Fancy a Challenge?

The Pokémon games are not very difficult. They are designed to be easily playable even for children with little strategic ability, and for older or more experienced players, this inevitably means they aren't very challenging by default.

Luckily, however, the Pokémon games also offer a lot of flexibility, and with a bit of imagination, this can be exploited to apply a variety of interesting restrictions to your gameplay, spicing up the difficulty and often the fun of the game. You can make your game as hard as you'd like it to be - all you have to do is invent the rules that will allow that.

This page collects common simple restrictions to apply. Many of them can be combined to increase the challenge even more - and of course, there is a near-infinite variety of conceivable challenges not on this list. The sky is the limit if you really want to make your game experience more interesting.

Of course, self-imposed challenges are always based on the honor system - if things are getting rough, you can always call it quits or cheat a little. But it's more fun to stick with it if at all possible. :P Happy gaming!

Challenge Ideas

These are individual ideas for restrictions to apply, to be combined at your leisure.

Pokémon Restrictions

One of the most common kinds of challenges involves restricting what Pokémon you can train. In all such cases, it is permitted to catch extra Pokémon as 'HM slaves' that must never be used in battle if no eligible Pokémon can learn HMs necessary for game progress, and if none of the game's starter Pokémon fit the restrictions, a starter can be picked but must be left on the PC (or used as an HM slave) once an eligible Pokémon has been caught.

  • Only train one Pokémon (generally your starter, but could technically be anything that you get reasonably early). Though it can be fun to play through the game this way, this tends not to be very challenging - it is only at the beginning that you will actually feel the disadvantage of having only one Pokémon, while later you really start to feel the fact that your one Pokémon has six times the experience that it would normally have, and the game will become a breeze rather than a challenge. Black and White are much better about this, however, since the new experience formula ensures that overleveled Pokémon get less experience than otherwise.
  • An interesting variation: near the beginning of the game, trade your starter for a single Pokémon and then use that exclusively. What this changes is first that you gain levels even faster, since traded Pokémon get more EXP - and second, that you will be playing through pretty much the whole game with the Pokémon being disobedient, since the Pokémon will be so high-leveled that its level will probably exceed the maximum level your badges allow you to control. I doubt that last bit works in B/W, though I haven't tried it; it would probably just make it around the same difficulty level as a normal mono-training team in the previous games.
  • Don't evolve your Pokémon, no matter what - in case you didn't know, just press B when they try to evolve, or give them an Everstone to hold. Could for example be used in conjunction with either of the above to weigh against the advantage of the huge level gains.
  • Only train Pokémon of one particular type (though they may usually have a second type). This is a well-known kind of challenge; many forums have "monotype challenge" threads.
  • You could also take that further and train only a single family - catch multiple individuals of the same species and then achieve variety using different movesets, perhaps evolving some but not others if the earlier stages have some advantages over the fully evolved form.
  • Or you could pick an arbitrary distinction, such as dex color, size limitations, etc., and train only Pokémon fitting that, if you're interested in the idea of having to use Pokémon you wouldn't otherwise but don't necessarily want to be crippled by common weaknesses.
  • Or, in perhaps the ultimate example of training Pokémon you wouldn't otherwise, pick specifically Pokémon you dislike and would never choose to use normally. You might come to appreciate your least favorite Pokémon in a new way if you were to play through a game using them.
  • Choose six Pokémon before you start the game that you want on your team (or, alternatively, have other people choose for you), and catch them and nothing else (bar necessary HM slaves). Works best when you cannot obtain one or two of them until fairly late in the game, resulting (presumably) in a lack of some types in your team while still spreading the experience among a few Pokémon so that they don't become utterly overleveled. This has the advantage of making you actually end up with a proper, balanced team of six, unlike most of the other Pokémon restrictions - unless your friends decided to pick a poor team for you.
  • In fact, you could just go all the way with that basic concept and treat the game as if there were only, say, four Pokémon slots in your party - except for when you need to bring HM slaves along, of course.
  • Use only Pokémon that are given to you by NPCs instead of actually catching anything (other than necessary HM slaves).
  • Catch only the first Pokémon you encounter when you enter a new area; if you fail to catch that one, you do not get another chance until you reach another area. This is one of the Nuzlocke rules (see below).

Training Restrictions

Another common theme is placing restrictions on how you do your training, with the end goal of ensuring that your Pokémon will be far weaker than the game's difficulty curve assumes.

