Pokémon fan games have been around for quite some time, with the first few being for the original Gameboy even. Soon after Pokémon Brown, Rom Hacks popped up in all varieties from the ambitious Liquid Crystal Version, to the downright odd design choices of Moemon. All of these games have the common ground of taking the Pokémon engine or formula and creating a whole new game with it. Pokémon Uranium is one of the best examples of such, using the popular and easy to acquire RPG Maker engine.
Starting off, Uranium does a few things that is a logical progression in the Pokémon formula. Even creating a character does the brilliant move of letting players choose between three genders, offering a gender neutral player. Not only that, but the essential Running Shoes are given almost immediately, taking away that sluggish beginning that many Pokémon games suffer from. To further shake things up, the game’s rival is not the tough jerk that many an antagonist start off being, but instead a weaker child who picks a starter who is weak to the player. This takes away the rival’s edge and instead helps build a compassion for the character.
Uranium does a great job with pacing and making the game’s events exciting. The story starts with the player’s mother leading a science team at a nuclear factory, which later ties into the game’s themes and adds a new type. A meltdown occurs suddenly and the player’s mother stays to try to fix the reactor, only to never be seen again and implying her martyrdom. Following this tragic tale is our hero, who is just starting out on his gym tour of the Tandor region, a massive sprawl of tropical locales that stretches into two regions. All while the player’s father is absent, leaving the hero to grow up with his Aunt. Players will later meet their father, as he is the leader of the Tandor Pokemon Rangers.
Not only is the game’s story a surprising hook to care about the happenings of the region, but minor stories unfold in between gym battles to make the game feel less like a checklist and more like an adventure. In one section, I found myself frustrated in a tough rainforest with an even more aggravating tunnel system built by some unique bug Pokémon. Come to find out, in the next town, the Gym leader has gone missing and I was given some bug spray just in case. Revisiting the caves, I found a group of angry bug Pokémon and doused them with the bug spray, which in turn led to a romp through the bowels of the earth. At the end of this journey, I found the gym leader (who was a pleasant dancer guy, who wears a skirt) and saved him from a queen bug Pokémon that ended up being one of the toughest battles I had faced so far. With just one Pokémon left, my starter Metalynx, I narrowly bested that monster, saved the day, and headed back to town to earn my much deserved gym badge.
What? Never heard of Metalynx? Oh yeah, Pokémon Uranium adds 200 new Pokémon that actually enrich the roster with tons of designs. From the unique starters who only evolve once, to adding an evolution to Dunsparce, there is much to love in these created creatures. Many type combinations Pokémon players haven’t seen before have been acknowledged and fulfilled in Uranium, leading to some interesting battles.
As far as aesthetics, Pokémon Uranium does improve on the sprite work of the Pokémon games found on Gameboy Advance, while also adding the battle sprites of some of the Nintendo DS titles. The music is a mix of remixes of classic Pokémon themes, hand selected to reflect the emotions of each area. Environments feel larger in Uranium, with routes being longer and towns seeming to be bigger with more interesting dialogue. In one section, I found myself at a church, something Pokémon only briefly touches on in Black and White. I ended up spending my time combing through the game’s bookcases that shared insight into the new legendary monsters, as well as dive into a creation myth or two, while also acknowledging other religions in different regions and reminds the player to be kind to those with different beliefs.
Player interaction is also kept intact in Uranium. One of the coolest features introduced on the 3DS, Wondertrade, is functional, snappy, and leads to an awesome lottery dynamic. More often than not, players will be getting some lackluster Pokémon in Wondertrade, but as more players start breeding, more interesting Pokémon do occur from time to time. Battles, traditional trades, and even the Global Trade System all work as well. The game’s servers are responsive too, only going down once or twice since the game fully launched.
Really, there is little not to like in Pokémon Uranium, other than the engine it was built upon. Unfortunately the game suffered from frame rates on my gaming rig, even when the game was the only thing I was playing. The game’s performance can certainly ruin the experience from time to time, but with Pokemon’s natural pace, it wasn’t as detrimental as it would have been in say a platformer or a twitch shooter. This poor optimization also appears in the game’s resolution choice which comes in three flavors: tiny, emulator average, and so big that the bottom portion can’t be seen with nothing inbetween.
Luckily, the game does have an update service built into it, so hopefully the performance issue can be patched out. With the game’s smashing release of 1.5 million players downloading the fan game, there is enough people playing it to justify continued additions.
All in all, Pokémon Uranium is a game not only Pokémon fans should try out, but the people behind the Pokémon series should look into it as well. This is because there are so many things this fan game does that the Pokémon franchise could benefit from.
Unfortunately, even after tons of downloads, Pokémon Uranium’s developers have removed the official download link from their website. This was after several Nintendo representatives warned them of copyright, and being just two developers they had no choice but to fold. This is just another sad example of Nintendo being a little too protective of their brand. While their copyright claim isn’t unwarranted, as Uranium Version still remains a Pokemon game, with older Pokémon being involved as well, but it isn’t like Uranium tries to demean the Pokémon name. Instead, Uranium, and subsequently other fan games, seek to uplift Nintendo brands, serving as ways for developers to cut their teeth on passion projects and give fans something to play in between releases. This could lead to giving a company like Nintendo more time to make each entry more meaningful. Especially since, few of these fan games seek funding at all, but I digress.
Pokémon Uranium is awesome, but beware downloading it on torrents and such as there’s no guarantee it’s a clean copy. It is highly recommended to find a trusted friend who got the download before its take down. Can’t be too hard to find, a million and a half people got it the first time.