More than perhaps any other Nintendo franchise, Pokemon has this reputation as the ultimate kid’s game. This series is the one which many people played when the games first came out and then left behind. While Mario may have stuck with them due to party games or RPGs and Zelda grew up with its fans, Pokemon stayed in the past as something distinctly for child gamers. It’s an interesting conundrum because once you dig under the surface of Pokemon, it has some of the deepest RPG mechanisms and tools for strategic play available in the gaming world.
Still, if you stay away from the competitive community and its talk of internal values, effort values, tiers, and strategies, Pokemon can be a relatively easy game to navigate. There is effectively no game over state. If a Pokemon is defeated you are temporarily denied its use, but it is brought back by a quick visit to a Pokemon Center. Even if you lose your whole team at once, there are no real consequences except for having to backtrack a little bit to the point where you lost a battle. And even that’s a pretty difficult situation to find yourself in, as a basic understanding of typing (or a willingness to grind your team to too-high levels) allows you to simply pick your strongest attack in every battle and punch your way to victory.
It was this simplicity (coupled with a good deal of boredom) that led to the original creation of Pokemon Hard Mode, more commonly known now as the Nuzlocke Challenge. The creator started with a simple question – what if you could lose at Pokemon? – and then established two rules that would make that possible. He limited himself to capturing only the first Pokemon each route, and he declared that any Pokemon that fainted would be considered dead and never used in battle again. By limiting the number of Pokemon you could catch and making it so that they could be permanently lost, he successfully created a challenge that took this simple “kid’s game” and made it into something that grown men would get salty about on YouTube for years to come.
Every new entry in the series seems to make it more difficult to enjoy a challenge like this. Pokemon X and Y added an experience share that shared EXP across your entire team, making it very easy to get overleveled. Sun and Moon added Pokemon Refresh, allowing you to heal crippling statuses for free between battles. And every new game in the series seems to throw in more and more free healing for your character in the middle of grueling routes. These changes to the series are generally seen as positive quality-of-life additions that are making Pokemon more accessible to newcomers who might be intimidated by all of their options, but for those who want a challenge, that challenge is becoming harder to find.
Game Freak recently announced a new spin-off in the Pokemon series, something to tide us over in 2018 while they’re busy working on the next main-series title for 2019. These games, known as Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, are remakes of Pokemon Yellow that integrate some of the changes from Pokemon GO into the game mechanics. This is a simpler Pokemon experience, focused only on the first region and the first 150 Pokemon and utilizing Pokemon GO’s capture rules to draw in the more casual crowd. During E3, Nintendo used its Treehouse stream to take a deeper dive into this game and show exactly how some of the rules are going to work. I watched this segment with one key question in mind: can I Nuzlocke this game?
The easy answer to that is no. Pokemon Let’s Go is a spin-off title, a game with no intentions of perfectly replicating the classic Pokemon experience. Would you try to Nuzlocke Pokemon Conquest, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, or even a game closer to the normal formula like Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness? Probably not. While the main series games are certainly not designed with the Nuzlocke challenge in mind, they consistently have the qualities that make a Nuzlocke challenge works. Pokemon Let’s Go is not going to have those qualities, so the easiest path to take is to enjoy Let’s Go for what it is and wait until gen 8 for your Nuzlocke needs.
But the easy answer is also the boring answer, so is there a way we can reframe the Nuzlocke challenge with Let’s Go specifically in mind? That’s what I want to explore in today’s post!
So one of the most obvious changes in this game is that wild Pokemon are no longer battled. When you encounter a Pokemon in the wild, you simply throw Pokeballs at them to try and capture them with no risk of your own Pokemon being harmed. This means that one of the bigger threats to your team’s health – attrition through random battles – has been eliminated. On top of that, Pokemon Let’s Go awards EXP to all team members every time you capture a Pokemon. While you can still gain EXP through trainer battles, your main source of training for your Pokemon is now intimately tied to capturing Pokemon – something you do sparingly in a Nuzlocke challenge.
Let’s Go also raises the question of what actually counts as a Pokemon encounter in the wild. Up to this point, wild Pokemon battles have been random encounters; you don’t know what you’re getting until it’s right in front of you. In Let’s Go, Pokemon run around the overworld and you have to make physical contact with them in order to reach the capture screen. This means you know what you’re getting, and since it is possible to avoid battles you could pick your first encounter instead of just having to settle for the first thing to jump out at you.
