When I first played a Nuzlocke in Pokemon Y, I instantly fell in love with what the challenge run adds to the video game. I soon began trying new challenges created by other folks online, and trying Nuzlockes in different games than just the sixth generation. Those early challenges I tried helped me to build my Nuzlocke skillset, and as time went on I began to realize something – the classic challenge felt too easy for me. Perhaps it was due to the ease of the games I chose to play, but it got to the point where I never felt as if I was in legitimate danger of losing the run. In order to amp things up, I decided to look into trying out challenge types that were even more dangerous.
This eventually led me to the Restartlocke format, a challenge run all about keeping your team small and varied. It requires you to regularly make tough choices about your team composition, and it emphasizes the importance of getting your captures on each route. But whether it truly adds more difficulty and/or fun to the Nuzlocke challenge is another matter entirely. So today, I’m going to review the Restartlocke based on the two runs I’ve completed in the past!
Since this is my first-ever review of a challenge run rather than a specific game, let’s go over how the scoring will work. Pokemon Hard Mode has all sorts of varied rules depending on how you decide to play, so creating a set list of categories that could apply to every single Nuzlocke variant is a pretty tricky proposition. Instead, I’ll be discussing each rule of the challenge that’s different from the standard Nuzlocke and then rating that rule on my usual scale:
0 – Awful – Aggravatingly negative, one or no redeeming qualities
.5 – Poor – Mainly negative, but did have a positive worth mentioning
1 – Average – Performed as expected, a balance of bad and good
1.5 – Good – Mainly positive, but with a significant downside or multiple minor flaws
2 – Great – Impressively positive, no significant flaws and limited minor flaws
Once each rule is rated, the synergy of the rules (or lack thereof) will then be rated as well. The final score will be the average of all of these factors together, placing it between 0 (a truly awful Nuzlocke challenge) and 2 (a truly great Nuzlocke challenge). With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the first-ever Adventure Rules challenge run review!
In case you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with the concept of Pokemon Hard Mode, here’s a quick breakdown. The Nuzlocke Challenge was created by a fella online originally under the name of Pokemon Hard Mode (hence why I use them interchangeably) and later picked up the name Nuzlocke based on a character from the series – this is the more common name in today’s usage. The challenge has only two rules – you can only catch the first Pokemon you meet in each area, and if a Pokemon faints, it’s considered dead and must be released back into the wild, never to be used again. This adds a game over condition to the game – because you have a limited number of captures and your Pokemon can die, you can find yourself in a situation where you no longer have any left. A side effect of the ruleset is that because you can only catch the first Pokemon you encounter on a route, you’re often pushed to use Pokemon that are different from your normal choices.
The Restartlocke challenge only adds one new rule to the mix, but it’s a complex rule that has a few distinct parts for me to review. Whenever you defeat a gym leader in battle, you must choose three, two, or one Pokemon to keep and release all of the rest. If you keep three, you must keep less than three after the next gym. If you keep two, those two must be released after the next gym. If you keep only one, there’s no additional penalty. Now that you know the specifics of how the Restartlocke works, let’s dive into each aspect of the additional rule to see how it affects the game in more depth.
PART 1: WHEN YOU DEFEAT A GYM LEADER, YOU MUST CHOOSE TO KEEP EITHER THREE, TWO, OR ONE POKEMON AND THEN RELEASE THE REST
As if the Nuzlocke challenge wasn’t already lethal enough, the Restartlocke makes things even more difficult by causing you to lose Pokemon when you win. This little change adds a whole layer of extra challenge that makes the game so much tougher. When put into practice, it affects gameplay in a few key ways. Perhaps the most significant is that it makes it almost impossible to build a full team of six Pokemon, let alone a second string. While you might be able to get a significant number of captures between certain gyms that are paced particularly far apart (the distance between the first and second gym in X and Y is a notable example), most of the time you’ll only have two to three routes and one cave or forest to capture Pokemon. This means you won’t have a backup plan as you play – any Pokemon you lose won’t have anyone to step into the team in their place. It requires you to play more carefully than normal because every loss means a lot more.
At the same time, some losses are less significant and you are less motivated to use Pokemon that you capture at specific times. For example, any Pokemon that you capture on the route right before a new gym will probably not be joining your team – you don’t have time to train it and chances are it will end up being one of the Pokemon you release after you beat the gym leader. And any Pokemon that faint during the gym battle, well, chances are you were about to lose them anyway. This very situation happened to me in my Restartlocke playthrough with a Wingull named Wobbles – I wasn’t going to keep him anyway, so having him die in battle didn’t impact me all that much.
