may re-encounter if you encounter a Pokemon whose species is already in your party, or if the type is not compatible with your playthrough.
4. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.
5. You must nickname every Pokemon you catch.

Chesslocke
Easily the most challenging Nuzlocke I have ever played and failed. The Chesslocke is based on the game chess, and has a rigid system of rules about what roles your Pokemon can play. There are six different roles, each of which has a limited number of “pieces,” which limits your overall team. You can only ever capture sixteen Pokemon the ENTIRE playthrough (the number of pieces on one team in a game of chess). Here are the roles and the rules with them.
The King must be your starter Pokemon, and the King must always be in your party. Your starter is the only King you may have. If the King dies, you lose the entire Chesslocke.
The Queen must be a female Pokemon, and there can be only one Queen at a time. However, the Queen has no other restrictions.
The Bishop can only have two moves that inflict damage upon the enemy. You can have up to two bishops at a time, but only one in the party at a time.
The Knight cannot have a damaging move with a higher base power than 60. Like the bishop, you can have two knights but only one may be in your party at a time.
The Rook cannot have moves that both cause damage and inflict status problems (this includes effects like flinches and confusion). Moves may cause status OR deal damage, not both. Again, you can have up to two of these, but only one can be in your party at a time.
The Pawn must be a Pokemon that is capable of evolving, but has not yet (the most basic form of an evolutionary line). The pawn cannot evolve at all. However, if the pawn singlehandedly wins a battle of significance (gym battle, rival battle, Elite Four battle), it can be upgraded to one of the other roles and evolve. However, you cannot upgrade a pawn in order to break any rules about the number of pieces you can have of any one role. You can have up to eight pawns, but only one on your team at a time.
As you can see, this adds a lot of challenge. The Chesslocke controls what moves you can have, limits your total number of Pokemon, and seriously controls what your team can consist of. It makes the game very challenging, and losing one piece can be absolutely devastating. In my case, I lost my Queen late-game and could not solo a gym with a pawn in order to replace her, effectively ending my playthrough. Word of advice: don’t make your Queen a piece with a four-times weakness.
Rules summary:
1. You may only capture sixteen Pokemon the entire game. Pokemon must be assigned a role out of King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Pawn. You can only have one King, one Queen, two Bishops, Knights, and Rooks, and eight Pawns. Only one of each piece may be on your team at a time.
2. The King must be your starter, and if it dies you lose. The Queen must be a female. The bishop can only have two damage-dealing moves. The knight cannot have moves with base power higher than 60. The rook cannot have moves that deal damage and cause status problems at once. The pawn must not be evolved and cannot evolve, but can be promoted to another piece by singlehandedly winning a significant battle.
3. You may only capture the first Pokemon encountered on each route. If you faint the wild Pokemon on accident or if you flee, you forfeit the encounter for that route. You may re-encounter if you encounter a Pokemon whose species is already in your party.
4. When a Pokemon faints, it is considered dead and cannot be used anymore. When you white out, you lose the game.
5. You must nickname every Pokemon you catch.

The All-Star Challenge
Woo, this is a lot of stuff, right? No worries, this is the last one. The All-Star Challenge is not a Nuzlocke, but it adds challenge to the game by forcing you to change your team constantly. Here’s how it works.
Whenever you defeat a gym, you must permanently box all of your Pokemon save one. This Pokemon can only be used to catch and switch-train Pokemon from the new routes after the gym. Once you have new team members that are ready for combat, you box that Pokemon too. So after each gym, you make a whole new team using Pokemon from the new routes after that gym. There’s no limit on how many or what kind you can catch, and they don’t die when they faint. So in that sense, this is less challenging than a Nuzlocke. However, changing your team after every gym gets very difficult, and because you’re starting with new Pokemon all the time, they don’t really build EVs. This means that in later parts of the game, the challenge will be pretty high because enemy Pokemon will have more experience and training than the ones on your team.
Even though this challenge won’t lead to a game over like a Nuzlocke, it’s still a tough challenge. And I enjoy it because this way you get to try out every Pokemon instead of only catching whichever ones you happen to luck in to. It adds a lot of ¬†variety that a Nuzlocke (particularly strict Nuzlocke variants) typically lacks.

There are other challenges out there, but I won’t go over them all. If reading about these challenges inspired you to take one on, be sure to come back tomorrow for some advice on how to take on your first Nuzlocke adventure. For the moment, though, I’m pulling the car over and taking a nap at a rest stop.

3 thoughts on “Pokemon Hard Mode: A List of Nuzlocke Challenges

Add yours

  1. ++ for definitive *locke challenge definition guide.

    You’ve got to tell me though – how has the grind for levels been resolved in newer iterations of the series? I’m thinking back to myself playing Red/Blue and taking on some of these challenges, and I think the time to complete a few of them would be greater than the time to achieve heat death in the universe…

    Like

    1. Oh yeah, that aspect of the game was terrible in the older games. In the newest titles (XY and ORAS) two things have been changed to make leveling up a lot easier.
      The first thing is how switch-training works. In the old games, EXP was split evenly between the number of participants. So if a battle was worth 100 EXP and two Pokemon participated, they only got 50 each. Now, that same battle gives 100 EXP to both Pokemon. And it stays that way no matter how many participate.
      The second thing is the EXP share. In the past, the EXP share allowed a Pokemon that didn’t participate in the battle to share the EXP, but it only worked for one Pokemon. Now, the EXP share works on the entire party. So in our 100 EXP battle, every Pokemon on your team that doesn’t participate gets 50 EXP for just being on your team.
      So in this 100 EXP encounter, in an older game, your two participating Pokemon and the one Pokemon holding the EXP share each get 33 EXP. In a newer game, your two participating Pokemon each get 100 EXP and the four that didn’t participate all get 50. As you can see, that’s a drastic difference! It makes leveling a whole lot easier and allows you to focus less on grinding and more on actually enjoying the game.

      Liked by 1 person

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