The last big barrier is that because capturing is even more key to this game than it is for the mainline series, the game imposes some limits as far as how much you can avoid catching Pokemon. There’s a moment when the trainer enters the first gym – Brock’s rock type gym – and the guy at the front stops you from proceeding any further. You can’t face Brock until you show evidence of a water or grass type Pokemon. Now this moment could possibly be a one-time thing, but if all the gyms do this (or if there are other points where you have to capture a certain number or type of Pokemon in order to progress) then that means you can’t just capture one Pokemon per route and keep moving through the game. Let’s Go expects you to capture tons of Pokemon and it enforces that by tying experience to the capturing mechanisms and blocking your progress if you haven’t done enough capturing.
So this means we have three big hurdles to address if we want to Nuzlocke Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. We need to establish a working definition for “first encounter,” find a work-around for the game’s progress barriers, and determine how to gain experience without breaking the capturing rules. Let’s break down these points one at a time and see if we can find some solutions to our Nuzlocke problem!
WHAT’S YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTER IN THIS GAME?
One of the two original Nuzlocke rules is that you can only capture the first Pokemon you encounter on a route. This rule is there not only to impose a capture limit – one Pokemon per route – but also to limit what kind of Pokemon you capture. If you know Misty is coming so you wait to make sure your one Pokemon is Pikachu, then the challenge run loses some of its bite. By requiring you to capture the first Pokemon you get, you are compelled to use Pokemon that you might ordinarily skip out on.
However, the wild Pokemon in Let’s Go are visible from the overworld – you know exactly what you’re gonna get before you get it. That goes somewhat against the spirit of the challenge, so how do we deal with it? One option would be to say that you have to capture the first Pokemon you see. If you walk onto the route and the first thing that appears in the overworld is Rattata, then your mission is to capture that Rattata. If a few different Pokemon pop up at once and you notice them at effectively “the same time,” then you go after the one closest to you. This rule would make sure that you don’t pick and choose your team members.
However, there’s a second way to go about things, one which I think may be realistically more achievable while also still being challenging in some way. The second option is to count the first Pokemon you touch as your first encounter. This would mean that you haven’t encountered a Pokemon until you get to the capture screen, so you do end up being able to see what your options are and choose what you want to capture. However, I don’t think it will be as easy as all of that. There are a lot of Pokemon on the screen above, and they aren’t static – they move around and disappear or pop up at random. While you’re running towards that Pikachu, you might just end up getting sideswiped by a Weedle instead. The challenge of avoiding all encounters until you get the one that you want is a different kind of challenge from the more traditional Nuzlocke rules, but it’s a challenge all the same. Imagine being on a route with less open space – tight corridors would make it very tricky to capture exactly what you want. And there’s always the risk that after you capture something, a rarer encounter that you would’ve liked more or that would’ve been a better fit for your team will show its face. Maybe some Pokemon only appear at certain parts of a route, so you don’t even know they are there until you make it halfway through. While I think either of these versions of the challenge is acceptable, I think the second option is a more compelling one.
HOW DO YOU GET PAST THE GAME’S CAPTURE BARRIERS?
Now this is an interesting conundrum because as of the writing of this article, we don’t know how extensive the capture barriers in this game really are. We know for sure that we need a water or grass type Pokemon in order to face Brock (even though Pikachu now learns Double Kick at a pretty low level, a decent solution for rock types). It’s possible that other gyms will have such a barrier, or that there will be points where you have to have 20, 50, or whatever number of Pokemon in order to progress the story. If such barriers do indeed exist, what do we do about them?
The easiest answer here is to do what we have always done when the Nuzlocke rules stop us from being able to proceed – break them on a situational basis. If you’ve ever hit a point where you needed Cut but had no Pokemon who could learn it, you know where I’m going with this. When you don’t have a Pokemon who can learn a necessary HM, you typically capture what is referred to colloquially as an “HM slave,” a Pokemon whose only purpose on your team is to cut bushes, flash caves, and surf, whirlpool, dive, and waterfall their way through the overworld. This Pokemon doesn’t count as an official capture for the purposes of using in battle and can only be in your team when you need an HM move that it knows. It violates the rules but until the age of Poke Ride, it was a necessary evil in order to keep moving through the challenge.
Here’s the thing about this solution – in a worse case scenario where Pokemon Let’s Go asks you to capture a certain number of Pokemon in order to progress (say you need 50 Pokemon at some point), sure you can go ahead and just catch 50 Pokemon that you never plan to use so you can push through that point. But the thing is, every one of those captures is worth EXP for your entire Pokemon team. Even if you never intend to use any of those extra Pokemon, they’re all going to be leveling up your team. You could potentially work around this by taking your whole team out of your party, replacing them with one of your throwaway captures, and then capturing the 50 Pokemon you need, but my concern there is that you’re probably not allowed to take your starter out of your party. Pokemon Let’s Go has a big focus on your partner Pokemon (either Pikachu or Eevee) in the spirit of Pokemon Yellow. You can’t evolve your partner, and if I had to guess, you probably can’t take it out of your adventuring party either. This means that no matter what, those 50 Pokemon you have to catch to progress the game will be pumping EXP and levels into your partner. This brings us to our third major barrier to overcome…
HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR LEVELS WHILE ALSO OBSERVING THE NUZLOCKE CAPTURE RULES?
