Pokemon Uranium is a fan-made Pokemon game which took over nine years to develop, and around three days for the developer to stop distributing. The fan project amassed over 1.5 million downloads in that time, and has presented an interesting look at the possibilities for a Pokemon game developed outside of the near-annual release cycle the franchise currently sticks to.
Where the main Pokemon titles have each provided small iterations on a fairly rigid core structure, Uranium makes some more radical changes to the formula which I think would greatly benefit the series if incorporated officially.
Official Nuzlocke Support
For those of you who are into Pokemon but have never heard of the term “Nuzlocke Run”, that’s likely because it has never been acknowledged by any official game.
A Nuzlocke Run generally refers to a set of self-imposed rules designed to make playing through a Pokemon title successfully more of a challenge. The number of Pokemon you can catch per area is limited, rules limit your healing ability, and most notably any Pokemon in your party that faint are considered “dead”. Those Pokemon are forever gone from your adventure, either being transferred to a long-lost PC box or released outright.
If you lose a battle, with your whole party fainting as a result, you are often considered to have failed your Nuzlocke Run.
Oft requested, the biggest barrier to us ever seeing an official Nuzlocke mode in a Pokemon release is the “them, not us” attitude The Pokemon Company has to death in the main series.
While death is acknowledged in Lavender town’s graveyard tower for example, and ghost Pokemon presuppose the existence of Pokemon death, your Pokemon never kill or die as to avoid player complacency in child marketed dogfighting mechanics.
Still, the inclusion of an official Nuzlocke Mode in the main games would offer an optional solution to the complaints many have about difficulty in Pokemon, while also offering a new challenge to long-time players who were unaware of the concept.
Gender Variant Characters
Back when Pokemon first launched, you didn’t really get much choice when it came to character design for your protagonist. In Red, Blue and Yellow you played a male-presenting hero and that was just how it was.
Over time the series has incorporated options for customizing who you play as, from race to clothing, but gender choice in the games has always been handled as a very strict binary:
“Are you a boy, or a girl?”
While the above question has launched every Pokemon adventure since Crystal, Pokemon Uranium takes a different and very interesting approach to character gender selection. It offers you a selection of character portraits to pick from, and does not label gender on any of them. While one is typically masculine and one is typically feminine, there’s a third player character portrait to pick who is deliberately androgynous.
Gender-neutral pronouns are used throughout your adventure regardless of which design of character you pick, and having a middle ground gender presentation available opens up character selection to feel more appropriate to a wider number of people.
Engaging Small and Large-scale Plots
Where most Pokemon games attempt to have an overarching plot, almost all of them ultimately boil down to a young child leaving their home with the aim of cataloging Pokemon, collecting gym badges, stopping an evil organization from being mean to Pokemon and ultimately becoming the champion of the Pokemon League.
While some entries may feature a small cast of friends who are given interests, motivations or character traits, the vast majority of characters you meet on your travels either exist in a plot-less vacuum, or feature incredibly one-dimensional stories that can be summarized in a few lines.
Pokemon Uranium attempts to address both these points by giving its larger plot more significance in the early game, dropping in decent chunks at regular intervals throughout the game, and giving plot-critical NPCs interesting back stories to engage with.
A great early example of this is that the first gym leader you encounter in the game has locked herself in her own home, rather than maintaining her status as gym leader. As a former Pokemon League Champion, retired to work in the smaller-stakes world of gym management, she has issues with stalker-level fans staking out her place of work.
After meeting one of her stalkers and acquiring a copy of her house key, you enter her home uninvited, get berated for trespassing, join her in telling her stalker to leave the premises, and only then engage in your gym battle.
That’s certainly more narrative depth that we usually see in Pokemon games.
Starter Pokemon Selection and Types
Picking your starter Pokemon has always been a very predictable affair which has barely changed since Red and Blue were released.
You pick a grass, water or fire type Pokemon. Your rival takes the Pokemon which has a type advantage over you. At first this makes very little difference as neither starter has a move with type advantage applicable to it, but later this stronger, fully evolved starter provides you a challenge.
Pokemon Uranium shakes this up by doing a number of things; it gives you a quiz and assigns you a starter relating to your gameplay style, gives each starter dual typing, starts each Pokemon off with a move applying to one of their types, and starts your rival off at a disadvantage to you.
The quiz allows players to know in advance which Pokemon’s moves and evolutions will most work for them. The dual types for the Pokemon mean that while you start at a type advantage over your opponent, you end up at a disadvantage to them as the moves they learn change. By starting each Pokemon off with a move for one of their types, you get to jump right in to the Rock Paper Scissors gameplay that’s expected when picking a starter.
This simple set of adjustments made a big change to the entire flow of early to mid gameplay, and shook up the relationship I had as a player to my rival.
Environment Backtrack Layering
This particular point is pretty simple. Where most Pokemon games are a mostly linear path through a single accessible route. Any backtracking for plot, grinding or Pokemon hunting requires traveling the same unchanged route, which does not scale as you go. Pokemon Uranium features a far less linear path through its world, and adds additional ways through areas which open up as you progress.
When you first pass through Route One, you walk through a grassy area of low-level trainers. When backtracking later, after defeating the first gym, use of Rock Smash opens up a new route through the area with stronger random encounters and trainers.
This makes backtracking more interesting. More of that please Nintendo.
So, that’s the biggest aspects of Pokemon Uranium I want to see make it into the official RPGs. If you’ve played Uranium, would you add anything to this list?