Welcome back, new and returning Pokemon fans! It is so wonderful to be writing for Scribbling again this year! If you’re like me, you’ve played a ton of Pokemon. I have beaten eight main series Pokemon games (shoutout to Pokemon Platinum; I’ve beat it twice now!) and explored much of their post-games as well. What if running through the Pokemon games you already have becomes too easy or boring? What are you supposed to do? My solution for that problem is challenge runs. Challenge runs spice up your average casual Pokemon playthrough by creating certain conditions that you must follow, usually ones that make the game harder. Challenge runs force you to strategize more, grind more (battle wild Pokemon over and over again to gain EXP), and change the way you would usually go through a main series Pokemon game. In this article, I’m going to list some common challenge runs that you can try! Don’t limit yourself to what’s on this list; many more kinds exist too, and you can even create your own!
Nuzlocke: Nuzlockes are the classic Pokemon challenge run, though I do admit that I’ve never had the courage to actually do one. Nuzlockes and their many variations have a few basic rules. First, you must attempt to catch only the first Pokemon you see in each new area. If you fail, you don’t get a Pokemon from that route. Second, you must nickname your Pokemon so that you love them more. You can really get weird and creative with this part. Third, if a Pokemon faints in battle, it’s dead and must be released or permanently put in the PC. Nuzlockes force you to be prepared and over prepared for every battle, unless you want to risk losing a precious party member. You will have to grind a lot; going into an important battle underleveled can be a death sentence. You can add all sorts of extra rules to increase the challenge if you want: no items in battle, level caps, set mode. There are also tons of sub challenge runs under the Nuzlocke umbrella: punishmentlocke, wedlocke, soullocke, monolocke, and many more. The variations are endless!
Monotype: Do you have a favorite Pokemon type? Then this challenge run is for you! In a Monotype challenge, you only use Pokemon of a particular type. How challenging such a run is depends on the game and what type you choose. You can choose a type with many powerful Pokemon and few weaknesses, like Dragon, or you can choose a type that’s neither great offensively or defensively, like Grass. Depending on the gym leaders and elite four members of the game you’re playing, certain monotype teams may run into a lot more challenging fights than others. It’s important to strategize with your team well so that you don’t get swept by Pokemon with super effective moves against your chosen type! A Monotype run is also just a great way to use a ton of Pokemon of your favorite type without thinking, “Ugh, my team is so unbalanced.” Your team can be as unbalanced as you please. That is the entire point!
Little Cup: For those of you who do not play Smogon tiers, Little Cup is the tier in which you can only use pre-evolved Pokemon, Pokemon that do not evolve from other Pokemon but evolve into (an)other Pokemon. These Pokemon almost always have much lower stats and shallower movepools than their fully evolved counterparts, so using them for an entire playthrough is a big challenge. The early game is normal because it’s made with unevolved Pokemon in mind, but as you progress, the opponent’s Pokemon grow stronger and stronger while yours still have those weak, early game stats. There’s also a wide variety of unevolved Pokemon to choose from, and your choices can affect the difficulty of your Little Cup run. Most Little Cup Pokemon have BSTs (base stat total, the sum of all a Pokemon’s base stats) in the low to mid 300s. However, some unevolved Pokemon, usually those who gained evolutions after the generation in which they were introduced, have base stat totals in the low to mid 400s (Scyther takes the cake with a BST of 500, higher than a decent chunk of fully evolved Pokemon!). If you’re struggling, putting stronger Little Cup Pokemon like these on your team can really help you out. Little Cup runs are also fun because you get to use cute, unevolved Pokemon such as my favorite, underloved psychic type, Chingling!
Solo Run: Having six Pokemon of varying types and with various movepools sure makes the game a lot easier. What would happen if you only used a single Pokemon? Then you have yourself a Solo Run! In a Solo Run, as the name implies, you only use one Pokemon. This run presents many of the similar challenges that a Monotype run presents; you have no type variety, so a Pokemon with super effective moves against you can wipe you out quickly. Certain gym leaders and elite four members can be major roadblocks. But with a Solo Run, you have no other Pokemon to back you up; if your only Pokemon faints, you lose the battle. Battling trainers with five or six Pokemon becomes extremely challenging as your sole Pokemon gets worn down with no way to catch a break. Most Solo Runs use the fully evolved starter Pokemon as their Pokemon since you get that Pokemon at the beginning of the game and it has a good base stat total (around 530). However, if you really want a challenge, you can combine Solo Run with Little Cup and use a single unevolved Pokemon. This compounds the challenges of a fully evolved Solo Run with those of a Little Cup run. Maybe do not attempt something like this unless you are fully dedicated to this run. Usually, a Little Cup Solo Run uses the unevolved starter Pokemon or an early game rodent as the only Pokemon. These kinds of runs can be very difficult, and if you do decide to try it for yourself, I wish you the best of luck!
