Pokémon Nuzlocke: rules, tips, origin, and more

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet protagonist holding glowing Poke Ball

The Pokémon series has been around for nearly 30 years, so it’s no surprise that its fan base has quite a large age range. While the franchise does have complicated mechanics in place — a vast knowledge of Pokémon states is needed to play competitively and shiny Pokémon hunting has been broken down into a science instead of a surprise — but, as a whole, the series’ story and overall difficultly has always been family-friendly and aimed toward a younger audience. This can leave older, more experienced Pokémon trainers wanting more when they cruise through a new Pokémon title.

Pokémon has never had an adjustable difficulty setting, but over the years, players have figured out how to up the challenge by creating their own self-imposed rules. The most popular challenge taken on by gamers of all skill levels is the Nuzlocke challenge, a set of rules popularized by web comics, streamers and content creators in the past decade that adds a bit of spice to the average Pokémon playthrough.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Pokémon Nuzlocke challenge.

What is the Nuzlocke challenge?

Pokemon nnuzlocke comic.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Nuzlocke challenge was created by artist and gamer Nick Franco in March 2010. Posting comics detailing a playthrough of Pokémon Ruby on 4Chan, Franco explained the self-imposed “hard mode” rules he invented to make the game more difficult. Soon after, he launched his own website to post his comics (you can still view the original Nuzlocke comics there), and he has since written about other playthroughs using the same ruleset.

The challenge became wildly popular in the Pokémon community on 4Chan as other players started using the same rules for their own playthroughs. The popularity of the Nuzlocke challenge has only grown — there’s a community on Reddit dedicated to the challenge and it’s a common playthrough option for creators playing the game for an audience on YouTube and Twitch.

But why is it called “Nuzlocke?” In the original playthrough. Franco captured a Seedot early on in the run and joked in his comic that the acorn-like Pokémon resembled the character John Locke from the hit TV show Lost. The Seedot eventually evolved into a Nuzleaf, the party member became a sort of gag character throughout the comic, and the Nuzlocke name was born.

Standard Nuzlocke rules

Pokemon trainer and team in Scarlet and Violet.

The Nuzlocke challenge is very simple at its core. The rules are designed to make the game a bit more challenging for more advanced players, but isn’t a complete pain to implement and track. Here are the two standard rules:

  • The player may only catch the first wild Pokémon encountered in each area, and no others. If the first wild Pokémon encountered faints or flees, there are no second chances.
  • Any Pokémon that faints is considered dead and must be released (or stored in a separate box, or “graveyard,” in the player’s PC). If you run out of living Pokémon, you’ve failed the challenge and must restart the game.

There are also a handful of additional rules that aren’t mentioned in the original Nuzlocke run, but have been applied by players based on the comics and become musts even if they aren’t official. Here are the more casual, but still usually abided by rules:

  • The player must nickname all of their Pokémon, for the sake of forming stronger emotional bonds.
  • Some players will consider gift Pokémon to be separate encounters from wild Pokémon encountered in the same area.
  • The player may not voluntarily reset and reload the game to undo progress. Being able to do so would render all other rules pointless.

There are hundreds of other rules that players have tried and shared over the years, including limiting item usage, limiting evolutions, limiting levels gained, and more. Some players also love the idea of a Nuzlocke but give themselves a tad more leniency with the rules — they might allow one revive per Pokémon or multiple catches within special areas like the Safari Zone. Ultimately, the goal is to have more fun, so look around online for new rules to try.

Popular Nuzlocke variants

On top of adding and subtracting simple rules, some players have warped the standard Nuzlocke into something much more complex. Here’s a list of some popular Nuzlocke variants from Bulbapedia:

  • Wonderlocke: In this variant, any Pokémon caught must immediately be traded using Wonder Trade, with the received Pokémon is used instead.
  • Soul-Link: A two player variant where both players’ Pokémon are “soul-linked” based on their origin. So the first partner Pokémon are linked, the Pokémon from Route 1 are linked, and so on. If a Pokémon dies, its soulmate does too.
  • Egglocke: Player catches Pokémon 1 per route as normal, but instead of using the Pokémon caught, they hatch a randomly generated egg. Usually, this is done via trades or through cheat devices, where the egg Pokémon are chosen by a third party, such as friends or a streaming audience.
  • Randomizer: Randomizer mods can be used to add more variety to Nuzlockes.

Nuzlocke tips and tricks

pokemon diamond and pearl

The Nuzlocke challenge may sound simple, but it’s not forgiving. A mistake here or there can make your playthrough a lot more difficult (say you lose your best Pokémon and have to get back on the training grind) or end the run altogether. Here are a few basic tips that will help you survive your Nuzlocke run.

Heal, heal, and heal again

In a normal Pokémon playthrough where you can revive all you want, you don’t really have to worry about health. If you lose the fight, come back later with a full-health team and try again. Not in a Nuzlocke. If your Pokémon are at anything but full health, they are in danger. Hit Pokémon Centers often (even if it takes a lot of backtracking) and always have healing items on hand.

While the Pokémon death rules might be at the forefront of your mind when starting a Nuzlocke challenge, it doesn’t really hit you until a random Weedle knocks out your ace starter Pokémon in a random encounter.

Repels are actually useful

Repels keep most wild Pokémon from interrupting your travel through tall grass. You won’t run into any Pokémon that are at a lower level than the Pokémon at the top of your party. This is useful for making sure the Pokémon you encounter are at higher levels (which means less training time). You can also fudge the system here a little bit and aim to capture certain Pokémon in a given route — look up the route on a site like Bulbpedia to get a list of available Pokémon and their level caps, then aim high to filter unwanted Pokémon out.

Sacrifice might be necessary

It will hurt, but there’s going to be a battle in your Nuzlocke run that’s winnable, but only if you let one of your Pokémon die. Maybe you need to buy time to heal your best Pokémon and need to send out a weaker party member to take a big hit. This is commonly referred to as sacking. Some players will keep five strong Pokémon on their team and one weaker Pokémon whose sole purpose is to be cannon fodder. It’s brutal, but could save your playthrough.

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