Pokémon Sword and Shield are great games in our eyes – and in the eyes of many others – but there’s no hiding from the fact that the level of difficulty is, shall we say, a little on the accessible side. That’s great if you’re just looking to have a fun adventure, but for some people, a little strife can make things even sweeter.

So here are a few ways you can make the games harder for yourself through self-imposed rules, whether you’re a series veteran looking for greater oomph, you want to start a new playthrough after already becoming champion, or you’ve just heard whispers that it’s too easy and want something more engaging.

In ascending order of difficulty...

Ditch Your Starter

The simplest and most straightforward of all the possible ways to ramp up the challenge, you can just flat-out ditch your starter Pokémon. Grookey, Scorbunny, Sobble, whomever you choose, they’re designed to be powerful very early on in the game and be the backbone of your team from start to finish. They’re also really quick to climb the level ladder, and they also evolve fairly quickly all things considered. Dropping them off at the first possible opportunity definitely makes the earlier parts of the game tougher.

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Doing this is as simple as the concept itself; all you need to do is catch a wild Pokémon on Route 1 after you've been to the Slumbering Weald and add it to your party. Then make a beeline for the Pokémon Center in Wedgehurst and drop your starter Pokémon in a Box to relax whilst you do all the hard stuff.

If you're worried you might be tempted to use it in the future, you could either release it to say goodbye to it (and temptation) for good, or trade it to a friend you can trust so you can use it again once your adventure is complete.

Try A Monotype Team

Dropping your starter off may be tough at first, but you'll soon adapt in time, so if you want to really test your wits you might want to consider using what's called a monotype team.

A monotype team is basically a team of any Pokémon that share a single type between them, much like most gym leaders do throughout the series. A team like this means you’ll not only have trouble with strong foes that are super effective against potentially your entire party, but you’ll also have to think much harder about what moves and Pokémon you choose in an effort to counter this as much as you possibly can.

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Although not absolutely necessary, we recommend choosing what type your team will share before you start your adventure. You can either choose ahead of time or if you’re feeling especially daring you can let the magic of HTML choose for you by clicking on this link. If you do you'll also be shown a list of all the Pokémon available in Sword and Shield that you can pick from – aren't we lovely?

To start your team, you’ll likely have to ditch your starter Pokémon as well, unless you chose or were assigned Grass, Fire, or Water. You’ll have to take them through the Slumbering Weald no matter what, but as soon as you’re able to catch a Pokémon of your monotype team, you’ll have to drop your starter as soon as you can. This can be tricky with certain types, such as Fairy, as they won’t appear on Route 1 or Route 2, so you’ll have to push through until you get into the Wild Area and start your monotype team from there.

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One last thing to mention, there are plenty of Pokémon that gain a type when they evolve, such as Rookidee gaining the Steel type when it ultimately evolves into Corviknight. Is it acceptable to have a Rookidee in a Steel monotype team for example? Well at the end of the day it’s your call, but in our personal view it’s perfectly acceptable as although it’s not Steel to begin with, its final form includes it, and that’s what you’ll be using for the majority of your adventure.

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However, there are also Pokémon that actively lose a type when they evolve. For example, Onix is Rock and Ground-type, but upon evolving into Steelix it becomes Steel and Ground. For our money, the final evolution is the restriction you should place upon yourself, so whilst Onix would be fine in a Steel-type team (provided you intend to evolve it, which you should), Steelix would not be OK in a Rock-type team. However, these rules are 100% self-imposed, so if you want to bend our stipulations a little for any reason whatsoever, you’re perfectly free to do so. It’s your choice to do this after all.

Nuzlocke In Your Life

Now we’re in big trousers territory. You may well have heard of Nuzlocke at some point, and for good reason - it amps up the difficulty of the games so significantly that poor planning can even result in deleting your save file. Yikes.

