PokéRogue popularity shows Pokémon needs to broaden its horizons

PokéRogue has taken the internet by storm as the latest romhack to see an explosion of popularity, and it’s something Pokémon and Nintendo should take a close look at.

Pokémon continues to be one of the world’s biggest franchises, but a growing trend on platforms like YouTube and Twitch suggests it needs to broaden its horizons, and there are big lessons to learn from PokéRogue.

With over two decades on the scene and over 1,000 Pokémon, it’s clear Pokémon is here to stay—but without making significant changes to the age-old formula, the franchise has stagnated.

You often find Pokémon content creators on YouTube and Twitch playing romhacks like PokéRogue, and when they do stick to titles like Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, they’re usually hacked for randomized encounters, custom abilities, or other tweaks. 

A Pokemon trainer prepares to fight a Blipbug and Poochyena in PokeRogue, a Pokemon Rom hack. The Pokemon are quite dark.
PokéRogue shakes up the formula. Screenshot by Dot Esports

PokéRogue brings together everything that makes Pokémon great and makes it even better. Every Pokémon in existence is available, alongside every gym leader, elite four member, and champion of the past two decades.

The concept is simple. Your account starts with every starter Pokémon ever available, and you set out on runs, choosing a party to take with you. While you’re free to choose whichever Pokémon you want, each starter is assigned a number of points, and your party cannot exceed a score of 10—though you can catch additional Pokémon that don’t increase that score while adventuring.

As the name suggests, this is a Roguelike filled with random encounters, items, and everything in between. I finally beat PokéRogue’s classic mode over the weekend with a team of Skeledirge, Shiny Mega Alakazam, Ho-Oh, Azumarill, Mamoswine, and a fusion of Mega Ampharos and Corviknight.

The team I had at my disposal spanned several generations, incorporating forgotten gimmicks like Mega Pokémon and DNA splicers along the way. While I was eventually able to celebrate victory, I lost count of how many times I failed before achieving my success story.

Compare that to standard Pokémon games and the experience is vastly different. In mainstream Pokémon, my experience will pretty much be identical to yours, with the same Pokémon to find and trainers to defeat, with little variation. 

A PokeRogue screen showing Gen I Pokemon with Shiny Abra highlighted.
Shiny hunting remains a joy. Screenshot by Dot Esports

In some ways, Pokémon has gone backward in terms of variety. While the move to open-world looks incredible, it means the traditional Nuzlocke challenges are difficult to do, as you can see encounters before engaging with them, removing the surprise factor from older Pokémon games.

PokéRogue is far from the only fangame of its kind. It’s merely the latest in a long line of fanmade romhacks to find popularity, after the likes of Infinite Fusion and Radical Red, both of which remain popular and attract significant numbers of daily players.

Fanmade games aren’t afraid to switch up the formula and try something different, with romhacks seeing everything from simple encounter randomizers to major overhauls that let you play as a member of Team Rocket and steal Pokémon.

Pokémon at least slightly ventured away from its formula with Legends: Arceus, which ranks as my favorite game in the franchise, and we’ll revisit that approach in Legends Z-A in 2025—but Gen X will likely bring things back to the same routine.

Rather than taking legal action against romhacks and creators, Pokémon should be learning lessons from their creativity and gathering feedback from the community to provide more exciting ways to play. 

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