February 4, 2023

For the past two weeks, every time I hop on Twitch, I find myself scrolling pokemon Fire red and Leaf green streams so I can watch people play the classic games in perhaps the hardest possible ways.

If you played through a mainline pokemon title, you probably managed to get through the game without too much trouble. I’m pretty sure all my friends growing up experienced some variation of just having them carried by their starter to become the Pokémon champion. But there is a community of players that makes the games much more challenging by applying some form of what the community calls “IronMon” rule sets.

The gist of IronMon is that it is a very hard randomizer. The Pokémon you encounter, their moves, and the items you pick up are random, while the Pokémon you fight in the wild or those of Trainers are a higher level. Yes, this means your starting Pokemon will also be random, so you won’t just be choosing between Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. According to the rules, you can’t even see which Pokemon are available to make your pick; you just have to walk up to a pokeball and accept what you get. (Although streamers often check the other pokéballs after already deciding which one to pick to see what they might be missing.)

IronMon challenges are a bit like Nuzlocke running but even more difficult. The standard IronMon rules sound like an already mind-boggling difficulty to me – what if my starter is a weak Metapod? But the challenge doesn’t stop there. If your Pokémon faints, you’ll have to release it or put it back, meaning you can never use it again. And on Twitch, I tend to watch a harder version of the challenge called Kaizo IronMon where players have to compete with a single pokemon. If that pokémon passes out, the run starts all over again.

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If you want to read all the lines, you can view them here (and learn about a even more difficult IronMon ruleset, survival), but I really recommend just diving on Twitch and watch some streams.

Streamer GrandPooBear’s STEELEDUP Looked Promising, But Was Sadly Removed moments later. RIP STEELEDUP.

Many streamers will likely be stuck in Professor Oak’s lab or scurrying around in the early parts of the game. It’s pretty hard for a Pokémon to be good enough to survive the early areas. While it might sound boring, I find the early game entertaining – the chat, for example, usually helps with voting on which starter to pick, and it’s hilarious when the chat picks wrong and the streamer loses immediately. Sometimes streamers will also “turn” to a new main Pokemon, and they will usually discuss the benefits of choosing one Pokemon versus the other with their chat.

When a run gets going, it’s exciting. Any opponent’s Pokémon poses a potential threat, even if the streamer’s Pokémon is dozens of levels ahead. An opponent can defeat even the most powerful Pokemon with a well-timed counter move or by decreasing health through a status effect, ruining an hour-long run. And players always nickname their Pokemon, so I’ll be investing in the fate of creatures with crazy names like “STEELEDUP” (a Steelix) and “SMILE” (a Blissey).

But above all, I keep looking out of hopes of seeing a run go all the way — and to be there when things almost inevitably fall apart. One night I was watching streamer Iateyourpie (who is credited on the rules site with creating IronMon) absolutely wrecking a run with a powerful Blissey. In the morning I checked Iateyourpie’s Twitter feed to see how it turned out. I’ll let you see for yourself what happened in the final battle of the game:

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Heartbreaking. But I’m still tuning in for more streams to try and catch the next great run – or even the ones stuck in Oak’s lab.

Screenshots by Jay Peters / The Verge