Pokémon, as a series, has always had a hacking problem — nobody expected Pokémon Sword and Shield to be any different in this regard thanks to the ubiquity of cheating tools. But recently, players have seen an uptick in monsters that, technically, shouldn’t be in the game right now.
Pokémon Sword and Shield’s limited Pokedex means that there’s a list of creatures that aren’t supposed to be in the compendium, at least not until the release of Pokémon Home, which will allow players to import their wider collection. But according to reports around the web, players are suddenly seeing monsters that aren’t on Sword and Shield’s Pokedex. Perhaps the most popular of the bunch is Litten, a starter in Pokémon Sun and Moon that doesn’t make an appearance in Sword and Shield, at least not yet. (This also means an increase in Litten’s evolutions.)
if you can't beat em join em pic.twitter.com/S9IEqS5Z0x— HoodCal x) (@HoodlumCallum) February 11, 2020
Hey @JoeMerrick, have you seen Litten + evolution line and Rowlet + evolution line are now possible to be traded in SwSh? I got this last night from Wonder Trade, if you want an egg or something? pic.twitter.com/W45I2d9gF7— キャメロン (@fennekinandme) February 11, 2020
So through surprise trading, I got a Litten in Pokemon Sword. There wasn't even a Dex entry so it might be a hacked pokemon, but I didn't hack my game. pic.twitter.com/7To0VhDRBl— astrapboy (@astrapboy) February 11, 2020
But, there are others, too. Players say that they’re seeing illegitimate creatures in everything from Surprise Trade to the multiplayer.
“Someone brought an Incineroar to a Max Raid battle I was in yesterday,” Twitter user ThunderGigas told Polygon.
My timeline is full of hacked Pokémon in a video game. Y'all are impatient holy guacamole. Respect: -100 points.— Ozzy (@OzzyTTV) February 11, 2020
It trades, so must be legal, right? right?— thecommondude (@architdate) February 11, 2020
for fucks sake. At the very least be honest about the clearly hacked pokemon you are distributing. They can't even wait till HOME is released. pic.twitter.com/PAVFhalcaW
Every generation, Game Freak implements “checks” that dictate whether or not a monster is possible in an attempt to weed out, say, a creature with impossibly high stats. Historically, these checks have been ineffective, with people finding ways around them almost immediately.
According to Pokémon data miner Kaphotics, speculation among hardcore fans is that Game Freak made a change to the game recently that was meant to ready Pokemon Sword and Shield for the impending release of Pokémon Home, and this tweak went live after the usual Nintendo Switch maintenance that happens multiple times each week. But it’s hard to say if something has actually changed in the back end — what we do know is that people injecting hacked monsters in the game keep citing Pokémon Home, often misleading people to believe the feature is live in Japan. (It’s not.) The argument is meant to trick people into believing the hacked monsters are legitimate, because, the thinking goes, somewhere in the world some people could theoretically import anything.
“[Hackers] are probably just testing the waters with HOME coming out soon,” Kaphotics told Polygon in a Twitter DM.
It may be easy to point fingers at the hacking program, but it’s actually more complex than that. The tools that make “bad” hacking possible are, rumor has it, also a component of competitive play. But in those cases, in the spirit of fairness, players will create monsters that are within the authorized means of the game, so that nobody fights against an impossible enemy. The idea is that actually breeding monsters is too time-consuming to perform every time, especially when the point of competitive play is strategy, not pointless grinding. And, some players argue, none of this would be a problem at all if Game Freak were more diligent about its in-game hack checks.
The problem for some is less that these Pokémon exist at all than it is that folks are being mislead into believing they’re legit. Innocent players are also worried that they may be punished for receiving monsters that they didn’t ask for through features like Surprise Trade.
Reached for comment, Nintendo did not respond in time for press.