Ambition can be a wonderful thing. It has led man to explore the reaches of the universe, to create inventions to make living life easier, and defined the very foundation of everything that is little more than common knowledge today. One has to realize, in this day and age, that everything within the world around them has a name and some purpose, all because someone had the ambition to—
Wait, I already said all of this in another post.
Pokémon Uranium is yet another example of a small team’s ambition to create an original game connected to a beloved Nintendo franchise. In this instance, the game is not a recreation of an already established game, but rather an original work within an already established franchise. Think of it like a video game fanfiction. What’s ironic about this project is that it was released on the same day as AM2R, and took relatively the same amount of time to develop. However, there is a very distinct difference between these two projects.
AM2R was a remake of a game within the Metroid franchise. Pokémon Uranium is its own game within the Pokémon narrative… sort of. While it incorporates its own storyline, region, and pokémon (mostly), the game also makes many references to past Pokémon titles, whether in the form of dialogue, plot developments, or things to do within each town. This, in a sense, makes it less of its own identity and more of a shinier combination of many past Pokémon games, which leads into an ambitious culmination of everything that made the series unique. While AM2R had a little flexibility to its credit for being a remake, Uranium has the responsibility of establishing its own story and experiences for the player to take part in.
I’m sure many people found out about this game through various video game news sites, like I did just the other day. However, I’ve actually stumbled upon this game prior to its release, many months ago on a Wiki dedicated to the game. At first, I thought it was simply a database for fan-made pokémon, but to my surprise, it’s been released as a fully-fledged game, one that’s been worked on for nearly ten years! The timing can’t be anything other than fate, I suppose. A lot of these video game sites are building it to be this massive, impressive feat of design and dedication… for a fan game, anyway. Right after completing AM2R, I was spoiled into believing that this game would be just as innovative and immersive as the former.
Upon booting up the game, I was greeted with a fascinating title screen, complete with a number of different options and neat-looking menus. Starting the game, I was introduced into this brand new world of Pokémon, much like starting out with the series for the first time, and the feeling was something I can’t quite describe with words. An innate desire and curiosity, forged with a feeling of excitement and slight trepidation. I was immediately intrigued, though not entirely hooked. Things were looking swell. Alas, my curiosity was cut short by a sudden flashback. A backstory before even starting the game. Ten years ago, the player’s mother was working as a scientist in a Pokémon research facility of sorts. In a fatal accident, a nuclear reactor exploded, leaving the player’s mother AWOL. This event causes the player’s father to grow cold and distant, spending more time working as a Pokémon Ranger than caring for his child. Because of this, the player is forced to live with their elderly aunt, but she’s become too weak to care for a child, and now the player must come into their own to fend for themselves in the “Tandor region.” They do this by, how else, becoming the local Pokémon professor’s assistant and traveling the world to catch ’em all. This intro, frankly speaking, is a little edgier than most Pokémon narratives.
Putting the rather grim intro aside, once the game truly begins, the player can now control the hero, who starts up in their room, as is tradition. What becomes immediately noticeable is that the controls are really stiff. Talking to your aunt for the first time will reward the player with running shoes, as is tradition. And when the player runs, the game lags consistently. Not to the point of being unplayable, but enough to sort of unnerve those wishing for a consistent framerate. Not only that, but sounds aren’t really in sync with actions, and various actions, like teaching moves or giving items to your pokémon, won’t even play sounds at all. The sound quality of this game, along with the constant slowdown of the game without having much of anything happening, is enough to deter a large number of intolerant gamers from continuing past the first five minutes.
It’s still Pokémon, though, right? To an extent. Uranium is a lot like the term I alluded to above: video game fanfiction. It essentially plays by most of the rules that Pokémon sets in stone with their series and only adds flashy material on the outer coatings of the formula. Such as the new “Nuclear” type, and a few pre-existing pokémon obtaining new evolutions to their chains. Uranium, although never intending to sell itself as a “new” Pokémon experience, is a fan’s attempt at putting their own spin on the game without really turning the wheel all the way. The battles are the same, the techniques are the same, the basic function of battling, interacting with people, catching pokémon, fishing, use of HM’s/TM’s, healing items, the statistics, EV training, breeding, hatching eggs; all of this is relatively the same as its parent franchise. Pokémon Uranium is like taking all the fun bits of creating a new Pokémon game, such as designing new pokémon, telling an original story, and assigning pokémon and character locations, and then leaving the rest in the hands of capable professionals to finish it for them.
I meant that last statement quite literally, and it falls back upon the in-game references Uranium makes to other Pokémon titles. Through the first eight hours of playing (and first three gym leaders), I’ve counted numerous different winks and nods to the player that are used to advance the plot or enrich the experience. Characters spouting lines to create continuity. A game corner with slot machines, with pokémon as prizes. A cave area that has the player team up with another character that heals their pokémon after every battle. The third city being the one with the biggest shop, complete with five floors and a collection of different merchandise unlike anywhere else. A cruise ship where the player can battle trainers while waiting for the ship to arrive at the intended destination. Helping to locate a thief who stole pokémon from a research facility. Almost every track is a remix of an already existing Pokémon track. All of these things I was able to point out that ringed familiar to me, and this was just through the first three gyms. For those who have read my review on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, recall when I complained that the movie borrowed too much from previous entries to provide any sort of lingering enticement within me to continue further. Same scenario here. How can Uranium hope to achieve a level of identity for itself by copying so much from more established titles? It rings dull to me, and gives me reason to doubt the creator’s ability to think of anything more fresh in contrast.
