Gameplay Design Analysis – How could the Shadow Pokemon from Pokemon Colosseum/XD work in modern mainline Pokemon games?

Introduction

Having played through the most recent generation of Pokemon, Sword and Shield, I wanted to make a team that attempted to relive a childhood memory that I had, the moment I got hold of Pokemon Colosseum in the mid-00’s and fought through the challenges the game put my way with Umbreon and Espeon, two Pokemon that I still love to this day because of Pokemon Colosseum, at my side.

Pokemon Colosseum, the reason I like having Umbreon and Espeon in my Pokemon teams

While I could somewhat remake this nostalgia by having Umbreon and Espeon in my team in addition to some of the Pokemon that could be snagged in Colosseum, especially with Sword and Shield not including a large number of Pokemon from older generations, building this team put a large game design question in my head.

How would the Shadow Pokemon, Pokemon turned evil by a criminal syndicate in the events of Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness, fit into the design of mainline Pokemon games like Sword and Shield? Would bringing the mechanics involved back even fit into modern Pokemon games? Would Shadow Pokemon be balanced in a mainline Pokemon game? I could go on with the questions but you get what I’m intending to discuss in this breakdown blog, to analyse how the Shadow Pokemon worked in Pokemon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness and seeing how well it would fit into modern mainline Pokemon games.

Before we dive into this, I will mention that this is a critical analysis and breakdown. While I admit to being a massive Pokemon fan and having strong nostalgia for the games that are being discussed, I will keep everything as critical as possible. Also note that this analysis is not aimed at the competitive side of Pokemon, instead looking more at playing through the story of mainline Pokemon games in addition to any content where the player is battling against AI opponents instead of other players. Furthermore, this article focuses purely on Shadow Pokemon that appeared in the Gamecube titles, Pokemon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness and will not be discussing Pokemon GO’s iteration of Shadow Pokemon.

About the Shadow Pokemon

So what are Shadow Pokemon? And how did they work in Pokemon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness? From a narrative perspective, they were Pokemon turned evil by the criminal syndicate, Cipher, to use as weapons that attack humans and Pokemon by artificially closing the door to their hearts, and it’s the player’s job to capture the Shadow Pokemon by stealing them from other trainers, mostly those who are members of Cipher.

The Heart Gauge and Purification

Note the purple-coloured progress bar named Heart Gauge

Mechanically, Shadow Pokemon do not gain experience from battling, instead they have a purple-coloured gauge, known as the Heart Gauge, that is divided into five segments and reduces when the Pokemon is used in battle or any other action that makes the Pokemon friendlier towards the trainer such as having the Pokemon in the party, using scent items on them, putting the Pokemon in Daycare and/or placing the Pokemon in a Purification Chamber alongside some regular Pokemon. (Note that the Purification Chamber was only featured in Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness.)

XD Gale of Darkness’ Purification Chamber

As the Heart Gauge lowered, the Shadow Pokemon would gain access to more moves that the Pokemon would normally learn if it was a regular Pokemon and its nature would be revealed. In XD Gale of Darkness, some Shadow Pokemon had more than one Shadow Move, meaning less, or even no, regular moves would be regained while they were still Shadow Pokemon which is covered more in depth in Battle Behaviour.

A Shadow Pokemon with some but not all moves unlocked in Pokemon Colosseum

Once the Shadow Gauge was completely lowered, the Pokemon would be ready for purification, meaning the player would have to travel to a shrine located in Agate Village or, in XD, return to the Purification Chamber, to purify the Pokemon, making it regular and able to earn experience points and level up. If the Shadow Pokemon was used a lot in battle, it would gain the experience it would have earned if it was a regular Pokemon.

Battle Behaviour

When using Shadow Pokemon in battle, they would behave differently from regular Pokemon but this behaviour was very different in Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness.

Colosseum’s Shadow Pokemon

In Colosseum, all Shadow Pokemon would know a move called Shadow Rush which allowed the Pokemon to attack regardless of what type the opposing Pokemon was but caused the Shadow Pokemon to hurt itself in recoil. Using this move had a chance of putting the Shadow Pokemon into Hyper Mode, a status that increased the critical hit chance of Shadow Rush but prevented the player from using healing items on it until it was out of Hyper Mode. Getting the Pokemon out of Hyper Mode required the player to use the ‘Call’ function in battle or use a scent item on it. Either method would get the Shadow Pokemon out of Hyper Mode and lower the Shadow Gauge that replaced experience points.

