The Pokemon Challenge That's Taking Over YouTube
Playing video games the way they were meant to be played is fine, I guess. But you know what's uniquely rad? Playing video games in the way that they were not meant to be played. There are whole conventions dedicated to doing whatever it takes to rush through a game as quickly as possible, meaning that any playthrough of Ocarina of Time at Games Done Quick is filled with lines like "And here, if you jump backwards now as soon as your bomb goes off, you can clip through this wall in Kakariko Village and appear directly inside Ganondorf's scrotum."
And the Pokemon franchise is not immune to this. In fact, YouTube is filled to the brim with players attempting to be the very best, like no one ever was, but imposing specific handicaps upon themselves. There's the classic Nuzlocke run, which has the most famous rule of "If your Pokemon faints, it's dead and you have to get rid of it forever." This leads to every Nuzlocke run being filled with an unimaginable amount of screaming and grief, as you watch a critter friend that the game meant for you to be with forever evaporate into the ether.
And recently, they've gone a step further, with more and more ridiculous restrictions. Here is one where the player can only use Pokemon that are traded to them in the game. Here's one trying to beat Pokemon Platinum without taking any damage. Here's one that tried to use Pokemon anime hero Ash Ketchum's team in every gym battle. And here's one trying to beat a game with only a Magikarp, which, if you didn't know, is a Pokemon that's worse than useless.
Here's someone beating Pokemon Sword and Shield with only a single adorable Shiny Wooloo. Here's someone beating a Pokemon game with, statistically, the weakest thing in the game. And here's that same guy beating a game without ever going to the Pokemon Center. And finally, here's someone trying to beat Pokemon while just using the move "Metronome," a move where your Pokemon does a move at random. Not a whole lot of actual strategy that you can use with that. Just a loooot of optimism.
These have amassed millions and millions of views, and there seems to be an unspoken arms race among players to see who can beat a Pokemon game under the hardest, most ridiculous conditions. And they do this, not because playing Pokemon normally isn't fun. It is. It super is. They do it because if you were good at Pokemon in 1998 when the first game was released in North America, you'll probably be good at the series in 2020.
Again, Pokemon is wonderful. And I love it with all of my heart. I've been a fan since I saw a poster for it at a dilapidated Super Kmart and thought to myself "I must get to know these monsters," not knowing that eventually they'd be, like, my only friends. If you gave me a gun and told me that I have to either shoot myself or Detective Pikachu, a fictional character, there would be one less ticket buyer for Detective Pikachu 2. I have spent more time playing Pokemon games than I have spent with my own family. One day my son will spit on my grave while simultaneously lighting a copy of Pokemon Crystal on fire.
But as soon as you're able to master one Pokemon game, you can pretty much master them all. What it takes to be good at them hasn't changed that radically in the last twenty years. You learn the Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanic of Fire being strong against Grass, Grass being strong against Water, Water being strong against Fire, etc, and as soon as you're able to remember seemingly inane things like "Oh yes, Poison Types are effective against Fairy Types for some unknown reason," you'll be able to topple all who oppose you.
Many things that are common in video games just aren't a requirement in Pokemon. Timing is virtually non-existent. If you put your Nintendo Switch down while you're in the middle of a battle, you can go run errands, head out on vacation, travel to another country to find yourself, and when you come back, Charizard will be in the same position you left him in, ready to take your orders and entirely unaware that God abandoned him. You never have to worry about delivering death threats to your game system because you couldn't jump up on the right ledge in a Pokemon game.
So why do this? Well, a common criticism of Pokemon is that it's never really grown up. And this criticism isn't just about the game series -- which has apparently chosen a specific structure and decided to ride it out until people stop paying for them (and considering that the latest games Pokemon Sword and Shield sold two million copies in their first three days of release in Japan and more than two million copies in their debut weekend in the U.S., I doubt that day is coming soon) -- but it's a criticism about the anime, too. Main character Ash Ketchum has seemingly been ten-years-old since 1997.
Years go by and regions get traversed and gym battles get won and Ash Ketchum remains a fifth grader. And while there's an obvious reason for this (With every new "generation" of games comes a new opportunity for new fans to latch onto the series. And it's way easier to get them interested on the ground floor if Ash Ketchum isn't a thirty-five-year-old who's seen some shit and they can relate to him), it doesn't stop fans from wondering what Pokemon would be like if Ash went through puberty or at least got old enough to nab a learner's permit.
So, we have a franchise that's constantly focused on making itself comfortable for new fans, and again, that's not really a problem. The formula that Pokemon is using is satisfying as hell. It balances battle strategy with long-term planning and the nerd's common need to collect all the shit they like. But inevitably, people that play generation after generation aren't going to get bored of Pokemon, but wonder what else is there? What if Pokemon decided to be even slightly inaccessible?
And with so many ways available to jiggle the game's code a little bit to fit whatever "Beating Pokemon Emerald with Nothing But A Stick Not a Pokemon But a Stick That I'm Holding" challenge that the player is attempting, suddenly Pokemon becomes tough. It's not something you can automatically beat if you're prepared enough or have enough mastery over the type differences. Instead, it becomes a game with death around every corner, a game that will legitimately crush you while you helplessly wonder why you started this YouTube video anyway.
That's pretty cool. And it's a testament to how great the franchise is as a whole. If Pokemon was bad, people would drop it. Instead, it's so rad that players are like "Okay, I'm the champion. Now how else can I beat it?"
Daniel Dockery is a writer for Cracked. You can be his Pika Pal by following him on Twitter.