Over the course of the past six months, I’ve played around 400 hours of a single Pokémon game, working towards a special goal. No, I’ve not been playing Ultra Sun & Moon trying to build a competitive team for the VGC world championships; I’ve just been wandering in circles in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu.
Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu is a modern reimagining of Pokémon Yellow for the Nintendo Switch, focused on the original generation one Pokémon and some simplified gameplay mechanics. Pokémon appear in the overworld rather than as random battles, catching Pokémon is done via motion controls – you just throw balls at wild Pokémon rather than weakening them first – and modern competitive elements, like held items and abilities, are not present.
It’s also probably the one single Pokémon RPG I’ve put most hours into. Why? Because its simplified mechanics made a ludicrous personal challenge feel attainable. The idea was simple: collect every shiny Pokémon in Pokémon Let’s Go.
The first encounter
In Pokémon games, shiny Pokémon are incredibly rare variants of creatures that feature unique colours, but are otherwise functionally indistinct from the standard versions. Their rarity varies by game, but in Let’s Go Pikachu the odds of randomly encountering a shiny Pokémon start at one in 4,096.
The first shiny Pokémon I encountered in Let’s Go Pikachu was luck. I was at a review event for the game a couple of weeks ahead of its release and, while walking through Mt Moon, I saw a sparkling green Zubat just flying around the cave.
Normally I couldn’t care less about Zubat; it’s never been a creature I’ve kept on my team, and I’ve never felt particularly attached to it. But I’ve also never encountered a Shiny in a Pokémon RPG before which wasn’t part of some scripted event. It was love at first sight, and I had to befriend that little flying misfit.
Two things about that first encounter reallystuck with me: the fact I saw the shiny Pokémon on the overworld, and the fact I could have it fly around behind me while I adventured.
The move to having Pokémon visible in the overworld – and the fact that you can instantly spot a shiny – got me invested in the idea that if I just kept my eyes peeled, I might catch more shiny creatures over time. That I could also have my rare shiny companion follow me through the world started as a status symbol, but ultimately got me emotionally invested in keeping him around.
I would normally never bring a Zubat through most of a Pokémon game, nor have its evolved form Golbat in my Elite Four team, but that shiny Golbat ended up being the last creature to deal damage in my first successful run at the elite four. Simply by spending time with it, I found a brand new love and appreciation for a Pokémon I’d never given much thought to beforehand.
I imagined that little outcast, being shunned by other Zubat as the ugly duckling, ultimately becoming the Zubat that made it to the heights of heroism. And it made me want more shinies.
Evening the odds
As I mentioned, the base odds of finding a shiny Pokémon in Let’s Go Pikachu are 1 in 4096. However, and thankfully, Let’s Go Pikachu has a fairly simple set of mechanics by which people hunting for shiny Pokémon can increase their odds.
If you complete your standard Pokédex in Let’s Go, you’ll be awarded with an object called a shiny charm, which essentially doubles the odds of any given Pokémon you encounter being a shiny. Basically, the game will roll a virtual dice an extra time in the background, giving you an extra shot at encountering a shiny. It’s not an exact doubling of the odds, but close enough.
Beyond that, players can add additional rerolls of that hidden die by catching the same Pokémon multiple times in a row, known as a chain combo. So long as you don’t catch a different Pokémon (evolution stages count as different Pokémon), let a Pokémon run from you, or close your game, you can rack up a combo number that increases the amount of experience you’re rewarded, along with your odds of spawning a shiny of that creature.
Lastly, consumable items called lures also increase your shiny odds for a limited number of steps. However, you can limit the number of steps you take in order to keep the lure active longer.
By having the Shiny Charm, using a lure, and having a catch combo of over 31, you can get your shiny odds down to roughly 1 in 270, give or take. Add onto this the fact that shiny Pokémon are visible on the overworld, and the streamlined catching process in Let’s Go, and the idea of hunting shiny versions of all my favourite Pokémon seemed like a potentially attainable goal.
