Honestly? Too soon to say. Game Freak are clearly putting way more effort into them than I thought they would (I’d expected something similar to Crystal, Emerald and Platinum, only paired instead of alone), so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut until I see the finished product. This entry might amuse you, although much of it has been superseded by newer information. I tend to avoid spoilers as far as possible going into a new Pokémon game, so you probably shouldn’t expect any comment from me until they’re released in New Zealand (normally happens at the same time as the European release).
Oy vey. Okay, I don’t pretend to have thought through this in any great detail and I promise I will someday do a whole entry on this, but I don’t believe any of these changes would break anything…
- I probably would throw in Poison-beats-Water and Ice-resists-Dragon; maybe not Water-resists-Fighting, though, since Water is a pretty good defensive type already.
- Some of Steel’s resistances need to be eliminated; I think Ghost and Psychic are reasonable.
- Bug used to be super-effective against Poison; I don’t think it would hurt to make it neutral now. Grass has more offensive weaknesses than any type in the game and I don’t think it would be unreasonable to make Grass attacks neutral to Bug or Flying types (or both).
- I’m tempted to say Normal should be super-effective against *something* but I’m not sure what yet…
Our next starter is a chicken? Really, Game Freak? A chicken?
It’s… well, not as odd as it sounds. A good friend of mine grew up on a farm and had a number of pet chickens over the course of her childhood. Not only are they actually quite good pets, each with distinct personalities as interesting as any dog or cat’s, the brighter ones can be taught tricks (my friend won prizes at her primary school for doing just that). Chickens may not have the same kind of awesomeness potential as more conventional pet animals, but they’re really quite underrated. So, there you have it. Setting off from home accompanied only by a firebreathing chicken is… admittedly still not a very good idea, but not a markedly worse idea than leaving with a magic frog or a perfectly ordinary baby crocodile. Torchic basically has generic Fire Pokémon characteristics, other than a note that she doesn’t like darkness and, to my knowledge, this really is a noticeable trait of real chickens; they have poor night vision, so they don’t like to move around when it’s dark. That seems a little odd for a Fire Pokémon (especially one whose name is derived from “torch”), since Torchic can presumably just produce flames to light up a dark area, but I guess I’ll go with it.
Sometimes it’s good to have trends within a Pokémon type. They add a sense of identity, a feeling that these Pokémon are defined by more than just an arbitrarily assigned set of elemental powers. Of course, half of the joy in having trends and stereotypes is in finding fun ways to break them, and so it is that the third Grass-type starter was something quite unusual indeed; a highly mobile, aggressive Grass Pokémon. Treecko, Grovyle and Sceptile belong to the inherently badass jungle fighter archetype, which is appealing because Grass Pokémon don’t normally go for ‘badass’ – their power is typically of a very understated sort. Ruby and Sapphire were the beginning of a shift towards more diversity in that respect, introducing Grass-types like Shiftry, Cacturne, Breloom… and these guys. They’re geckos, of course, and as geckos their padded feet can grip onto just about any surface; they can climb walls and walk on ceilings, no problem, which means they can come at you from any direction they damn well please.
I have seen the light. Your piercing insight has convinced me that Totodile is, in fact, the best-designed Pokémon of all time.
These Pokémon bore me.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr bore me. I honestly think they’re the most boring starter Pokémon in the history of ever. Why would I think that? They’re crocodiles; crocodiles are awesome, aren’t they? What with the biting, and the ripping, and the tearing, and the biting, and the shredding, and the biting, and the…
…what… what else do these Pokémon do, exactly? Game Freak, help me out here.
I’m dead serious; they bite stuff and that’s pretty much it. I’ve looked through all the Pokédex entries for all the games, and every single one of Totodile’s entries, every single one of Croconaw’s, and about half of Feraligatr’s are about how awesome they are at biting things. It’s like that was all they could think of. The other traits of Feraligatr’s that the Pokédex describes are his ability to move around easily even out of water thanks to his strong legs, and the fact that he normally moves slowly but can strike with incredible speed. So… he’s exactly like a crocodile.
