Pokémon Uranium’s story builds on what we’ve come to know and expect from Pokémon games. It begins with a young trainer who’s about to take his or her first steps into a huge region, learn more about the Pokémon living there, and perhaps one day become a champion. Yet here, even at the outset, it tweaks the formula. You have three possible trainer designs to choose from, instead of deciding a gender. Your avatar is being raised by an elderly aunt, after their mother dies in a nuclear incident and father becomes absorbed in his work as a Pokémon Ranger. Instead of going off on your own because you want to, it’s because you have to. Your aunt can’t support the both of you anymore.
Heading off to get your first Pokémon isn’t exactly what you’d expect either. Professor Bamb’o is studying types and elements, and hires both you and your neighbor Theo, the son of your mother’s former coworker, as research assistants. Instead of allowing you to choose, you take a quiz. The answers are highlighted by color, so you can very obviously shoot for the grass/steel Orchynx, fire/ground Raptorch, or water/electric Eletux.
After getting yours, Theo is given one that’s weak against your new friend. In the ensuing battle, he loses, and runs home crying. His attitude is typical of early generation Pokémon rivals, like Gary, but he has an excuse. Theo is clearly younger than you and isn’t behaving as he does out of malice. Rather, it’s because he doesn’t understand yet. The trip is an opportunity for him to learn and mature. Conversations clearly develop characters’ personalities. Theo is the example that keeps appearing, but even people like your elderly aunt can have additional things to say after repeated encounters. I especially like the “old people” conversations she’ll have with you, saying she’s asked neighbors for help setting up the internet or that she’s playing your Wii games.
The Pokémon distribution is handled as well as a standard Pokémon game, and Pokémon Uranium very obviously takes cues from original games. Within the first hour, you’ll encounter a solid normal type, the Chyinmunk, a flying/normal Birbie, and the Cubbug bug type. These are quickly complimented by a rock/steel Barewl, ground Grozard, poison Tonemy, and normal/flying Owten. They’re very obviously the Ratata, Pidgey, Caterpie, Geodude, Diglet, Zubat, and Spearows of the game. As an added bonus, the menu’s summary screen clearly shows each Pokémon’s stats, IVs, and EVs, letting you know right away how well it will and won’t perform. You have a well-rounded group of starting characters, with the ability to see if you can stick with them.
However, the typings and evolutionary paths are different in Pokémon Uranium, meaning some of the characters you collect in the first few hours could still be viable in the endgame. The Cubbug gains a secondary fairy typing once it turns into Cubblfly at level 10. While Barewl retains the rock/steel typing until Dearewl, it having three stages helps it remain relevant. And Grozard, with its eventual ground/dragon path, can fill quite a few needs. The added types add extra complications to the game, and highlight the fact that you are a research assistant to a professor focused on such things.
The inclusion of the new nuclear typing is another draw. Though, it’s only partially a new type. There are a handful of nuclear-only Pokémon in Pokémon Uranium. Xenomite and its Xenogen and Xenoqueen evolutions, as well as Hazma, Urayne, and Eevee’s Nucleon evolution, are the only ones that belong only to that type, as the others are all corrupted versions of other creatures. The Chyinmunks, Owtens, Baashauns, and Tancoons you’d normally encounter can be found in these more dangerous variations. Nuclear types aren’t as effective against steel or other nuclear types, but have attacks strong against other types. The trade-off is, they’re feral. They will disobey orders if you catch and try to use one, and may even turn on you. It’s a type that can be strong and useful, but has a drawback different than more traditional ones. It’s a notable twist.
Even the way in which Pokémon Uranium deals with Pokémon lore is appreciated. Despite being an established series, we don’t hear about the Pokémon Rangers in the main game. Here, they’re established as an integral and active part of the Tandor region lifestyle. They aren’t a throwaway organization mentioned once, due to your avatar’s parentage. Some towns have outposts and, before getting the Rock Smash HM, a ranger will actually help you on your way. It’s a nice continuity nod.
For all the things that are slightly different, the things that remain similar or the same in Pokémon Uranium are comforting. Your avatar and Theo get PokéPods from your absentee father, devices that let you make calls, check a map, or listen to radio stations. This means you can keep in touch for expository reasons, as well as befriend trainers you meet for possible rematches or rare Pokémon encounters. Berries bushes abound, so you can plant and collect treats for your Pokémon. There’s even online trading and battling, though the servers were so slammed during my time playing that it was impossible to test either out. However, the Mystery Gift function did work perfectly, providing a Destiny Knot and a shiny Jerbolta.
Perhaps the most appreciated touches are the little things that help make Pokémon Uranium more accommodating. It’s possible to keep multiple save files. Also, when a game begins, you decide how you’re going to play. You can go with a traditional adventure or choose Nuzlocke rules. And even the Nuzlocke rules can be customized, allowing you to skip the first encountered Pokémon if you’ve already caught it, turn on a challenge mode that increases enemy trainer levels, turn off Poké Marts, or put limitations on healing and held items. It gives you a chance to do more than one thing, experiencing the game in a different way.
As a fan-made game, Pokémon Uranium always maintains the Pokémon spirit. The characters, music, environments, and systems always callback to the entries we know and love. At the same time, it does offer all of these minor tweaks and adjustments that help define and set it apart. Some are small, others large, but each one helps assert this fan-made game’s originality. It introduces features, Pokémon, and other elements that offer a little something new, and I’m certain people will appreciate that.
Pokémon Uranium is immediately available for Windows PCs.