A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
It is the season of spooks again! And since I wanted to play something spooky while not enjoying horror games that much, my choices were limited as usual. But somehow, there was this inner desire to talk about Pokémon again. That said, the Pokémon series itself doesn’t really have much spookiness going for it. Sure, I could write a 5-page essay on why Lavender Town is the stuff of nightmares that has terrorized an entire generation of children, but all of the internet did that already. Not that what I’m talking about today hasn’t been overdone already but oh well.
Pokémon Snakewood is perhaps one of, if not the most famous Pokémon ROM hack out there for people unfamiliar with the ROM hacking scene. I can’t count the number of times that both this game and Pokémon Vietnamese Crystal appeared on showcase videos. While I have absolutely no interest in the latter since that’s just stupid, I was pretty interested in Pokémon Snakewood. It is a Pokémon game, but in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. That’s absolutely something you would never ever see from the original creators. So today, let’s delve into this mysterious new world created by Cutlerine!
Before I continue, I want to mention that everything non-positive written here is meant to be constructive criticism instead of direct complaints or even hate towards the creator. In the Pokécommunity post, it is also stated that this was their first hack and that it was mostly done alone. And all things considered, what they have managed to do here is impressive as it is still a complete ROM hack.
What I can say about the game is that it had a strong first hour. We awake in a destroyed Littleroot Town, with no houses around anymore and just a few Pokéballs on the ground. The starters of this game are Koffing, Paras, and my choice, Baltoy. My choice was an absolute disaster though, as most of the early game was filled with Dark, Ghost, and Water Pokémon. It didn’t matter to me too much in the end though, since this game has fakemon. Whenever a game has fakemon, I tend to ditch all original Pokémon in favour of them, so Baltoy wasn’t destined to be a permanent member.
And my hopes for fakemon were quite high, to say the least. Going north of Littleroot Town, we see Birch being chased by a zombified trainer, with zombified Pokémon. In this case, a zombified Bulbasaur. And going further ahead, we end up with several more of these undead creatures, including the other Kanto starters and a Poliwhirl. I couldn’t wait to make my own zombie team… but I guess all that waiting was for nothing. For a perhaps understandable reason, we cannot actually catch these zombie Pokémon… even though there are two later on that are catchable, namely Marill and Grimer. So that understandable reason suddenly isn’t understandable anymore and instead, a big shame.
But going back to that first hour, I can genuinely appreciate how it is set up. Oldale Town is the last frontier, protected from all sides and housing the last remaining humans of this apocalypse. Meanwhile, our brother is missing: the champion Landon from the original Pokémon Ruby. Even though we are safe here for now, we have a motivation to explore the world and possibly discover the reason behind this sudden apocalypse. Oh, and we have amnesia. Because of course.
Petalburg City yet again has a strong moment, showing the destroyed city not too dissimilar from Littleroot Town, and a human sacrificing himself for you while a horde of zombies is approaching. Unfortunately though… that was also the highlight of the zombie apocalypse, and probably the entire story in general.
Pokémon Snakewood is an ambitious game. Perhaps even a bit too ambitious. That zombie apocalypse happening right now? It will always be the overarching plot of the game, but it is also irrelevant for most of the game. In Rustboro City, there are suddenly demons and a member of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Dewford City doesn’t even notice the apocalypse at all as it’s on an island, but the treat here are dragons. In Slateport it’s suddenly possessed chefs, and a brand new ”villainous team” shows up in Mauville that call themselves the Inquisition. It’s a lot of different storylines that, frankly, just end up completely unfinished or rushed out for another.
Pokémon Snakewood has a lot of different storylines that, frankly, just end up completely unfinished or rushed out for another.
For example, I genuinely love the idea of the Four Horsemen showing up, since we are in an apocalypse after all. But they just end up doing their own thing, and eventually we beat them in a Pokémon battle after which they are gone forever. They were minor villains that barely had any effect on the plot at all. There was even a very short storyline where there was a very short crossover with Keitai Denjū Telefang! Yet again something I genuinely love, as the bootleg games Pokémon Diamond and Jade were part of my childhood. But this also ended up just being a very short distraction that didn’t get the attention it deserved.
And probably the worst part is that, just like with the zombie Pokémon, none of the Denjuus were catchable. They had sprites and we could battle them, but we can’t actually use them. And this is something that persists throughout the entire game. I mentioned earlier on that I wanted to play exclusively with fakemon, but the only two that I had access to up until Fortree City (which, for context, is where the sixth gym normally is) were an ugly rock with a claw that evolved into the same sprite with a lazily added smaller claw, and a new evolution to Quilfish that… was pretty cool admittedly. No hate on the rock though, he actually ended up being an MVP for quite a while due to his high defensive stats.
