Transfer your parties and shuck your game data, because your Pokémon journey is about to take an incredible turn.

The Nuzlocke challenge. It’s about glory. It’s about sacrifice. It’s about having a good time. Nuzlockes were invented in 2010 when a bored guy restarted Pokémon Ruby during an easy semester at college. He decided to play with two rules:

  1. Only the first Pokémon encountered on each route can be captured.
  2. If a Pokémon reaches 0 HP, it has died and must be released.

He started uploading a comic of his run on 4chan’s video game board. It was received well and particularly got attention for its Nuzleaf, who the player stylized after LOST character John Locke. Readers picked up the new rules, and the Nuzlocke challenge was born.

What’s so fun about it? Well, first of all it makes Pokémon fun again. Playing the games exactly as they were programmed gets tiresome after so many years. Playing them again with a limited amount of mortal Pokémon can bring a revived joy and love to something you abandoned long ago. It’s risky, it keeps you on your toes, and it forces you to really think: who’s going to pull me through here? How am I going to balance out my team now that X and X are gone and I never caught Y?

Which leads to another thing: You don’t have control over who you catch. The “dupes clause” lets you skip a limited amount of repeat encounters, but it’s the game that decides which Pokémon will next be introduced to your team. Even if you really really reaaallllllly really don’t want that Pokémon, you better hope you catch it. You need the reserves. My props go to people who always catch the first encounter and end up with a team of Rattata. What a way to go for the Elite Four.

Hey, if you’re playing the Gen II remakes you get a free pass for Morty… (Image Source: PokeLexgnzlz on YouTube)

You may be surprised. One of the special parts of Nuzlocking is that it forces you to use Pokémon you never considered before. It’s amazing how you can come to appreciate certain species or even a whole generation based on who you travel with. Following the adopted rule of nicknaming your captures lets you bond with them even more. At the end of a long day, there’s something nice about opening your party and seeing six motley Pokémon sprites whose HP has never reached 0.

You root for this team. You care for this team differently than all the others. And that increases the adrenaline during a gamble. Been called to battle by the terrifying Ghetsis or the weirdly fashionable Lysandre? Lost on a snowy mountain with a depleting amount of Potions? Just been challenged by a succession of skilled trainers? Behold a new level of intensity now that you’re playing This Game. What’s frustrating or cool in the normal play style becomes terrifying and EPIC in a Nuzlocke. It’s do or die! Time to show them what you’re made of.

Or not. Traditionally a Nuzlocke challenge is lost if you have a team wipe. Some people continue the game with Pokémon in their PC, but wipes are usually accepted as the end. Whatever happens, you can immortalize it with your own drawn, written, or recorded log of your mighty adventure. Comics are the most popular form of Nuzlocke storytelling, and they have given many people positive experiences drawing and sharing each other’s runs. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not the best. The original “Hard-Mode” comic is basically a bunch of scribbles. What’s important is having fun.

So are you into Pokémon? Do you like the idea of playing without the tedium of running in the same patch of grass for three hours looking for that rare encounter? Do you like the idea of perilous stakes and no guarantee of how the game will end? Then Nuzlockes are right for you. Grab an old game and plunge into the fray!

But if you’re playing Black or White, I must remind you to manually delete your save data before you start a new game. I remind you of this because if you play Black or White, you may choose an Oshawott as your starter, and that Oshawott may turn out to be a girl. You will love her, and name her Lila, and await the day she becomes a short-bearded swashbuckling samurai otter. After playing three straight hours of this game, you will go to save, and then find you can’t because the game doesn’t overwrite the data from your previous run. You will be forced to reset. You will be forced to say goodbye to Lila.

Poor Lila.