Older Titles – Are They Worth Seeking Out?

[Editor’s Note: Zack Kephart from The Musical Divide has returned, and he’s got some thoughts about playing past games in the present day! If you’d like to read more from Zack, check out TMD, where he and Andy post their thoughts about country songs and albums from the past and present. Take it away, Zack!]

With the recent(ish) announcement of Nintendo closing its 3DS and Wii U eShops, many players – myself included – have scrambled these past few weeks to complete their collections before it’s too late.

Now, my overall opinion on Nintendo’s decision to do so has left me somewhere in the middle. On one hand, this was inevitable, and while I’d argue it’s coming a little too soon for the 3DS compared to the Wii U, I get why they’re putting decade-old consoles to bed. On the other hand, without any plans to preserve these classic titles, it leaves an entire library of stellar games out in the wasteland. Sure, the Wii U has mostly had its best games ported over to or remade for the Switch (though what it offers through its own eShop and Virtual Console is honestly better than what the Switch offers, in my opinion), but the 3DS is an altogether different animal. It’s the only current way to play its own library of games as well as DS ones, and while I can understand why it might be difficult to rework games from unique systems like them, it certainly can’t be impossible.

Now, the two counterpoints to this thus far are that, for one, players have until March 2023 to continue using the eShops to buy and download games, but that’s also kind of misleading; the window of opportunity is much smaller than some people realize. And then, the other one: “You knew this was coming, so why didn’t you just get them before when you could?”

Beyond a possible (and valid) explanation of “because they cost money,” this argument also kind of misses the point. For one, with the ways things stand right now, this leaves the next generation of gamers without ways to experience an entire console’s library. Today we have ways to experience NES, SNES, and N64 titles, among select others, but speaking as someone who didn’t grow up with a GameCube, I’ve always felt I’ve been missing out on those games; Nintendo wants you to remember those older titles, but they don’t really care much if you have a way to play them, it seems. Also, given the hassle of Nintendo’s entire online system for its retro library on the Switch (coming from someone who lives in a remote location with spotty-to-no Internet, at best), I have to say I much prefer the “grab what you want and go” download model of the Virtual Console far more, but also know that that’s an unpopular opinion (I’ll still miss it). But there’s also another reason why I think it’s important to keep legacies alive for future generations, and while it’s a more complex discussion, I think it’s worth having.

In the past few weeks and months alone I’ve picked up 3DS titles like Metroid: Samus Returns, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, among others, and am happy to say I’ve been having a blast with them … and that I’m also sad I missed out on them all those years ago. Why didn’t I pick them up or play them before? Well, in short, I had never experienced these series prior to just a few short months ago, and only bought them all because I tried out their successors on the Switch over the holiday season (Metroid Dread, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Luigi’s Mansion 3, respectively, of course).

Completing these games had me wondering about what I had been missing before, so I started hunting down old 3DS games even before the panic set in. But as that window of opportunity shrinks a little more every day and prices for physical games skyrocket (because physical is just how I roll, baby), it’s left me wondering if that search is worth it anymore. I’ve recently been looking to expand my tastes by experiencing series beyond the typical Zelda, Mario, and Pokémon ones (hence why the old mainstreamer in me bought those games above), but am still on the fence about other ones, like Fire Emblem and Monster Hunter. I knew I’d probably like those aforementioned 3DS titles I had picked up because I had experienced their successors on the Switch and didn’t quite have that time crunch to worry about. But now that I do, it’s left me in a weird predicament of whether I should keep expanding the ol’ 3DS library or just focus on the latest gems for the Switch.

Now, the obvious fact with the Switch is that, at the very least, you’re going to get a more powerful game. Maybe not an outright better game, but certainly a better looking and more powerful one. And yet, I see those fans who say that Fire Emblem: Awakening is better than Three Houses, or that Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate is definitely worth seeking out. And I also remember that, while I love the latest Metroid, Donkey Kong, and green Mario titles for the Switch, I also love the experiences I’ve had with their 3DS predecessors. No, they certainly aren’t quite as smooth in the graphics department or in their playability factor, but they’re still, you know, fun – and unique experiences, at that. I can’t use the Spider Ball upgrade in Dread like I can in Samus: Returns, and that makes me kind of sad. I like that Donkey Kong Country Returns has more worlds to explore, even if I prefer Tropical Freeze more as an overall experience. And I like the multiple locales of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon just as well as the multi-layered hotel seen in its successor title, even if said successor title is utterly gorgeous.

Now, recommending these titles is no problem; the problem is whether or not it’s worth it to fork over the price to download them from the eShop – or, for the more adventurous, find them physically on places like Amazon or eBay – or just try out the latest titles on the Switch that have likely ironed out the kinks and growing pains of past entries. And in truth, I can’t answer that for you; I can barely answer it for myself. All I can say is that, if you’re on the fence about expanding your library, I would say to do it while you still can, if you’re even remotely curious. Those older games might not have the slick polish of today’s entries, but they’re valid experiences still worth having that you’ll undoubtedly enjoy.

Kyle’s Top 5 Games of 2019

Can the Builders go back-to-back?

Last year, Midland was barely denied back-to-back Song of the Year titles by Aaron Watson. This year, can a Minecraft/Dragon Quest mashup go with Midland could not?

To be honest, our first victory is that we actually have enough eligible games to fill out the field. 2018 was so sparse in terms of games that I found interesting that I had to include DLC packs just to put five names on my list. This year, Nintendo has had the opposite problem: The death of the 3DS means the company is free to go all-in on the Switch, and they’ve put out so many top-tier titles that a bunch of them have inevitably been lost in the shuffle. (Case in point: I bought Fire Emblem: Three Houses over the summer, and I haven’t gotten around to playing it yet.)”Top-tier” is one thing, but “fun” and “high-quality” are quite another, and honestly, on balance my feelings about the games I played this year were…mixed, to say the least.

So what titles caught my eye over the last twelve months, and which ones are good enough to compete for Game of the Year? Fire up the Zinnia battle theme and buckle up, because we’ve got some real doozies this year.

Image from Polygon

#5: Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (Nintendo 3DS)

Remember 2017, where the one 3DS game on the list (Miitopia) actually beat out all of the Switch titles to claim the crown? This is the opposite situation: A field-filler that’s only on the list because Fire Emblem: Three Houses never made it onto my playlist. (And honestly, I’d call FE:3H a better game than this despite never even playing it.)

Where a game like Dragon Quest Builders stood out through addition, this game sticks out like a sore thumb through subtraction. This is hands-down the most unKirby game I’ve ever played, with his ability to fly and copy enemy powers (you know, the things that make Kirby games unique and fun) removed in favor of…silly hats and mediocre transformations? The controls were a total disaster, being overly touchy in some situations and painfully imprecise in others, and the game dragged you through the same dumb levels over and over in order to find all the collectibles (which got old quickly). The story and characters were flat, the art style didn’t really pop on the 3DS, and in the end, it just wasn’t fun to play.

This was a bad game on every level, and for all its years of service, the 3DS deserved a better swan song than this.

#4: Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo Switch)

As bad as Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn was, at least I didn’t have many expectations for it going in. This title, however, was a letdown on so many levels.

In my review, I declared that “I have my issues with Super Mario Maker 2, but I also found that it captured the charm and enjoyment of its predecessor.” As time went on, however, those issues seemed to be the things that stood out the most:

  • The lack of total cross-style support (which forced me to rethink level designs halfway through when I realized that I didn’t have the piece I needed).
  • The lack of amiibo costumes (which sapped a surprising amount of fun from the creative process).
  • The lack of the 100 Mario Challenge (Endless Challenge just doesn’t have the payoff that the previous mode did),.
  • The lack of decent multiplayer support (I tried connecting with some friends for co-op play, and the lag made the game completely unplayable).
  • The lack of continued support for the game (it took nearly six months just to get Spike, Pokey, and Link? And we still don’t have Bookmark functionality, not even on the Nintendo Switch Online app?)

It really feels like this game got lost in the shuffle as Nintendo hurried to release games like Fire Emblem: Three HousesAstral ChainLink’s Awakening, and Luigi’s Mansion 3, and the company isn’t willing or able to invest the time into the game that it did to its predecessor. Did we all get spoiled by the fact that the Wii U went nearly two years without releasing a major title, so Nintendo had tons of time to invest in SMM and Splatoon?

Above everything, that creative spark I found in Super Mario Maker was the biggest omission from the sequel. I’m in a different place in life, and I don’t  have the time or patience to put together the cool levels I made just a few years ago. It all adds up my biggest disappointment of 2019, and a game that’s spent more time collecting dust than anything else.

Image from CNET

#3: Ring Fit Adventure (Nintendo Switch)

Video games have been taking a lot of flak for destroying society instead of improving it, and Ring Fit Adventure seemed like a direct answer to these critiques. With its use of exercise to progress through and save yet another generic fantasy world, RFA tried to show the world that games could be fun and improve it’s players’ lives at the same time.

The good news about this game is that the workouts are 100% legit. These exercises will get the heart pumping and the sweat flowing, and the color-coded enemy system encourages players to take on a variety of exercises on their way to victory (however, the healing system feels extraneous and is more discouraged than anything else). The bad news, however, is that the RPG elements mostly fall flat: The levels are generic and repetitive, the story builds up so slowly that it bores people before it hooks them, and the skill tree feels tacked-on and unnecessary.

In the end, the game is a rewarding experience, but rarely a fun one, and I found myself continuing to play only for the workout rather than the game.  It was a laudable effort that will still appeal to (and immensely benefit) certain types of gamers, but I have my doubts that I’ll actually see the game through to the end.

I’m pretty sure this image is Photoshopped, but if not I want to know where I can get those shades. (Image from The Next Web)

#2: Pokémon Sword/Shield

For all the controversy these games generated, one thing stood out above all: Pokémon is still a darn fun to game to play, even twenty-plus years into the formula. Even without half of the National Dex, the world feels more full of monsters than ever before, and the Wild Area is a step towards the open-world experience we’ve been clamoring for, with its plethora of creatures roaming the landscape. I’m not a huge fan of the Gym Trials from Sun/Moon returning (they all still boil down to ‘run around and beat a bunch of Trainers), and the attempt to ratchet up the intensity around the Gym Challenge mostly falls flat to me (I don’t give a %&$# about the cheering crowd; I’ve got a Gym Leader to pulverize), but building, raising, and dominating with a six-stack remains one of my favorite things to do in video games.

The technical issues that plagued the Let’s Go! series are (mostly) resolved, camping is an intriguing option that I’m warming to as I play through the game, and the music is the best I’ve heard in a video game since Miitopia. Of all the games on this list, this if the first one that feels like an actual contender for Game of the Year.

But it’s not my Game of the Year.

Sorry Midland, but at least Bonanzo could be the fourth member of the band…but only if he borrowed Wrigley’s hat. (Image from Polygon)

#1: Dragon Quest Builders 2

Making a Pokémon party is fun. Making a baseball stadium? Even better.

As good as the original game was, the sequel felt like an improvement on nearly every front. The NPCs were more helpful and even chipped in to help build larger stuff, the creations were larger and more epic (and some much-appreciated QoL improvements made them easier to build, although it took me a while to actually find said improvements), and the story is just as deep and dark as before (the prison break, the traitor storyline, and of course the obvious-but-still-interesting Malroth arc).

Oh, and did I mention you get a whole freaking island to play with this time instead of a few tiny little towns? Unlike the original game, I actually stuck around for the post-game buildathon this time, adding a public transportation system, a giant park, and yes, a Camden Yards facsimile to my realm. (I don’t care that my villagers can’t play sports: I have ivy on my outfield wall and a neon Babs sign that puts Fenway’s Citgo logo to shame.) Where Super Mario Maker 2 never truly got my creative juices flowing, this thing had me zoning my island like I was a greedy real-estate developer.

Both Pokémon Sword/Shield and Dragon Quest Builders 2 were iterating on a pre-existing formula, but it was DQB2‘s changes that won out in the end, earning the series its second consecutive Game of the Year award.

Go ahead and throw that weird harvest party, folks. You earned it. (Image from GameReactor)

So, is there a three-peat in the cards? I doubt it: Dragon Quest Builders 3 isn’t even a rumor yet, and I have a feeling Animal Crossing: New Horizons will be really tough to beat in 2020. (Heck, it’s got better odds of winning the U.S. presidency than Michael Bloomberg.) Still, 2019 was a moderate improvement over 2018, and hopefully the trend continues into next year, because with “Boyfriend Country” settling in on the music side, I’ve got to have something to look forward to…

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Appendix A: Ollie vs. Kelly

Bambi may have been “The Kalos Konquerer,” but how would their game play in Hoenn?

When we last left Ollie, he was a celebrating a Nuzlocke triumph over Pokémon X, leaning on his team “Bambi and the Xerneaires” to dominate the Kalos region. The way Ollie’s crew crushed the hopes and dreams of trainers around the region made me wonder: Where did these Pokémon rank in the pantheon of my championship six-stacks?

There was no easy way to answer this question against Ophilia’s Hammer-led squad, or my superstars from Sinnoh, or Unova, or Johto, or even Tressa’s Eevee-fronted Kanto crushers. I did, however, have two G6 games handy that might test Ollie’s mettle: Y, and Omega Ruby. While Kyle’s team from Y was higher-leveled, I was more intrigued by the potential matchup against “Kelly” and her Hoenn-based team:

Although Kelly had her own legendary leader in Bernie “The Revolution” Latios, its Dragon typing meant that Bambi would eat it for breakfast if the pair ever met in battle. Instead, it was Amy the Dustox that seemed like the most interesting matchup: Not only did she have a solid staller moveset (Toxic, Protect, and Moonlight) that I’d used to beat several legendaries in online battles back in the day, but her Poison typing and Toxic/Venoshock made her a real threat to even a tough Fairy Pokémon like Bambi. (The rest of the team was no slouch either, with both Blaziken and Gardevoir sporting solid track records.)

However, at the time I made the decision, the Omega Ruby team was a fair bit lower-leveled than the X squad (low to mid 70s vs. mid 70s to low 80s), so Ollie decided to help make the fight fair by offering his Lucky Egg to Kelly to speed up their training. In return…

…he finally got his Conkeldurr!