And I wanted to talk about this because I feel that gameplay is more important than the story. Sure, it was a mess, but I could look past it if the game itself was alright. It is often stated that the story was not meant to be taken seriously anyway. But not only was the selection of fakemon small until the late game, but Pokémon Snakewood didn’t feel fun to play regardless of that fact. And it all has to do with the design of the overworld- and the dungeons. The HM Fly isn’t available until pretty much the actual Pokémon League, and many routes are blocked. This was done for a reason because you got Surf very early and the creator didn’t want you to go places you weren’t meant to go yet, but it only caused frustration down the line because even with Fly, you just can’t fly to the majority of the cities. Getting to Mauville genuinely sucks, because the closest options are Fallarbor- and Dewford.
But nothing compares to the dungeon design. The original places have been left mostly intact, but the new ones are atrocious. They are filled to the brim with nonsensical puzzles and doors that would lead to a random exit. There were moments where my own knowledge just wasn’t enough, and the fact that the original Pokécommunity post has questions- and maps everywhere should already say enough. The most ridiculous ones were the part on the submarine, and especially the last gym. It’s a reference to the Christian Bible where you have to give a man in a mirror a red stew, and genuinely nothing hinted at that unless you were aware of what it was referencing. I’m not religious, so that obviously didn’t apply to me.
And that wasn’t the only part in the game where you need knowledge of something completely unrelated to Pokémon to proceed. The final dungeon had four different quiz machines with many questions, and you have to guess them all correctly back to back. Make an error and it’s way back to the beginning. I hated this part so badly, as these questions were so extremely niche and nonsensical that nobody in their right mind would know them all. I’ve been genuinely angry at points, and if I wasn’t so close to the end, I probably would have dropped it right away.
So yeah, the gameplay wasn’t very good, and that’s probably the most unfortunate part aside from the incoherent story. But even without these issues… I doubt I would have recommended the hack. Aside from the first hour, I never once really got the feeling that I was in an apocalypse, or that my life was in any danger. It misses the feel of such a disaster greatly when there are people walking around everywhere like no one’s business, when the jokes like dead bodies are too cringy (or even insensitive) to take seriously, and especially when the happy music- and graphics from the original games are still present. Yeah, I’m totally scared when the normal battle theme is playing against the big baddie, or super cheery trumpet music in a desert occupied by one of the four horsemen.
And was I spooked by the sprite changes, like the zombified Pokémon- and trainers? Eh… not really? Some were just simple recolours, and others just had a body part removed like Houndour’s head. Now, there were a few that I thought were genuinely good. Somewhere near Lilycove is a troll (don’t question it) that stitched eleven of his Pokémon together (don’t question it again), which results in quite the abomination. It really gave me that feeling that I was in a messed up world. And other sprites like the Shinigami Gallade which is definitely not scary, but it was a genuinely awesome sprite.
To end this showcase on a positive not since I feel I’ve been a bit too negative, I feel that the game actually wasn’t as difficult as many people made it out to be. Sure, there were some parts where I had to grind, but these were usually kept to a minimum. That, and I may have avoided it altogether if I wasn’t so busy building a team of only fakemon. There were only two moments where I really had to grind, and that’s a battle where my team’s types were at a disadvantage, and the Pokémon league which makes sense. Also, even though the post-game is yet again filled with puzzles that you just can’t know without a guide, I will say that it was… actually not that bad. I enjoyed the Gym Island, and hunting for legendaries also wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
So… I haven’t really been positive this showcase have I? It’s unfortunate, because I don’t like bashing creations–especially when it’s made by one person. But Pokémon Snakewood gives me very little reason to look back on it with pleasant memories. Of course, wanting to play with fakemon and zombies can technically be considered my own fault, but I genuinely wanted to build my team around them. Wanting to more easily traverse the overworld can also be considered my fault since you never really need to revisit places like Mauville again, unless you wanted to breed Pokémon.
Though I must also say that my negative experience mostly has to do with the latter half of the game. The real annoying puzzles didn’t show up until beyond Lilycove, with the only annoying puzzle before then being the Isle of Calm–an admittedly low point of the game, but also one of the only low points at that point. And while the Pokémon selection of some trainers could definitely be mixed up, like the severed heads which only have one Pokémon and nothing else, it wasn’t the absolute worst ROM hack that I’ve ever played. It’s just hard to recommend it really.
And that’s all I really had to say about Pokémon Snakewood! It’s an amazing concept on paper and one that I definitely want to see worked out with the current tools the hacking industry has. Pokémon Sweet is a good example of this, converting all existing Pokémon into candy and also changing up all their types. But for now, Snakewood is not a recommendation. It’s not an absolute dumpster fire of a game, but it shows its age quite badly.