Pokémon games are always fun for a while, but since they are targeted at younger players many seasoned gamers feel that they lack a satisfying challenge. It's also true that later games in the franchise have been designed to be easier than the early ones. Nonetheless, there's a layer of more stimulating gameplay to be found under the surface of Pokémon, if the player is willing to create self-imposed limitations.
A vibrant community of hardcore Pokémon players has come up with many interesting ways to keep their beloved games fresh and challenging. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Nuzlocke Challenge
The Nuzlocke challenge has been around for some time and is one of the most popular self-imposed 'hard modes' in video game fandom. You can check out the comic that inspired it here. It's possible to attempt in any Pokémon title, and while many players have added variations or personal touches to the rules, the core challenge remains elegant in its simplicity.
- Any Pokémon that faints is considered dead, and must be released or put in the Pokémon Storage System permanently.
- The player may only catch the first Pokémon encountered in each area, and nothing else. If the first Pokémon encountered faints or flees, there are no second chances.
The faint=death rule makes Pokémon battles much more intense, high-stake affairs, with the risk of permanently losing your favorite Pokémon. The second rule restricts your choices and forces you to use Pokémon that you might not usually choose. With these two rules come the implication that re-loading when things don't go your way is prohibited. Basic Nuzlocke might be difficult enough for some, but if you have reservations about it, check out the house rules and tweaks various players have applied and make your own custom version.
The Monotype Run
In the games, the player must beat the region's various gym leaders, each of whom specializes in training a particular type of Pokémon, such as water or fire. Limiting the protagonist's choice of Pokémon along similar lines can be a fun, thematic way to add challenge to the game. Fortunately, many Pokémon belong to two types, so while it does makes the game more difficult, you won't be completely crippled by your specialization.
Check out this tutorial on the basics of monotype team strategy:
Aided by the rise of Twitch, speedrunning has become a popular spectator sport across a variety of games, but the large fanbase of Pokémon players make the franchise a popular subject. There's a whole community out there dedicated to speedruns, and they offer advice to new speedrunners as well as veterans. Complete with your friends for the best completion times, or go for the world records.
Check out one world record holder blaze through Pokémon Yellow
Beat the Battle Facilities
It's a bit of a joke that the much vaunted Elite Four are something of a pushover, even for the casual player, but most Pokémon games unlock special Battle areas (alternately factory, maison, tower, subway, etc), where a master can really put their tactics to the test. The opponents in these Battle Facilities scale to your experience level, so you'll need to win with superior strategy instead of higher-leveled Pokémon. The best part is that the victor can score very rare and powerful rewards and items for their extra effort.
Do What You 'Gotta' Do
Sure, we've all heard it, but how many of us ACTUALLY catch of all 'em? In the early days of the franchise, collecting all 151 Pokémon was already considered a quite a feat, but nowadays there are over 700 of the pocket monsters, raising the franchise's rallying cry to a very serious challenge indeed. To completely fill out your Pokédex with one of each Pokémon, you'd need some intense dedication, especially to nab those only released during promotional events.
Of course, to some heroic readers, merely catching 'em all is too banal a task. These masochists might like to try to build a complete Shiny Pokédex, containing only the ultra-rare color variations. Shiny Pokémon have an extremely low spawn rate, and while there are some tricks to help your chances of finding or breeding them, completing the Shiny Pokédex is near-impossible without trading with other players.
The Two-Player Challenge
This interesting co-op challenge appeared on 9gag, and is played with two gameboys using either Pokémon Red or Blue. Among other stipulations, the rules require both players to have a different starter Pokémon that must remain on their team, and must battle each other after every gym. The winner then makes the trade of their choice between teams (excluding the starter). This adds an extra role-playing element, plus competitive challenges are a great way to re-live the early games with a friend.
Ash Ketchum Roleplay Challenge
Fans of the anime may want to try this one, following the footsteps of everyone's favorite wannabe Pokémon master. Ash's experiences in the anime series can deviate significantly from that of the game protagonist, but fans have developed a set of rules to bring those worlds together. It works with any game in the series, but is easiest with Pokémon Yellow.
Beat the game with a level one Pokémon
We recently reported on the amazing feat of dedication that was beating the game with a level 1 Rattata. By careful breeding, training and enhancements (not to mention a bit of luck from the Random Number God), even the weeniest of Pokémon can reach epic power and effectiveness without leveling. Rattata has its claim to fame, but there are many others that are waiting for their turn to be nurtured into combat monsters by players looking for the ultimate challenge.