XD’s Shadow Pokemon

XD Gale of Darkness’ Shadow Pokemon were iterated a lot from their counterparts in Colosseum. Firstly, the Hyper Mode status was changed to Reverse Mode. While getting the Shadow Pokemon out of this mode required the same actions as Hyper Mode from Colosseum, Shadow Pokemon in Reverse Mode would be restricted to using Shadow Moves and would hurt themselves every turn, adding more drawbacks than Colosseum’s Hyper Mode. Adding to this, there were a more diverse range of Shadow moves that Shadow Pokemon could use. In addition to the increased diversity of Shadow moves, they were iterated from Colosseum’s mechanics by making Shadow Moves super effective against regular Pokemon.

Shadow Pokemon Drawbacks

Outside of what was previously discussed, Shadow Pokemon cannot be traded to the mainline Pokemon games, which Colosseum and XD allowed trading with the Game Boy Advance mainline Pokemon games (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, LeafGreen and FireRed), very likely due to the Shadow Pokemon not being designed for and programmed into the mainline Pokemon games, in addition to not being allowed to be used in multiplayer game modes that were included in Colosseum and XD, possibly for the same reason that Shadow Pokemon cannot be traded to mainline Pokemon games. This highlights the great efforts that the designers and programmers went through to make sure that Shadow Pokemon did not appear in the mainline Pokemon games due to them not being in the mainline games.

Why would Shadow Pokemon return in mainline Pokemon games?

First and foremost, such a Pokemon would need to fit into the narrative and environmental setting for the game in question. For instance, Pokemon Colosseum included the Shadow Pokemon, that had to be stolen from other trainers, possibly because it was set in the Orre Region which mostly consisted of vast deserts, lacked places to find wild Pokemon and involved a lot of Pokemon battles against characters working alongside groups of criminals who were responsible for distributing the evil Pokemon. Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness included Shadow Pokemon because it was a sequel to the events of Pokemon Colosseum, meaning the player was taken back to the vast deserts of the Orre Region but added wild Pokemon to play a role in purifying Shadow Pokemon in the Purification Chamber.

Both Colosseum and XD did not make use of routes between towns and cities like the mainline Pokemon games do, instead allowing the player to select a location on the world map and go there, reinforcing the lack of wild Pokemon present in Colosseum and the limited wild Pokemon in XD Gale of Darkness and motivating the player to steal Shadow Pokemon to build their team beyond their starting Pokemon (Espeon and Umbreon in Colosseum, Eevee in XD Gale of Darkness).

In mainline Pokemon games, the case is very different. The regions which the player explores are rich with wild Pokemon, especially since every generation of mainline Pokemon games tend to introduce new Pokemon to the ever growing Pokedex, and in more recent generations, ways of making Pokemon more devastating in battle have been introduced, those being Mega Evolution in X and Y, Z-Moves in Sun and Moon and Dynamaxing in Sword and Shield. While Shadow Pokemon can change battles in their own unique way, similar to Mega Evolution and so on, the conditions and context behind such Pokemon, especially since the objective is to purify the Pokemon, removing what made Shadow Pokemon function differently to regular Pokemon with no option to revert back, this would likely underwhelm the player unless purified Pokemon gain a special bonus outside of regaining experience and potentially levelling up that would give the Pokemon an advantage in battle, such as a unique move or ability, due to the comparison with newer, battle-changing mechanics present in modern Pokemon games.

How could bringing Shadow Pokemon back affect Modern Pokemon Games?

This would depend on which version of Shadow Pokemon is reintroduced in a future mainline Pokemon game. While neither iteration of Shadow Pokemon would be able to level up, like regular Pokemon can, until they are purified, the effect they would have in battle would differ depending on a range of factors., those being which iteration of Shadow Pokemon is used and how close the Pokemon is to purification in addition to how such Pokemon would compare to more recently introduced mechanics that players can take advantage of in modern Pokemon games. For the purpose of this article, we will just look at how Shadow Pokemon would work in the latest generation of Pokemon at the time of writing; Sword and Shield.

Shadow Pokemon Iterations

Colosseum’s Shadow Pokemon

If Colosseum’s iteration of Shadow Pokemon, being the earlier iteration with simpler behaviour in battle, were included in a mainline Pokemon game, the player using the Shadow Pokemon would have a go-to move, Shadow Rush, that was type-neutral if the other moves the Pokemon knew would not be effective against the opponent. The drawback for that go-to move is that while it can attack Pokemon of any type, it does not put the Pokemon at an advantage due to the move not being super effective against any Pokemon, furthermore, the only Shadow Move from Colosseum would hit the Pokemon in recoil, meaning every time the moves successfully hits the opponent, the user suffers a drawback which will put the user at a disadvantage. While a Shadow Pokemon in Hyper Mode would have a higher chance to score a critical hit with Shadow Rush, the drawback to this is being unable to be healed using items in the player’s inventory which would cause both the player and the opponent to face separate disadvantages, the opponent becoming vulnerable to hard hitting attacks, the player being unable to assist the Shadow Pokemon unless they calm it down.