Cyndaquil has never caught my interest. I’m not sure why; maybe I’m just prejudiced against mammals (Cyndaquil is, believe it or not, the only mammalian starter Pokémon of the first three generations; the vast majority were reptiles). In principle, though, she’s based on a fairly neat idea; take a spiny mammal like a hedgehog or echidna and set its spines on fire, because fire is awesome. A lot of Fire Pokémon earn their place in the ranks of their element purely by virtue of being able to breathe fire, so she’s clearly off to a good start in the creativity stakes by integrating her element with her design base in a pleasing way. Personality-wise, although Cyndaquil herself is very shy and timid, her evolved forms, Quilava and Typhlosion, are stereotypical hot-headed Fire-types. That’s not especially bad; there’s no point to Pokémon that defy the stereotypes without Pokémon who conform to them, and if you need to do something like that, the starters are the place to do it. If there’s one place in the game where you want Pokémon to be exactly what players expect, this (arguably) is it. On the other hand, Charizard did it so well that it becomes difficult to expect Typhlosion to live up to that standard.
Yay; more Grass-types! Like Bulbasaur, Chikorita was part of my childhood (less so, since I started to splash out a little on Silver and actually picked one of the other two starters from time to time) so, of course, I love her to bits. However, I must be strong. I have to talk about what these Pokémon mean for me personally, but I’ll do my best to discuss them objectively too…
Here’s something you might not know about me: I was a dinosaur kid. Now, I don’t mean that like how all boys go through the dinosaur phase and learn to rattle off the names of the dozen or so coolest ones that were in Jurassic Park and play with models. I mean some of my first words were dinosaur names, I had the evolutionary lineage of the whole damn Order Archosauria memorised by the time I was ten, I used to get really ticked off with people who called Pteranodon a ‘flying dinosaur,’ I was genuinely remorseful that humanity only existed because dinosaurs had gone extinct, while all the other kids were playing with T-Rex and Triceratops I was into the really hipster dinosaurs like Scutellosaurus and Homalocephale, and I’m even worse now because I’ve studied Latin and Greek and know what all the names actually mean.
It’s funny, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Water-type starters. Funny, because some of my favourite Pokémon are Water-types. Maybe it’s because they’re always juxtaposed with the Grass-type starters, which for me is no contest. If that’s the case, then perhaps examining them in isolation will make the truth come out. Let’s give it a try…
Squirtle is adorable. As far as cuteness goes, amongst the first-generation starters Squirtle’s nailed it. Of course, I think turtles are just adorable animals by nature, but it’s hard not to go all warm and gooey inside when you see him staring up at you in Sugimori’s art over there. However, this does bring up my problem with Squirtle, since, sadly, I do have one; he’s… well, just a turtle.
There’s something about Charizard. Maybe it’s the inherent awesomeness of Fire as an element. Maybe it’s the allure of his base set trading card, whose Fire Spin was pretty much the most powerful attack in the game. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a goddamn freakin’ dragon. Charizard is easily the most popular of the first-generation starters and, despite my perpetual love affair with the Grass type, I have to admit that it’s easy to see why. Charmander may be cute as a button but one look at his burning tail shows that he means business nonetheless. Charmeleon has the look of a proud fighter who loves to punch above his weight. Charizard simply demands respect, and incinerates anyone who denies him. What more could we possibly want?
Oh, Bulbasaur; I know you aren’t as popular as Squirtle or Charmander, but my heart will always belong to you…
Today is basically going to be one huge nostalgia trip for me, since we’ll be looking at my first Pokémon ever: Bulbasaur, the first-generation Grass-type starter Pokémon. It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this little guy; I honestly don’t think I ever chose a different starter on any of my myriad playthroughs of Blue version as a kid (I branched out a little on Leaf Green, but Bulbasaur remained my favourite). It’s probably fair to say I’m slightly biased, but I will do the best I can to back myself up with sensible argument. Here’s why I think Bulbasaur is awesome.
Right. That’s enough of that. For now, anyway.
A few weeks ago (or… maybe it was months… or… something) reader NateyM suggested I review and rank the starter Pokémon. I wasn’t so sure about the ranking, mainly because I have to admit I’m horribly biased on this one: I like all the Grass-type starters better than all the Fire- and Water-type ones; in fact I’ve never actually chosen a Fire- or Water-type for my first playthrough of a game. Why? Because Grass Pokémon are awesome; now shut up. Anyway, although I do my darnedest to stay impartial when I review individual Pokémon and have honed my objectivity to a razor edge, I’m not convinced I could produce a ranking that would be truly meaningful. Not to mention I’m genuinely frightened of what everyone else would think of my decisions - if you look at my Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, well, most rational people can agree that Kricketune is a rat’s anus of a Pokémon that should never have existed in the first place, but if I actually come out and say that I think Empoleon is better than Blastoise or whatever, I could get lynched! I prefer courses of action that keep lynchings to a minimum, where practicable, especially in situations where I would be the lynchee. Hmm. Lynchee. Is that even a word? *right-click; add to dictionary* It is now.