As I’m sure many can agree on, the biggest selling point for this fan game was the introduction of a vast array of new pokémon. Over 150, if I do recall. The new creatures that inhabit this game vary in overall quality, though I find the list more lackluster than anything. The starters, almost as if following the trend inside my head, are among my least favorite aesthetically, looking like Deviantart scrap designs. Aside from them, there are many, many more new pokémon to choose from, with a lot of unique design choices for sure. Out of these new pokémon, some of them have to be good, right? And some are, though I feel the bad outweighs the good. And when the designs are bad, they are really bad. Another thing about this game I don’t care for (though is admittedly nitpicking) is the emphasis on bizarre pokémon type combinations. The creator must’ve been feeling inspired, because it seems like every pokémon has at least two types that don’t normally go together. Grass/Steel, Fire/Ground, Bug/Fire, Dark/Normal, Electric/Ground, Dark/Fighting, Grass/Fire; it seems they wanted to balance out obvious type advantages just to be annoying. I didn’t appreciate it.
Something of a growing complaint with newer Pokémon games is that the game isn’t challenging enough. Pokémon Uranium decides this is a valid complaint, as the difficulty curve seems to shift randomly as the game progresses. Right out of the first town, the player can face two trainers with pokémon of similar level to theirs, assuming they hadn’t had the chance to train. I almost died on the first trainer because I was unprepared for pokémon that strong from one of the first trainers you battle. Not only do trainers’ pokémon seem to grow in level rapidly as the player moves on from the area, but the rate at which the player’s pokémon collects experience is deceptively slow. Not to mention, if not for a device that lets the player re-battle trainers, the experience rate for most pokémon within grassy areas is pathetically low. Grinding is almost a requirement within this game to play it at a comfortable pace. It’s hard to find the game’s pacing at all smooth when grinding becomes too abundant for the player.
Only playing eight hours of the game, I can’t say much in terms of what Uranium does with its own storyline. I managed to get to a certain point, but quit right after things started to go haywire. From what I was exposed to, the story doesn’t grip me very well, as it seems to crawl down the same path as genuine Pokémon game narratives follow. Except characters say “Damn.” The whole “Save the world, hero! You’re our only hope!” plot line that has drooped into my subconscious as one of the laziest attempts at a hook in entertainment history. While the darker undertones and tragic backstory are a little fresh in terms of Pokémon narrative, it doesn’t really help when the player is a silent protagonist unable to express emotions. I don’t empathize with them because they aren’t expressing anything. Characters mention things about the difficulty of facing the death of the hero’s mother or the awkward reunion with the hero’s father after so long, but it comes across as rudimentary when the character sits pixel-faced and unmoved by the whole situation. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this darker shift in story is inappropriate for a Pokémon game, but it doesn’t feel quite as impactful when the hero does nothing to react to any of it.
Probably the best aspect of Uranium (understandably so) is the design of the region. While the framerate and glitchiness of the characters and their dialogue can provide for unintentional humor, the area you travel is nothing short of visually captivating. From what I’ve played, it already incorporated an autumn-like forest, multiple dark caves, a beach, large(-ish) cities, and an abandoned nuclear plant. One has to question how all of these areas aren’t affected in the same way by the weather despite being less than a few miles apart, but the designs are enough to make people forget they even care. The Tandor region (through three gyms) is a good-looking addition to the Pokémon regional library—not that it’ll ever be canon, though. Battle scenes don’t have that same luster, unfortunately, as health runs down at the speed of a flash game, and certain moves (like Water Gun and Harden) look pathetically unfinished for a supposedly “finished” game. Most other moves look fairly detailed, however, and its execution can either impress the player with how flashy they look or how unrelated they seem to the attack being used.
Without adding much more to the sound quality as I’ve already written about, some pokémon’s cries can be very grating to the ear, while others are, almost as if intentional, unintentionally hilarious. There are a few new pokémon that sport cries from pre-existing pokémon, too. The soundtrack can either appeal or alienate players, as most are remixes of classic Pokémon tracks using a variety of different instruments. I enjoyed some, but the track used for the Pokémon Rangers was so irritatingly loud and obnoxious that I wanted to mute my computer. It’s a love-hate thing.
I’d wager I was about a third of the way into the game before I decided to stop, and while that isn’t nearly enough to warrant a review of it, I feel it’s enough to put out my opinion of the game in its current form, at least to some degree. While some may label this entry as slander due to my inability to finish the game, I see it more as a forewarning to those hesitant about trying the game. I feel Uranium does enough to serve those craving a “new” 2D Pokémon game a nice appetizer, but I feel its laggy optimization and uninspired storytelling may turn off more than a few pokéfans. I would only recommend this to diehard Pokémon fans, as I feel they’re more of the demographic for this sort of project. People who don’t know Pokémon won’t get many of the references placed in this game, and may feel let down by how limited it all feels in general. I guess you could consider this fan project a snack for enthusiastic Pokémon fans, but likely won’t do much to convert those looking for a more immersive RPG. If I were to rate the game based on what I played, it’d likely be anywhere from 4-5, but I don’t feel right on my part to rate only a third of a game. The only indication people should take from this post is that I couldn’t take playing the game anymore. That accounts for something, right?