XD’s Shadow Pokemon

As mentioned earlier, Pokemon XD’s Shadow Pokemon were iterated a considerable amount to make them considerably stronger than they were in Colosseum. With Pokemon XD’s Shadow Pokemon being in a mainline Pokemon game, the Shadow moves would put the player at a constant advantage due to said moves being super effective against all non-Shadow Pokemon in addition to moves that can be very devastating to opponents without Shadow Pokemon, such as Shadow Sky which creates a dark rain that damages non-Shadow Pokemon every turn, however, a Shadow Pokemon in Reverse Mode would likely lead to the player missing a turn to get the Shadow Pokemon out of Reverse Mode, giving the opponent an advantage against the player because they are spending a turn trying to avoid the drawbacks of Reverse Mode from putting them at a disadvantage. This would arguably balance the combat despite the challenges that both the player and opponent would face since the Shadow Pokemon’s moves would be devastating for any Pokemon that gets in its path, the risk of going into Reverse Mode and suffering from the drawbacks that come with it could really backfire on the player using a Shadow Pokemon.

Purification Progress

In Battle

Regardless of iteration of Shadow Pokemon, their effectiveness in battle will likely depend on how close they are to purification, especially if using Colosseum’s version of Shadow Pokemon, as it’s likely that freshly caught Shadow Pokemon will be very restricted in what moves they can use while Pokemon close to and/or are ready to be purified will have a full range of moves that they can use, despite not being able to learn new moves using TMs or TRs and being unable to level up until formally purified. At best, the Shadow Pokemon would be equally as effective as a regular Pokemon in battle, at worst, the Shadow Pokemon would be at a major disadvantage due to being heavily restricted in what they can and cannot do.

Out of Battle

While there exists the restrictions of what Shadow Pokemon can and cannot do in battle, this issue would likely be easy to overcome in modern Pokemon games due to the additional features that are designed to give players a chance to interact with their Pokemon which increases the friendliness of a Pokemon with the trainer, such as Sword and Shield’s Camping feature.

Had Shadow Pokemon been reintroduced in Sword and Shield, the Pokemon Camp would have been an effective way for the player to get their Pokemon purified, like how Colosseum and XD made use of scent items and/or the Purification Chamber, due to being able to play with Pokemon using a range of toys and cooking meals that improves the Pokemon’s friendliness towards the player which would rapidly reduce the Shadow Gauge but would remove the challenge originally involved in purifying Shadow Pokemon in Colosseum and XD which were released years before methods for players to interact with Pokemon to make them friendly were implemented into the mainline Pokemon games.

Conclusion

To conclude this analysis, the reintroduction of Shadow Pokemon as they worked in the Gamecube spin-off titles, Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness, would introduce an additional challenge to modern mainline Pokemon with the introduction of different behaviours and moves that are exclusive to Shadow Pokemon that could put opponents at a disadvantage but there would likely be more drawbacks to reintroducing Shadow Pokemon in mainline Pokemon games such as Sword and Shield than there would be benefits to the game’s design.

Firstly, features such as Pokemon Camp would remove the original challenges involved in purifying Shadow Pokemon due to being able to make the Pokemon friendly through a variety of methods without needing to use the Shadow Pokemon in a single battle.

Secondly, the Shadow Pokemon would likely have a wide range of disadvantages in battle, such as the risk of going into Hyper/Reverse Mode, restricting the player’s ability to heal the Pokemon with items and/or the moves the Pokemon can use, in addition to how many moves the Pokemon has access to based on how close they are to being purified. This would likely lead to battles being more frustrating if the player experiences too many disadvantages of Shadow Pokemon in battles and would likely resort to using out of battle techniques, such as the Pokemon Camp, to get their Shadow Pokemon ready for purification and only being able to use the Pokemon once it’s been purified for more balanced battles.

Thirdly, mainline Pokemon games have access to a wide variety of areas where the player can catch wild Pokemon while Pokemon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness were very restricted in regards to finding wild Pokemon, especially Colosseum which had no wild Pokemon, forcing the player to steal and purify Shadow Pokemon to build up their team.

In conclusion, there would be no point in bringing back Shadow Pokemon in modern mainline Pokemon games, especially if players would opt for easier options for purifying Shadow Pokemon, meaning it would be more of an unnecessary and outdated challenge than a unique selling point for the current era of Pokemon. The Shadow Pokemon creatively tackled a design problem surrounding a setting that lacked wild Pokemon but simply would not work in a mainline Pokemon game with a rich variety of old and new Pokemon that could be caught in the wild that can be trained the moment the player catches it.