Overall, I’d say this rule adds a huge amount of challenge to the game. There’s definitely a side effect in that it devalues some of your captures and stops you from connecting with team members the way you might in another Nuzlocke variant. But while this challenge steals the teeth from some losses, it adds potency to others, particularly when you lose someone you were really counting on and have no one in the second string to back them up. This rule is easily the most significant in the Restartlocke challenge and is key to giving this variant its unique feel.
Score: 1.5 – Good
PART 2: IF YOU KEEP THREE POKEMON, YOU MUST KEEP LESS THAN THREE AFTER THE NEXT GYM
This rule is simple but very effective. Naturally, three Pokemon is the number you want to try to keep after every gym because it’s the largest number you can have. With three Pokemon to use, you can have a somewhat balanced team that cover each other’s weaknesses, and you can even choose to keep a weaker Pokemon that you want to train up because you’ll have two others to cover its back. This opens up lots of strategic options, but the way the rule is structured stops you from abusing its power.
Not being able to choose three twice in a row is honestly a really solid condition for this rule. It makes choosing three a temporary respite at best – sure, right now you can enjoy having half a team after completing a gym, but after the next gym you’ll have no choice but to engage the game’s more dangerous rules. It also forces you to think about exactly when you want to choose three Pokemon. As an example, there’s no reason not to want to choose three after the eighth gym, because at that point you’re heading towards the Elite Four and won’t have to release Pokemon again for the rest of the game (unless they die, of course). But that means you can’t choose three after the seventh gym, which might require some planning ahead to make sure you have two or one Pokemon that can handle the area between gyms seven and eight.
Of the three rules for keeping Pokemon after each gym, this one is my favorite. It’s the choice you want to make, but it forces you to engage the other rules of the game as well. It takes good timing to figure out exactly when you want to pick three Pokemon, and the fact that you can never do it twice in a row keeps it from being too powerful during the challenge.
Score: 2 – Great
PART 3: IF YOU KEEP TWO POKEMON, YOU MUST RELEASE THOSE TWO POKEMON AFTER THE NEXT GYM
The middle of the road choice between three and one, keeping two seems to have its advantages. Two is better than one, after all, allowing you to have something to switch to during battle and to have Pokemon who can cover each other’s weak points. A stronger Pokemon could help raise up a weaker one that might have value at the next gym. And because this rule doesn’t require you to pick one after the next gym, you could eternally switch between three and two and never be in a situation where you only pick one Pokemon.
However, picking two Pokemon has an insidious downside that is ultimately worse than it appears. The rule makes a lot of sense – if you keep two Pokemon, you can’t keep those two again. Sure, cool, it’s encouraging a variety of different Pokemon. The thing is, this is the one way in the game you can game over outside of losing all of your Pokemon in battle. If you keep two and then fail to capture any more Pokemon, or the Pokemon you catch in addition to those two die, then after the next gym you’re supposed to release the only two Pokemon you have left. Additionally, picking two may have a short-term benefit of having more Pokemon, but in the long run you’re actually losing Pokemon by choosing this option.
Here’s an example. Say I keep two Pokemon after a particular gym. There’s one route and a cave between this gym and the next, so I get two captures (for a total of four Pokemon). After the next gym, I have to lose my two and now only have two remaining. If I pick two again, I’d better capture some Pokemon or I’m going to game over without even losing a battle. Conversely, if I had just picked one the first time, then after my two captures and another gym battle I could pick three and be in great shape for the next section of the game.
The fact that picking two creates an extra game over condition and realistically has no long-run benefits makes it a rather unappealing option to use. It’s better in the short-term than picking one Pokemon but it ultimately cripples you, and in my Restartlocke experience this is easily my least favorite option to pick. It’s not all bad – when there are plenty of capture opportunities between gyms, picking two is a safer option than picking one from a survival standpoint. But because this choice can really box you into a corner, I prefer to avoid it as often as possible.
Score: 1 – Average
PART 4: IF YOU KEEP ONE POKEMON, THERE IS NO ADDITIONAL PENALTY
The idea of keeping only one Pokemon after defeating a gym leader can be pretty terrifying. What if you run into an opponent who can hit that Pokemon’s weaknesses? What if a stray critical hit or one-hit KO move puts you in the ground? What if, heaven forbid, a Wobbuffet shows up?! No wonder, then, that this particular rule has no other penalty associated with it. The fact that you only have a single Pokemon on your team is penalty enough. Or is it?
Here’s the thing about this rule. Because there’s no mechanism that forces you to eventually lose the one Pokemon you keep, this rule allows you to potentially carry a powerful Pokemon through the whole game. Take your starter, for example. In my ORAS Restartlocke challenge, I chose Mudkip as my starter. Once Mudkip evolves into Marshtomp, that sucker is a defensive powerhouse with only one type weakness. My Marshtomp was getting overleveled from always being in my team and could easily handle pretty much any opponent I faced. I ultimately decided to give it up in order to make the game more challenging for myself, but there was nothing stopping me from just using other captures as sacrifice fodder while Marshtomp destroyed everything in my path.