A quick trip back through the Hoenn Elite Four and a little wandering through the Battle Resort brought level parity to the battle, although it turned out not to be necessary once the rules were established.

Speaking of which…

The Rules

  • Each player would choose three Pokémon to participate.
  • All Pokémon levels would be reset to Lv. 50 (gee, I wish I’d remembered sooner that the game would do this automatically).
  • Special Pokémon (like Latios and Xerneas) are allowed, but items are not.

The Teams

Since both players would be limited to three monsters, they would have to make some hard decisions about who to send out.

For Ollie:

Since it’s been two weeks, here’s a refresher on Ollie’s team.

  • Bambi starts the battle. Full stop.
  • With Amy a likely pick for Kelly, it might be nice to have someone with an advantage against bugs. Nala fits that bill.
  • Travis the Blaziken is probably coming out too, so Katie better be around to counter that pick.

For Kelly:

  • Amy starts the battle. C’mon, it’s the matchup we all want to see!
  • Wait, does Ollie really want to see that matchup? He could use someone like Nala or Thumper to counter Amy easily. And wait, he doesn’t have any Flying-type counters either! Put it all together, and Willard seems to be a logical choice.
  • Hoskins scares me too, and I’m not comfortable relying on Willard’s Hurricane to deal with him. I’d better bring Travis along too.

With the teams decided, it was time to settle this matter on the field!

Round 1: FIGHT!

The battle began with the marquee matchup of Bambi vs. Amy, and Ollie decided to lean into the fight rather than back away, confident that once the Dustox was gone, the rest of the battle would be a cakewalk. Making a Dustox go away, however, would be hard when you only have one move (Thunderbolt) that the poisonous moth doesn’t resist.

The first round brought a Toxic from Amy and a lightning bolt from Bambi, and while Thunderbolt did some decent damage, it just missed turning Amy’s health bar yellow, which likely meant a 3-hit KO. Amy’s follow-up Protect let Toxic work its magic, and she prepped for Round 3 confident that Bambi couldn’t do enough damage to knock her out.

…Except that the crit hit monster wanted in on the action, and sided with Ollie for a change. Thunderbolt #2 did the trick, and Amy went down.

Round 2: Mutually-Assured Destruction

Kelly’s choice for her next monster was really no choice at all: As a Fighting-type, there was no way in heck that she was letting Travis face Bambi straight-up, so Willard was called to take the mound despite a 4x weakness to the Thunderbolts that had felled Amy.

However, Willard had an ace up his wing: Like Amy, he also counted Protect among his moves, and after three rounds, the damage from Toxic was starting to add up. Could he stall Bambi long enough to let the poison work its magic?

With few other options, Willard pulled out his shield…and in yet another astounding turn of events, Protect actually worked twice in a row! Without a great counter to the big-billed bird, Ollie stuck with Bambi to the bitter end, but not even “The Franchise” could stand against five turns of Toxic.

…or could it?

In an astounding final act, Bambi gutted out one last turn, and KO’d Willard with one last Thunderbolt before succumbing to the poison. Who would have though a Pokémon battle against myself (which would normally be the sorriest thing ever) would be so exciting?

Round 3: Mistakes Were Made

Kelly had no choice now: Travis had to face the music, and the conductor would be Katie the Floatzel. The battle, however, was far from over: While Ollie’s starter had been a bit of a disappointment, Travis had been a workhorse for Kelly in her own League challenge, and he also had an ace up his sleeve: His Blazikenite meant he could Mega-Evolve to boost his stats (and hopefully his chances of survival).

The problem was that even with both a two-level and a Mega Evolution advantage, Katie was still faster than him, and she opened with a powerful Hydro Pump.

Hydro Pump connects!

Wait! Travis survived! He can retaliate with…

…wait, he’s using Brave Bird?!

In perhaps the saddest moment of the whole spectacle, I managed to overthink my “opponent’s” moves, bypass a perfectly-usable option in Sky Uppercut, and instead choose a non-STAB, recoil-inducing move as my attack. Katie survived; Travis didn’t. It was all over, and Ollie had emerged victorious.

Upon Further Review…

Unlike Little Texas, I couldn’t help but think of what might have been. Why didn’t I choose the right move? After kicking myself for a good five minutes over the decision, I decided to replay the situation and see what would happen if Travis had used Sky Uppercut instead of Brave Bird.

It turns out that Sky Uppercut would have still required two hits to KO Katie.

So was Kelly’s fate sealed no matter what move I had selected? Well…the truth is a bit more complicated:

  • Kelly was faster in Round 1, but Mega Blaziken’s Speed Boost ability would have been enough to allow Travis to go first in Round 2. He would have gotten a chance at a second Sky Uppercut.
  • However, Sky Uppercut is only a 90% accurate move, which means connecting twice in a row would have not been a sure thing. (Note that Katie’s 80% accurate Hydro Pump missed in the above test, which is why Travis remains at full health.)
  • Even if Katie went down, wouldn’t Nala have had a say in all this? Based on my tests, no: Speed Boost would all but guarantee Travis first strike, and one Sky Uppercut would KO Nala.

Throw in the critical Thunderbolt and the miraculous double Protect, and it’s clear that the biggest factor in deciding this battle was sheer dumb luck (with some operator error thrown in for extra flavor).

Conclusions

There is one solid conclusion we can draw from all this nonsense: As good as Bambi is, they weren’t able to dominate the competition like they had in the official Nuzlocke run. Truth be known, this is part of the genius of Pokémon: With level parity, no one monster is all-powerful enough to run roughshod over the field.

So, is this the end of my summer Pokémon series? Well, Pokémon Y is still out there for challenging, but I’m not sure it’s worth extending this Nuzlocke series for it. This was an interesting thought exercise, but at it’s core it’s just a guy playing both sides of a Pokémon battle.

If this does turn out to be the end of the series, I certainly had fun with it, and will have to look for another game for next summer’s series. You know, I’ve never actually played through Pokémon Black 2 or Pokémon White 2

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #9: A Fairy Tale Type Ending

Last week, there were two big questions I needed to answer:

  • How many setbacks could Xerneas overcome?
  • Who was going to fill the slots at the back end of my six-stack?

The TL;DR version of this post: The answers were “A lot” and “It really doesn’t matter.”

When we last left Ollie, he was facing pressure from all sides: Party pressure from continued losses, confidence pressure from continued mistakes, and time pressure from continued intrusions from reality. Against all odds, every one of these things got worse this week, making victory feel like an unlikely outcome. Superstars, however, can change the equation entirely, and with Bambi “The Dragon Destroyer” Xerneas on the squad, Ollie always had a chance. So how would it turn out?

The Competition

You have no idea how helpful this was.

Unlike the Kalos Elite Four, which are burned into my brain after so many playthroughs, I had no idea who or what was waiting for me in the Kalos Elite Four (and I decided not to look them up on Serebii before the battle just to keep things interesting). However, thanks to a tip from some random stranger just outside the inner chamber, I did know what types I would be up against. How much they scared me depended on how good of a matchup Bambi was against them:

  • Dragon: Piece of cake. Next!
  • Water: Neutral? Hey, like any good wide receiver, if I’m even, I’m leavin’.
  • Fire: This could be trouble: Fire resist Fairy attacks, and Bambi’s moveset (Leech Horn, Megahorn, Moonblast) lacks a good counter.
  • Steel: It resists Fairy and is super-effective against it?! This will be a problem.

The Champion, of course, would have types all over the map, so my strategy would probably boil down to “stand behind Bambi and cross my fingers.”

The Rookies

Of course, if there’s one rule Pokémon drives into your skull, it’s that no one monster can take on the world by themselves, and that a well-balanced, equally-experienced team is needed for success. With Trevor and Patty down for the count, I had two seats that needed to be filled, and I made the following appointments:

  • Katie (Floatzel): As a general rule, I don’t go anywhere without a Water-type Pokémon (this is often literally true thanks to Surf), and if Patty couldn’t answer the bell, Katie was my next-best option. Her movepool wasn’t great, but it wasn’t anything a bunch of TMs and HMs couldn’t fix. Surf and Waterfall were obvious solutions, but when Hydro Pump came along and I had three attack slots dedicated to the same type, suddenly the solutions didn’t seem so obvious. Eventually, I settled on the following loadout:
    • Waterfall, since Katie’s attack was roughly 20 points better than her Spec. Attack.
    • Hydro Pump, because sometimes you just need to deal a lot of damage.
    • Ice Beam, because dragons are always a problem and only Bambi seemed to be a viable option against them.
    • Brick Break, because Water resists Steel, Fighting clobbers it, and I was going to need all the help I could get against that portion of the Elite Four.

Katie had some serious offensive potential (good Spec. Attack, better Attack, incredible Speed), but her less-than-stellar defensive stats made her a classic glass cannon that needed to be handled with care. Still, I figured that in the right situations, she would be a tremendous asset. (Spoiler alert: I was even more right than I expected.)

  • Alyssa (Aggron): Alyssa was added to the team for two reasons: To counter a potential Ice and Fairy weakness, and to finally see what the Steel type was all about (in twenty total Pokémon playthroughs, I’ve used all of one Steel-type: Lucario in Pokémon Y). What I got was basically a Steel version of Torkoal: Monster Defense, terrible special stats (Aggron’s weighted more towards Attacks while Torkoal is more balanced), slower than molasses uphill. Iron Tail and Heavy Slam were pretty powerful, however, and with the right Rock-type TMs (Stone Edge?), she really could have been a force to be reckoned with.

I say “could have been” because…

One Last Belt For The Road

I did a fair bit of grinding in Victory Road for my new recruits, and while Katie gained levels more quickly, both of them soon earned enough to start taking down opponents on their own instead of leaning on Bambi or Hoskins. The change made things quicker, but it was risky: If an opponent attacked a severe weakness (like, say, a 4x weakness to Fighting), things could go south in a hurry.

Enter Druddigon, who in the past fifty or so battles I’d had against them in the cave, had never once let on that they knew Superpower. I leave Alyssa in with less than perfect health (so her Sturdy ability wasn’t active), the stupid dragon breaks out their incredible move, and…yeah. She didn’t make it.

At this point, it was the day before I had to write this post (remember that time pressure I mentioned earlier?), and I was ready to throw in the towel and just take on the Elite Four with a party of five. How was I supposed to raise another Pokémon to take to take on the Elite Four before my deadline?

I took a deep breath, counted backwards from ten, and went back to my Box to find one last benchwarmer for the team:

Remember me? Because Ollie didn’t.

  • Gertrude (Gurdurr): Yes, yes, I know – with only one 3DS and no potential trade partners nearby, I had no way to evolve Gertrude to her final form. Still, she was an all-in Fighting-type with a similar profile to Alyssa (great Attack and Defense, terrible everything else), and if there was ever a time I would need a “break glass in case of emergency” monster, it would be the Steel-type Elite Four battle. I swapped out Focus Punch for Brick Break, fed her every Rare Candy I could get my hands on (Thumper’s Pickup ability finally came in handy!), and hoped I wouldn’t have to lengthen my bench past five.

Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Beyond the improvements I’ve mentioned earlier, I beefed up some of the other party members as well:

  • I made the hard decision to replace Hoskins’s Spore with Venoshock. I hate getting rid of my only sleep-inducer (besides my sleep-inducing writing), but Venoshock has incredible synergy with Toxic, and strikes fear into the heart of every Fairy-type in Kalos.
  • I equipped Bambi with Thunderbolt, as I really didn’t have any Flying-type counters at this point.
  • I also dropped some PP Ups on Bambi’s Moonblast and Hoskins’s Giga Drain, as I predicted that I would be leaning heavily on these moves going forward.

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.

At this point, there was nothing left to do but enter the Elite Four’s chambers with Bambi and the Xerneairs, get this party started, and live with the result.

Round #1: Dragonmark Chamber

I decided to take on the Dragon trainer first, assuming that with Bambi out front, it would be a quick and easy win. I was not wrong.

The opening twist was that Dragalge was a Poison/Dragon type, which meant that it took two Moonblasts to beat it instead of one (it actually took several more, thanks to Drasna burning all her Full Restores on it). Everything else rolled over like they were training for the Westminster Dog Show, giving Bambi the sweep she deserved.

Round #2: Blazing Chamber

Next, I decided to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, and find out just what Katie was made of. However, I anticipated that Malva would block the obvious counter first, so I decided to give the ball to Thumper to start the inning.

The twist here turned out to be a Ground-type block: After Malva’s Nala clone got swallowed up by Earthquake, she brought out a Birdo clone to try to stay above the fray. Ollie immediately went to the bullpen for Katie, and she started handing out Water attacks like she was Oprah Winfrey: Talonflame gets a Hydro Pump, Torkoal gets a Hydro Pump, everyone gets a Hydro Pump! (Chandelure actually got a Waterfall, but the result was the same.) I made some questionable personnel moves over the course of this Nuzlocke run, but this victory proved that Katie was not one of them.

Round #3: Ironworks Chamber

At this point, I decided to bite the bullet and face my Steel-type fears head-on. As I looked over my team, I realized that I was actually in a pretty strong position: Nala, Thumper, and Gertrude were super-effective, Katie had a strong type matchup, and Bambi was just so darn powerful that if we really needed her to win a one-on-one, she probably could. Surmising that fire was the most-obvious counter, I left Thumper in the leadoff spot and stepped up to face Wikstrom.

After Klefki fell over with a single Earthquake, I left Thumper in to face Aegislash despite the monster’s reputation. Sure, it was pretty strong in the competitive meta, but it was also a Ghost-type, which meant Thumper had a potential immunity against it. What could it possibly do to me?

The answer was “Sacred F***ing Sword.” Here we go again.

However, there was one big difference between Thumper and his fallen contemporaries like Patty, Birdo, and even Nala: Thumper had the Defense to take a blow like Sacred Sword, and his Earthquake did just as much damage on the other end. He was also faster than Aegislash, and after a few tense minutes of scouring the Internet trying to answer the question “Does changing from Shield to Blade Forme boost Aegislash’s Speed?” (thankfully, it doesn’t), he unleashed his finishing blow before Aegislash could unleash its own.

