We Should Really Talk About Pokémon Uranium

So what the $#!t is Pokémon Uranium?

A fan-made bootleg Pokémon game, some eight years in the making, that was completed and released a few weeks ago.  It runs on what I think is some sort of homebrewed version of the Diamond and Pearl-era game engine hacked together in RPGmaker, with a number of general ease-of-use improvements like multiple save slots, key rebinding (I mean, if you’re playing Pokémon on your computer you can do that anyway through your emulator software, but it’s still nice), and a built-in Nuzlocke mode with a few optional rules.  More importantly, Uranium features a whole new region, Tandor, inhabited by about 200 fan-designed Pokémon as well as many of our old favourites.  It’s not unique in concept, of course, but to my knowledge it is, by a significant margin, the most ambitious project of its kind ever to actually see completion, which sort of makes it worth talking about, and probably even giving some level of playthrough commentary.

Gee whiz, Mr. Pokémaniac Chris, sir, that sounds like something I’d f%&#ing well love to try!  Where can I find it?

Well.  The official website of the game’s creators no longer offers downloads, because they received word that Nintendo of America’s lawyers were intending to bitchslap them.  However, this is the internet, and nothing ever dies on the internet; if you Google “Pokémon Uranium download” you can easily find sites where fans have re-uploaded the game on their own.  As long as the creators officially refuse to endorse any of these and warn that some of them may be malicious, they’re a lot safer from legal action.  It seems pretty clear that they knew this would happen; they apparently intend to continue patching the game, and everything else on their website is still active.  Pokémon Uranium was built for Windows; you can run it on a Mac, using dark magic for which instructions are available here; personally I found that it was so slow as to be downright unplayable, and if you do have a Mac I would recommend running it on Bootcamp, but others seem to have had more success, so you might give it a try.

Why, those Nintendo sons of Bisharps!  I’d like to give them a piece of my mind; why I oughtta-!

Whoa there.  It may sound a little bit evil of Nintendo to intimidate a fan group into taking down their non-profit eight-year passion project, but it’s not entirely their fault.  US intellectual property law basically holds that a trademark is only worth something as long as you actively defend it from serious infringements. If Nintendo doesn’t make at least a token effort to shut Uranium down, someone else more malicious could later point to it as evidence that Nintendo was no longer maintaining its trademarks on the word “Pokémon” or the names of all the official Pokémon that appear in Uranium like Mankey and Dunsparce.  Now, Nintendo’s lawyers couldthen counter that they thought Uranium, as a non-profit creation of a group of dedicated fans, was too inconsequential to be worth litigation, but there isn’t really any way to know ahead of time whether the courts would agree with that assessment.  Failing to contest this could actually get them in trouble at a later point, which is the last thing Uranium’s creators want.  This kind of thing happens a lot in the games industry; it’s why you get blatant nonsense cases like the makers of Candy Crush Saga suing the makers of The Banner Saga, a wildly dissimilar game, for using the word “saga.”  They almost certainly don’t really care, but the nature of the law makes them worry that maybe it’s safer if they pretend to.  Of course, now that the creators are no longer distributing the game themselves, Nintendo can reasonably claim to have defended its trademark without having to pursue the matter any further.  Again, I expect that the creators of Uranium probably anticipated all of this.

Well, gee f#%&ing willikers, I don’t know anything about that; I’m just an interlocutory voice in your head, conjured up from the shadows of your deranged psyche!  But is the game any good?

Eh.  I’m still making up my mind.  I mean, you don’t expect it to be as good as the games from generation VI or even necessarily V; honestly, if it were, then I think that would be a pretty scathing indictment of Game Freak’s abilities as a game design studio, seeing as how they have twenty years of experience and… y’know… a budget.  On the other hand, you’d expect Uranium to make noticeable improvements over what they started with, which appears to be essentially an imitation of the fourth generation game engine (though with a lot of more recent elements worked in – Uranium has Fairy-types, for instance).  There’s a lot of ease-of-use stuff, directed at the experienced and savvy online audience – key rebinding and multiple save slots are essentially par for the course if you’re using an emulator, which is effectively what Uranium is competing with; the built-in Nuzlocke settings are also just formalising stuff that people did anyway.  It’s also worth note that they’ve taken a similar route to Pokémon Go in ditching the classic non sequitur “are you a boy or a girl?” in favour of a more fluid question “who are you?” with three possible responses – one character who looks traditionally feminine, one who looks traditionally masculine, and one somewhere in between.  The other big thing that I’ve noticed so far is that Uranium just tells you up front what all of your Pokémon’s EVs and IVs are, which wouldn’t work for the core games because it’s just too many strange numbers to throw at someone new to the franchise (a problem Game Freak has been working to solve by wrapping them in packages like the Super Training system), but makes perfect sense for Uranium’s likely audience.  Of course, all this is bells and whistles; what I actually care about is whether the Pokémon designs are any good and, in particular, whether the story is interesting, and that’s going to take me a while to figure out.

