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LGBT+ Twitch streamers explain how Pokémon nuzlockes add ‘lip sync for your life’ drama to games

Ed Nightingale April 13, 2021
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pokemon nuzlocke

Pokémon Sword/Shield. (Nintendo)

Nuzzle, Nuzlocke, Nuzlocker? No, it’s not a new Pokémon evolution thread, but it is a relatively new way of playing the games.

Nuzlockes have become hugely popular among Pokémon fans on Twitch as a new way to play the popular Nintendo series.

With various rules in place, each nuzlocke is a unique run of a Pokémon game, so now you really can feel like the very best, like no one ever was.

So what is the appeal of a nuzlocke? And why do people love them? We chatted to several top streamers to find out.

Firstly, what is a nuzlocke?

A nuzlocke is a new way to play Pokémon games, intended to increase both the difficulty and the connection between the player and their Pokémon.

The name itself stems from the fan comic series of the same name from Nick Franco, which features a recurring Nuzleaf Pokémon who resembles John Locke from Lost

A nuzlocke run involves self-imposed rules, of which two are core to the experience:

Firstly, any Pokémon that faints is considered dead. They cannot be revived or re-used and must be either released to the wild or moved to the Pokémon Storage System permanently.

Secondly, the player can only catch the first Pokémon found in each area and none other. If they faint or flee, the chance to catch a new Pokémon is lost.

Beyond these two, there are various other rules that are generally considered core to the experience. They include giving each Pokémon a nickname to help establish your bond, only using Pokémon the player themselves has caught (no trading here), and no resets are allowed (that would defeat the point, after all).

Other rules aimed at increasing or decreasing the difficulty can also be applied. A nuzlocke is always tailored to you the player, so you can adapt most of the rules to your liking.

Pokémon nuzlocke
Pokémon Sword / Shield. (Nintendo)

What’s the appeal?

“It’s a fresh take on what is otherwise a very formulaic series,” says ErinusShotlock, a Twitch streamer who’s nuzlocked every game in the series. 

“The reason Pokémon games are so beloved is because you know exactly what you’re getting. As someone who’s played thousands of hours of Pokémon over 20 years, it’s an exciting way to re-invest myself in playing Pokémon.”

MilkmanNick, a streamer focused on nuzlockes, agrees on the need for a fresh challenge. “The appeal of nuzlocking comes mainly from Pokémon fans who feel like they’ve outgrown the game and want something fresh and challenging,” he says.

“It’s no shock that Pokémon is a game made with kids in mind; so for hardcore fans, people who are used to playing more challenging games, or those who have played so much Pokémon that it feels stale, this challenge is a way to shake up the formula and give a fresh feel to the series.”

Says streamer MahinTheMachine: “A nuzlocke is a way to crank up the difficulty and if you want to edit the game further, maybe by adding in a randomizer or increasing opponents’ levels, you’ll be making your own perfect Pokémon game.

“Pokémon leave and join your team at a rapid pace in a nuzlocke and being an LGBT+ person who loves Drag Race, reminds me of queens fighting to survive and being eliminated in the show.”

Drag streamer MissCookieDoe is currently doing a randomizer type nuzlocke, which forces players to improvise with new ‘mon more than as standard. “It consists of only being able to use nine types of Pokémon, from eighteen types that you have in game,” she explains. “You can’t pick the types you fancy the most, you have to roll them. You can also only use the move type of those nine types that you rolled.”

As a 35-year-old series, Pokémon has garnered plenty of fans, but the newer games tend to focus on bringing in a new audience. “For many of us who have been playing Pokémon for decades, the hand-holding in the newer generations can feel grating,” says YouTuber JazzaJohn. “I want a challenge, and the rules of a nuzlocke give me that.” 

Streaming a nuzlocke

Though the concept of nuzlockes has been around for over a decade, they’ve become particularly popular on Twitch in recent years.

“It allows for your viewers to share in those high stakes alongside you,” says Twitch streamer Wortermelon. “It takes a casual, relatively cozy game to watch to a much more competitive, intense level.

“Every move you make needs to be that much more strategic, so for those viewers who don’t have as much knowledge, every step is a possible step towards wiping the entirety of your hard work. For viewers who know the game inside out, they’re able to analyse the cards you’ve been dealt and understand just how hard the road ahead is.”