With Thumper alive but out of gas, I again made the switch to Katie with Probopass coming up next. This battle ended up just like the last one: Probopass’s Discharge did significant damage to Katie, but Katie had the faster gun, and a Hydro Pump/Waterfall combo brought Wikstrom down to his last monster: Scizor.

Steel AND Bug? Ollie had an app for that, and her name was Nala. Ballgame.

Um…are you celebrating my victory, or asking me to call 911?

Round #4: Flood Chamber

All that was left now was Siebold the Water master, and unfortunately for him, he would have to face a well-rested squad: Bambi hadn’t seen the mound since their rout of Drasna, and Hoskins hadn’t yet pitched in the entire series. Hoskins got the start and crushed Clawitzer with a single Giga Drain, and when Starmie appeared with its Psychic type, it was met with a massive Moonblast from Bambi.

Gyarados was next, and while I usually stalled this Pokémon out with Hoskins, I decided to stick with Bambi this time, and was rewarded with yet another one-hit Moonblast KO. I probably could have left Bambi there to take down Barbaracle too, but Hoskins had a huge type advantage against it and I wanted to get Bambi a bit more rest for the playoffs. Barbaracle was fast enough to launch a Stone Edge, but Hoskins shrugged it off and took all its HP back with Giga Drain, putting a bow on an impressive four-game sweep.

I’m not going to “challenge” the Champion. I’m going to stomp them into the floor.

Round #5: Radiant Chamber

I’ve forgotten a surprising number of things over the last few days, but I hadn’t forgotten that Diantha was secretly the Champion of the Kalos region. However, I also hadn’t forgotten that I’d lost two Pokémon (including Moltres) in my battle with Cyrus in Pokémon FireRed, so I knew I couldn’t back off the throttle now. I didn’t know what Pokémon were coming, but I also didn’t care: Bambi would start the battle, and Ollie would play things by ear from there.

Diantha put herself in an early hole by opening with Hawlucha and Tyrantrum, who Bambi promptly ate for breakfast with its patented Moonblast. I nearly coughed up that advantage, however, by overthinking the type matchup with Aurorum and switching to Nala without realizing Ice’s Fire weakness was countered by its Rock type. When I tried to make up for the error, I ended up switching Katie into a Thunder (?!) attack, which cut her down to 1/3 health and paralyzed her. I then went back to the “keep it simple, stupid” approach, got lucky when Bambi switched into a Thunder that missed, and leveled Aurorum with another Moonblast.

Aurorum’s Light Screen denied Bambi a one-hit KO on the Goodra that followed, but it did enough damage to make Diantha burn a Full Restore, and when the screen wore off, it was all over but the shouting. When Gourgeist appeared, I decided to throw the type matchup chart out the window and let Bambi go for another sweep. Gourgeist, however, had other ideas: It used a Megahorn miss to drop a Trick-or-Treat to give Bambi a Ghost type, and then tried to use Phantom Force to punish me for ignoring type wisdom. Instead, Ollie made his first decent chess move of the match, switching to Nala to dodge the Phantom Force and using Flamethrower to bring Gourgeist down.

Diantha had one last ace up her sleeve, and it came in the form of a Mega-Evolved Gardevoir, a Pokémon that I had used to great effect myself back in Pokémon Y. By now, unfortunately, it was too little, too late: Bambi could smell the victory, and no two-bit Mega-Evolved wannabe was going to stand in their way. One Moonblast drained most of Gardevoir’s health, and after Diantha used another Full Restore, the second Moonblast drained all of it. Game, set, match, Nuzlocke.

Wait, It’s Not Over?

Ollie had officially joined Ophilia as a Nuzlocke champion, and I had gone back-to-back for the first time since I won those Cub Scout pinewood derbies back in the day. It was time to watch the ending cut scene and bask in the glory of being the hero of Kalos!

Now I want this hoodie in Splatoon 2. Someone make this happen.

What are these jokers doing here? I’m the one that did all the work!

Good grief, what do you want?

In the middle of my coronation as supreme ruler of Kalos, the old king AZ appeared and challenged me to a battle. The bout itself was pretty much a formality: I decided to let Bambi earn one last sweep for the road, and she KO’d everything she faced with a single hit. Still, the fight was enough to reawaken AZ’s love of Pokémon, so much so that his long-lost Floette appeared to join him once more.

Speaking of freedom…am I free to go now?

With that plot point finally settled, the credits rolled and the game officially conceded defeat.

Awards

There’s no point in separating the playoff and overall Nuzloke MVP this time, because they’re the same Pokémon:

Deal with it.

Bambi was so dominant in this game that some of my best Pokémon were reduced to cameo roles in the run’s biggest moments. This table says it all:

Pokémon Elite 4/Champion Opponents
Bambi 12
Katie 5
Nala 3
Thumper 3
Hoskins 2
Gertrude 0

Once I was locked inside the Pokémon League, Nala and Hoskins became LOOPs (Left-Handed One-Out Pokémon), Thumper transformed into Brian Roberts, and Gertrude never came off the freaking bench. (My one regret is that I didn’t just stick Machop in that slot to officially block them from future Nuzlocke runs.) As good as Luna “The Hammer” Hypno was in my FireRed adventure, Bambi easily claims the Oscar for “Best-Ever Performance  In A Nuzlocke Run.”

Katie deserves a shout-out for her spirited performance in limited action, and Birdo and Amelia had their moments before they went down, but once Bambi joined the team, these awards were never in doubt.

The End?

There’s one last question to answer: Where do we go from here? There’s a solid postgame episode available involving everyone’s favorite investigator <strike>Paul Drake</strike> Looker, but with Bambi currently filling out an application for  a condo on Mount Olympus, I’m not sure how compelling such a story would be.

There’s another option, however, that seems a little more intriguing: Last winter, I bought my brother a 3DS and a copy of Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, and he got so into the game and raised so many monsters that he literally rolls lines like a hockey team when he plays. (Seriously, he has a six-stack that he calls his “checking line.”) I’m taking an honest-to-goodness vacation this week, and I’m planning on visiting him along the way. Perhaps I should see if his checking line can stand up against a two-way force of nature like Bambi? (The answer will depend on what he’s doing with Kyogre.) If that isn’t enough for Ollie’s crew, perhaps I can pit him against my teams from Y or Omega Ruby as well. I don’t know if these challenges would make for much of a blog post, but it would certainly be more of a challenge than Xerosic could ever be.

Either way, this ride isn’t over just yet. Tune in next week to see if Bambi and the Xerneaires really have what it takes to win!

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #8: Help Wanted, But Is It Needed?

It’s as if Fate is trying to push the limits of Nuzlocke runs: How much death and destruction can someone using a Xerneas come back from in a game like this?

When we last left Ollie, he was reeling from the loss of four members of his top line (although only two were permanent), but he was still feeling pretty confident in his chances of success, thanks to having the most powerful monster on the block in his corner (Bambi “The Franchise” Xerneas), with a variety of tough customers behind “The Deer Of Death” (Bambi will have many more nicknames by the time this run is over…). This week, however, he ran into a foe more fearsome than any Pokémon ever created: Time itself.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the bottom line is that after posting last week’s episode, reality conspired to keep me in the salt mines and away from Kalos until the weekend, leaving me little time to fill out Ollie’s roster and distracting me into some boneheaded mistakes when I finally did get to play. The result? Read on, dear reader…

Tree Got Game

The first order of business was deciding who would fill Birdo’s old spot on Ollie’s top line. I had plenty of intriguing options, but I’d been leaning towards Trevor the Trevenant ever since I caught him, and the early returns seemed to validate the decision. His moveset was beyond impressive, as he already knew Wood Hammer and Phantom Force (wait, wasn’t that a Giratina exclusive back in G4?) and soon backed them with Shadow Claw and Leech Horn, making him an even more lethal version of Amelia (where Gust was only occasionally useful, Trevor could leverage both of his types in any situation).

Still, while Trevor helped cover one of my larger weaknesses (Fighting types), he made the other (Ice types) worse, and neither he nor Hoskins nor Thumper were viable against them. I wanted more options to consider, and I found one in the caves north of Route 18:

Lairon boasted a decent Ice resistance, and its Steel-typing would help broaden my type-coverage a bit (most notably, it gave me a potential option against Fairy types). I decided to stick with Trevor for the moment, but I put “Alyssa” on notice when I sent her to a box: Be ready for a quick call-up if the injury bug strikes.

Spoiler alert: It struck. It struck hard.

Victory Road Street of Suffering

Mount Everest is so last season. Climbing to the Kalos Elite Four is where it’s really at!

After a few extra meals at Cafe Le Yeah, I decided to make my way to Victory Road and complete Trevor’s training there. After dispatching the guard and entering the requisite gloomy cave, we wandered around to sample the local wildlife:

Gurdurr? …I suppose it could have been worse.

The first few battles didn’t go to badly…until I ran into a Haunter with some serious speed.

Back in my Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, it was a Tailwind-buffed Gengar that brought down my Decidueye in the Poni Island caves and signaled the beginning of the end of that run (Ultra Necrozma wiped my party soon afterwards). I wasn’t worried here, however: The Haunter was lower-leveled than Trevor, so what could it possibly use against me before it got wrecked by Shadow Claw?

The answer: Destiny Bond. FML.

The move worked as advertised: Shadow Claw KO’d the Haunter, which promptly KO’d Trevenant along with it. This was irritating, but hey, I guess Alyssa would get her chance after all… Without much thought, I swapped Patty to the head of the party and continued walking.

The very next battle, another Gurdurr appeared. I knew darn well that Dark types were weak to Fighting-type moves, but come on: Patty had a sizable level advantage and full health. What could possibly happen?

Superpower happened. [Editor’s note: The next five sentences were redacted due to excessive profanity.]

[Editor’s note: Yeah, we had to censor this too.]
Two meaningless battles. Two very meaningful losses. If that doesn’t make you question your life choices, you’re not human. …But Ollie’s an Octoling, so he just transformed into octopus form and cowered in a puddle of ink for the next hour.

Looking back, I’d kind of been waiting for something like this to happen. Patty just never stood out and shined the way Suzy did in my FireRed Nuzlocke, and her poor Dark-type moveset meant her second type was more of a liability, especially with all the Fairy types crawling around this game.

Still, let’s not minimize the moment: Suddenly I was stuck in the middle of a hostile environment full of high-level monsters and Trainers, all staring at me and just itching to stomp me into the floor. (Wait, I just described my high school…) Not only was I down two party members, but that Superpower suplex could have happened to Nala or Thumper just as easily as it did Patty, which meant I couldn’t just throw them into battle and hope for the best. My confidence in my entire team was shaken; who could I trust to save the day now?

There’s a reason the LA Clippers went all-in for Kawhi Leonard: When the chips are down and you absolutely need to make a play, having a superstar around that you can just hand the ball to and get out of their way is worth their weight in gold. For Ollie, that someone was Bambi “Michael Jordan” Xerneas. I stuck Bambi at the top of the list, slapped them on the shoulder, and said “Go get ’em, champ.”

What happened next restored my faith in humanity, or at least in my team-building skills. Bambi “Chuck Norris” Xerneas went on a hot streak that would have made Tom Brady stand up and clap. Gurdurr Superpowers? Druddigan Dragon Claws? Graveler Explosions? Nothing could stand against the “The Kalos Konqueror,” and the returning volley of Moonblasts, Megahorns, and Leech Horns left a trail of fainted monsters and crushed dreams in its wake. Not even Father Time and real-life demands could dig a hole deep enough to bury “The X Factor,” and as long as it was still alive, our chances of Nuzlocke success were too.

Even demigods like “The Fearsome Fairy” run low on PP, however, and slowly but surely, I started working other members of the squad back in the rotation. Hoskins was first, as his favorable typing and defensive starch let him shrug off even the most powerful of moves. Next came Thumper, who could still strike some fear in his foes with Strength and Earthquake. Even Nala got a few licks in at the end, reminding the world that her previous run of dominance was no fluke.

One More Time

You’re aware of the definition of insanity, right?

About halfway through the cave, Serena finally found the nerve to face me after watching me destroy everything she held dear Shauna, Tierno, and Trevor back on Route 19. My lineup had gone through some significant changes since the last time we squared off, but with “The Many-Horned Hero” on my side, the outcome was never in doubt:

  • Bambi frosted the Meowstic in the opening skirmish.
  • Hoskins laughed off an Aurora Beam to (Giga) drain Vaporean of its will to live.
  • Bambi schooled Serena on the Fairy type by dismantling Altaria.
  • Chesnaught roasted on Nala’s open Flamethrower.
  • Thumper slammed the door by leveling Absol with an Earthquake.

Don’t worry Serena – the Washington Generals make a decent living too.

Serena conceded defeat, wished Ollie luck, and faded back into obscurity, leaving us to steamroll the rest of the cavern and finally reach the Elite Four. (Call Bambi “Moses” now, because they led us to the promised land.)

Conclusions

So hey, the end is finally in sight! …But when Ollie steps up to the Elite Four, who the heck who be in his six-stack?

  1. “The Moonblast Mangler” (Xerneas). Bambi is pretty much the only reason we’re still upright right now, so it’s only fair to give them the “C” that Patty had been wearing and have them lead us into battle. (As much as I’ve built her up this episode, it would be pretty awkward if she got KO’d like Moltres did in the closing seconds of my last run.)
  2. Hoskins (Amoonguss). Trusting the fungus worked for Bob Hoskins, and so far it’s worked out pretty well for Ollie too. I need to tweak its moveset a bit (pairing Venoshock with Toxic would be incredible, but what gets replaced? Spore? Synthesis?), but its defensive versatility makes it our default #2 option.
  3. Nala (Pyroar). Nala gets the #3 slot mostly on seniority, but with Flamethrower, Hyper Voice, and Crunch at her disposal, she’s certainly not useless.
  4. Thumper (Diggersby). Like the Bee Gees, Thumper is “stayin’ alive,” and while he’s not quite the wall that Hoskins is and nowhere near the offensive powerhouse that Nala is, he’s still dangerous in the right spots.
  5. Alyssa (Lairon). I have very little experience with Steel types and have no idea what Aggron’s moveset will turn out to look like, but I need the additional Ice- and Fairy-type coverage. Yes, it makes me even more vulnerable to Fighting-types, but Bambi will take them on if she’s available (and if she’s not available, I’m probably sunk anyway).
  6. Katie (Floatzel). If your first reaction is “who?”, you’re not alone. Katie (named after Katie Ledecky) was an accidental encounter in Couriway Town, and barely earned a footnote in last week’s episode. Still, I figured she might be a capable Patty replacement if worst came to worst, and now she gets a chance to prove it! Her moveset seems a bit weak, but Surf is an obvious TM addition, and at least she doesn’t have a useless second type weighing her down. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

I have no idea who the Elite Four are in Kalos (and while I think I remember the Champion, I have no idea what Pokémon they use), so tune in next week when the curtain rises and we attempt to follow Bambi to victory!

