Developer: Nintendo / Cutlerine
Release date: 13-Jul-2013 (complete version, initial alpha was in 2010).
I have always had a taste for the weird and wonderful of the world, and the less I know about something the more I dig into it. This is probably what led me to the world of ROM hacks.
For a quick explanation, a ROM hack is not actually a hack at all. It is a modification of an existing game (owned legally by the 'hacker' who is usually just a fan of the original game who wanted to try something new) to change some of its features. This includes, but is not limited to, graphics, dialogue, and gameplay. If you want to read up on ROM hacking more, here's a link to its Wikipedia page.
One of my biggest ‘guilty pleasure’ hacks matches the ‘Spooky’ theme of the coming month. It also has some of the least polished graphics of modern hacks that I have seen. The developer, Cutlerine, themself says that this hack was an effort to prove that games can succeed with minimal graphics as long as the scripting and storyline is top notch. I personally believe that they only had access to the Pokemon Ruby tileset and just ran with it. Despite this, I believe that Cutlerine more or less succeeded in their claim. The story and scripting is the reason I love this hack in spite of the overworld graphics. Opinions on this topic vary though.
The game I am talking about is the (in)famous hack of Pokemon Ruby, Pokemon Snakewood.
Like many Pokemon aficionados I sometimes get tired of battling a series of gyms to collect badges to get to the Elite Four, often defeating a bumbling ‘evil’ team on the way. That was why so many of us liked Sun and Moon, it broke that (slightly) tedious cycle. And I believe it is also why Snakewood has a mini cult following. Snakewood does away with most of the typical Pokemon stuff. I say most, because technically there are still gym leaders and badges.
They’re just dead, so you get the badge without a battle more often than not.
Because Pokemon Snakewood is set in the Zombie Apocalypse.
The game starts when you, the player character, wakes up with no memory in the ruins of Littleroot Town. You then pick one of three of the worst possible starters in pokemon history (Paras, Koffing, or Baltoy) from the ruins of Professor Birch’s lab. When leaving town you find Professor Birch being chased down by a zombie, a scene you will recognise as very similar if you have played Pokemon Ruby where he was being chased instead by a Poochyena. After rescuing him, Birch fills you in about your older brother. He was the Pokemon League Champion, went off to fight the zombies, and has not been seen since.
The following investigation of your brother’s disappearance is the driving force behind your ensuing travels across the zombie-infested region.
Cutlerine has a very interesting… zany, writing style. It gets some hate, but not because it is overly offensive. There are multiple fourth wall breaks, irreverent jokes, and obscure references that may go over some players’ heads. The two above are clearly not of the obscure variety.
It is clear when making my way through the world of Snakewood that a lot of effort has also been put into world building. There are Pikachu heads mounted on stakes, zombies chasing and watching random NPCs, and over-the-top gorey descriptions of the corpses of trainers you interact with originally believing them to be alive.
Honestly I feel like the writing in the game has a bit of a (lower level) Seth McFarlane quality to it. Especially later in the storyline when jokes and quirkiness are prioritised over the plot for a while. The plot itself has a huge number of, rather eccentric, twists and turns that kept me engaged despite its murkiness. I didn’t particularly mind when, instead of investigating my brother’s disappearance, I was faced with some strange reference to a game long, long, since past its prime (that I had to google) which then took an unusually high level of importance in the story.
Side note - has anyone reading this ever actually heard of the game Telefang? Without looking it up?
It turns out that it’s not just humans that can be turned into zombies in this world. Pokemon can be turned too, and a few can even be caught. This was where Cutlerine got a lot right in my book. The rework of the Pokemon sprites, and their often hilarious name changes, are some of my favourite aspects of Snakewood.
The above are two of my top redesigns. There is Gorelax, a Snorlax that appears to have swallowed one of the many zombie chefs wandering around. And then there’s Yuck, a zombified Muk who is currently in the process of devouring a child. The creativity and unexpectedness of both of these images makes me laugh every time I see them. Maybe not the intended effect, but I enjoyed it all the same.
An equal effort was also put into some of the trainer sprites, leading to hilarious pre-battle images like Severed Head Benji above. Although I will say that for most battles the average trainer sprites were just edited blue or green to show that they are indeed zombies.
Cutlerine, like many Rom hackers, also designed some entirely new Pokemon for the game. While I didn’t find them to be as much fun as the zombified Pokemon, they were still a welcome addition amongst the Weedles and Pidgeys of the world. I truly wasn’t expecting entirely new pokemon like Calfby to be lurking amongst the zombie redesigns, and it adds another level of appreciation for the developer (for me).
But the true surprise was not really the existence of fakemon, as many other hacks have done the same. It was that some new entries, like Qwilshark, are evolutions of preexisting Pokemon (Qwilfish) that are not known to evolve in canon. For players like me, who deem Pokemon that don’t evolve as pointless and/or boring, this gave a level of playability to a Pokemon like Qwilfish that previously would have bored me to tears.
To Sum Up
This game is raucous insanity, and I love it for that. And while even I can’t bring myself to defend the overall graphics and mapping, I will say that I don’t believe many amateurs could have done a better job when working with the Pokemon Ruby sprites and tileset.
The creativity behind the sprites and storyline cannot be ignored, and I liked to see the world of Pokemon in a grittier setting even if the ever-present jokes and zaniness did occasionally take from it. It is an entertaining romp of a game, and as long as you’re not expecting the Schindler’s List take on a zombie apocalypse Pokemon game I reckon most people would have a good time playing this.
Play this game if:
You don’t mind playing a game with the original Pokemon Ruby tileset
You enjoy in-your-face humour
You can put logic in the backseat for a bit, and let insanity drive
You want to play (probably) the most creative Pokemon ROM hack made, even if it is not the prettiest.
All images are screenshots taken from the game available here
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