Nor am I going to be doing my old “I hereby affirm/deny this Pokémon’s right to exist” schtick, partly because that would also fail to minimise lynchings, but also because the starter Pokémon as a group are pretty well designed, on the whole. There are very few that I have major problems with. The fact is, Game Freak do pay a lot of attention to the starters; they know how important these Pokémon are to creating a good first impression with the audience and getting players invested right from the start, so for the most part they do a pretty good job with them. With… y’know… certain exceptions, but let’s leave that discussion to the individual entries. The other problem is that it’s hard to establish a point of reference when talking about the starters because there’s a batch of them in every generation. Each trio of starters was created in a different environment, with a different set of Pokémon around already and a different set of Pokémon being introduced concurrently, and each trio has endured different changes in the way the games’ mechanics function and different changes in their own battle roles, and so on. I’m going to talk about all that stuff as we go, of course, but in most cases it’s a bit more complicated than a simple yes/no.
I’m not going to cover the Black and White starters ‘cause, y’know, I already did. Here’s Snivy, Tepig and Oshawott. I guess I might do Snivy again if I feel like it, since that was my first entry ever and quite a bit shorter than what I’ve become accustomed to writing, but I don’t think there are any major points I need to make.
Anyway, there’s no place to start like the beginning, so my next entry will be about Bulbasaur, Ivysaur and Venusaur, the original Grass-type starters. See you then!
Pokémon Scent-sation – The Ninja Poké-Showdown
Last anime review for a few weeks so we can look at something else, so let’s make it a good cut-off point: Ash’s next two Gym battles, against Erika of the Celadon Gym and Koga of the Fuchsia Gym. Can he defeat these fearsome foes? Don’t be silly; of course he can. He’s the main character.
When the gang arrives in Celadon City, Misty immediately drags them into a perfume shop to do girl things while Brock ogles the shop assistants. Ash scoffs, declares to everyone in earshot that perfume is foul-smelling, overpriced garbage that “turns guys into zombies,” and is thrown out of the store by the bitterly offended manager. He doesn’t care, because he’s only interested in getting to the Celadon Gym anyway. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Gym manufactures perfume, and the trainers there are none too pleased with him. They refuse him entry and he wanders off, dejected, until serendipity strikes. Jessie, James and Meowth have been trying to infiltrate Celadon Gym to steal their secret perfume recipe – unsuccessfully; they ran into the Leader’s Gloom, whose stench was bad enough to overpower even Koffing. They concoct a cunning plan to get both Ash and themselves inside. Because they are Team Rocket, this plan involves cross-dressing. They disguise themselves as parents wanting to enrol their ‘daughter’ – Ash in a dress and a blonde wig – in a Pokémon training class at the Gym, so they can slip inside too. Ash is permitted to enter the Gym’s inner rooms, where he finds not only that the Gym Leader, Erika, is the manager he insulted in the perfume store, but also that Misty, Brock and Pikachu are there already, participating in one of Erika’s classes. Misty asks why Erika’s Gloom doesn’t stink, and she responds by telling the story of how Gloom saved her from a wild Grimer when she was a child, and explains that Gloom’s stench is purely defensive and won’t trigger if Gloom feels safe. Ash can’t maintain his disguise for long once Misty and Pikachu start talking to him, so he drops the act and challenges Erika. Bulbasaur is unable to defeat Erika’s Tangela, but her next Pokémon, Weepinbell, quickly loses to Charmander. Erika grudgingly acknowledges Ash’s skill, but declares that “there’s one thing you don’t have – empathy for your Pokémon!” Erika’s… kinda full of it; Ash has many shortcomings as a trainer but empathy is probably his greatest strength. Anyway, she calls out Gloom and Charmander passes out within seconds. Pikachu volunteers to step into the ring, but the battle is interrupted by Team Rocket appearing and blowing themselves up by mistake (although they do escape with a vial which, sadly, turns out to be only one ingredient of Erika’s perfume – “essence of Gloom”). The Gym is now on fire. The trainers rush around frantically to evacuate the Grass Pokémon, and once they’re all outside Squirtle and Misty try to put out the blaze. In the chaos, however, Erika… somehow left behind her Gloom. Y’know, her partner Pokémon, her dearest friend. Ash charges back into the burning building, finds Gloom, manages to calm her down enough to get her to stop filling the area with noxious fumes, and carries her out. Erika is sufficiently impressed by all this to concede that Ash really does possess true empathy, and decides to write off their battle and award Ash a Rainbow Badge for going beyond the call of duty (for those counting, that’s 1/5 badges so far that he’s earned by winning a legitimate Gym battle).