But what on earth do you gosh-damn think so far?

Well, the game wastes no time making it clear that it’s much darker than standard Pokémon fare.  The opening cutscene kills off the player’s mother Lucille, a brilliant nuclear physicist whose plant experiences a catastrophic meltdown years before the events of the game itself (the fallout from this disaster, and its effect on the region’s Pokémon, seem like they’re going to be major themes of the game’s story). Kellyn, the player’s Pokémon Ranger father (this is another thing Uranium apparently has – Fiore-style Rangers who summon wild Pokémon for assistance rather than training permanent teams), became distant, obsessed with his work, and basically a terrible dad as a result of his wife’s death, so that by the start of the game itself the player character is actually living with their aunt, who is about a hundred years old. Honestly, at this point I’d put 80% odds on mum being not dead at all, and in fact ascended into some kind of radioactive Pokégod (the game straight up tells us that they never found the body; I mean come on), but the pointis your character has some legit tragedy built right into their backstory.  As for the Pokémon I’ve met so far… well, I have unwisely chosen to try out the built-in Nuzlocke features, which is going to make it awfully difficult to get a proper look at most of Tandor’s Pokémon.  As I pillage my way to the first gym in Nowtoch City, I’ve felt that the Pokémon have been sort of hit-and-miss, but a) that’s always the case, and b) I haven’t seen what they evolve into yet, so it’s only fair to reserve judgement.  In brief…

–          My starter is Orchynx, a small green cat with metal bands on its forelegs and tail, and a Grass/Steel dual-type.  The type is a bold choice but I will admit I caught myself muttering “oh, for goodness’ sake, another cat Pokémon?”  The other starters are Raptorch, a Fire/Ground armadillo-dinosaur-kangaroo thing who is clearly just empirically awesome, and Eletux, a Water/Electric… um… sort of… land dolphin or… sea goat or… something?  I’m… I’m honestly not sure what Eletux is.  I’ve noticed that there only seems to be room in the Pokédex for each of these three to evolve once, which is an interesting choice.
–          There’s some kind of chipmunk thing, clearly the regional Rattata stand-in, whose name I cannot remember and which I therefore insistently refer to as a “Dumbfuck.”  It learns Charge so it may well evolve into an Electric-type, at which point I might be forced to pay more attention to it.
–          There is a birb, which is actually just called Birbie.  It starts with Flash and seems like it will have a focus on light-related abilities, which is interesting and different from previous birb Pokémon, so I’m intrigued to see where this goes as it evolves. Assuming mine survives the Nuzlocke that long, which… well, we’ll see.
–          The regional caterpillar, Cubbug, is a literal bugbear, which is adorable and I suppose actually quite clever.  Mine has reached what I am presently assuming is its middle stage, which calls itself Cubblfly and is a Bug/Fairy dual-type.  It’s a sort of… pink bear-fly with leaves?  I don’t know.  Sure.
–          I have encountered in the hands of trainers, but not yet been able to capture, a strange mutant owl-cat (another cat Pokémon?) known as Owten.  It fits most of the normal criteria to be considered cute.  However, its wantonly spliced anatomy disturbs me and I will try to eradicate it, if at all possible.
–          I have likewise seen a trainer with a sort of bloated frogodile, called… I want to say Frogurt, or something… which random passers-by have assured me can be caught in the rivers and ponds outside my hometown.  It is apparently poisonous.  It seems like my kind of monstrosity.
–          The caves near Nowtoch City have a sort of… blue Patamon with a ponytail, and I cannot remember its name either but I vaguely recall it being something dumb.  It stands in for Zubat, but actually fights more like a Koffing, being a Levitating Poison-type with good defences.
–          Alongside these lives a spherical rock wearing a metal hat with a fuse on it (perhaps it evolves into a bomb?), whose name is… Bartle or Betel, I don’t know; something like that.  It is extremely frustrating to run into, as I have few Pokémon that can penetrate Steel-type resistances at present.
–          There is also a tentacle-like burrowing creature which I can only describe as Hentai Diglett.  On the basis of its impudent smirk alone, I do not believe this creature would be offended by that characterisation.

My team at present, as I gear up to take on the first gym leader, Normal-type specialist and retired Champion Maria, consists of Bagheera the Orchynx, Dale the Dumbfuck, Birb the Birb, Bearverly the Cubblfly, and Poutine the Blue Patamon.  May their lives be long, and their deaths relatively painless.  Expect further brief updates on their survival, or failure thereof, and my thoughts on other nonsense I encounter as I endeavour to make Tandor bow before me.

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