Shiny Only: The name for this run is pretty self explanatory; only use shiny Pokemon! For those of you who do not know, shiny Pokemon are super rare alternately colored Pokemon that sparkle when they enter battle. The base odds of encountering shiny Pokemon are 1/8192 in generations 2-5 and 1/4096 in all subsequent generations. Depending on the game you’re playing, it is possible to increase these odds using particular methods, such as Poke Radar in DPP (Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum) and XY (X and Y) and DexNav in ORAS (Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire). With a shiny only challenge run, the difficulty comes not from harder battles but from actually finding the shiny Pokemon. It takes a lot of patience! Method hunting can make finding shiny Pokemon a lot easier, but method hunting still isn’t easy, and some methods are relegated to the post games of their respective games. However, filling your team with shinies will bring you so much joy, and encountering a shiny Pokemon is an amazing experience.
Set: Set does not seem like it would be challenging at first, but it dramatically changes the way you have to play the game. In normal, in game Pokemon battles, you get the option to switch out your Pokemon after the opponent’s current Pokemon faints. This option allows you to switch in a Pokemon that has an ideal match up against the next Pokemon and allows you to spread EXP across your team fairly. This is not how competitive Pokemon battles are played; they are played in Set, so the opponent sends out their next Pokemon without giving you a chance to switch out. In the options menu of any Pokemon game, which can be accessed from your in game menu, you can switch between Switch, the default option, and Set. Set changes how you play battles. You can only switch during actual battle turns, so no Pokemon comes in for free; it must take the opponent’s attack unless you strategically use switch out moves like Flip Turn, Volt Switch, and U-Turn on a slower Pokemon to bring your switch into battle. Even with that strategy, the current Pokemon is still taking the brunt of the attack before its slow switch. You end up taking much more damage in Set than in Switch as you use turns to switch in your Pokemon. It’s much harder to spread EXP around your team evenly when you can’t bring in Pokemon for free. It’s important to actively switch around the first member in your party so that Pokemon get equal experience. This is a great challenge run for beginners because it isn’t super hard, but it changes how you have to play your battles. It provides a new Pokemon experience.
No Items: No items is also self-explanatory, but it can mean a lot of different things. You can have your Pokemon use no held items. Held items aren’t necessary, but the proper held item can really increase your Pokemon’s offensive or defensive prowess. This kind of no items run provides little challenge. No items can also mean no items in battle. If a hard battle really isn’t going well for you, you can cheese your way through with status healing items, revives, potions, x items, and more. It’s totally legal, but it doesn’t always feel fair. You can amend that predicament with no items in battle! It can be more difficult to win tough late game battles if you have no items to help you. I know that I have used revives to win many champion battles in the past. No items can also mean no items outside of battle. For most of the game, this challenge means little, for you can simply backtrack to the nearest Pokemon Center. It’s merely tedious. This challenge really gets hard at the Elite Four. You have to fight four strong trainers and an even stronger champion, you don’t get any free heals, and if you lose a fight, you must start all over again. Your team has to be powerful and your strategy has to be sound in order to make it all the way through the Pokemon League without using any items to heal up your Pokemon between battles! You can use one of these sub challenge runs or combine them for an extra tough Pokemon playthrough!
Challenge Mode: Challenge Mode is special in that it is exclusive to Pokemon Black and White 2 (my favorites in the entire series). In order to unlock Challenge Mode, you must have a completed file of Pokemon Black 2. In Pokemon Black 2, you unlock Challenge Mode by beating the game. You can transfer this information to Pokemon White 2 using the Unova Link to unlock Challenge Mode there, too. Beating Pokemon White 2 unlocks Easy Mode, but Pokemon trainers considering challenge runs definitely do not play Easy Mode. In Challenge Mode, the levels of opposing trainers’ Pokemon are raised anywhere from 1-5 levels, opposing trainers’ AI is increased, special trainers like gym leaders and elite four members use held items on their Pokemon (not just berries, real competitive items like Life Orb and Choice items), and gym leaders and elite members each have an extra Pokemon on their team. It’s a shame this option wasn’t put into later Pokemon games, because it provides a great challenge without having to change or limit the Pokemon you’re using on your team. I really hope to play in Challenge Mode on my own copy of Pokemon White 2 sometime. It sounds so exciting!
Thank you so much for reading about all these excellent challenge runs! I hope that I’ve maybe inspired some of you to try out your own Pokemon challenge run. I’ve never done a challenge run, but I really hope to do so at some point. My next article will be the second iteration of “Which Kanto Did It Best?” this time with the Battle! Trainer theme. See you next time, Pokemon fans!