What is the Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge? Rules & difficulty explained

An image of fainted Pikachu with the words 'Pokemon Nuzlocke Challenge' over itThe Pokemon Company

Pokemon games have always stayed fairly consistent in terms of their easy difficulty level. However, if you’re looking for a more challenging – and meaningful – road to becoming a legend, then you should consider taking on the Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge.

From the early days of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, through to modern entries like Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl, and Sword and Shield, the formula has always been the same.

You begin as a rookie Pokemon trainer with your hand-selected starter Pokemon. You catch more Pokemon, level them up, beat Gym Leaders, and conquer the game’s version of the Elite Four. The ease with which you can level up your Pokemon has always made the games relatively easy.

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After all, the franchise was geared towards kids in the early days. But many of those kids are now adults, and they still enjoy the series. Hardened veterans may be seeking an extra challenge, and that’s where the famed Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge comes into the equation.


What is the Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge?

safari zone encounterILCA
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are fun but a bit too easy in parts.

Nuzlocke rules are an artificial way of making Pokemon slightly harder. How much harder is dependent on your preferences, but we’ll get onto that later.

The challenge has gained more notoriety in the last couple of years, but it’s actually been around since about 2010! Webcomic creator Nick Franco is credited with its creation, and the rules were based on an alternate version of Pokemon he called “Pokemon: Hard-Mode.”

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As for its actual “Nuzlocke” name, Franco’s webcomic featured a Nuzleaf Pokemon that bared a striking resemblance to John Locke from TV’s LOST show.

gigantamax pikachu and eeveeGame Freak
Short of gigantamaxing every Pokemon from now on, Nuzlocke is a good way to healthily increase difficulty.

Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge rules

Here are the main rules for the Nuzlocke Pokemon challenge, with other ones thrown in that most people use too:

Main rules

  • If any of your Pokemon faint at any point, then they must be released
    • This helps the player to form a stronger bond with their Pokemon and make a potential loss even more devastating
  • Players can only catch the first wild Pokemon they come across in each area
    • If the Pokémon faints or flees then it’s tough luck
  • If your first fight is a double battle, you can choose which of the two Pokemon you’d like to catch, but may only catch one of them
    • NOTE: This doesn’t apply to Pokemon captured during static encounters, nor Shinies

Extra rules

  • You cannot reload the game if a Pokemon dies or something bad happens
  • You must give every Pokemon a nickname as, again, it makes attachments more meaningful
  • Players can only use Pokemon that they’ve captured, any others are not allowed to be used in battle

Pokemon Nuzlocke challenge difficulty modifiers

a group of nuzleafsThe Pokemon Company
Nuzleaf is where this madness all began.

Over the years, Pokemon players have come up with a staggering number of rule variations to further increase the difficulty of the Nuzlocke challenge, and decrease it too.

We’ve picked out a handful of these optional modifiers, which you can see below:

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Harder difficulty settings

  • Blacking out after having all your Pokemon faint is considered “Game Over”
  • Fleeing from battles is not allowed
  • Starter Pokemon must be picked at random
    • The commonly used system is to take the last digit of the player’s Trainer ID number
    • 1-3 is the Grass-type starter
    • 4-6 is the Fire-type starter
    • 7-9 is the Water-type starter
    • 0 gives you the choice
  • Any form of healing items are prohibited, meaning only Pokemon Centers can be used for healing
    • Vice versa, Pokemon Centers are banned, so you can only use healing items
  • Pokemon Center visits are limited to a certain number per town
  • During a Gym battle or Rival battle, the player can only use the same amount of Pokemon as their opponent
  • Poke Marts are off-limits, the player can only use items found by exploring or given to the player
  • Legendary Pokemon are not allowed to be used
  • Rare Candy and any other candy that help your Pokemon to grow cannot be used

Easier difficulty settings

  • If the player is successful in their acquisition of a Gym Badge, it’s considered a checkpoint
    • So if the player dies, they can return to this point
  • The Nuzlocke ‘Main Rules’ are not enforced until the player has obtained their first Poke Balls
  • The player is allowed a limited number of revives for fallen Pokemon
  • Shiny Pokemon can remain put if they faint
  • The ‘First wild Pokemon’ rule changes in the Safari Zone
    • It’s up to the player, but they can either catch one Pokemon in each area or one in the whole Safari Zone
  • The ‘First wild Pokemon’ rule doesn’t apply in an area until a species or evolution line is encountered that has not been caught
    • A limit may be set on how many times the player can apply this rule

That’s everything you need to know about the Nuzlocke challenge! For more cool Pokemon content, check these out below:

Pokemon Arceus: All Hisuian forms & new Pokemon | Best Pokemon Go Attackers & defenders for Gyms, Raids & PvP battles | How to catch a Ditto in Pokemon Go | Pokemon Go Rocket Grunt guide | Why Shiny Pokemon should be more valuable than NFTs | 2021’s most expensive Pokemon card will surprise you

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