Sparks Fly for Magnemite – Dig Those Diglett
Sparks Fly for Magnemite sees Ash, Misty and Brock visit Gringy City, an industrial town that is almost as pleasant as it sounds. Dirty, smelly, and blanketed with choking smog, the place seems to be all but abandoned, and as if today weren’t bad enough already, Pikachu’s cheeks are discharging sparks at random. The distressingly ineffectual Nurse Joy #222 lazily diagnoses Pikachu with a cold and tell Ash to leave him at the Pokémon Centre overnight… but then, to add a finishing touch to what is already the low point of the week, the power cuts out and leaves all the Pokémon in the ICU without vital life-support machinery. Ash leaves Pikachu at the Pokémon Centre, but he sneaks out and follows them because he’s kind of insecure and is worried Ash might ditch him. After stopping at the police station to consult Officer Jenny #400, who’s almost as unhelpful as Joy but at least gives them directions, they head for the seemingly abandoned power plant. As they walk through the dark corridors, they sense something following them – a wild Magnemite. Ash initially wants to catch it but Misty points out that it doesn’t seem to want to battle (yes, this matters; trying to capture a Pokémon that doesn’t want to fight you almost seems to be thought rude, if not downright impossible). In fact, Magnemite just wants to hit on Pikachu. Before anyone has time to ponder Magnemite’s choice of love interest, a swarm of Grimer, led by a Muk, burst into the corridor and, insulted by Ash and Misty’s failure to appreciate their charming aroma, attack. Ash, Misty and Brock flee and find their way to the control room, where a pair of cowering engineers explain the situation: the huge numbers of Grimer have clogged the power planet’s seawater intake. The Grimer break down the door, and it seems all is lost; there are just too many for Ash, Misty and Brock to deal with… until Pikachu’s strange boyfriend reappears with an army of Magnemite and Magneton. Together with Pikachu, they send the Grimer scurrying away, restoring power, and weaken the Muk enough for Ash to capture it (since it turns out that Muk’s smell leaks through the Pokéball – how the hell do those things work, anyway? – Ash quickly sends it back to Pallet Town for Professor Oak to deal with). Magnemite loses interest in Pikachu, since the sparks were actually symptoms of overcharging, which altered his magnetic field (it actually makes a lot of sense that Magnemite would recognise each other by their magnetism; I quite like this), and he’s burnt up his excess in the battle with Muk. Our heroes suggest keeping the charming little town cleaner to reduce the numbers of Grimer, Useless Joy and Useless Jenny thank them for making everyone in Gringy City a better person just by meeting them, and they go on their merry way.
Hypno’s Naptime – Pokémon Fashion Flash
(Apologies for the delay on this entry - internet connection conked out last night and I wasn’t able to post it. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from writing, so my next entry will be up on schedule.)