  • Don't ever consciously train your Pokémon: just progress through the game without searching around the tall grass or rebattling trainers unless you have to. If you reach a Gym leader and your Pokémon don't seem to be up for it, too bad - you'll have to think up a strategy to beat the Gym anyway.
  • Train all your Pokémon evenly - basically, every time you have access to a PC, you make sure that you are carrying six of your lowest-leveled Pokémon overall, except for keeping on Pokémon with any necessary HMs if required. Of course, to make this a meaningful challenge, you should also be catching a lot of Pokémon, the way you (presumably) would on a normal playthrough. This can make things freakishly hard in no time, as the battle experience is spread very thin among many boxes of Pokémon and thus they end up extremely low-leveled. As a bonus, it also allows you nice room to devise strategies for Gym leaders and such, since you will have such a wide selection of 'active' Pokémon - you can pick a new team for each challenge you face. The downside is that this can be almost too hard, what with the abundance of nearly completely useless Pokémon - to weigh against this, you could perhaps choose not to capture quite every Pokémon you find. Black and White make this one somewhat easier, since underleveled Pokémon will gain more experience to make up for it and thus they won't be quite as overwhelmingly weak compared to what you're facing; I personally did give up at Victory Road when I did this on White, though.
  • Another variant on the general theme of trying to keep your Pokémon reasonably low-leveled is to actively hinder your Pokémon's experience gain by giving the Exp. Share to an HM slave that you never use in battle. Your battling Pokémon will then gain only half the experience they ought to get, which should make things challenging pretty fast. This no longer works as of the sixth generation; the Exp. Share in the sixth-generation games doesn't decrease the amount of experience your battling Pokémon get.
  • Never switch a Pokémon from the top of your party or out of battle - once it's there, it has to handle all battles by itself until it faints, no matter how much better another Pokémon in your party would be. Then you can set specific restrictions on when you are allowed to switch your team around - for instance, you can only do so in a Pokémon Center, or you need to keep it there until it has gained a level, at which time you switch it with a lower-leveled Pokémon.
  • Be greedy and don't ever buy anything - just thrive on what you find on the ground or are given by people in your way. This includes Pokéballs. You could also decide not to use any items at all besides Pokéballs, or not to use any healing items, with berries allowed or not depending on your preference. Not much of a challenge by itself, but can add additional spice to other challenges.
  • If any of your Pokémon faints at any point, consider it to be dead: you must either permanently place it on the PC or release it. This encourages a whole different area of strategizing where saving your individual Pokémon from fainting becomes vitally important. This is one of the Nuzlocke rules (see below).

Self-Imposed Hardships

These challenges involve not simply placing restrictions on what you can do and then making the best of a bad situation, but actively sabotaging your progress or making suboptimal battle decisions. Personally I'm not usually wild about this category of challenges - it tends to take the real strategizing back out of the game where the Pokémon/training restrictions reintroduced it - but if you just want to have a really difficult time, challenges like this can get you there in no time, especially coupled with restrictions like no level-grinding.

  • Always use a Pokémon and/or moves with a type disadvantage whenever you can, instead of choosing your Pokémon/moves according to the best matchup possible against your opponent.
  • Don't let your Pokémon forget any moves - once they have four, cancel learning whatever subsequent moves they might get, barring necessary HMs.
  • Have your Pokémon learn moves the way they would in the Day-Care, with the new move always overriding the oldest move.
  • Use only Normal-type attacks unless facing a Ghost Pokémon, ignoring any non-Normal damaging moves your Pokémon learn.
  • Put your fate up to chance. First decide on six 'events', three positive (e.g. relaxing other restrictions you're playing with temporarily) and three negative (e.g. having to release one of the Pokémon in your party). Put them in a numbered list. Then, at sensible intervals in the game - every time you reach a new area, say - you must roll a die and apply the corresponding event, no matter how inconvenient. The particulars can vary, of course - you can skew the ratio of positive to negative events, or have a lot more possible events and use a higher-order die (D&D dice) or a computerized random number generator.
  • Consider any full white-out to be game over.

Nuzlocke Runs

A particularly famous type of challenge that is all the rage these days is the Nuzlocke run, which employs all of the following restrictions to raise the stakes:

  1. If any Pokémon faints, it is to be considered dead and must either be placed permanently in a "Dead" box on the PC or released.
    • Corollary 1: If all your Pokémon faint (so you have no replacements left on the PC either), it's game over; you have to restart from the beginning.
    • Corollary 2: You can't change the past. No reloading a save and pretending Brock's Onix didn't kill your Butterfree after all. That would render the whole thing kind of pointless.
  2. The only Pokémon you can catch in every location is the very first wild Pokémon you run into after you enter that location. If you blow it on that very first wild Pokémon, you can't catch anything until the next route or area you enter.

Additionally, a proper Nuzlocke run generally requires you to nickname every single one of your Pokémon and get attached to them so that their "deaths" will be more heartbreaking. You can optionally write a comic about your exploits with elaborate death scenes. I didn't invent this and haven't personally gotten around to trying it, but a lot of people find it really makes Pokémon interesting again. More rules can also be added to the basic Nuzlocke rules to add further to the challenge.

If you have good ideas for challenges, you can contact me and I may put them on this page. Please don't expect to be given individual credit, though: the challenges here (except for the specific inclusion of Nuzlocke runs due to their popularity) are deliberately generalized into a form that anyone could think of so that people can apply any combination of them to their own game without worrying about crediting a specific author with the challenge if they post somewhere about it. Any challenge that is sufficiently specific to be sensibly credited to an individual is too specific for this page.

Page last modified August 12 2016 at 22:34 GMT