Nuzlockes, then, are a way not only for the player to bond with their Pokémon, but for streamers to also bond with their audience. 

“It becomes so much more exciting when there are things at stake,” says MilkmanNick, who sets a prediction poll of which ‘mon might die at the start of each stream. “Viewers grow attachments to the Pokémon you catch in the same way that the streamer does, so when you lose a Pokémon, everyone commiserates together.”

Many streamers choose to involve their audience with naming the Pokémon, be it through polls, suggestions, or naming the Pokémon after viewers themselves. That only adds to the attachment – and the tragic loss.

“When your community is naming your Pokémon it stings all the more when they’re lost,” says ErinusShotlock. “It creates a sense of solidarity with your community.”

“I had a Raticate (not the most stand-out ‘mon) that someone in chat called Wagamama,” says JazzaJohn. “Everyone fell in love with her because she was such a trooper, and helped carry the team against the odds. Hearts sank when she finally got taken down by a critical hit by a self-destructing Weezing.”

Abiding by the rules

That personal attachment to your Pokémon makes abiding by the rules a particular challenge, with a pocket full of revives you’re not able to use.

Most streamers agree that having to box or release Pokémon that faint is the hardest rule of all, due to the strong bonds they form. That’s exacerbated late in the game when you lose a strong Pokémon you’ve grown fond of, especially if they were a starter.

“I originally went into my nuzlocke feeling confident that any lost Pokémon could be boxed with ease and for me to move on. That was before my Shroomish,” says Wortermelon. “Not a Pokémon I typically would have on my team, it’s the card I got dealt in my Omega Ruby nuzlocke, and I fell in love. I got it to evolve into a Breloom, and it was the mainstay of my team.”

That was until the fight against Norman. Breloom didn’t make it.

“My own dad had murdered my prized beloved Breloom. My viewers were upset, and we considered reviving him and pretending the entire ordeal hadn’t happened. Alas, we stuck with the rules and had a touching send off before Breloom went to his forever box.”

Pokémon nuzlocke
Pokémon Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire. (Nintendo)

The good thing about a nuzlocke is twisting the rules, if you so wish. That’s what Heroinex did in her charity nuzlocke. “If it wasn’t for the fact I was doing a charity run, and that certain donations and a donation goal can revive Pokémon from the graveyard box, I would have broken down in tears on stream when nearly all my team got wiped out by Kanu in Sword,” she says.

“That’s when I added in a rule to make my gameplay different: every time you beat a gym leader, you can pick up to three Pokémon to revive and let Siri decide. That still makes it randomised and I get to have one of my Pokémon back.”

Others believe the first encounter rule is the trickiest to follow, but it does have its benefits.

“There is nothing worse than wanting to catch a certain Pokémon as your first encounter, only to get hit by another ugly Bidoof or a Rattata,” says MilkmanNick. “I feel like at the beginning of each route I have to beg to get something that I want, but not being able to pick also gives you the opportunity to fall in love with a new Pokémon each play through.”

Top tips for nuzlockes

So, what are some tips for completing a nuzlocke?

Erinus: “Definitely bring a box of tissues for the first time you ever do it! The first nuzlocke is always the most soul crushing, but it’s so fun and tactical once you really get into it.”

MilkmanNick: “Don’t spend hours trying to overlevel your Pokémon so that none of them will die. All you’re doing is torturing yourself by spending hours of your time doing the least fun part of the game to avoid the surprise and chaos of nuzlockes.”

MissCookieDoe: “Buy a generous amount of potions and battle items, and don’t forget to make your Pokémon hold items that power up their moves.”

Wortermelon: “It sounds terrible, but having a fodder monster or two becomes key. I had some Pokémon whose sole purpose was to take the heat should things get tough.”

MahinTheMachine: “Prioritise strong Pokémon over Pokémon you like, as the moment you get completely wiped out you’ll be thinking ‘I wish I’d kept that Pokémon on my team’.”

Heroinex: “As a first timer, I would say don’t be afraid to add in rules to make things easier. And if you’re playing Sword/Shield: experience candies and curries are your friends!”

The biggest tip of all, though, is simply to have fun. If Pokémon games are, ultimately, about the bonds of friendship, then nuzlockes are a great way to bond even more with ‘mon and (for streamers) viewers alike.

Related topics: gaming, Pokemon

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