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #7: Fear The Deer

The TL;DR version of this post is that we had a pretty rough week:

So why am I not that worried about the run right now? For one thing, not everyone who’s dead is actually dead (more on this later). The biggest reason, however, is that I pulled off a free agent acquisition that would make even the Brooklyn Nets jealous, and when you’ve got the biggest and baddest Pokémon on the planet wearing your team colors, you don’t lose a ton of sleep over rough patches like this.

When we last left Ollie, the world was coming apart at the seams: Lysandre had revealed himself as the leader of the evil Team Flare, and he had activated a doomsday weapon designed to blast Kalos back into the Stone Age. However, with as solid a top line as Ollie had, we all knew that nothing would come of this catastrophe – we just needed to prove it.

Dousing The Flames

Having taught neither Birdo nor Amelia to Fly, I had to take the long way back to Geosenge Town, cutting through Shalour City and Reflection Cave (no Wobbuffets this time, thankfully). While I’m sure the residents of Geosenge would have overthrown Lysandre eventually once they realized what the ultimate weapon would do to their property values, I didn’t have time to wait for them to organize. Serena met me at the secret entrance to Team Flare’s hideout, and we entered to pay Lysandre a visit.

We found Lysandre to be surprsingly conflicted about his decision, as he had concluded that all Pokémon had to be destroyed in the process of re-creating the world to ensure that they were never used as tools for evil. For all his eloquence, however, the Toby Keith rule (“a little less talk and a lot more action”) prevailed in the end, and he and Ollie squared off to determine the fate of the universe.

This isn’t even his final form.

Predictably, this battle went off the rails for our red-haired antagonist ever more quickly than the last one: Birdo crushed Mienshao with a single Acrobatics, and instead of the Hoskins/Amelia setup that wiped out Gyarados the first time, Hoskins showed so much resilience against Outrage that I left him to take the Gyarados down himself. The smart move next would have been to let Patty face Pyroar, but…

…it was time to see who was the better Pyroar.

I had the level advantage and the louder Hyper Voice, so naturally Nala prevailed over her estranged cousin. Thumper worked over the Honchkrow, and Judd once again declared us the victor.

No, just the power to smite. 🙂

Ghostbusted

Unfortunately, the weapon could not be stopped without pulling the batteries out, which meant descending deeper into the facility to disconnect the region’s legendary Pokémon from the device. Ollie and Serena (and eventually Shauna as well) made a mad dash for the basement, but had to fight through a number of Double Battles along the way.

This is where I made my first of many mistakes this run: After Nala handled the first two encounters with aplomb, I switched to Amelia just in time to face a double Dark-type matchup (Houndoom/Scrafty). The wise thing to do would have been to swap to, say, Birdo, but Amelia was at full health and I thought, “Come on, even if they tag-team me, how much damage could they possibly do?”

That’s how much they could do.

The pair did tag-team me, and Houndoom’s STAB Foul Play nearly wiped Amelia out by itself (Scrafty’s Crunch finished her off, although her Aftermath turned it into a trade). Suddenly, I was a 5-‘Mon team in the middle of Team Flare’s hideout, all because I got cocky at the wrong moment. Still, this wasn’t the end of the road: Birdo meant I still had Flying-type coverage, and there was something special waiting at the end of the road that would fit into Amelia’s old slot…

X Marks The Spot

A horde of Flare admins was waiting in the basement when Ollie arrived, but even without Amelia the team had little trouble dispatching the crisp-suited flunkies. Once they were gone, the clouds parted, the cut-scene started, and a legend emerged from its slumber.

Does this look like the face of mercy to you? ‘Cause it isn’t.

The only thing I knew about Xerneas was that it was a Fairy-type, so I sent Hoskins out to try and weaken it for a conventional catch. (If all else failed, I had the Master Ball ready to go, because hey, what else was I going to use it on?)  In the end, the catch was surprisingly easy: Some accidental poison from Effect Spore, a Giga Drain or two, a few Ultra Balls, and a fair-market contract (thankfully Xerneas was not yet eligible for a supermax extension), and I had an official replacement for Amelia ready to go!

So THIS is the mighty Lysandre’s final form?! I’d say that certain mecha-fly-wearing people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Lysandre was not impressed with the whole situation when he arrived, and he and his mechanical flies decide to take it out on Ollie’s crew. Unfortunately, his team had one major disadvantage: It was very weak to Fairty-types, and I had just added the ultimate Fairy-type to my team. “Bambi” sliced through Honchkrow and Mienshao lot a hot knife through butter, took a brief break to let Birdo handle Pyroar, and then filled Amelia’s role by backing up Hoskins to KO Gyarados (which Bambi could have done by themselves). Lysandre, Team Flare, and the apocalypse were finally put on ice for good.

…Except that every villain has one-last self-destruct sequence up their sleeve, and Lysandre used his final act to destroy the ultimate weapon and (presumably) everyone in Team Flare HQ. (The protagonists manage to escape in the nick of time, but the game never tells us how many Team Flare employees were trapped below when things went boom.) The entire team reunited outside the HQ ruins, where it’s revealed that Tierno, Trevor, and the masked heroes were saving Pokémon over on Route 10 (sure they were). With the threat removed, Shauna recommended that we all restart our journey from where we left off in Anistar City. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

In Soviet Kalos, The Deer Hunt You

First, however, there was the matter of the level discrepancy between Bambi and the rest of the squad. This meant a return trip to Cafe Le Yeah and Frost Cavern for a fair bit of grinding (legendary Pokémon take a lot of EXP to level up). The deer more than made up for this annoyance in pure power: Its high Spec. Attack and Fairy Aura ability made its Moonblast viable is nearyl every situation, even if the opponent resisted it! It also boasted a deep moveset with impressive type coverage (Night Slash, Megahorn, Leech Horn) and enough defensive starch to shrug off powerful attacks. Forget anchoring a Pokémon squad; this deer could serve as a capable stretch five on an NBA playoff team (even with hooves instead of hands, you just know it could hit the corner three consistenly). I hadn’t held this kind of power in my hands since I was running with Moltres in Pokémon FireRed, and you know how that turned out…

With that sort of arrow in my quiver, I strode confidently onto Route 18 looking to make my way over to Snowbelle City and complete my Kalos badge collection.

That’s when all heck broke loose.

The Inverse Of Success

Things started innocently enough, as I literally caught a lucky break for this route’s catch:

What would you rather have: The Durants, or the monster that eats the Durants? (On a side note, Nintendo needs to comes to some sort of trademark agreement with Kevin Durant and create a Durant evolution called the Durantula. It makes too much sense!)

I had enough Fire-types on the squad already, so I stuck Heatmor on the bench and figured he might get a callup if disaster struck.

Otherwise, there was really nothing of note on the route…except for this one little house sitting in the middle of the thing. Inside was a man who spoke of “inverse battling” and challenged me to a battle in which the type chart was flipped on its head, with super-effective moves becoming not very effective and vice versa.

I was intrigued by this challenge, but I also knew darn well that not knowing your type matchups in battle is a sure way to get clobbered in a Nuzlocke run. After mulling the invitation over for a minute or so, I made my decision: I would accept the challenge to satisfy my curiosity, but I would waive the Nuzlocke rules for this battle because the chances of getting my hand handed to me were a lot higher than I was willing to risk. With the rules established, Ollie dove in headfirst.

“Having my head handed to me” turned out to be a gross understatement of what transpired in battle. I was completely lost without my trusty mental type chart, and was forever switching into the wrong matchup and using the wrong moves. Throw in the fact that my opponent’s Pokémon had equivalent levels to my own, and…yeah, things went downhill fast and stayed there.

I got so flummoxed by the whole ordeal that I forgot to take any pictures of the aftermath, but the result was a nasty Pyrrhic victory: I won, but both Patty and Nala went down in the process (and both Bambi and Thumper had one foot in the grave as well). This, in short, was embarrassing, and while I’d specifically suspended the rules because I had a bad feeling something like this would happen, it also didn’t feel right that I would walk away from the fight without some form of punishment. After several minutes of deliberation, I decided to adopt an idea from an “NFLocke” concept I’d been kicking around for some time:

  • If a Pokémon faints, they must enter the “concussion protocol” and are ineligible to used until after the next Gym/Totem leader battle.
  • I decided to take the idea one step farther for this scenario, and declared that Pokémon KO’d here could not be replaced between now and the next Gym.

Now, not only was Amelia out permanently, but two of my top Pokémon were stuck on the bench and I was going to have to face the Snowbelle Gym leader as a four-stack instead of a six-stack. At the time, I didn’t know how much would hurt, but if I managed to survive and obtain my eighth badge, I would have at least suffered some penance for this battle.

Blood In The Water

There’s an old cliché about when you’re the fastest gun in the west, every two-bit shooter in town comes looking for you and tries to take you down. Something similar happened the moment I set foot in Couriway Town: Darn near every character I’d ever encountered over the course of my journey showed up looking for a fight, as if they sensed my weakness after the Inverse battle. First up was Prof. Sycamore, who approached me under the guise of apologizing for Lysandre’s actions:

Luckily, he was using the same three Kanto starters from before, and I had a system ready for them: Birdo to take out Venusaur, Hoskins to wash away Blastoise, and Thumper to beat up Charizard with one paw tied behind his back (since Charizard’s Flying-type meant Thumper had to use Strength instead of Earthquake).

And you’re…not.

Next, after striking out onto Route 19, Shaunaran up and sprang a surprise battle on me:

This quickly turned into the Thumper show, with Bambi only stepping in between the Delcatty and Delphox to squash Shauna’s Goodra.

“Nerve-wracking” would be my word. Now, if you’ll excuse me…

Next, Tierno challenged me before I even had a chance to rearrange my team, forcing Thumper to take on his Talonflame:

Dude, not a good time right now…

A quick switch to Bambi knocked the bird out of the sky, however, and I was able to play the type matchup game the rest of the way (rock beats scissors, Birdo beats Roserade, and Hoskins beats Crawdaunt).

Whatever. Can I go now?

If that wasn’t enough, Trevor then appeared to take a swing at the king!

His Raichu, however, was a poor matchup against Thumper, and when Hoskins faltered a bit against Aerodactyl, Bambi stepped in to defeat it and the Florges that followed, squashing them extra flat as a warning to anyone else who wanted to step up and try their luck.

By this point, I was channeling my old Unreal Tournament persona: Anyone else want some?

Serena got the message (they said she was off training with the Mega Evolution Guru, but TMZ caught her running screaming from Route 19 after seeing Bambi chase the others up a tree). Everyone else hiding in the grass was too scared to step forward, so the rest of the trip to Snowbelle City was was relatively quiet.

That’s Just Cold, Bro

Sadly, Snowbelle City had earned its name, and the Gym within its borders was an Ice-type establishment. This meant that Hoskins was be completely usesless for this fight, and while Thumper had an effective move against Ice in Hammer Arm, his Ground typing made him a risky play at best. This meant that the fight against Wulfric the Gym leader would be the Bambi & Birdo show, and while I had confidence in my available warriors, I also knew that Nala and Patty would have been very handy to have around…

The first order of business, however, would be locating Wulfric, who had temporarily closed the Gym and wandered off into the Winding Woods. Following the vague directions of two creepy little girls in the Pokémon center, Ollie actually made his way through the forest quite quickly, and was soon standing upon the threshold of the Pokémon Village.

…Except that the place is clearly marked on the Town Map. It’ll be a tourist trap in five years, trust me.

Wulfric and Ollie exchanged pleasantries before the Gym leader left to return to the Gym, and after wandering around the grass for a while (completely forgetting that there was a potential capture battle in play until about five battles after it happened, which I blame on the fact that I was concurrently trying to plot out my initial level for Super Mario Maker 2), I returned to the Gym to face my fate head-on.

The undercard bouts in the Gym were not too terrible, as both Birdo and Bambi were dominant against all challengers (heck, even Hoskins won a battle or two). Since I assumed that Wulfric’s initial fighter would find a way to take Fire out of the equation, I stuck Bambi at the head of the line, crossed my fingers, and stepped into the ring one more time.

Beartic barely made it out of its Poké Ball before it was Moonblasted to the great beyond, and when Cryogonal took a similar hit and countered with Confuse Ray, I went to the bullpen and melted it down with Birdo’s Flame Charge. That brought in Avalugg, and I made the fateful decision to stick with Birdo, figuring that any Ice-related move would only be neutral against a Fire/Flying bird. Critical hits, however, are another matter entirely, and one powerful Avalanche was enough to put out Birdo’s flame for good.

I was so irritated by this development that I reached for Bambi instead of my camera, and one last Moonblast gave the victory to the visiting team. The impact of the Inverse battle, however, was unmistakable: In that moment, Nala comes off the bench ten times out of ten if she was available, and Flamethrower would have finished the job that Flame Charge couldn’t.

Yeah, but I’ve been smashed pretty badly myself…

Conclusions

So where exactly does Ollie stand now? On one hand, he has all eight badges, he beat Wulfric with only four monsters, he’s got Patty and Nala coming off the diasbled list, and he has the frightening force of nature that is Xerneas in his corner. What he doesn’t have, however, is momentum: Of the starting six he had two weeks ago, five (Symmetra, Amelia, Birdo, Patty, Nala) have now been KO’d temporarily or permanently, and while five of his top slots are still filled, this sort of attrition rate is not going to cut in against the Elite Four. (I hope Thumper’s been looking into life insurance plans, because at this rate he’s living on borrowed time.)