The Nuzlocke challenge was created by Nick Franco and named after his webcomic series of the same name. The very basic principles of it are simple:

  • If one of your Pokémon faints, you must release it.
  • You may only catch the first Pokémon you find in each area, and nothing else.
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People have evolved upon the ideas of Nuzlocke over time and there are naturally going to be a few questions with rules as simple as these; “what about the Slumbering Weald?”, “does it have to be the first overworld Pokémon I see or the first rustle of a grassy patch?”, “can I keep my starter Pokémon?”, “where are the toilets?”, and so on.

So we’ve compiled our own list of Nuzlocke rules specifically for the 8th generation, including some optional ones if you fancy a bit more pep.

Mandatory Nuzlocke Rules

These must be followed throughout your entire playthrough.

  1. You may choose your starter Pokémon gifted to you by Leon.
  2. You may only capture the first Pokémon you battle in each area. This can either be an overworld Pokémon, a random encounter from entering a grassy patch, a Pokémon you reel in from a fishing spot, a Pokémon that falls out of a Berry Tree to attack you, or a Max Raid Battle (you may not leave the Den if you do not want that Pokémon, and you must use NPCs rather than other players over the internet or via local wireless). If you fail to capture this Pokémon for whatever reason, be it because it fainted or ran away, you may not catch another from that area. This rule comes into effect only once you receive the Poké Balls you get from talking to your mum after visiting the Slumbering Weald for the first time. Each area within the Wild Area is considered a separate location, so you may catch a total of 17 Pokémon in the Wild Area, one for each location contained within it.
  3. You may not trade or interact with other users via local wireless or over the internet. This includes the Surprise Trade option and Max Raid Battles. Pokémon that require evolution through trading such as Gengar are exempt from this, provided they are traded back immediately.
  4. You may trade Pokémon with in-game NPCs, as long as the Pokémon they request has been caught in accordance with the restrictions listed in rule 2. You may also accept Pokémon given to you by in-game NPCs without trading, such as Toxel.
  5. You may not use Mystery Gift or event Pokémon, such as Gigantamax Meowth.
  6. You must nickname every Pokémon you capture, including your starter. This will make you appreciate them and bond with them more than you would otherwise.
  7. If one of your Pokémon faints, you must transfer it to a Box immediately and release it. This means you may not use any items that revive the Pokémon either, it is considered permanently fainted and must be released, no exceptions. You may however heal your Pokémon using items such as Potions and Antidotes.
  8. You may store additional Pokémon you have caught in Boxes to be used if you wish to switch out any member of your party (or one of your party faints) provided they are caught in accordance with the restrictions listed in rule 2.
  9. You must have the Autosave feature active at all times, and you may not reload a previous save at any time. Each action in-game is considered permanent and must be treated as such.
  10. Should all of your party Pokémon faint, resulting in a white-out, it is considered a game over and you must start your entire adventure over from the beginning, even if you have reserve Pokémon in Boxes.
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Optional Nuzlocke Rules

Feel free to mix and match as many of these as you wish, or ignore them entirely.

  • You may not use in-game healing items to heal your Pokémon. This includes status-healing items such as Antidote.
  • You may not purchase additional Poké Balls of any kind, you may only use those you find on the ground.
  • You may not use held items with your Pokémon.
  • You may not use the Pokémon Link Box to access your Boxes outside of a Pokémon Center.
  • You may not use any items at all besides Poké Balls and mandatory Key Items.
  • You may not use the Pokémon Camp feature to heal your Pokémon with curries.
  • You may not use the Pokémon Camp feature at all.
  • You may not use starter Pokémon, and they must be released as soon as you have a Pokémon to replace them.
  • You may not use the Box system to hold reserve Pokémon.
  • You may not run from any battle.
  • You must use the ‘Set’ style of battle rather than the default ‘Switch’. This can be found in the Options menu.
  • You may not use the Move Tutor.
  • You may not use the Flying Taxis.
  • You may not Dynamax your Pokémon.

We told you it was big trousers time, didn’t we? Nuzlocke is undoubtedly not for everyone, but if you’ve been looking to get some more challenge in your Pokémon games, you’ll certainly find it with this!