Every time I hop on Twitch for the past two weeks, I’ve been surfing Pokémon FireRed and Leaf Green streams to watch people play classic games in perhaps the hardest ways possible.
If you played through the main line Pokémon title before, you were probably able to beat the game without too much trouble. I’m sure all my friends growing up experienced some variation of just letting their starter carry them away and becoming a Pokémon champion. However, there is a community of players who make the games significantly more challenging through a form of what they call a community IronMon Rules.
The thing about IronMon is that it’s really hard randomization. The Pokémon you encounter, their moves, and the items you pick up are all randomized, while Pokémon you battle in the wild or owned by trainers have a higher level. Yes, that means your starting pokemon will also be random, so you won’t just be picking Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. As per the rules, you can’t even peek at which pokemon are available to choose from; you just have to approach the pokeball and accept what you get. (Though broadcasters often check other balls after they’ve decided which one they’re going to pick to see what they might miss.)
IronMon challenges are kind of similar Nuzlocke runs but even harder. The standard IronMon rules sound like an unfathomable level of difficulty to me – what if my starter is weak to Metapod? But the challenge doesn’t end there. If your pokemon faints, you have to release it or put it back in storage, meaning you can never use it again. And on Twitch, I tend to watch a harder version of the challenge called Kaizo IronMon, where players have to fight against one pokemon. If that Pokemon faints, the run starts all the way.
Most streamers will likely get stuck in Professor Oak’s lab or trample through the early parts of the game. It’s pretty hard for Pokémon to be good enough to survive the early areas. While this may sound boring, I find the early game fun – the chat usually helps with voting, like which startup to pick, and it’s fun when the chat is chosen incorrectly and the streamer immediately loses. Sometimes streamers will also “pivot” to a new main pokemon, usually debating the merits of choosing one pokemon over another.
When the run is on, it’s exciting. Every opposing Pokémon is a potential threat, even if the streamer’s Pokémon is many levels ahead. An opponent can take down even the most powerful pokemon with the right counter move or draining health from a status effect, ruining an hours-long run. Players always nickname their pokemon, so I’m going to invest in creature fates with silly names like STEELEDUP (Steelix) and SMILE (Blissey).
But more than anything, I’m watching out of hope to see the run to the end — and to be there when it all almost inevitably falls apart. I was watching a broadcaster one night Iateyourpie (who is credited with creating IronMon on the rules site) completely destroyed the run with the mighty Blissey. I checked Iateyourpie’s twitter feed in the morning to see how it went. I’ll let you see for yourself what happened in the final battle of the game:
Heartbreaking. But I’m still tuning in for more streams to catch the next great run – or even those stuck in the Oak Lab.
Screenshots by Jay Peters/The Verge