If you love Pokémon, odds are you find the games fairly easy. Even the tougher games allow for over leveling and limitless items, allowing you to win eventually without much strategy. Game difficulty is a hot topic, with the release of games like Elden Ring, it’s hard to look at Pokémon and say, “Yeah, that’s difficult.”
The only Pokémon games with a “Challenge Mode” are Black 2 and White 2. These games had a convoluted method of unlocking it, which involved needing a completed copy of each game and two different systems. The challenge mode essentially raises trainer’s levels by about one or two, and gave gym leaders and Elite Four members an extra team member, and maybe some held items. But being restricted to one game with a complex way to even unlock it doesn’t satisfy most players.
While the games may be pretty easy by default, they don’t have to be. That’s why I’ve compiled five ways you can spice up your next playthrough of a Pokémon game on your own. Some are easy to implement and only change up the standard formula a little bit, while others drastically change the fundamentals of the game.
- Ditch Your Starter
The games give you an incredibly good Pokémon at the very beginning in the form of your starter Pokémon. While not every Pokémon starter is amazing, they all definitely give you a boost. One way to make your game difficult is by putting them in your PC as soon as you catch a second Pokémon, never to be used again. Now your rival has a Charmander, you have a Butterfree.
2. Use Less Pokémon
Pokémon games allow you to use up to six Pokémon in your party, though most trainers you fight only have one to three (except for that one guy with six Magikarp). One way to make your game more difficult is to use only three or four teammates instead of the full six. This forces you to carefully decide your team, including move sets, types, and even held items. It also makes some boss fights like the Elite Four and champion more difficult, as they may still use full teams of five or six.
3. Set, Not Shift
Pokémon games already have two different modes of gameplay, Shift Mode and Set Mode. Most games default to Shift Mode, and many players may not even know the difference.
The difference comes during trainer battles. In Shift Mode, when you knock out an opponent’s Pokémon, the game tells you what their next Pokémon will be and asks if you’d like to switch to a different Pokémon. This allows you to bring in a Pokémon you may otherwise have a hard time swapping to during the heat of battle.
Set Mode gets rid of that. When you knock out an opponent’s Pokémon, they just send out their next one with no warning. You can still switch to another teammate, but at the cost of the opponent getting a turn against you. Set Mode is built in to every game under “Options,” and adds just enough difficulty for more challenging battles without changing the game too much.
4. Restrict Your Team
Part of what makes Pokémon easy is that you can use any Pokémon you want. Taking away that freedom forces you to make due with what you have, which often isn’t great.
One example of this is using only one type. Using only Water types may give you a lot of options, but you’re constantly looking out for Grass and Electric type attacks. Using only Fire types may be exciting, but your numbers are going to be few and far between, with most games not having more than maybe five or six total.
I once played through Pokémon Emerald using only first stage Pokémon like Torchic and Geodude. By the third gym, I was needing to grind a TON just to make it to the gym leader. A friend of mine wanted to know what it was like to play as Team Rocket, so he only used Pokémon that members of Team Rocket used, like Zubat and Raticate.
5. The Nuzlocke Challenge
The most famous set of self-imposed rules for a Pokémon game is the “Nuzlocke Challenge.” Named after a webcomic, the challenge forces you to follow two rules.
-You can only catch the first Pokémon you encounter on each route or location.
-If a Pokémon faints, you must release it or leave it in your PC permanently.
Limiting your team members to the first encounter in each new location limits who you can or can’t use. Didn’t find a Fighting type before the Rock Gym? Stinks for you. Playing with this rule gets you to use some interesting Pokémon, though. I would never have used a Lickilicky, but it was all I had left after losing most of my team.
Permadeath in Pokémon makes it SO much harder, and is the core rule of the Nuzlocke Challenge. Critical hits are absolutely terrifying, and losing a Pokémon you’ve had since the beginning, like your starter Pokémon, is truly heart wrenching. It leads you to strategize more, trying to find the perfect move set for each battle.
In the end, there are countless ways to make Pokémon games more challenging. You can mix and match any of these rules above, or think of your own rules, and still have fun. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing Pokémon came from playing with rules like the ones above.
Do Pokémon games need to be harder? Who’s to say? These games are meant for young children. But some of us may be looking for more difficulty, and since built-in difficulty settings don’t seem to be coming back to the franchise, we’ll have to add that difficulty on our own for now.
With Pokémon Scarlett and Pokémon Violet releasing later this year, maybe the Pokémon Company will catch wind of this trend and re-introduce some kind of challenge mode. If not, I’m sure fans in the community will find ways to enjoy the new games by adding rules and changing up their Pokémon.
Let us know which of these ideas sound like something you may want to try! Do you think Pokémon games should include built in difficulty settings? Let us know in a comment below, or join the conversation on the Boss Rush Discord.
Image Source: Bulbapedia
Brad Melville is a junior writer for Boss Rush Network. Brad is a huge fan of video games, especially Pokémon, and loves relaxing with some TV or a nice movie when he can. Some of his favorite video games are Pokémon Platinum, Banjo-Kazooie, and Breath of the Wild. You can follow him on Twitter, where you can find him ranting about superheroes, complaining about TV shows, or giving his hot takes about Nintendo.