So, you want to tackle the Nuzlocke challenge.
Maybe you’ve been watching your favorite streamer work through an Uber-challenging Hardcore run and wanted to give it a shot yourself. Maybe you’re a long-time Pokémon fan who feels like the games are too easy and simplistic now that you’ve got some experience under your belt. Or maybe you heard about it from a friend, and were intrigued by the strategic, high-stakes premise.
Whatever your reason, you’re here, and now you might be asking yourself a big question –
“So… which Pokémon game should I pick for my Nuzlocke?”
After all, there are dozens of main-series Pokémon games to choose from, each with different levels of challenge and their own set of Pokémon, Gym Leaders, and Champions. Not to mention the millions of different players, each with their own preferences, desires, and experience with the Pokémon franchise.
To help as many players as possible, I’ve come up with a few common scenarios for people attempting their first Nuzlocke, and made unique recommendations for each type of player. Whether you’re brand new to the series, a long-time veteran, or somewhere in-between, you’ll be able to pick the right game for you.
Before we jump in, if you need a quick refresher on what the Nuzlocke challenge is and how to do it, you can read the Nuzlocke rules here. Let’s get started!
Scenario 1: You’re brand new to the Pokémon franchise.
Let’s just get this out of the way immediately – playing a Nuzlocke as your first Pokémon experience is a bold move, and most people would probably recommend playing with the normal rules at least once to learn how Pokémon works – but if your heart’s set, I won’t stop you!
If you’re checking out the Pokémon series for the first time, a great place to start is with the newer Switch games: Sword and Shield or Scarlet and Violet.
While many long-time fans have strong feelings about the direction the modern Pokémon games have taken, I’m recommending them because they’re accessible to new and casual players and have added tons of quality-of-life and convenience features which make playing these games smoother than ever. They have a huge variety of Pokémon available even in the early stages of the game, are not too terribly challenging (they’re not the easiest in the series, but they’re certainly not the hardest), and, in Scarlet and Violet’s case, have an open-world framework that many players really enjoy.
There’s only one caveat to these recommendations – because these games utilize a more open-world style than older games and have Pokémon appearing in the overworld rather than as random battles, getting a truly random encounter can be a bit trickier – but this can be worked around just fine with a little bit of thought and the help of some of great guides out there written on exactly this topic. For new players, the newest games are a great introduction to the Pokémon franchise and a good gateway into the wider world of Nuzlockes.
Scenario 2: You have a little bit of experience with Pokémon, you remember playing Pokémon games on your Game Boy or Nintendo DS as a kid but it’s been a while. You’re looking for a nice casual introduction to Nuzlockes, and a bit of nostalgia wouldn’t hurt either!
If this is you, I’m recommending FireRed or LeafGreen.
I recently ran a Nuzlocke community survey, and when asked which games were best for a new player to start with, the overwhelming community answer was FireRed and LeafGreen. It’s not hard to see why! They’ll give you the Kanto nostalgia hit you’re looking for, with old favorite Pokémon like Pikachu, Squirtle, and Charizard, and classic Gym Leaders like Misty and Brock.
They’re also a great fit gameplay-wise, as they’re among the easiest games in the Pokémon series and are fairly simple mechanically (no generational gimmicks here) making for a nice, easy transition into Nuzlocke rules and strategies while giving players lots of time to relearn the ropes and get their feet under them. That said, they have enough mechanical complexity and depth to keep them interesting and prepare you for Nuzlockes in other generations, in the form of Natures, Abilities, and expanded movepools, which is why I recommend them over the original Red and Blue versions, which, while certainly classics, are honestly pretty buggy, full of jank, and lack many features which have become staples of the franchise moving forward. (Psst- If you need a little help figuring out which Pokémon are best to use, check out our 2023 updated FireRed/LeafGreen Pokémon tier list!)
