Nuzlockes are an excellent way of making revisiting old Pokemon games worthwhile. While we might know maps like Hoenn and Unova like the back of our hand, being forced to adhere to a strict ruleset where you can only catch the first Pokemon you encounter in each location makes for some fascinating scenarios. However, the more Nuzlockes you do, the more tried-and-tested tricks you pick up. For example, any Nuzlocker worth their salt knows that getting Magikarp as early as possible is the surest way to make life a whole lot easier for yourself.
I recently started a Pokemon Platinum Nuzlocke. For those unacquainted with the term, Nuzlockes are high-skill challenge runs in Pokemon – I’ve actually written about why the Nuzlocke ruleset is the best thing that ever happened to the series. Anyway, once I reached Jubilife City I had the bright idea of heading west to Route 218. This leads to a dead end given that you haven’t got Surf yet, but you can get an Old Rod off a fisherman who’s just sort of hanging around there, which allows you to use your Route 218 encounter to haul a Magikarp out of the water before you’ve even reached the first gym. And so I caught myself a Magikarp – annoying to train, mind, but as soon as it evolves, the Nuzlocke is basically over. Gyarados is monstrously strong in all games, meaning that it’s always a welcome addition to any Nuzlocke team.
I’ve also been playing lots of Yakuza lately and I’m loving it, despite the fact that the combat is terrible. This is probably what influenced me to name my newly caught Magikarp “Kiryu,” which was inspired by a specific chapter at the end of Yakuza Kiwami – The Dragon and the Koi. For those of you who might not spend absurd amounts of time reading into Pokemon, Magikarp – despite reading like “magic carp” – is largely based on the myth of the koi. Once it ascends the waterfall and swims through the Dragon Gate, it will metamorphose into a colossal dragon. This is mechanically interwoven with Magikarp in every Pokemon game given that you often catch it at a low level and it doesn’t learn a single damage-dealing move until level 15 – training it is like trying to swim up a cascading waterfall, but once you get to the top, you’re pretty much untouchable. You transform from a useless fish into a gargantuan sea monster, capable of dealing devastating amounts of damage with prestige moves like Waterfall, Crunch, and Outrage.
But it’s the process of getting to the top that makes Magikarp such a phenomenal pick for a Nuzlocke. I’m going to talk about Platinum here just because that’s what I’m playing at the moment – I couldn’t help myself after The Pokemon Company finally announced Diamond & Pearl remakes last week. I was lucky enough to get Shinx as my first encounter on Route 202, which evolves into Luxio and then into the electrifyingly powerful Luxray. Because Magikarp can’t fight for itself, the only way to evolve it into Gyarados before getting the Exp Share later on is to send it into battle and switch to something else. This splits the experience equally between Magikarp and whatever Pokemon comes in to replace it, meaning that you can level up your team in a pretty balanced way. If you’re training a level 4 Magikarp up to level 20 so it becomes a Gyarados, you can easily evolve Starly into Staravia and Shinx into Luxio while you’re at it, making you far more likely to actually have a decently-rounded team, as opposed to falling victim to starter syndrome and having a level 40 Infernape surrounded by level 3 Bidoofs, which is a terrible strategy for a Nuzlocke.
That’s why Magikarp is so perfect for Nuzlocke runs. You might think it’s a stupid pick given that you’ve generally got to pick up ‘mons capable of dealing high damage straight off the bat – especially if you’re a hardcore Nuzlocker who releases their starter. But you can only train Magikarp via other Pokemon, which means that Gyarados is the reward for training a genuinely balanced team. If you’re willing to spend a locational encounter on catching Magikarp early in your run, you can ensure that you enter the next gym with a level 20 Gyarados and a decent team around it to boot. Also, let’s be real – that Gyarados is definitely your ace in the hole now, meaning you’re going to level it up over everything else due to the fact it’s capable of sweeping literally everything in a PvE setting. It’s got monstrous attack and access to an excellent variety of physical moves. That’s this Nuzlocke over and done with – easy win, eh?
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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