That’s my big issue with the keep one rule as it stands – when the act of keeping one by itself is the penalty for the rule, it leaves it open to abuse. Specifically, it puts you in a situation where you may not feel the need to engage the other rules. You could theoretically play the whole Restartlocke like a Solo Run variant and there would be no mechanisms forcing you away from that path. I understand the intent here, and I understand that in some situations trying to run the whole game with your starter as the only consistent Pokemon might be pretty dangerous. But for those used to the mechanics of Pokemon, this can feel like the smartest option. Why risk running around with a constantly-fluctuating team of fresh faces when you can have a well-trained Pokemon packed to the gills with effort values, great moves, and a solid typing to carry you through the game?
Overall, picking one Pokemon can be an effective strategic choice if you know how to use it properly. It gives you room to carry the same Pokemon throughout the entire game, but in some situations this can be an abuse of the system that allows you to power through the challenge with your starter. This is a good rule and I understand why it works the way it does – otherwise you’d never choose just to keep one Pokemon – but I think the fact that this rule doesn’t lead you to engage the others holds it back a little bit.
Score: 1.5 – Good
PART 5: THE SYNERGY OF THE RULES
Now that we’ve rated each rule individually, how do these rules work together to create a unique Nuzlocke experience? In my view, one of the most interesting things about the Restartlocke is that it doesn’t just challenge you to play your battles more carefully. You have to think long-term about your team composition and how it’s going to impact you not just at the upcoming gym, but at the gym coming after that. Should I pick three now or save my pick three for the next gym based on the routes that come after? Do I pick two so I can have a bigger team now, or pick one so I can keep a particular Pokemon that’ll be good two gyms from now? These kinds of decisions push you to think strategically on a layer that most Nuzlocke variants don’t involve.
I also think it’s very interesting how the different number of Pokemon you keep each time balance out and influence each other. As I explained earlier in the review, the way that keeping three Pokemon then compels you to choose two or one after the next gym keeps things fresh and exciting. Sure, you could always choose two or always choose one, but often that’s the least fun choice you can make and the challenge really shines when you switch around between the different numbers of Pokemon you can keep.
My favorite thing about the Restartlocke challenge is that, when fully realized and played in good faith, it truly does push you to use Pokemon that you’d normally never keep on your team. A fault of the typical Nuzlocke format is that once you get a team of six, if you’re good you can hold on to those Pokemon for the rest of the game and not really get a bunch of variety in as far as playing with different Pokemon. The Restartlocke demands variety, and as you progress through the game the team you have at the end will be a lot different than the one you have at the start.
Finally, when it comes to actually making the classic Nuzlocke more challenging, the Restartlocke absolutely delivers. Despite my concerns about the potential to abuse the keep one rule, one wrong move can take that single good Pokemon you’ve carefully preserved and ruin the whole plan to coast through the game with it. The fact that you have a constantly changing team mechanically makes your Pokemon weaker (due to the lack of opportunity to build effort values) which adds to the game’s challenge, plus you rarely if ever have a second string to fall back on if you lose someone. The Restartlocke challenge requires very careful play and no shortage of luck – the one time I did beat this challenge, I only had two Pokemon but one of their typings was perfect for the Elite Four and champion.
Overall, the Restartlocke challenge rules synergize very well to create a unique Nuzlocke experience. Taken apart, they may have individual weaknesses to criticize, but brought together they make the game more challenging, varied, and fun all at once. While it is possible to abuse certain aspects of the Restartlocke, I think this flaw is somewhat minor. Most folks doing a challenge run already have the self-discipline to avoid abusing the system, as they are imposing a challenge on themselves and have consented to extra rules that make progress more difficult. The synergy between these rules makes the Restartlocke challenge one that is very engaging to play, requiring additional layers of strategy normally not present in the game.
Score: 2 – Great
The Restartlocke challenge may very well be my favorite variant on the classic Nuzlocke that I have ever played. While the keep two rule is something of a week point and the pick one rule can be abused, the way all the rules work together to add greater complexity to the game and to force you to use a wide variety of Pokemon is (in my mind) exactly what the Nuzlocke is all about. I highly recommend this challenge to anyone interested in pushing their Pokemon Hard Mode experience to the next level, as it will certainly test your abilities as a Pokemon master!
CATEGORY TOTALS: 1.5 + 2 + 1 + 1.5 + 2 = 8
AVERAGE SCORE: 8/5 = 1.6
FINAL SCORE: 1.6 – GOOD