In those early weeks, I caught around 20 shiny Pokémon in Let’s Go Pikachu. Some were deliberate hunts of favourites like Ponyta, whose blue flames I’ve always loved. Some were accidental finds, courtesy of how long I had put into the game. Some were spares transferred over from Pokémon Go, which has monthly events where certain Pokémon become more common in shiny variants.
Setting the rules
Whichever way I’d caught them, around this time something changed for me. I found I was really enjoying shiny hunting as a simple, repetitive collection task to do while watching TV or waiting for files to export. It was becoming a genuinely fun way to pass the time. It was around this time that I decided to set myself the ludicrous challenge of trying to catch every single shiny Pokémon possible in Let’s Go.
I wanted to have a reason to get excited about creatures I don’t normally care about. I wanted to learn what value they had. I wanted to give myself an excuse to train, catch, and play using a wider variety of Pokémon than I normally would.
Right from the start, I had to decide what methods of collecting Pokémon I was going to make use of, which I was not, and assess what challenges I needed to overcome. If I was going to take this seriously, there had to be ground rules. And I was going to take this seriously.
I decided that I would be willing to transfer Pokémon from Go to Let’s Go to aid in my quest. Shiny Pokémon are still rare in the mobile game, and I’d still be going out of my way to collect them in this way. In Let’s Go I was simply more likely to get competitive use out of them.
I was also willing to trade with other trainers online to complete my collection. Trading has always been at the heart of Pokémon games. It’s a core part of what makes the experience unique, and doing so has allowed other people to come on this journey with me. It also answered how I was going to get the Let’s Go Eevee version exclusives in my version of the game.
I made sure to catch duplicate shiny Pokémon, so that if I wanted to trade for a shiny, I could always offer another shiny in exchange.
I wanted to get every possible Pokémon, including shiny Alolan and legendary Pokémon too. I wasn’t content to just have a shiny Charizard: I needed a shiny Charmander and Charmeleon at the same time too. Gotta catch ’em all? Hell yeah!
In terms of unforeseen difficulties, the primary challenge is the way quitting the game impacted chain combos. If I closed the game, it meant I’d have to catch another 31 Pokémon the next time I opened it up just to get my shiny catching odds back to where they were. As such, I avoided quitting the game at all costs. My Switch would spend days or weeks at a time with the game in standby mode.
I felt like I couldn’t close the game and save until I caught the shiny I was hunting for – which is a problem when you have to play lots of different games for work. It was a great strain sometimes to get the sunk cost fallacy out of my head and just close the game to try again later.
Additionally, while you don’t technically have to move around for lures to work their magic, my initial hunting method of finding a small space to watch for spawns happening didn’t really work. While Pokémon appear to disappear from the map, they actually stay loaded in memory for quite some time. What this means is that a non-shiny Caterpie might spawn in and out five or six times, but it’s the same one every time: you’ve only had one roll of those proverbial die for a shiny.
In terms of solutions to that, there are two options: encounter and flee from your target Pokémon to cause a new spawn, or leave and re-enter the area to refresh all the Pokémon in the game’s memory. The latter by the end of my quest was my preferred option as it minimised steps taken for lures.
Lastly, and perhaps most terrifying, I had to go into this knowing that my save data was tied to my Switch console – not my cartridge or memory card – and could not be backed up in any way. In order to avoid duplication and save scumming, Nintendo decided not to enable cloud save backups via Nintendo Switch Online for Pokémon Let’s Go. It makes sense: it means players can’t trade a Pokémon then simply revert to a cloud save to get a version of the creature back. But in terms of my mission, it meant that if my Switch got damaged or lost, I’d lose my entire collection.
Please Nintendo, put Pokémon Bank on Switch, and let me back up my shiny collection!
With all that out the way, it was time for an estimated 400 hours of questing over a period of six months, all in the name of ultimately useless colour variant pocket monsters.
