The Pokemon games have always easy to play. Its game mechanics fit into the “easy to play, hard to master” philosophy nicely. Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire takes these easy mechanics to a new game level by introducing mechanics that make this fairly easy game somehow even easier. Pokemon now receive experience from battling Pokemon that don’t faint but get caught, and the EXP (experience from battle) share applies to the whole party (as implemented first in Pokemon: X and Y). Gone are the days of having to use then promptly switch out a weak Pokemon to a stronger one. For someone who’s played Pokemon—one of the most formulaic games series ever—for a good bit, this gets really boring. However, while I was browsing the internet during my play session of Alpha Sapphire (it got so boring), I discovered a meta-game older Poke-players called the Nuzlocke challenge. It definitely makes things more interesting.
The Nuzlocke challenge is something a self-proclaimed “bored not-yet webcomic artist UC Santa Cruz” (Nuzlocke.com). This student, the one known online as Nuzlocke, started a play through of the original Pokemon Ruby in 2010 in which he implemented two rules to make the game more interesting and difficult. On his website, Nuzlocke states that “1. He could only capture the first Pokemon he encountered in each new area. 2. If a Pokemon fainted he would consider it dead and release it” (Nuzlocke). These are the two main rules of any Nuzlocke challenge but each user can add other rules to further increase the difficulty. According to game journalist Patricia Hernandez, these other rules are frequently added to Nuzlocke playthroughs: “You can’t play with traded Pokémon, unless it’s a Pokémon an NPC can trade you. 4. No resets. 5. If you black out (as in, if all the Pokémon in your party faint), that’s it. The playthrough is done. Game over. You gotta restart if you wanna keep playing…Banning the use of Potions and healing items…No catching/using Legendary Pokemon…Pokemon must be nicknamed” (Hernandez). These player-added and self-disciplined rules exponentially increase the difficulty of a game designed to be extremely simple. The older Pokemon players made a game out of a game (a metagame, if you will) to fulfill a need for challenge. This exemplifies how adding rules can change the whole meaning of a previously well-established game.
However, the most interesting to note in players’ responses to their Nuzlocke runs isn’t so much the marvel at how much more difficult the game is. What struck me most about their responses is that players reported becoming much more attached to their digital pocket monsters. In addition to the ownership they got from having to name their Pokemon, the added stake of “death” (releasing a Pokemon) really makes players acknowledge the bond they form with these digital creatures you spend so much time training and using. One YouTuber, ProJared, whose finale of a Nuzlocke run I watched was legitimately yelling and on-edge during his battle with the champion of the Elite Four. I know he was doing it for an audience, but I could still genuinely feel his frustration, anxiety, and genuine connection to Pokemon he managed to level up for presumably many hours among countless close calls and “deaths” of many other good Pokemon (here’s a link to the video if anyone’s interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e; ProJared). Not only can the metagame of Nuzlocke add difficulty, it can also make you attached to the cute little creatures who can get taken away from you like those you love in real life. Nuzlocke has strengthened the nostalgic connection to Pokemon for older players, bringing an element of reality into a game of absolute fantasy.
Hernandez, Patricia. “Think Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Are Too Easy? Try This.” Kotaku, 26 Nov. 2014.
ProJared. “Nuzlocke Challenge – FINALE: The Champion.” YouTube, uploaded by ProJared, 10 Sep. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlSbrwxPZso&index=36&list=PLO7ChEvlE6fcO8tMq7hhuf5qy1cwZyp6e.
“What is the Nuzlocke Challenge?” Nuzlocke.com, http://www.nuzlocke.com/challenge.php.