The immediate question is this: Who fills the #6 slot now? Aside from the Heatmor mentioned earlier, we actually gained a couple of decent options during this episode:

Couriway Town: I stumbled into Floatzel while Surfing around trying to discover what Prof. Sycamore claimed he had hidden for me in town. With some decent Speed and decent moves, it’s a decent backup for Patty at the very least.

Route 19: Drapion has always intrigued me, and both its typing and moveset (X-Scissor, Night Slash, Cross Poison eventually) would fit well on the team (even if it overlaps a bit with Patty and Hoskins – hey, that never stopped Birdo or Amelia from standing out!).

Winding Woods: Oh man, I’ve wanted to try out a Phantump/Trevenant for a long time, and with Amelia gone, I could really use someone to fill that Ghost-type hole. Yes, it overlaps with Hoskins a bit, but still…

I think Trevenant is the early leader for the spot, but this decision’s going to take some time. I’m not sure whether we take a week to bulk up before challenging the Elite Four or whether we go right at them next week, but either way, it’s going to be exciting!

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #6: Fire & Ice

Well, that escalated quickly.

When we last left Ollie, he was coming off a surprisingly quick run of success, scoring four badges in two weeks while losing just one monster. Sustaining such a run was unsustainable, but while I was hoping for the pace to slow down a bit, it decided to accelerate instead, plunging our hero headlong into the apocalyptic crisis the game had been hinting at since the beginning. Instead of robbing the casino as they had planned, Ollie’s Eleven found themselves chasing a nuke-toting madman across the continent in a desperate attempt to save both the world and Ollie’s X rank.

So how in the world did we get here?

Sharing Is Caring Cheating?

Our first order of business this week: Is the wake of last week’s existential crisis over the difficulty of the run thus far, was it time to turn the Exp. Share off and force Ollie’s team to earn their experience points the old-fashioned way? I’d been waffling on the idea for a while, but this time I finally decided to take the plunge and deactivate it. Yes, it would likely mean more time spent grinding and having less of an advantage over the competition, but Nuzlocke runs are supposed to be more challenging, and there was nothing stopping me from re-reversing the decision later.

Last time I made a decision to actively bump up the difficulty in a Nuzlocke run, it came back to bite me in Saffron City. This time? …Well, we’ll get there.

Trust The Fungus

First, we needed to hit Route 15 to continue our quest for a suitable Grass-type replacement for Suzy II! Ollie took a deep breath, plunged into the tall grass, and found…

…a face only a mother could love.

I’ve never liked the design for Foongus and Amoonguss, as the Poké Ball-centered design felt especially nonsensical and uninspired (I have the same complain about Zacian, actually: Sticking a sword in a dog’s mouth is no better than slapping a Poké Ball on a mushroom). Still, it was my first post-Suzy Grass-type (Grass/Poison in fact, which could give me some Fairy-type protection as well), so I named it “Hoskins” (after the lead actor in the Mario Bros. movie, because #TrustTheFungus) and kept it on standby in my Box. I didn’t have a slot on my top line yet, my decision to turn off the Exp. Share and my current trend of losing a monster in every other episode meant that one would likely open up soon.

Beyond that, however, the route had very little to offer: I beat up on the Pokémon Rangers hanging around, decided to bypass the Lost Hotel and Route 16 until I desperately needed more depth, and moved on to Dendemille Town.

Lost In Miller’s Cave

Like a surprising amount of towns in Pokémon X, Dendemille didn’t seem to have a whole lot going for it. Sure, Professor Sycamore dropped by to drop some more knowledge about the mysterious Xerneas, but outside of the wandering MooMoo Milk saleswoman (Pro Tip: Buy a dozen, they come in really handy), there wasn’t really any reason to linger here. Instead, we took a quick detour north to Frost Cavern to investigate the disturbances  inside.

This is where I started to feel the impact of the Exp. Share shutdown: Not only did the opponent levels take a jump, but getting everyone experience meant exposing them to dangerous type disadvantages: Ice types threatened Amelia, while Fighting types made Nala pause briefly before she roasted them with Flamethrower.

And then there’s Thumper, who was weak to pretty much everything in the cave and had a couple of “Oh #$%&” moments.

Thankfully, about three-quarters of the way through the cave, we encountered a bivouac enthusiast who allowed Ollie’s team to rest and heal up, so he hung out there for about an hour or so to power up his Pokémon in relative safety. Once we were ready, we skated our way through a brief puzzle and met Trevor at the back of the cave…

How’s that Hotels.com gig going, Captain Obvious?

It turns out that some Team Flare members had nothing better to do with their lives, so they were giving some static to a large Abomasnow that looked like it could eaten them all for lunch:

Translation: “Get off my lawn, you punks.”

The gang was led by the fourth scientist (and after Aliana, Bryony, and Celosia, I was disappointed to find that the final member of the quartet was given a comparatively-boring name that didn’t bother to start with “D”), and then was doubly disappointed to discover that she only had one Pokémon on her team.

“Mable”? Was that really the best you could do, Nintendo?

Birdo made quick work of her sole monster, and Team Flare went blasting off again, just like the Rockets they ripped off.

In contrast, I found you to be exceedingly ordinary.

Oh wait, I also caught whatever the heck this thing is. I have to admit, I completely forgot that Bergmites existed until now – Game Freak could have cut this from the Sword/Shield Pokédex without me even noticing.

(Mamoswine) Footprints In The Snow

With Frost Cavern de-Flared, it was time to move on to Route 17, and saddle up a Mamoswine for a short trek down the trail. Much like with Route 15, there was very little of note here, although I did boost my Grass-type depth once again…

I like Snover’s design (and having more G4 monsters is never a bad thing), but their moveset is less than inspiring. It falls in line behind Foongus on the Grass depth chart.

With the route’s catch out of the way, we quickly plowed through the snow to Anistar City for a wardrobe upgrade (this T-shirt’s kinda cold for this area) and capture our seventh Gym badge. Before we got there, however, another challenge arose from our kinda-sorta rival Serena, whose was eager to test their strength once more…

Spoiler alert: She didn’t get a Trapinch like I suggested.

For the most part, this progressed like all of my bouts against Serena: Amelia leveled Meowstic, Symmetra one-shot Absol, and Birdo wiped out Chesnaught. However, she also had a fourth challenger this time around: Vaporeon, a high-HP Water-type that I didn’t have a no-brainer counter for. While this was still not a huge threat to the squad (Amelia pulled an overtime shift and Shadow Balled it to death), it was a slight upgrade to Serena’s team, so credit should be given where it’s due.

Sorry Serena, but like the agents from the Matrix, your strength and speed are based in a world that is built on rules, so you will never be as strong or as fast as the protagonist.

You Come At The Slowking, You Best Not Miss

Anistar’s Gym turned to be a Psychic-type establishment, which meant that it was Amelia’s time to shine (and kinda-sorta Patty’s as well, even though she doesn’t have a Dark-type move yet). Once again, however, the lack of Exp. Share meant everybody needed a turn against the Psychic meat-grinder to get the experience they needed to compete. (In what turned out to be a bit of ironic foreshadowing, Thumper in particular seemed to struggle against the junior Gym trainers, and Amelia had to bail him out on several occasions.)

Olympia, the leader of this establishment, was a woman of few words: Ollie was there for a battle, and she intended to give it to him. Instead of my usual “wait for an opening trick” strategy, I went for the kill shot right from the start: Snorlax pulled off a team wipe of Sabrina’s Psychic crew in Pokémon FireRed, and I opened with Amelia looking for the same result.

Things started promisingly enough, with Amelia one-shotting Sigilyph as soon as match started. The next Pokémon in the ring, however, was Slowking, and he slowly turned the tide against Ollie’s squad:

  • His decent HP and bulky Spec. Defense meant that even super-effective Shadow Balls didn’t do a ton of damage to him.
  • His Rock Slide, on the other hand, did a ton of damage to Amelia in return, forcing a switch to Patty.
  • A well-timed Yawn on Patty’s switch-in put her in a sticky situation, and one unimpressive Round later, she was sleeping.

Suddenly, I was in trouble: Slowking’s Water typing and knowledge of Rock Slide made bringing in Nala or Thumper a dicy proposition (and forget about Birdo, who was still reeling from Machoke’s Rock Slide back in Shalour City). That left Symmetra, whose Fighting/Psychic typing meant that Rock Slides were no threat, but Psychics could be.

I went to the mound and made the move. One Psychic later, the crit hit bug I’d be dodging all game finally bit me, and the “every other episode” curse continued on.

Losing Symmetra was not the worst thing in the world: Despite the usefulness of having a Fighting-type Pokémon in places like Frost Cavern, she was consistently one of the weakest monsters on the team, both with her stats and her moveset (Confusion is the best Psychic move she learns through leveling up? Really?). In the moment, however, it really put me in a bind: Whose life do I put at risk now?

Suddenly, a thought struck me: I’d seen Rock Slide and Psychic thus far, but no Water-type attacks. What if this Slowking had the same problem as Patty (i.e., a type with no moves to support it)? Rock Slide still put Nala and Birdo in danger, but if the water tank was empty, it left the door wide open for Thumper to make some noise. I shrugged, noted that Thumper was my best defensive Pokémon anyway, and made the move.

The move worked: Slowking never pulled out a Water attack to punish my type disadvantage, and two Digs later, the match was over. (Yes, technically Olympia still had Meowstic in her pocket, but after so many battles against Serena, Amelia could beat a Meowstic in her sleep, even in a weakened state.) The battle was over, but the implications for the war were still unclear.

Before I got a chance to catch my breath, however, Serena met me outside the Gym and declared that she would be challenging me to a daily battle (no until after the game was over, thankfully). That’s when the fire started:

I remembered this heel turn from Pokémon Y, but having a supervillain declare that they’re going to destroy to world is always a little jarring.

Lysandre was actually the head of Team Flare, and he had unearthed an ultimate weapon that he was going to use to hit the reset button on the world and destroy all the people that were ruining it. (I mean, I don’t like LoCash or Jake Owen either, but is that really a reason to destroy all life on Earth?) The race was on to locate Team’s Flare secret hideout (except for the heavy hinting that it was below his cafe in Lumiose City), but first…

Eating Your Way To Success

I didn’t have a slot on my top line yet, [but] my decision to turn off the Exp. Share and my current trend of losing a monster in every other episode meant that one would likely open up soon.

Well, I had a slot now! But who should I call up from the minors to fill it?

  • Trapinch? Having a Dragon on the team would be nice, but its Ground-typing overlapped with Thumper, and Ollie had too much type overlapping as it was.
  • Foongus? Ooh, a Suzy replacement? Water and Fairy-type coverage, plus a strong moveset (Giga Drain, Synthesis, and eventually Spore – it’s a Leech Seed away from my standard Jumpluff loadout, plus Toxic)? Perhaps I should trust the fungus after all…
  • Bergmite? Ooh, a Rocko replacement? Dragon coverage without the Dragon type? Its moveset was not great, but it worth considering.
  • Snover? Grass and Ice? Yes please! But man, that moveset did not look good, and I hadn’t collected enough decent TMs to fix it.
  • Beedrill? Don’t even think about it.

After careful consideration, I made the move: Hoskins the Foongus was the next member of Ollie’s posse. At level 35, however, he was a fair bit behind my other top liners (who were mostly Lv. 55 by now). What’s the best/fastest way to rectify this?

Our friend and fellow music/Pokémon enthusiast Zack from The Musical Divide had the answer:

I didn’t use the Exp. Share, but one thing I recommend if you need to train new members – The two star cafe in Lumiose (sp?) City offers triple and rotation battles that are excellent for exp. (It only took an entire morning to get my Lv. 14 Zubat up to snuff with my other members in their sixties … ). (full comment here)

Since we were already in the neighborhood to smite Lysandre and save the world, we swung by the cafe to see how good the service was:

At the prices you’re charging, this had better be good.

The result was incredible: Paired with the Lucky Egg from Coumarine City (which Zack also suggested), Hoskins went from Lv. 35 to Lv. 54 in a matter of hours, becoming a powerful (if slow) force to be reckoned with. (Forget replacing Symmetra: I thought about having him replace Thumper!) With Ollie’s six-stack restored, we made out way into Team Flare’s not-so-secret hideout…

Why are we worried about Team Flare again? If their physical security is this bad, the NSA’s probably been exfiltrating data from their computer network for months.

Welp, That Escalated Quickly

Lysandre was waiting for Ollie was he entered the building, and he surprised me by immediately challenging Ollie to a battle (shouldn’t we be waiting until you’re on the cusp of victory or something?).

His team was good, but as usual, Ollie’s was better.

  • Hoskins ground the opening Mienfoo into dust with Giga Drain.
  • Patty washed away Pyroar with nothing more than a stern look.
  • Gyarados presented a challenge: Not only was it a Water-type, but its Flying-type also negated Hoskins’s advantage. However, I stumbled across some excellent team synergy: Have Hoskins use Toxic, swap to Amelia, and then punish the dragon wannabe with Hex (which doubles in power when the target has a status ailment).
  • Birdo went claw-to-claw with Murkrow, and won that matchup going away.

Lysandre was so impressed that he gave away his entire defensive scheme: One of his scientists had the key to the inner sanctum, and Ollie would have to find them and convince them to hand it over. However, scouring hostile dungeons is a skill I’ve honed for several decades, so I quickly begin examining the area.

Then what are you doing here? Go wait in Los Angeles – he’ll be there in a few weeks.

Long story short, I found the scientists, and crushing them was so straightforward that I swept three of the four series:

  • Aliana: Patty sweep.
  • Celosia: Patty and Amelia split this one (but Amelia came in to beat the Drapion – Patty KO’d the Electric-type Manectric herself!).
  • Bryony: Nala sweep.
  • Mable: Another Nala sweep.

And here I was worried about turning off the Exp. Share.

As to be expected, the scientist who was buried the deepest in the maze (Mable) had the key), so I quickly backtracked to the elevator and headed for the bottom floor. There, I met a man with a bizarre tale of woe to share…

The TL;DR version: A king’s Pokémon died, he created a doomsday weapon to punish the world, and thousands died as a result. For a Pokémon game, this is surprisingly dark.