There’s little to connect these two episodes other than the fact that Misty and Brock each happen to gain new Pokémon, so for the most part I’ll be dealing with them separately. That’ll take time, so without further ado…
In a place inexplicably known as “Hop Hop Hop Town,” Ash is suddenly accosted by an enormous pair of breasts calling him Arnold. Once Ash explains that he is not Arnold, the woman attached to the breasts calms down and tells his group that her son has disappeared recently. Ash wonders whether Arnold might have just wandered off to become a Pokémon trainer, which is apparently not an unreasonable thing for a young boy to do on a whim without telling anyone, but the mother has her doubts. In fact, as they soon learn from Officer Jenny #309, Arnold is only the most recent of several young children to go missing over the last three days. Ash, in his official capacity as a random wandering trainer, offers to help Jenny solve the case. They check the Pokémon Centre for kids who know the missing children, but none of them have any information. Nurse Joy #558 doesn’t know anything either, and has her hands full with her own crisis; all the Pokémon in her care are becoming lethargic, and she can’t understand why. It all started – gasp! – three days ago. Jenny suddenly remembers that she possesses a piece of technobabble known as a Sleep Wave detector, and that it’s been acting up recently. She hasn’t been following up on it because, honestly, she’s just a terrible officer, but now she decides to follow the Sleep Waves to their source: a mansion on top of a skyscraper. Because, y’know, what better place to build a mansion. Ash storms the mansion, and finds that it houses a society of well-to-do aristocrats, who term themselves the Pokémon Lovers’ Club, as well as a Drowzee and a Hypno, their favourite Pokémon. Apparently, the members have been using Hypno’s powers to combat their crippling insomnia ever since their old Drowzee evolved… three days ago. Brock suggests that their mysteries might be connected to Hypno modifying his Hypnosis for use on humans… so they do the sane thing and sit Misty down in front of him to see what happens! Misty promptly becomes convinced she is a Seel and flees the building, leading the team to a park where they find the missing children, who all think they’re different kinds of Pokémon. Brock has the idea of dragging Misty back up to the mansion to have Drowzee zap her, on the theory that Drowzee’s “Dream Waves” will cancel out Hypno’s “Sleep Waves” because… whatever. Despite a characteristically incompetent intervention from Team Rocket, Drowzee cures Misty and puts the other kids to sleep. When they wake up, they all remember who they are and rush back to their homes. Nurse Joy’s Pokémon, likewise, all recover after a short nap… except for a single Psyduck, who remains totally dazed. Psyduck doesn’t seem to have a trainer and no-one really wants him, but he manages to capture himself in a Pokéball Misty drops by accident, so she’s stuck with him.
Primeape Goes Bananas – The Punchy Pokémon
Ash has been messing around with only five Pokémon for three episodes now, and it’s time for him to get a new one to refill his party (what, use Krabby? Don’t be ridiculous!). Unfortunately, the Pokémon he winds up catching to fill his sixth slot… presents certain methodological issues for Ash’s training style; put it that way.
So, on the way out of Saffron City, Ash stops at a payphone to check in with Professor Oak and show off his Marsh Badge. Oak gives him a kindly old man smile and a “well done,” but explains that Gary already has five badges, a few dozen Pokémon, and a Krabby about five times as big as Ash’s. Ash isn’t really that far behind in terms of badges, but clearly his efforts at capturing new Pokémon aren’t even on the same scale as Gary’s, and the Professor is noticeably disappointed. I’ve argued this before, but it bears repeating: I believe Gary’s training style (catching and regularly using dozens of Pokémon) represents what’s normal and expected, at least for a full-time trainer, while Ash is something of an oddball. Misty and Brock are broadly supportive of Ash’s more idiosyncratic style, but hearing about how many Pokémon Gary has caught gets Ash in the mood to capture something – and, wonder of wonders, a wild Mankey chooses this moment to appear before the group. Mankey seems like a far less volatile Pokémon than the games make him out to be, more mischievous than irritable, and Brock shares a rice ball (which the English translation charmingly refers to as a “donut”) with him. Of course, while Mankey is eating, Ash – because he is Ash – decides to lob a Pokéball at him. Mankey blocks the Pokéball with the rice ball and furiously prepares for battle. I can’t help but think he’s insulted – not only did Ash attack Mankey while he was eating, he apparently didn’t think battling Mankey was worth the effort and figured a Pokéball right off the bat would be all he needed. Mankey’s subsequent behaviour reinforces my belief; he isn’t happy with just beating Ash up, but also steals his hat and imitates him in a mocking dance. This doesn’t ring of self-defence to me; this is a deliberate response to a personal insult. Now, I’ll repeat part of that in case you missed it: Mankey steals Ash’s hat.
He steals Ash’s hat.
Abra and the Psychic Showdown – The Tower of Terror – Haunter vs. Kadabra
It’s time for the Saffron Gym episodes already? Ash does the Gyms in kind of a weird order, since he doesn’t take roundabout routes through underground paths the way we do in the games to avoid pointlessly obstructive gate guards. As a result, Sabrina, normally the sixth challenge for players of the games, is Ash’s fourth. As expected, he gets curb-stomped.