The quest got off to a really positive start. I had a lot of support and excitement from people online who saw what I was aiming to do. Many of my early additions came from other players, who were often just happy to help out without wanting much in return. I was really surprised and heartened by the community response, with fellow trainers freely offering advice, encouragement, and and trades.
The Mewtwo problem
Around 40 shiny Pokémon deep, someone traded me a shiny Zapdos, one of the game’s legendary creatures. It was at this point I realised I had a problem. I had caught all of the game’s cutscene-encounter legendaries while playing the main story before I’d decided I would be going for the shiny collection.
While the legendary birds were still attainable for me – I could get them as rare wild spawns or as research breakthrough rewards in Go – I had missed my one and only shot to catch a shiny Mewtwo. The only way was to soft reset that one-off encounter.
So, I devised a backup plan. I started a second save file under a new Switch user and replayed the story as quick as I could, just so I could catch that Mewtwo in my free time. It would be a while before I found one – quite a while in fact – but it was a sacrifice I needed to make.
Mewtwo didn’t join my shiny collection until incredibly close to the end; it was capture number 141 to be precise. I had been jumping in and out of soft resetting as and when I had the focus, as it required more dedicated attention than regular shiny hunting. I eventually found him while on a train home from a work trip late at night, and had to hold in my excitement not to weird out other passengers.
Every trade tells a story
One thing I started to notice as my journey progressed and I passed the 60 shiny mark, was that I could really tell a lot about the kind of trainer who had sent me a Pokémon by the nickname they had given it.
Shiny Pokémon are rare, and as such, seeing them with nicknames is pretty common. You can’t rename a Pokémon traded to you so you’re stuck with whatever nickname its previous owner has given it. I honestly love that; it tells a story about the kind of person who found it.
Warm Hugs the Ninetails and Jelly Belly the Snorlax were both unexpected finds, from players less invested in shiny hunting. Their names show that they were loved catches, caught by trainers who were excited to stumble upon them and had named them with affection.
Comparatively, I received a Horsea named T-S-Horsea and a Seadra called T-S-Horsea2 from a trainer with a much more methodical and clinical naming system. I figured out that the “T” stands for timid, the best nature for a Horsea (and a nature the trainer likely ensured by paying a fortune to an NPC). “S” stands for shiny, and “Horsea2” shows that Seadra was caught as a Horsea and evolved later. It’s a naming system that says a lot about the serious way its owner played the game.
Also, every time I see my Shiny Arbok, I remember the story of the Shiny Arbok trade that got away. It’s a pretty simple story, but when the game was still new and we were all still working out how the game worked, my friend Jim offered to trade me the Eevee version exclusive creature. We both put in the same trade room code, Jim offered up the Arbok quickly, before suddenly realising it wasn’t being sent to me. The game did not make it unclear these trade room codes were across the whole internet, not just your friends list. Someone had accidentally matched up with us and taken Jim’s Arbok. We still to this day don’t know who, and I remember it every time I see the replacement Arbok in my collection.
The epic quest grows even bigger
I made it up to 97 shiny species without incident, before tragedy struck. I realised my quest was actually larger than I had thought.
I had, in my head, been treating my end goal as 152 Pokémon. Everything up to Mewtwo, Meltan and Melmetal, and no Mew as they are not available in game. But I had forgotten that just under 20 species in the game have Alolan variants, and those could be shiny too.
In order to get a shiny Alolan Pokémon in Let’s Go, you have to catch a large number of the Kanto variant of the creature, save, then trade all your Kanto variants to a NPC, hoping to get a shiny in return. If you have no luck, quickly reset the game and trade them all again.
I’d hoped that trading in any duplicate shiny Kanto region Pokémon from my collection would in turn grant me a shiny Alolan variant. After all, a shiny for a shiny seems like a fair trade, right? Wrong. I learned the hard way that trading in a shiny doesn’t get you a shiny in return. Suddenly, my quest’s already challenging finish line had moved even further away.