Lysandre, of course, had found the weapon, and together with his chief scientist Xerosic, he was preparing to reactivate it to once again wipe the slate clean and destroy life as we know it. He left Xerosic to do the honors, but of course the dude couldn’t resist challenging Ollie to yet another battle.

I was pretty fed up with the drama by this point, and I tossed away the type charts in favor of a simple strategy:

  • Use Shadow Ball with Amelia until Crobat faints.
  • Use Flamethrower with Nala until Malamar falls over.

You wouldn’t call me “wunderful” if you’d seen my last attempt to use a Rapid Blaster…

The fight ended quickly, and Xerosic offered Ollie a chance to shut down the weapon as a reward. I remembered picking the blue button in Pokémon Y and seeing the weapon activate, so I chose the red button this time to see what would happen. (It turns out that blue was the “correct” choice, but Xerosic activates the weapon regardless of what you do. What a jerk.)

When Easton Corbin said “It’s about to get real,” this isn’t what he meant.

Conclusions

The world is in chaos right now: The United States and Iran are at each other’s throats, the NBA is on the verge of free agency, Splatoon 2 is losing official support in less than a month, and now some wacky-haired maniac is threatening to turn Kalos into a smoldering crater. Ollie’s team remains strong despite the loss of Symmetra, but some burning questions remain:

  • I never though I’d have doubts about a starter Pokémon, but Patty feels very one-dimensional right now. If Surf isn’t at least a neutral hit against an enemy, neither Round nor Extrasensory pack enough punch to be a reliable second option. Night Slash eventually shows up at Lv. 70, but will that be too late?
  • Birdo could use a little more power in the move department as well. Acrobatics works well enough because Birdo isn’t carrying an item yet, but Fly might be handy if she has to start holding something. Also, Flame Charge doesn’t strike fear into opponents like Flamethrower or Fire Blast might.
  • This is about the time that Dragon-types start appearing in Pokémon games, and I don’t have a solid counter for them. Could Flygon or Avalugg be the answer? (Good grief, am I going to have to start platooning Pokémon like I’m Earl Weaver?)

Tune in next week for the big showdown with Lysandre! Hopefully Ollie saves the world, because an apocalypse would absolutely kill my blog view numbers…

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #5: The Lion Queen

A friend asked me if I wanted to see the upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King in theaters. My response: “No thanks, I’m already working on a sequel.”

When we last left Ollie, he had just finished riding the coattails of his Talonflame to his third and fourth Kalos badges. Birdo had come out swinging ever since returning from a brief benching (boxing?), making everyone remember why she had been holding down the No. 2 spot on Ollie’s team in the first place. What we all forgot, however, was that there was a reason Nala the Pyroar had gotten the nod over Birdo for that slot, and she was less than pleased at the attention her rival was getting. She figured she would have shown the same passion and potential if she had just gotten the opportunity.

In this episode, she got that opportunity…and she didn’t waste it.

Now You’re (Literally) Playing With Power

“Ima.” “Ima who?” “Ima kick your tail, fool.”

Before we get there, however, we had to complete the western circuit of Kalos by crossing the barren wasteland that is Route 13. The route was also the heart of Lumiose City’s power grid, which was still suffering from a crippling cyberattack and in need of a hero to save the day. However, our first order of business was to observe the local wildlife and continue building our team’s depth. I wasn’t looking to add anyone to the top six at this point..

…but this little guy almost made me reconsider my position.

Flygons aren’t explicitly blocked by my “no previous champions” rule, but it’s a member of a select group of Pokémon (which also includes Waillord, Salamence, and a few others) that I raised to Lv. 100 long after beating the Elite Four in Pokémon Pearl, so whether or not I should use this monster was an open question. I was a big fan of it in G4 and it was an obvious upgrade over Thumper (STAB Earthquake and Dragon Claw? “Veemo” indeed), but in the end, I was still worn out from bringing Rocko and Symmetra up to speed (and then mentally drained from losing Rocko soon afterwards), so I decided to stick with Thumper for now and keep Trapinch in mind for a potential call-up should I lose another Pokémon.

With that decision out of the way, I conned my way past the security system and entered the Kalos power plant, discovering that the fiends behind this outage were none other than the bumbling idiots of Team Flare. Beating up on the rank-and-file of the group wasn’t much of a challenge, and Ollie quickly made his way to the center of the plant, where he encountered two pseudo-authority figures:

Figure 1: They thought enough of this dude to give him a sharp, standout design…but not enough to give him an actual name. He folded like a lawn chair under pressure from Patty.

Figure 2: Her design didn’t stand out as much, but at least Aliana had a name. The first in a trio of eventual scientists, Patty kept the beat going and washed her lone monster away with Surf.

Just like that, the bad guys were on the run, and the power could flow once again to the big city (and Ollie didn’t get so much as a thank-you for it). The parade of strange figures, however, kept right on going:

Superheroes or not, I’ve never understood the point of Sina and Dexio. Their inclusion seemed weird here, and even weirder in Pokémon Sun/Moon.

And then this guy randomly shows up outside the city. I know he’s meant to foreshadow things to come, but at this point the player isn’t given any context and is left confused.

Tower Control

After running into so many sketchy people on Route 13, Ollie was happy to see a familiar face in Shauna when he finally made it back to Lumiose City. With the power restored, the first order of business was to light up the Prism Tower like a Christmas tree, which was a bit underwhelming.

I would have prioritized something like, you know, making sure the hospitals and water treatment plants were online, but I don’t live in this county so my vote doesn’t count.

The tower also serves as the Pokémon Gym for the city, and it’s restoration meant that I could now challenge it for the fifth badge of my adventure. Unfortunately, this Gym specialized in Electric-type Pokémon, and if there’s one thing that’s haunted me in darn near every Pokémon game I’ve played, it’s that my over-reliance on Water- and Flying-types makes me a sitting duck for Electric Pokémon. (Then again, with Surf and Fly being so critical for mobility in these games, what else am I supposed to do?) Just like with Grant’s Rock Gym, a significant portion of Ollie’s top line (in this case, Patty, Birdo, and Amelia, a.k.a my No. 1 defensive pairing and my ninth-inning specialist) had to stay out of the fray unless absolutely necessary. Luckily, I still had three things going for me:

  • Ollie has one X rank in Splatoon 2…and it just happens to be in Tower Control. The man climbs and rides towers with the best of them.
  • I had Thumper as an ace in the hole, as his Ground/Normal typing made him immune to Electric moves.
  • Most of all, however, I had Nala, and she had something to prove.

Clemont may be the Gym’s leader, but Bonnie ran the show here. I was ready to pull out my Cinnabar strategy from my last Nuzlocke run (get the question right, and then fight the Trainer anyway), but I had to fight regardless of my answer, so I just rolled with the punches.

After several floors of channeling my inner James Holzhauer (“I’ll make this a true Daily Double, Bonnie”), I arrived at Clemont’s chambers for the final battle. For some reason, I had a feeling that Clemont would open with a twist by deploying a Pokémon super-effective against Ground-types, so I made the call to open with Nala and have Thumper ready in the bullpen for the first sign of trouble. It turned out to be the right call, but not for the reason I expected.

Instead of going on the offensive early, Clemont chose to play defensively and led off the battle with Emolga, whose Flying type made it immune to Ground-type moves. It was not immune to Flamethrower, however, and it only took one from Nala to bring it down. Next came Magneton, who suffered from two problems:

  • Its Steel type, which made it weak to Fire moves.
  • Its Sturdy Ability, which caused Clemont to burn all of his Hyper Potions on the poor Pokémon while Nala kept torching it.

Satisfied with Nala’s 2-for-1, I went to the mound and brought in Thumper to square off with Helioptile, whose typing I had guessed completely wrong (it turned out to be Electric/Normal). This fight lasted two rounds only because Dig is a two-turn move, and the Voltage Badge was mine.

Your lack of a Pachirisu saddens me. (Thank goodness you didn’t have a Lanturn, though.)

Side Hustles

After the battle, I received a message from Prof. Sycamore to meet him at Lysandre’s fire-engine-red cafe nearby, but come on: Ollie was young and single in the big city, and he wanted to live a little! Now that the lights were back on and the entire place was explorable for once, I decided to wander around first and see if there was any excitement to be found.

Spoiler alert: There wasn’t.

I picked up a short-term gig at a ritzy hotel working in their Lost & Found Department, I battled a few random folks on the street, I went up and down nearly every street in Lumiose City, and that was about it. I was only about ten minutes late to the cafe, and after Lysandre went off about beauty in the world and some such nonsense, Prof. Sycamore delivered his important message:

Given that Pokémon is mostly a one-player game, this seems both ironic and self-unaware. Did you seriously drag me all the way here just to feed me that line?

I’m No Stranger To The Rain

For a brief moment, it seemed like the game had let go of my hand and left me to make my own decisions…and then Trevor sent me a message saying everyone was meeting up on Route 14, and Route 16 was still blocked off because for some strange reason the power still hadn’t been restored over there. (I don’t know who runs this city, but they’re going to hear it from their constituents at the ballot box next year.)

The rain was already falling when I set out on the road, and only Serena and Trevor were waiting for me up ahead. After once again trouncing Trevor in a Pokédex comparison, Serena stepped up and demanded yet another battle with my team.

This time, I decided to reverse my battle triplet from the last episode:

  • Amelia opened the battle instead of closing it, trouncing Meowstic in the process.
  • Symmetra used Absol to re-enact a HeadOn commerical (Force Palm: Apply directly to the forehead!).
  • Birdo got a bit cute in her battle with Chesnaught and took some damage as a result, but in the end, a Grass/Fighting Pokémon has absolutely no shot against a Fire/Flying one.

Tierno and Shauna showed up soon afterwards, with the latter suggesting that we all go and investigate a “haunted” house farther up the road. Serena declined the invitation, and I asked the court for the brief recess so I explore the area and see what cool new Pokémon I could find for my team…

*sigh* New, yes. Cool, no.

Mention the word “Shelmet” to me, and the first thing that comes to mind is Super Mario Maker:

Image from Polygon

Not only is Shelmet a fairly weak monster overall, but it requires catching another Pokémon (Karrablast) to evolve to its final form. At this point, my top line is what it is, so I stuck Shelmet in a PC Box and moved on.

In truth, the entire route turned out to be pretty disappointing: The rest of the Pokémon I ran into were even less interesting than Shelmet (except Stunfisk, I would’ve liked one of those), and the “haunted house” was just a single person telling a not-that-scary story that I didn’t even pay attention to until he got to the punch line:

  • NPC: “…A horde of faceless men!”
  • Me: “It’s called ‘mainstream country radio,’ and it’s not scary, it’s just generic and and occasionally induces nausea.”

With that out of the way, I quickly cleaned up any items lying around and hurried north to Laverre City.

A Fairy-Tale Ending

Dude, it’s 2019. We all know the 1% has all the money, we all know where to find Internet porn, and we all know what a Fairy-type Gym looks like.

Laverre City boils down to two main attractions: Its Pokémon Gym, and its Poké Ball factory. I decided to start with the first of the two buildings, entering what looked like a gigantic doll house filled with women wearing furisode kimonos.

As I mentioned at the start of this run, the Fairy type is a blind spot in my Pokémon knowledgebase, so I did some research on Serebii.net to make sure I knew what I was up against. Aside from dragons, Fighting- and Dark-type monsters had to most to fear from Fairy Pokémon, which meant that Patty and Symmetra would be riding the pine this time around. While I didn’t have any Poison or Steel Pokémon to exploit Fairy’s weaknesses, there was one strange quirk that worked in my favor: Fire-types only took half-damage from Fairy-type attacks. Once again, it would be Nala’s time to shine, although Birdo also did her share of heavy-lifting as Ollie traversed the Gym.

It was at this point, however, that I finally confronted an issue that had been hanging over this Nuzlocke run for some time: My entire team was now pushing Level 50, and had roughly a ten-level cushion over nearly every for they faced. That meant that even Patty and Symmetra were finding success against the other Trainers, often leveling them in a single hit before they launch an attack. (In particular, Patty’s STAB Surf backed by her exceptional Spec. Attack made every attack feel super-effective regardless of the actual matchup.) As much as I enjoyed not having to grind  to power up my monsters, just like in my last Nuzlocke run, things seemed to be getting a bit too easy for Ollie’s crew. Then again, I began to feel the same way in my last Nuzlocke run, and the result was a near-fatal disaster for Ophilia and her team, so would the game ramp up just as I was ramping down? As I approached the Gym’s leader Valerie at the top of the dollhouse, I made a note to revisit the use of the Exp. Share at the end of the episode.

For badge battle #6, I again turned to Nala to get the party started, and was promptly rewarded with a one-shot victory over Mawile. In Act II, Mr. Mime was a bit tougher to bring down thanks to its Light Screen and Reflect moves (and Valerie’s healing items), but Nala continued her George Strait impression (stand there and sing use Flamethrower) until the mime could be served well-done back to its Trainer. I swapped to Amelia for the final matchup against Sylveon, looking on as the ghostly balloon laughed off a STAB Dazzling Gleam and responded with back-to-back Shadow Balls to slam the door. Three up, three down.

*yawn*

The Fairy badge was mine, but the victory felt a bit hollow given the level advantage. I didn’t have a ton of time to reflect on the issue, however, because Shauna and Trevor immediately grabbed me and wanted to go visit the Poké Ball factory…which was of course crawling with Team Flare flunkies.

Oh really? Let me introduce you to my Pokémon V, I, and P.

Thanks to Shauna’s distraction of the guard and Serena’s battle by the reception desk (which included her dropping a sick burn about the Team Flare uniform), Ollie was able to infiltrate the facility, ride all the conveyor belts, and smack down anyone wearing a red suit. The entire floor was neutralized in about ten minutes, and I was in the CEO’s office staring down a few more high-level execs from the bad guys.

Wait, is this Pokémon, or a Bizarro World episode of Charlie’s Angels?

The white-suited admin was no different from her bald counterpart from the Power Plant: Decent design, no actual name, no chance against Birdo’s ferocity. When her scientist helpers Bryony and Celosia tried to best me using math (2 > 1), Serena arrived to even the odds and make it a true Double Battle.