Let’s laugh at him!
The thing about the Saffron Gym is that its leader is a certifiable loon. Sabrina has a split personality: a playful and childish self, outwardly manifested as a psychic projection of an incredibly creepy little girl, and an intense, heartless Pokémon trainer, both of whom possess formidable telekinetic powers. Sabrina senses Ash coming a mile away, and sends the image of her child self to lead him off a cliff. She’s kinda like that. After Ash, Brock and Misty make it to Saffron City alive and are captured by Team Rocket (in possibly the most successful day of their entire career), child Sabrina teleports in, freezes Jessie and James, retrieves Pikachu, and teleports the group right to the Saffron Gym. A passing jogger warns Ash that the leader is a total psycho, but Ash (being Ash) enters the Gym anyway. The place is practically a cult. The other psychics fear and worship Sabrina, who mind-blasts one for daring to question her, then responds to Ash’s challenge by insisting that, if he loses, they have to ‘play’ with her. Ash… still isn’t taking the hints, so Sabrina sends out her Abra. Abra rather lazily teleports around Pikachu’s attacks and then, seemingly at Sabrina’s command, evolves into Kadabra. As well as teleporting, he can now redirect attacks with Confusion, and basically make Pikachu his bitch with Psychic. Ash surrenders, and Sabrina makes good on her promise to ‘play with them’… literally, shrinking them and stuffing them into her doll’s house. Luckily, just as child Sabrina is about to crush them, the random jogger teleports in to rescue them. Once they’ve teleported outside, Ash demands that he teach him to use psychic power to even the odds against Sabrina. They argue, and the man pummels Ash with telekinesis until, impressed by Ash’s determination, he reluctantly suggests that they should travel to Lavender Town to catch a Ghost Pokémon, since only they can face Psychic-types on an even footing.
Tentacool and Tentacruel – The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak – Bye Bye, Butterfree
Yeah, yeah, I know, I missed episode 18. Beauty and the Beach was banned in most Western countries because James wears a set of fake boobs to enter a beauty contest (yeah… he does that sometimes) and it doesn’t air on the official website with the rest of the series because they’re trying to pretend it never happened. I’m sure I could probably find it on the internet if I could be bothered looking but I really, really can’t. I’ve read episode synopses and it doesn’t look like Beauty and the Beach is all that interesting an episode anyway, so I’m not convinced it’s a great loss. Maybe someday I’ll do a few of the banned episodes all together. Anyway.
Tentacool and Tentacruel is… weird. It’s clearly meant as a ‘save the environment’ episode, but, well… Okay, so, Ash, Misty and Brock are in Porta Vista, a seaside town, when they find an injured Horsea, whom Misty elects to catch so they can take her to the Pokémon Centre. Horsea uses her ink spray ability to draw pictures of Tentacool and Tentacruel on the water’s surface, but before they can figure out what Horsea is trying to tell them, everyone’s attention is diverted by an explosion at an offshore platform. Misty quickly mobilises her Water Pokémon to help the crew, to which Ash says, dumbfounded, “I didn’t know you could do that!” I… I don’t know. I guess it never even occurred to him that Pokémon might be useful outside of combat. Anyway, the group soon meets the owner of the platform: an ugly old woman named Nastina, who wants to build a five-star hotel out in the middle of the bay. However, a swarm of Tentacool keep interfering with her workers. She’s willing to offer an enormous cash reward, a sumptuous banquet and free stays at her resort to any trainer who can wipe out the Tentacool, which initially tempts Ash and Brock, but Misty is enraged at the idea of exterminating Water Pokémon and storms out, dragging her friends with her. However, it turns out the townspeople are all too glad to take Nastina up on her offer – as are Team Rocket. Jessie and James take a boat out into the bay loaded with barrels of ‘stun sauce’ that will paralyze the Tentacool so they can scoop them up at their leisure. And… this is where it gets weird. A barrel of the stun sauce is tipped out of the boat and breaks open on a Tentacool’s head, causing it to evolve into a Tentacruel the size of an office block, who proceeds to lead the Tentacool swarm in an all-out assault on Porta Vista using the laser beams they fire from the jewels on their heads.