There were a few Pokémon along the way that caused me real trouble, that were so elusive they caused me to at times become convinced my game copy must have become bugged. I caught over 800 Ditto before I found a shiny blue one, to this day one of my favourite Pokémon. I don’t care that the second my Ditto uses transform it becomes the colour of my non-shiny opponent; it’s a cute perfect blue blob of happy smiles.
Fun note: it’s frustrating as hell any time you see a shiny you already have while you’re in the middle of catch combo for another species. It’s often not worth losing the combo over a Pokémon I already have, so I had to get used to the pain of seeing a shiny spawn, but ignoring it and focusing on the long-term goal.
Additionally, at some point around the 130 mark while hunting for a shiny Machop, I not only got up to a similarly ludicrous 600 chain without seeing a single shiny, but I also had one of the most frustrating gaming moments of my entire life.
I left the cave where I had been shiny hunting Machop to restock on supplies, and what I’m pretty certain was a shiny Machop began to spawn as I had already triggered the cave exit animation.
I saw the green and sparkles. I tried to turn around, but it was too late.
It was a while later I finally caught that shiny Machop while livestreaming, one of two caught that night. My girlfriend was ill and didn’t want to miss her weekly streaming slot, so I jumped on Twitch for her. That stream got her up to the next streamer level on Twitch. It was a really exciting night.
Hunting for shiny fossil-type Pokémon is frustrating, too. It’s a similar process to getting a shiny Alolan, except fossils are so rare you have to soft reset after far smaller batches, so it’s a much more time consuming process.
One last hurdle
Catching Mewtwo proved one of the trickiest challenges, but once I’d got that in my collection, the road to victory was more straightforward. I managed to acquire several missing creatures while in Berlin for the Pokémon European Championships, except for one very specific creature which eluded my collection.
While taking part in a small side tournament for Pokémon Let’s Go at the European Championships, I met a young man who had a single shiny Pokémon, a shiny Lapras. I tried to convince him to part ways with it, offering him pretty much any other shiny creature he could possibly want thanks to my hefty collection of duplicates. He wouldn;t budge.
Lapras was his favourite Pokémon, and his only shiny, so I respected his conviction, thanked him anyway, and said I would hopefully find another eventually.
Lapras ended up being the final Pokémon I had left to find. My purple whale, as it were.
In a perfect world, I wanted to catch that shiny Lapras on Twitch, with an audience there live to share my excitement. It seemed reasonable: most shiny Pokémon can be found in less than five hours of hunting, usually much closer to two or three. So, I set aside an evening for streaming the game.
I hunted for that Lapras for five hours in one evening without much luck. I started off trying to chain combo Lapras itself, but that proved incredibly tricky. Any Lapras spawns are incredibly rare in Let’s Go. Your best odds of finding one are surfing around Seafoam Islands, with an active lure, and even then getting them to spawn takes time. If you chain more than ten non-Lapras Pokémon, Lapras spawns become more common, but the second you break the chain to catch a Lapras, they stop spawning again.
I tried to get a chain of ten Lapras, which would have allowed me to get them spawning properly, but I only encountered three Lapras with that method in the whole of two hours. It simply wasn’t going to be viable. Lapras is also one of the toughest Pokémon to get to stay in a Pokéball, so chaining them is tricky. If your first ball doesn’t catch it, you should probably run for fear of the chain breaking if it flees.
In those two hours I made no progress on catching a shiny Lapras – although I did chance upon a random shiny Magikarp. A nice surprise, even if it wasn’t what I was after.
Instead, I switched to chaining Tentacool, a common spawn that was easy to catch. At the very least, doing so would cause me to see Lapras spawns with a far higher frequency, and the more of them I actually saw the better my odds of encountering a shiny were going to be.
I streamed until midnight without luck, and went to bed. I had an early commute to work the following morning. I had to accept it wasn’t going to be something I could force to happen for an audience.
I actually caught that final Lapras the following morning. I had twenty minutes spare on the commute, and decided to give catching that shiny one more shot. I jumped right back into that chain combo from the night before and, about fifteen minutes in, that shiny Lapras swam straight into me out of the blue.
