Pokémon Sword & Shield: What is a Nuzlocke?

Pokemon Sword
Pokemon Sword (Image credit: iMore)

When it comes to Pokémon, there are goals for everyone. You can try to complete their Pokédex by catching every Pokémon. They can build the most powerful team of Pokémon to dominate the competitive scene in online multiplayer. Or you can play the main campaign to enjoy the light-hearted story and characters.

However, some fans have added self-imposed rules to make the main campaign more challenging. Some of these rules include not using items in battle or only catching one type of Pokémon. The most famous of these challenges is the Pokémon Nuzlocke Challenge.

The Nuzlocke Challenge implements self-imposed permadeath rules and party restrictions you would see in a game like Darkest Dungeon or XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Nuzlockes can take your typical Pokémon playthrough and turn it into a memorable adventure filled with tension, tragedy, and triumph. Let's take a look at the origins of this challenge and how it works so that you can apply it to Pokémon Sword and Shield for Nintendo Switch.

Pokémon Sword & Shield: What is a Nuzlocke? Origins

Pokemon Sword (Image credit: iMore)

In 2010, a young man named Nick Franco decided to replay his old copy of Pokémon Ruby. Unfortunately, he was immediately bored because Nick played Pokémon Ruby so often as a child it offered no surprises anymore. So, he came up with an idea to make his playthrough more interesting. He set two self-imposed rules on himself:

  1. You are only allowed to capture the first Pokémon you see upon entering a new area. After that encounter, regardless if you caught the Pokémon or not, you are not allowed to catch anything else in that area.
  2. If a Pokémon faints, it is considered dead, and you can't use it anymore. You have to release it or put in the PC permanently.

Not only did these self-restrictions made Pokémon Ruby more challenging, but they also gave Nick Franco a newfound appreciation for Pokémon he never used before. Nick even felt genuine fear for his Pokémon, knowing at any moment they can permanently die in battle, especially if a wild Voltorb or Koffing decided to use Self-Destruct to kill his Pokémon in one hit.

This experience enthralled Nick Franco so much; he created a webcomic that chronicled his adventures called 'Pokémon: Hard Mode' and posted it online. Readers were hooked by this webcomic and started using these rules in their own playthroughs. Pokémon fans have dubbed this rule-set the 'Nuzlocke challenge' as a reference to a Pokémon in Nick Franco's party called Nuzleaf. It had a running gag of being drawn to resemble John Locke, a character from the TV show, 'LOST' by J.J. Abrams. And thus, the Nuzlocke Challenge was born.

Pokémon Sword & Shield: What is a Nuzlocke? Present day

Pokemon Sword (Image credit: iMore)

Over ten years later, fans are still attempting the Pokémon Nuzlocke Challenge today. People have added new restrictions on top of the ones established by Nick Franco. For example, Legendary Pokémon are banned, you must nickname all your Pokémon to get more attached to them, and if your main party is wiped during a battle, it's game over.

Following Nick's example, fans have recorded their adventures through various media; webcomics, fanart, Youtube playthroughs, and even fully animated shorts. The most recent, famous example is 'I attempted my first Pokémon Nuzlocke' by Jaiden Animations. It is an extremely well-done video that encapsulates everything appealing (and stressful) about the Nuzlocke challenge, and it's how I was introduced to it.

So the next time you want to fire up Pokémon Sword & Shield and want to spice things up. I would recommend giving the Nuzlocke Challenge a go. Don't forget to get one of the best microSD cards for Nintendo Switch so you have enough room for your Pokémon.

Alexander Cope

Alexander Cope is a writer for Windows Central and iMore that has been gaming since the 16-bit era.