The Nuzlocke challenge is quite clear about how capturing works: you get one Pokemon per route. That’s it. In a mainline Pokemon game, the main source of experience is battling wild Pokemon and trainers to gain EXP. In later games you do gain EXP for capturing, but you don’t have to capture the Pokemon in order to gain EXP. In Pokemon Let’s Go, to get any benefit from a wild Pokemon encounter you have no choice but to capture the Pokemon. To level up your team, you have to break the capture rules of the traditional Nuzlocke challenge, so how do you work around that?
The first answer is to just strictly observe the Nuzlocke rules. You get one capture per route, period. Your only source of EXP for your team would then be the one capture and any trainer battles you manage to get in to. The risk here is that your team won’t be able to keep up when relying exclusively on trainers for experience points. Because Pokemon Let’s Go is based primarily around catching Pokemon, the game is probably going to be balanced around the idea that you’ve gotten some captures on each route. The trainer spread might be too thin, or their parties too small, to realistically keep your entire team at the appropriate levels to proceed through the game. Now this could be perfect for a challenge run – or it could make the challenge run totally impossible to navigate. When you combine this potential wrinkle with the possibility that there will be capture requirements imposed on you later on, things get even more complicated.
So then, I have a second idea, and in my mind this one is a valid possible answer to address both the EXP problem and the capture requirement problem. I propose that in a Pokemon Let’s Go Nuzlocke challenge, there should be a second capture rule to apply specifically to training and building your Pokedex. Here’s how it would work. When you step onto a route, the first Pokemon you encounter is your party Pokemon. This Pokemon can join your team and participate in battles. Once you’ve caught your party Pokemon for the route, you can then capture training Pokemon: Pokemon that you will not use in battle, but who fill out your Pokedex and provide EXP for your team. You can only capture each training Pokemon one time – so once you’ve caught a Pokemon to gain EXP from it and add it to your Pokedex, you can never catch that Pokemon again for that purpose.
Let’s use a specific example. Eevee and I step onto route one and encounter a Rattata. I capture the Rattata and add it to my team, naming it Bucky. Bucky is a member of my party and is allowed to level up and participate in battles. I then explore route one some more and meet a Pidgey. I capture that Pidgey and put it in the Pokemon box – it won’t ever join my party, but Bucky and Eevee just got some experience from me capturing it, and if anyone asks me to show them a Pidgey in order to progress, I’ve got one in my box. I then encounter another Rattata and capture this one too. Unlike Bucky, who joined my party, I put this Rattata in the Pokemon box. I can’t use it, but I’m still allowed to capture it for EXP purposes one time. If I ever meet another Rattata or Pidgey, I now can’t capture these Pokemon just for the sake of training up my team. But if Pidgey is my first encounter on the next route, I could capture it, give it a nickname, and add it to my party.
The idea here is that you’re able to get some training in through capturing, and you have a backlog of Pokemon that will allow you to push past any capture requirements imposed by the game. You’re just not using those extra Pokemon in battle, and limiting each species to one capture means that you also won’t be overleveling your Pokemon team. You’re essentially building a living Pokedex as part of your Nuzlocke challenge, using separate capture rules for the Pokemon in your team versus the ones for your Pokedex.
If all that explanation seems a bit heavy, it might be simpler to narrow it down to the Nuzlocke rule format. Here are what the rules would look like for a Pokemon Let’s Go Nuzlocke:
- When you enter a new area for the first time, you may capture the first Pokemon that you encounter and add it to your Pokemon team.
- You may capture each unique Pokemon species in the area one time. These Pokemon must be boxed and cannot be captured again or used in your Pokemon team.
- If a member of your Pokemon team faints, it is considered dead and must be released.
This method is the best middle ground I can imagine between trying to force the original Nuzlocke formula on a game that may very well fight you every step of the way, and just playing this very casual Pokemon experience without any added challenge. I think once Pokemon Let’s Go is released and we actually hold the game in our hands, it will be much easier to determine what kinds of rules will create a challenge that is both reasonable and fun. For now, though, I’ve enjoyed speculating about what exactly might need to change about the Nuzlocke in order for this spin-off to accommodate it.
What are your thoughts on the matter, adventurers? Do you think it will be possible to Nuzlocke the Let’s Go games? Would you even want to? What rules do you see needing to change, and do you think my suggested changes would do the job? Let me know in the comments below, and I look forward to a day when we can all enjoy Pokemon Let’s Go and talk about the game with a full understanding of what it offers!