Through my whole shiny hunting quest, I had been earning money by collecting item spawns from Cerulean Cave, and over my hundreds of hours I’d managed to find a couple of additional Master Balls. Rather than risk Lapras getting away, I used one to ensure my victory.
With Lapras caught, my quest was finally over. After more than 400 hours of play time, countless resets, and trades with over 30 trainers I had never met, I couldn’t quite believe it.
A Mew conundrum
Well, actually, not quite. I needed to decide what to do about Mew.
Mew is the one Pokémon in Let’s Go that doesn’t have a shiny variation – at least, not officially. The only way to get Mew is to buy a brand new Pokeball Plus controller for Let’s Go. It’s programmed to never be a shiny, so that should be the end of things.
Except, I’ve met players with a shiny Mew. I even fought one in that previously mentioned tournament in Berlin. Where did they come from? Hackers.
Data for a shiny Mew does exist within retail copies of Let’s Go, it’s just not normally accessible. As a result, people with hacked Switches have been generating shiny Mews and trading them, or selling their black market Mews on sites like eBay (really!).
Shiny Mew can be traded online. It functions perfectly in non-hacked versions of the game, and seemingly poses no risk of account bans for otherwise legitimate users.
I had a conundrum. Do I accept that there’s a shiny that, even after 400 hours of questing, would never be mine? Could I accept that after all my legitimate work, there was a creature hackers had but I did not? Would accepting a shiny Mew delegitimise the rest of my collection?
I asked Twitter this question as my quest was coming to an end, but the response I got was incredibly closely split down the middle. A slight lead broke out saying I shouldn’t let a hacked creature enter my collection, but it was so tightly contested among the over 1,000 people who voted I think it’s clear it’s not an easy choice to make.
I was just as torn as those voting on how I should proceed.
Ultimately, it got me thinking about what the whole point of this quest had been, and how Mew might fit into that.
When I started this quest, it was never about any kind of perceived legitimacy. It was about me appreciating my personal Pokémon collection in a new light, finding an obsessive collectathon to peruse, and about collaborating with new friends to do something that at first seemed impossible. That’s not going anywhere no matter what choice I make.
If I accept a hacked shiny Mew, sure, some of you out there might view my collection as tainted, or assume I accepted other hacked Pokémon to get to this goal. But I’ll know I did this legitimately, as will everyone I traded with along the way.
If my goal had been to simply own every shiny Pokémon, I could have paid a hacker maybe £30 and be done with it in a matter of minutes. I didn’t, because to me, getting my collection of shiny Pokémon was about the journey, and no matter what I’ll always have this story.
Yes reader, I took the shiny Mew. If nothing else, I now get to tell people the story of the moral debate around its acquisition. Right now, I have it sat on my spare save file, the one I used to soft reset for Mewtwo. It’s not putting my legitimate shiny collection at risk, or tainting that legitimate collection in any way, but I know that I have it. This seemed the best solution to my complex conundrum.
And if there ever is a way to get a shiny Mew legitimately, I’ll just scrap the hacked one and get it the right way.
The journey doesn’t end there
So, 400 hours deep and every shiny Pokémon caught, what’s next? Well, my plan right now is to train every one of them up to level 100, use candy and bottle caps to sort their stats, sort their moves, and defeat every one of the game’s Master Trainers with a shiny version of their prized Pokemon. As you do.
I’m not sure how I feel now that my quest is over. I’m relieved that I’m past the stages that invoked sunk cost fallacy and deterred me from playing other games. But there are a lot of mixed feelings. Accomplishment and pride, tinged with a strange sense of loss, unsure quite what can fill this gap in my gaming schedule. I feel excitement and curiosity wondering about if I’ll ever manage to do this in another Pokémon game one day. I have the urge to get a tattoo to celebrate, but of what design I’m not certain.
One thing does seem pretty clear. I may have played 400 hours of the most casual Pokémon RPG, but my quest to be the very best has only just begun.
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.