And another diss! When did Serena start spitting fire like this?

The battle opened poorly: Manectric held the advantage over Birdo, and Liepard held the advantage over Serena’s Meowstic. Ollie had survived too many Turf Wars to lose his cool now, and he calmly switched to Thumper as Meowstic fell to the scientific pair. A Dig dodged two attacks and flattened Manectric in one shot, and a Strength cleaned up what was left of Liepard once Chesnaught was through with it.

You said it, not me.

With that, the day was saved and a shiny new Master Ball was given to the conquering heroes. Serena, however, was not happy with her performance in the battle…

My advice: Dump that darn Meowstic, and go dig up a Trapinch from Route 13. You’ll thank me later.

Also, I got a random update saying that the financial markets were not harmed by the hostile takeover. (It’s a good thing, because my 401k is in bad enough shape as it is.)

Conclusions

This wasn’t a massive episode geographically (we covered a whole two routes), but the pace of the game has really picked up, as we’ve gone from having two badges at the end of Episode #3 to having six just two weeks later. The pace of play issue, however, is secondary to the question of whether the Exp. Share has made Ollie’s team a bit too OP at this point in the game: Should we reverse our earlier decision to use it, or keep going and assume the game will catch up to us as the impending apocalypse arrives? That will be item #1A on our agenda in the next episode.

Team-wise, Nala was easily the standout Pokémon this week, but nearly everyone had some impressive moments (even Patty, despite continually getting the short end of the type-matchup stick). Adding a Flygon is still an intriguing possibility, and I’m still hoping to find a Grass-type to cover Suzy II’s old role, but so far I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing. Of course, what I’m seeing is partially due to the Exp. Share, so if I forgo it next week, my feelings may change…

Tune in next week, when Ollie and company visit snow country and looks to capture their seventh badge!

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #4: Angry Birds

I was thisclose to titling this post “Two Badges, One Bird.” Why?

When we last left Oliver, he was facing quite a conundrum: How could he fix what appeared to be a severe type imbalance on his top line? With Fire, Flying, and Normal duplications and some serious holes (such as Rock-types), was his current crew being set up for failure when times really got tough? With Geosenge Town offering some respite from the chaos, it was time to make some tough calls.

Needless to say, not everyone was happy with the decisions I made…and when one of the calls had to be reversed, a certain firebird unleashed such fury that they darn near burned Shalour City to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – how did this all go down?

Designated For Assignment

My closing analysis from the last episode suggested the following changes:

  • Symmetra and Amaura (who I finally named Rocko) should be promoted to the big-league club. Mixing in the Fighting, Psychic, Rock, and Ice type would (mostly) address my type imbalance.
  • The Pokémon that would be sent down to Triple-A, however, were a bit less clear. I’d been complaining about Reese since I caught her, so shipping her out was an easy decision. The other monster would have to be one of my Fire-types, which meant either Birdo or Nala needed to go. With Nala’s deeper moveset and Amelia’s adequate Flying coverage, the call was for Birdo to take a hike. (This ended up being both the dumbest and smartest decision I could make.)

Of course, neither Symmetra nor Rocko were anywhere near the level of their new teammates, so this episode began with a trek back to Routes 7 and 8 to bring the rookies up to speed (with the Exp. Share turned off, so the veterans didn’t keep gaining experience and getting farther away in the process).

Rocko distinguished himself immediately: His strongest attribute was her Spec. Attack, and his moveset quickly expanded to match it (first Aurora Beam, and then Ancient Power). In no time, he was kicking butts, taking names, and covering for his counterpart’s weaknesses. Symmetra, in contrast, demonstrated about as much utility in battle as her Overwatch namesake (as in very little): Her stats were unimpressive (most notably her HP, which lagged far behind everyone else), her moves were not terribly powerful (she needed three or four hits to KO most everything, making her the equivalent of an Undercover Brella in Splatoon 2 until she learned Force Palm), and everything and their brother seemed to have a move that was super-effective against her (those Absols on Route 8 were particularly annoying, and Zangoose brought the threat of a switch-out Pursuit when it appeared).

In other words: Keeping Rocko was a no-brainer, but Symmetra’s frustrating lack of progress made me consider bringing Birdo back on multiple occasions, type imbalance or not. In the end, however, I decided the sample size was too small, and the real test wouldn’t happen until level parity was achieved.

Ollie vs. Korrina I

After many hours of grinding, Rocko and Symmetra were declared fit for duty, and Ollie finally made his way to…

Ugh, what now?

I had run into Korrina back on Route 5, but didn’t think much about it at the time. Now, however, her Lucarios (well, at least one of them) were chomping at the bit to test my skills, and this time, I was more than happy to oblige. The battle was so memorable that I have no idea who I even sent out to battle (likely one or both of the two newcomers), and I quickly emerged victorious.

Methinks you need to adjust your definition of “ultra-powerful.”

On The Road Again

With the clingy Lucario temporarily beaten back, Ollie finally set foot onto Route 11 and starting moving forward again. New routes meant new reinforcements for the bench, of course, so our first task was to dive into the brush and see what new friends awaited us.

Wait, since when are Machops blue? Is this a shiny one?

I vaguely recalled Sawk from G5, but much like Meditites and Medichams, these never piqued my interest enough to investigate their potential. While I briefly considered the idea of giving this guy Symmetra’s spot and at least having a viable Fighting-type on the roster, after hours of grinding between Sym and Rocko, I wasn’t up for doing it again (at least, not this quickly), so I stuck him on the bench and advised him to avoid Birdo (who had torn up her PC Box and had the rest of my monsters hiding in a corner by this point).

Nala, for one, did not miss having her competition on the top line.

Mirror, Mirror

Route 11 was basically over before it started, ending rather abruptly at the entrance to the Reflection Cave. At the time, I just shrugged my shoulders and headed inside—after all, what could be inside the darn thing that could be scarier than my Pokémon? The answer turned out to be “A whole lot more than you think.”

Things started off slow with the obligatory new-area capture:

Hey look, another G1 annoyance I’ve been dodging for two decades. Great.

I wasn’t any more interested in dealing with Mr. Mime (wait, shouldn’t it be “Mrs. Mime” if it’s female?) than I was when I played Pokémon Red, so I caught it, stuffed it in a Box, and made a point to tell it to introduce itself to Birdo (who had moved on to destroying the entire PC server like a piece of malware by this point).

The cave itself was a lot more expansive and scary/frustrating than I remembered, and it took a while to scour and find the exit. Two incidents in particular stood out:

The Near-Death Experience

By about the halfway point of the cave, I had seen most of what the local wildlife had to offer, and it wasn’t terribly interesting or scary…until I ran into this jerk:

Somewhere, Jessie is scratching her head wondering where her Wobbuffet went.

Apparently Wobbuffets are so notorious for ruining Nuzlocke runs that some players include clauses that allow them to ignore the results of encountering them. Why are they so dangerous?

  • They have Counter, so any physical damage you deal it can be doubled and returned to you.
  • They have Mirror Coat, so any special damage you deal it can be doubled and returned to you.
  • They have Destiny Bond, which mean if it dies, so does your monster.
  • Their Ability in Shadow Tag, which prevents you from switching or running away.

Worst of all, I had Symmetra at the front of my party at the time, which meant that I could barely damage the darn thing anyway. (My best offensive option was Hidden Power, which by sheer luck was a Dragon-type move in Sym’s case.)

After one round in which Symmetra barely survived a Mirror Coat, I stared at the screen for several minutes wondering what to do. I hadn’t put any Wobbuffet clauses in my game, and I didn’t have any coins on hand to flip—should I impose a clause now, or was it too late (or was it a cop-out)? As annoying as I had found Symmetra earlier, I really didn’t want to lose her now after all that time I’d spent training her. What do I do?

Believe it or not, I actually tried throwing a few Poké Balls at Wobbuffet at first, seeing if I could catch it, circumvent this whole question, and stick it next to my Snorlax in the “can’t use” pile. When that failed, I sighed, steeled myself for the inevitable, and started attacking.

This, however, was when Symmetra’s luck finally started to turn. Wobbuffet never guessed correctly for the rest of the match, while Symmetra’s attacks were critical hits more often than not. In the end, she brought the big blue monster down and exited the battle a changed woman, ready to take on whatever stepped into her path.

Patty was so moved by the experience that she literally became a changed woman!

While Sym had found confidence, I had completely lost mine, and I spent the rest of the cave burning the Repels that Thumper had picked up to make sure we were never put into that situation again.

The Actual Death Experience

Repels, however, don’t work against other Trainers, and near the end of the cave, I stumbled into a battle with an Ace Trainer with an Absol and a Pinsir in his pocket. The Absol was no big deal, and when Pinsir was announced, I thought, Pfft, a bug? I’ll let Rocko ice this deadbeat.

What I neglected to consider:

  • Pinsirs are also part Fighting-type.
  • By Lv. 25, Pinsirs know Brick Break.
  • Amauras are Rock/Ice, which means they have a 4x weakness to Fighting-type moves.

One STAB Brick Break later…

As an aside, I don’t like how this game declares “Your Pokémon fainted!” and automatically moves on before I get a chance to grab my camera.

So after almost losing all that time and effort I put into Symmetra, I actually lost all the time and effort I put into Rocko?! I was not happy, and I let Nala turn that Pinsir into a pile of ashes in response.

Symmetra felt the weight of the moment as well, because she immediately evolved into her final form.

Needless to say, I was more than happy to bid this cave farewell, because I didn’t like the reflection I was seeing.

The Bird’s The Word

I don’t care how cool it is – I’m so mad right now that I’m going to tear that thing down stone by fricking stone.

I don’t remember a whole lot about arriving in Shalour City. I kind of recall Tierno and Trevor showing up, and I remember being told that both the Gym Leader and the nameless Mega Evolution guru were waiting in the Tower Of Mastery. What I do remember is the email I received from a panicked IT person begging me to take Birdo out of my Box before it destroyed the entire Kalosian network and sent the whole region back to the stone age. Rocko’s untimely demise meant I now had an open roster spot, and there was no way in heck that I was going to let Reese fill it. Birdo was back, and she was not about to let herself be benched again.

The Fab Five reunite.

Once the band was back together, the Mega Evolution guru dropped the bad news: Yes, he knew the secret to mega evolving Pokémon, but no, he didn’t have enough magical MacGuffins to go around. For some unknown reason, Serena decided that this was the hill she wanted to die on, and finally stepped up to challenge me in battle.

Do you see the flames coming out of this Poké Ball? This really isn’t a good time, Serena.

Birdo proceeded to lay waste to Serena’s entire party without so much as breaking a sweat, declaring that she wanted her No. 2 slot behind Patty back.

“Lost” doesn’t even begin to describe what happened.

Nala, who had inherited Birdo’s No.2 slot and was not keen on giving it up, countered by learning Flamethrower and proclaiming her Fire-type dominance. Birdo laughed off the move and declared “This isn’t even my final form”…

…and then she showed us her final form.

Ollie vs. Korrina II: Feel The Burn

By this point, Korrina was rattled enough that she scurried back to her Gym and tried to hide behind her army of rollerblading Trainers. Birdo was having none of this, and destroyed every Pokémon from every last Trainer in the gym singlehandedly, declaring that either Korrina would face her in combat or she would burn the entire city to the ground. The rematch was on.

Birdo steamrolled Korrina’s opening Mienfoo, and looked primed for a clean sweep of the entire Gym. Korrina’s Machoke, however, had other plans:

  • As we noted in earlier episodes, Rock-type moves really mess up Fire/Flying Pokémon like Birdo.
  • Machoke had Rock Tomb in his back pocket, and he came out swinging with it on the first turn.

Birdo’s health redlined, and she collasped in Ollie’s arms, unwilling to concede but no longer viable to leave in the ring. As she gasped for air, Ollie stroked the bird’s feathers and passed along some hard-earned wisdom from hundreds of 3v4 Turf Wars: No battle can be won by yourself. To achieve victory, you must first have trustworthy teammates.

A switch to Symmetra and a stern Confusion brought Machoke to his knees, and Amelia cleaned up the Hawlucha behind him. Victory was mine.

A not-so-wise man once said that “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be, it’ll be.” It wasn’t meant to be.

Ollie vs. Korrina III: Battle Of The Banned

The Rumble Badge was now mine, but Korrina wasn’t ready to turn over the Mega Evolution bracelet just yet. Instead, I had to return to the Tower of Mastery and climb all the way to the top to be in compliance with the usual rules and regulations.

Wait…if this is a ring, why am I wearing it on my wrist?

Once the ceremony was complete, the Lucario that had become smitten with Ollie decided to join forces with me and battle against his former Trainer. While this match didn’t exactly fit my Nuzlocke run, it appeared to be my only option, so I decided to roll with the punches.

Look out, she’s in serious mode now.

The battle ended up as little more than a formality: Both Lucarios mega evolved, both Lucarios did roughly the same amount of damage to each other, and Ollie scored a Round 2 TKO because his Lucario was a little faster.

Blah, blah, whatever. Are we done now, or do I have to fight you a fourth time?

After three consecutive victories, Ollie’s Lucario decided he needed to change teams if he wanted to win a championship, so Korrina offered to give it to me. Lucario would make a great addition to the team…but the problem is that I know this because I let it join my team in Pokémon Y, so it was ineligible for use in my Nuzlocke run. I gave it a space next to Snorlax in my PC box, and bid farewell to Korrina and Shalour City.

Hey, Lapras would make a great addition to my team too! …Except that I know this because one was the playoff MVP of my last Nuzlocke run, so…sorry.

Cool Water

Outside of requiring Surf to get across it, Route 12 was nothing to write home about. I caught my requisite bench warmer…

…and the less said about it, the better. (I’m starting to think I’m being haunted by the ghost of G4.)

With this out of the way, Ollie quickly made his way to Coumarine City, where the seas are calm and the monorail is the only way to reach anything useful in town. As I arrived, however, my suddenly-omnipresent rival reached out for a chance at revenge.