(PS: If you grew up playing the Hoenn games instead of Kanto, then everything we’ve said about FireRed and LeafGreen regarding nostalgia and mechanical complexity also applies to Emerald, with one major exception – Emerald is much tougher, with some sections of the game being quite challenging and certain Gym Leader fights being very dangerous and unpredictable for new players. It’s certainly achievable, and by no means the hardest game in the series, but do keep that in mind if you decide to start with Emerald instead!)
If you’re looking for a more modern, but still very accessible Pokémon game, give X or Y a try. These games are quite forgiving, like FireRed and LeafGreen, but have a few more quality of life features and greater Pokémon variety, making them another good choice for new players looking for a more contemporary experience. While not quite as simple and straightforward as the Kanto games, they’re still easy to understand and a lot of fun to play!
Secret bonus answer: FireRed and LeafGreen are the best general recommendations for players looking for an easy intro to Nuzlockes, but if there’s a different Pokémon game you absolutely love and have played over and over again, consider making that your first Nuzlocke! Nuzlocking is largely about game knowledge and being able to plan for upcoming challenges, so playing a game you’re very familiar with will make your first Nuzlocke that much easier. It might seem like I’m cheating with this answer, but it’s true, and the community agrees – when I asked for feedback on the r/nuzlocke subreddit this was the most common sentiment. You can never go wrong playing your favorite Pokémon game!
Scenario 3: You’ve got some experience with Pokémon, but you’re not looking for anything too punishing. You want a challenging, but not frustrating, introduction to the world of Nuzlockes.
There are quite a few Pokémon games that would work for these players, but I’ll pick two: Pokémon Emerald and Pokémon Platinum.
Emerald was mentioned in the previous scenario because many players have a lot of nostalgia for Hoenn, but it fits more naturally here. It’s tough, with a few Gym Leader and Rival fights that will pose a serious challenge, but there are also large portions of the game that are more relaxing and there are enough powerful Pokémon available that most players can prevail with enough thought, strategy, and persistence. While Emerald is challenging, there are ways for smart players to mitigate a lot of that challenge (for example, one of the starters steamrolls a huge chunk of the game, check out our Emerald Nuzlocke guide for more information), making it a good suggestion for players who want a tough, but very beatable, first Nuzlocke.
Platinum is a bit more difficult, with quite a few “run-killers” coming even in the early and mid-game, and has one of the toughest Champion fights, Cynthia. With that said, don’t be intimidated, as very few of the fights in this game feel frustrating or unfair, but many of them do require smart play, knowledge of the game, and an ability to make clutch plays and decisions, which is what makes it such a perfect fit for this scenario. If you’re interested, we’ve got a guide for Nuzlocking Platinum too.
Scenario 4: You’re a Pokémon veteran, and/or you’re looking for a punishing challenge that will test your strategies in battling and teambuilding.
If you’re looking for a true test of your Pokémon skills, look no further than Black and White, Black 2 and White 2, or Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
These are all very challenging games, with a high number of powerful opponents and unpredictable twists that will test the ability of new players to adapt to different circumstances, build a strong and balanced team with the correct answers for challenging opponents, and use knowledge of the games and their underlying mechanics to predict opponent actions and respond with the correct counters. Black 2 and White 2 even have a challenge mode which becomes available after beating the game the first time, meaning players who desire it can have an even more punishing Nuzlocke experience.
Ultimately, there’s no one right answer to the question of which game you should Nuzlocke first, because everyone has different preferences and different players are looking for different things from the Nuzlocke challenge. Some players want an extreme challenge, some want the push to use new Pokémon and strategies they’ve never used before, and others just want to tell a fun story about their Nuzlocke adventure and the friends they made along the way. Whatever your reasons for coming to the Nuzlocke challenge, I hope you have a great time, and I hope these recommendations help you get started on your Nuzlocke journey!
For more Nuzlocke tips, tricks, guides, and tier lists, check out the Guides and Articles section of Nuzlocke University. Thanks for reading, and happy Nuzlocking!
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