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Pokemon Uranium (PC) artwork

Pokemon Uranium (PC) review

"PU: A Nuclear Waste"

Pokemon Uranium (PC) image

There are two types of abysmal games. You have your unfinished garbageware made by poor use of inexpensive engines like Unity and Unreal Engine 4, the five-buck drek lurking around in the Steam store. There are also finished games that are bad by design, by intentional decisions that just end up making the final work less than it should be. It's hard to even consider the former category to be games, yet the latter are complete works that may be plagued with technical issues but suffer chiefly from they way it was meant to be made. Despite being the product of nine years in development, Pokemon Uranium is a dual-type monster; it's unfinished in many aspects, while what functions is horribly designed, resulting in one of the worst RPGs I've ever played.

Pokemon Uranium's top selling point is that it is a new take on a familiar property, while the unfortunate result is that it's just a fangame with a grimdark story. I'm of the opinion that a major strength of the Pokemon world is its light-hearted charm, but I'm open to an exploration of the material akin to the Pokemon Adventures manga, an adaptation that expands upon themes touched upon in the original games while not betraying the original tone. Uranium is of the delusion that great storytelling is comprised of heavy-handed themes, impactful moments taking place mostly offscreen, direct exposition, predictable plot twists, and occasional profanity, belying not maturity but vulgarity. Uranium has nothing to do but rehash Team Plasma's Poke-PETA shtick and prattle on about nuclear energy killing everything -- even though nuclear plants don't even have enough pure fissionable material to explode and nuclear waste can be recycled into more fissionable material and ok let's get back to the game. Point is, it wants to bring up interesting themes yet suffers from a lack of subtlety and originality and especially attention to detail.

Pokemon Uranium (PC) imagePokemon Uranium (PC) image

Of course, the biggest draw of the fangame aside from a unique tone is a unique world to go along with it. Uranium takes place in a new region with an aesthetic akin to the fourth generation DS games: Diamond, Pearl, et cetera. At worst, the new locales are unoriginal yet not unattractive, demonstrating wide variety and pleasing architecture. What's really unattractive are the new Pokemon designs, many of which wouldn't be too out of place in a rainbow-tinted Silent Hill. There's no syntax among artistic elements (even less so than the main games), so everything looks as if it's from several different crummy Deviantartists (which kinda is the case). For every Nucleon or Hazma, there's ten more like Theriamp or Brain Fish or Onion Punch Man or Whatisthisfreak. It's as strange to see these malificient mutants among mainstay 'Mons as it is to see the awful animations in and out of battle. Sold yet?

Awful writing and presentation means that only the gameplay remains to salvage the game, but Uranium is up to the task of thoroughly ruining the Pokemon formula. The pacing has the brisk flow of dying peat moss; most of the new Pokemon give hardly any experience points so that means lots of the worst part of any RPG, grinding. As in, "grind for over 90 minutes to beat any given boss" kind of grinding. This is especially difficult because encounters and trainers have Pokemon that can somehow pose serious threats to team members five or more levels higher than them. You're expected to be as well-armed as a competitive player, but you've almost no means to do so given the meager resources at your disposal -- even Rich Kid trainers give hardly any currency here. It really doesn't help that trainers have a nearly-full team by the fifth town and that the variety of Pokemon at their disposal is meager. Extra repetition!

Pokemon Uranium (PC) imagePokemon Uranium (PC) image

Make no mistake, you'll need to be doing a lot of grinding, because the game just doesn't relent in its aggressive annoyingness. Along the way you'll meet walls like fourth gym leader/lousy tv star Sheldon's Tracton, a Steel/Dragon backhoe tank with tough defenses, a good moveset, an Attack stat of 110, Speed of 100, stat buffs, healing, and SPEED BOOST -- translation: something that'd wipe the floor with pretty much any Pokemon in the competitive scene. And things get worse from there: adjacent to a town with no PC is the Anthell dungeon with its uncapturable, 600-base stat total semilegendary; there's a dungeon maze with a timer, slowed movement, and dangerous enemies; and the gauntlet of bosses at the end have foes that can one-shot and outspeed level 100s... Did I mention there's an optional built-in Nuzlocke mode to deny you the use of a Pokemon after it faints, just in case the base game isn't hard enough for you?

Of course, the experience would be incomplete without technical issues, and it's amazing how common these are for other players, instead of these faults being weird outliers for me. Despite not being quite Crysis-tier, Uranium runs like molasses on most computers when it isn't constantly crashing. Almost every effect causes problems, my favorite occurring during a "dramatic" scene with rain covering only half of the screen. Or maybe how one can see the other floors of certain buildings by just walking up to the walls. Or maybe how you can't even go to every city when you finally get fly after the last gym. Or maybe how one can get phone calls during dialogue. Or maybe how mandatory dialogue glitches out because a full system font wasn't implemented. Nine years of quality!

Pokemon Uranium (PC) imagePokemon Uranium (PC) image

Despite its massive shortcomings, Pokemon Uranium is hailed as one of the best fangames to date as the likes of Castlevania: The LeCarde Chronicles, Hurrican, and Yume Nikki: Memories of Replica slip under the radar. As a roll of bad Deviantart of the game's OCs kicked off the credits, I couldn't help but think about all the work put into this mess. Nine years produced a game with as little aptitude in technical and mechanical regards as Sonic '06, except this game is turn-based and lasts upwards of 40 hours unless you use Cheat Engine to even the odds (and still get destroyed often) or be smart and quit. This isn't some Newgrounds flash game; people poured their lives into this project. It reminded me of how Ed Wood, somewhat unfairly considered the worst director of his time, couldn't make competent cinema to save his life yet had a passion and love for film-making. It goes to show how love for a medium does not necessarily carry with it an understanding of how to make a work reach its full potential, and it makes me appreciate all the more those who get it right. Someone cared about making Pokemon Uranium, but not enough knew what they were doing. One can but hope that instead of being influenced by the choir of unprofessional praise or the halted development of the game due to concurrent takedowns of other (better) fangames, the developers of Pokemon Uranium learn from their mistakes and use that experience to make better works in the future.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (August 06, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 16, 2018:

Oh man, this was a good (apparently well deserved) bash review.

Your description reminds me of the Xbox 360 indie game West, which was a turn-based RPG with a super heavy-handed moral story. Like, there's a part where an NPC tells you that some of things you encounter might be symbolic, as if the player couldn't figure that out.

The main difference is that West is extremely easy and short. I finished it in under 2 hours.

Also, Ed Wood is definitely not the worst filmmaker. Andy Milligan and Barry Mahon were way worse.
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Follow_Freeman posted August 16, 2018:

Thank you! I wouldn't normally give any bad press to a nonprofit fangame, but this is one that is very popular yet very bad, so I think it may be good that others have an idea of what they're getting into. As for the running time of this game, there's too many variables to tell, but I imagine it would be at least around 20 hours due to the grinding. Grinding, grinding grinding.

Oh, yeah, plenty of worse guys than Ed even back then, but he's widely considered the worst, so I used him as an example. I'm familiar with Barry Mahon's work, but just a browse on Letterboxd for Andy Milligan looks absolutely horrendous. I think I'd rather watch Uwe Boll's filmography! Or get punched by him.

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