If you say so, but you’re going to get Birdo shoved up your nose just like last time…

After a brief rest at the Pokémon Center, I made my way over to the CoumarineGym/cave, where Serena was waiting for our rematch. Thinking back to my formula for success at the Shalour Gym, I channeled my inner Earl Weaver and platooned my Pokémon based on the matchup: Lead off with Birdo to KO Meowstic, let Symmetra Force Palm Absol to death, and bring in Amelia (“The Closer”? Wait, that’s Kevin Harvick’s nickname) to shut down Quilladin. Pitching, defense, and the three-run Ember: That’s how we roll!

Translation: Where can I find a Charizard to crush your sorry Octoling butt?

Since I was already at the gym’s doorstep, I decided to step inside and challenge Ramos for the Plant Badge to wrap up this week’s episode. This gym ended up being no tougher than Korrina’s crew, but at least Birdo let a few other Pokémon get in on the fun (even Patty snuck into a few matches despite her type disadvantage). I climbed the tower in no time at all, and demanded an audience from the old geezer waiting at the top.

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

I’m here to “plant” you six feet under, pal.

Ollie’s battle with Ramos features all the same characters as the fight with Korrina, but with all of the suspense drained out. Doubling down on Fire- and Flying-types meant Grass-types had absolutely no chance against my top line.

You know the routine by now: Open with Birdo to toast Jumpluff (which I consider a criminally-underrated Pokémon, even with its severe Ice weakness), swap to Symmetra to wipe out Weepinbell, and bring Amelia out of the bullpen to grind Gogoat into dust. Nothing like a 1-2-3 inning to close out a day!

I suggest using a Venusaur next time.

Conclusions

I’m honestly not sure what to make out this Nuzlocke run so far. I haven’t really faced a credible threat to the run yet (outside of maybe that Wobbuffet), but I’ve still managed to lose two good Pokémon via simple boneheaded decision making. Given all the 6/10 scores I’ve been handing out to songs lately, it makes sense that the score fits here as well: Okay, but not exactly good.

With Birdo looking strong and Symmetra finally starting to pull her weight, I don’t plan on making any more major changes to the lineup right now, but I’m definitely considering turning off the Exp. Share (although it’s been really helpful by reducing my grinding time). I’d like to add another Grass- and Ice-type to the roster for extra depth, but if Birdo keeps dominating like she’s a Moltres, it’s a moot point. (Also, I need to find a good nickname for someone in the party soon.)

Tune in next week, when we make our triumphant return to Lumiose City and figure out if we’ll be heading north or east next!

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #3: Rockin’ All Night Long

Who needs balance (or a bullpen) when your A-team is on this kind of a roll?

When we last left Oliver, he was still fuming over the loss of his Ivysaur and wondering a) who would step up and cover the hole, and b) when Serena would finally test him like a true rival. By the end of this episode, the answers would…not be any clearer, as Ollie ended up tag-teaming with his “rival” and brute-forcing his way to a second badge like a bad search algorithm, somehow delaying the inevitable for another week. How did this happen?

Bullying The Team

After a brief detour to become a Viscount at the Battle Chateau, I gritted my teeth and made my way to the Connecting Cave, where I was certain another Zubat was waiting for me. Before I got there, however, I was stopped by Serena, who finally challenged me to a battle…except that she didn’t want to fight me, but instead suggested we pair up to beat down Tierno and Trevor. I was surprised, but I was also more than happy to delay my eventual showdown with the toughest of my rivals, so we tag-teamed to show our resident scholar and dance maniac who really ruled this region.

Are you kidding? All the Pokédex teaches you is weird trivia that never lets you look at your Ghost-type monsters the same way ever again.

With Serena’s bloodlust temporarily satiated, I took my leave and made my way through the Connecting Cave, where I was immediately confronted by…a Whismur? In fact, there were several of them waiting for me, and my Exploud from Pokémon Emerald meant they were ineligible for my squad. I managed to walk the path to Route 8 without encountering a single Pokémon I could catch, meaning that my inevitable Zubat would have to wait a while longer. Instead, my first catch of the episode would come from the surprising variety of monsters on Route 8, including Inkay (which Ollie the Octoling recoiled from), Zangooses (Zangeese?), Absols, Spoinks, and…

Drifloons!

Drifloons were a once-a-week appearance at Valley Windworks back in Pokémon Pearl, so I didn’t bother to mess around with them at the time. Now, however, I was excited to actually have a Ghost-type to use after the “Gastly or nothing” situation in Pokémon FireRed, so despite adding another monster that conflicted with Birdo’s typing, I booted Hamilton from my top line and plugged “Amelia” (named after another deceased flyer) into the slot.

Drifloon’s level-up time was fairly quick, and once she started gaining access to some decent Ghost-type moves (first Ominous Wind, then Hex), she began to show off some decent power, and her massive HP pool helped cover her defensive deficiencies. I was pretty happy with the setup at the time, but I didn’t realize how much trouble I was setting myself up for at Gym #2…

Living In The Past

What’s the point of having so many towns in your game when they have so little to do in them?

Ambrette Town was about as exciting as Camphrier Town, with the Fossil Laboratory acting as little more than a plot device to convince me to explore the ruins east of town. (I did pick up an Old Rod, however, which will hopefully help me find decent backups for Patty at some point.) I’d used a Tyrantrum in Pokémon Y to great effect several years ago (and used Nessie the Lapras in my FireRed run to even greater effect last year), so the possibility of getting a Rock/Ice-type like Amaura was enough to make me take my horse to the Old Town Road Rhyhorn to Route 9 to dig up some ancient artifacts. There were, however, a couple of chances to add even more big bats to the bench between now and then…

Chance #1: Hippopotas (Route 9). Like Drifloon, this was a G4 monster that had intrigued me in the past, but I’d never found the right motivation to really use it. It provides Ground-type backup for Thumper if nothing else, and Sand Stream might come in handy for catching monsters later on. I give this catch two thumbs up.

Chance #2: Machop (Glittering Cave). Like Zubat and Weedle, this is one of those G1 monsters that just keeping popping up and ruining my chance to catch something cooler. Buff Fighting-types are never a bad thing to have around, however, and since Ride Pokémon are another generation away, it can at least help out as an HM carrier. It gets one thumb up.

There was little to note here besides the new additions to the team, but I did enjoy winning my first Sky Battle of the adventure a bit more than I should have. In Pokémon Y, I lost a few of these simply because the only Flying-type I carried around was Vivillon (and bugs don’t fare well against birds), but this time I had both Birdo and Amelia to bring the pain (doubling down on certain types has its advantages). Your honor has been restored at last, Vivillon!

A Flare-Up Of Violence

Ah, you must be the bad guy. Allow me to throw some cold water on your plans.

While the State Department has not put out a travel advisory for Glittering Cave, there had been scattered reports of Team Flare (G6’s answer to Team Rocket) activity in the area, and sure enough a few of these tackily-dressed individuals were channeling their inner archeologist in the cave. While their Dark-type monsters made using Amelia a bit of a challenge, they really weren’t much of a nuisance overall, especially when my “rival” showed up for yet another tag-team battle against them:

It’s nice to see you again Serena, but that Espurr of yours needs a lot more training.

At the very end of the cave was a clueless fossil researcher who had been completely lost in his work despite all the chaos around him. He gave me the Sail Fossil I wanted, however, so I swallowed my tongue and hurried back the the Fossil Lab to turn my new gift back into Pokémon form.

Now, it was decision time: Lv. 20 put Amaura a slight distance behind everyone else in the party (aside from Amelia, they were all in the high 20s at this point thanks to the Exp. Share), so do I step back and do some more grinding for this monster, or do I press forward with my current group? With Amelia still in her honeymoon phase and Reese being my only viable options for Bug and Poison, I decided to run with the status quo for a bit longer and see how things played out. (Whether or not this was the right decision remains up for debate, but it turned out not to matter in the end.)

Thump Up The Volume

Sadly, I discovered that Route 8 stretched beyond Ambrette and ran all the way to Cyllage City, which mean no more new Pokémon between now and my run-in with the second Gym. A dearth of Trainers and tall grass also meant that there wasn’t a lot of training to be done here either—what you had was what you had, so it had better be good.

Cyllage City itself didn’t offer much in the way of help, aside from providing the usual early-game bicycle to bump up your movement spee. I did, however, find some clothes at the boutique to more-closely match a look from Splatoon 2

Not an overly-fresh look, but we’re getting there.

With little else to do, I decided to see what the Cyllcye City Gym had to offer…and immediately discovered that it was a Rock-type establishment. Normally, this isn’t a problem: Rock gyms show up early in nearly every Pokémon game ever made, and the type has enough glaring holes to make finding a good matchup fairly easy. However, Rock is also super-effective against a few common type, including Bug (Reese), Flying (Birdo, Amelia), and Fire (Nala, Birdo again). In other words, four of my top six monsters were weak to Rock-types, which severely limited my options for taking on the Gym’s leader, Grant.

On the flip side, however, the options I had remaining (Patty and Thumper) both held a type advantage over Rock, as did a few of the monsters sitting on my bench (Amaura, Machop, Hippopotas, etc.). Therefore, the scenario boiled down to this: How much did I trust Patty and Thumper to handle Grant’s team?

Both monsters were darn near Lv. 30 by this point, so my answer was “A lot.” I stuck Thumper at the head of line, resolved to bring Patty in at the first sign of trouble, and stepped up to call out Grant.

Grant opened with the Amaura I had been waffling about adding to my team, which put Thumper on the defensive…or it might have put Thumper on the defensive had he not been carrying Double Kick. Tyrunt was summarily STABbed by Mud Shot, and for the second time in a row Patty never left her Poké Ball in a Gym match. Two shots from Thumper, two losses for Grant, two badges for Oliver.

Dude, you put up about as much of a fight as Brock did. Up your game!

I’m Gonna Need A Bigger Bullpen…

With Cyllage City conquered, Ollie decided that he was finally Octoling enough to face his Zubat fate, and took a quick detour back to the Connecting Cave to catch another monster. Instead, however, he got a surprise:

That doesn’t look like a Zubat…

I remembered running into Meditite and Medicham back in Pokémon Sapphire, but I was never a huge fan of their design and I mostly ignored them. After being slapped in the face with the party’s type imbalance in Cyllage City, however, having a Psychic/Fighting-type hanging around might not be a bad idea, so I stuffed this one in a Poké Ball and resolved once and for all to revisit the type issue once this week’s episode was complete.

While running around the cave to see just how long it would take to actually find a Zubat, Amelia evolved into her final form. Mess with this balloon at your own risk.

With that oversight taken care of, it was time to move onto Route 10 and its plethora of mystical stones that feel like one giant Dick Curless reference:

With a smaller Dragon Ball Z reference thrown in for good measure.

Yet another route meant yet another new Pokémon from a diverse set of interesting characters, so Oliver dove headfirst into the grass and found…

…seriously, are Fire-types going to be here what Poison-types were in FireRed? (BTW, shoutout to Hamilton for coming off the bench to help secure these catches.)

I’d always liked the design for Houndour and Houndoom, but just life so many other Pokémon, I’d never had the time and/or opportunity to really use one. With my team so top-heavy with regards to Fire-types, however, this guy probably won’t see much action unless disaster strikes.

Speaking of Fire-types, guess who else was hanging around?

No, you folks are just that incompetent.

Team Flare claimed they were researching the stones for their own evil purposes (although it looked to me like the only evil thing they were doing was loitering). Regardless of why they were there, my Pokémon made them regret their bad luck, and sent them scrambling for Geosenge Town.

 The Biggest Rocks Of All

I’ve heard that the Kalos region is based on France, but as I reached Geosenge I realized there was one striking similarity between this region and the United States: The drastic divide between its urban and rural areas. (Lumiose Town has all the money, people, and optimism; everything else seems to be slowly rotting away like the Rust Belt.) Once again, there was basically zero to do in town, and after learning some random trivia about the rock formations in town and chasing Team Flare to a dead-end in the northwest corner, I decided that this would be a good spot to end the episode and start thinking about what my team should look like in the future.

Don’t worry, I’ll deal with you jokers eventually.

Conclusions

Honestly, this episode felt kind of empty, and probably could have been summed up as “Caught a Drifloon, earned another badge.” Still, my near-Rock experience indicates that I really need to rethink my lineup going forward, because if anything will kill you in a Nuzlocke run, it’s a mismanaged type matchup. So how are my monsters trending right now?

  • Patty: She’s not only my starter, but she’s my only Water-type Pokémon and basically the team captain. She’s not going anywhere.
  • Birdo: As much as I like her, she’s become a bit redundant with Nala and Amelia around. She’s a potential candidate for benching.
  • Nala: Either her or Birdo should be sent to the bullpen, and Nala has the stronger attacks right now, although her Normal typing overlaps with Thumper a bit.
  • Thumper: He’s my best Ground- and Normal-type option right now, and he’s also the one I gave my new Strength HM to. He’s probably sticking around.
  • Amelia: Same sort of deal: Packs a decent punch and is my lone Ghost-type option. Expect her to hold a spot.
  • Reese: She’s stuck around this long, but even with Poison Jab coming I feel like there are better options for this slot. I don’t know what the Pokémon equivalent of a “Left-handed One Out GuY” is, but that’s probably Reese’s role.
  • Symmetra (Meditite): Psychic and Fighting? I feel like she could steal a spot on my top line.
  • Amaura: Ditto Symmetra, as adding Rock and Ice would help improve my type coverage a lot.
  • Hamilton (Gulpin): He’s been the long reliever up to this point, but I think Symmetra and Amaura have more potential right now, so his role likely won’t change.
  • Gertrude (Swirlix): With her evolution based on trading, her utility is dependent on whether or not I can get my hands on another 3DS in the next few weeks.
  • Conrad (Machop): Ditto Gertrude, as he needs a trade to reach his final form.
  • Buckner (Hippopotas): At Lv. 17, he’s best suited as a emergency fill-in for Thumper.
  • Strait (Houndour): Ditto Buckner, as Strait is the third quarterback behind Birdo and Nala.
  • Luke Combee: …Well, at least beer never broke his heart.

Tune in next week, when the new lineup is announced and we discover if Shalour or Coumarine Cities are any more interesting than the one-horse town we’ve found so far! Maybe Serena will want to challenge us by then…