…note to self: give Tentacool a frikkin’ laser beam attack.
Battle Aboard the St. Anne – Pokémon Shipwreck – Island of the Giant Pokémon
Fresh off Ash’s victory at the Vermillion Gym, Ash and his friends are given free tickets by a pair of teenage girls to a lavish Pokémon trainers’ convention aboard the world-famous luxury cruise liner, the St. Anne! THERE IS NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY BE A SCAM!
We quickly learn that the ‘teenage girls’ were Team Rocket in disguise (yes, James too), and that they were giving out free tickets to all the trainers they could find on the orders of their shadowy Boss, Giovanni, who appears for the first time in this episode. The Boss (who seems to be the closest thing Meowth has to a formal ‘owner,’ but has come to prefer his Persian – this will be a constant source of insecurity to Meowth during the series) is displeased with the time and energy they have expended failing to catch Pikachu, but still seems to have enough confidence to put them in charge of the ambush planned on the St. Anne. His confidence, of course, is misplaced – not only do the Team Rocket goons fail miserably to steal even a single Pokémon, James also loses a ludicrous amount of money buying into a Magikarp-breeding pyramid scheme, and the entire ship capsizes and sinks with Jessie, James and Meowth still on board (not to mention our plucky heroes). This, of course, is all totally incidental as far as I’m concerned. I want to talk about what happens in the meantime: Ash encounters a dapper gentleman with a top hat and moustache, whose name is never given, challenging other trainers to exhibition battles with a powerful Raticate. Ash, being Ash, takes up the challenge and finds that Raticate and his Butterfree are very evenly matched; however, just as Butterfree begins to gain the upper hand with Stun Spore, the Gentleman – to Ash’s annoyance – recalls his Raticate and suggests calling it a draw. The Gentleman later proposes a trade, his Raticate for Ash’s Butterfree, which Ash hesitantly accepts but later regrets. Luckily, the Gentleman reluctantly agrees to trade back at the end of the episode, just as the ship is sinking.
Electric Shock Showdown
Oh, the excitement! Ash is on a roll, and now he’s in Vermillion City for his third Gym battle! Oh… but we forgot to mention… the Vermillion Gym Leader, Lt. Surge, is a total nutcase who’s hospitalised sixteen Pokémon in the past month. Pikachu doesn’t like the idea of fighting this crazy person, but Misty taunts Ash for the two pity Badges he collected in Pewter City and Cerulean City, and that’s the end of that. Ash and Pikachu, with Brock and Misty in tow, march up to the Vermillion Gym and demand a battle with Lt. Surge, a jovial but condescending fellow who, for some reason, assumes that Misty is the challenger, even though Ash is the one standing front and centre in their group (does he really present such an unimposing figure?). Surge thinks the idea of Ash challenging him is hilarious, and laughs even louder when he sees Pikachu, calling them both “babies.” Surge calls out his own signature Pokémon: a Raichu, Pikachu’s evolved form, whose electrical powers are vastly superior to Pikachu’s. “Electric Pokémon,” Surge claims, “are only useful once they learn all their Electric attacks,” so Ash should have forced Pikachu to evolve at the first possible opportunity to maximise his power, like Surge did. Pikachu’s doubts about the battle evaporate when Surge and Raichu taunt him, and the match begins. Raichu quickly demonstrates that she has Pikachu totally outgunned, ignoring his relatively paltry Thundershocks and hitting back with a blast that nearly knocks him out cold. Pikachu doggedly keeps fighting, but Raichu just starts tossing him around the field with her superior physical strength and Ash has to surrender to keep him from being beaten up any further. While Ash and the team regroup at the Pokémon Centre, Nurse Joy #98 overhears their conversation and randomly decides to offer Ash an incredibly valuable Thunder Stone, which would evolve Pikachu into a Raichu – no strings attached, though she cautions them to think carefully about it, since evolution is irreversible. Ash doesn’t think he wants Pikachu to evolve just to fight, but decides to leave it up to him. Pikachu slaps the Thunder Stone away and gives an impassioned speech; Ash, of course, doesn’t understand a single word, but Meowth translates for Jessie and James, who are spying from the window: he wants to fight Raichu again to defend the honour of all Pikachu. Ash, with a suggestion from Brock, devises a new strategy while Pikachu recovers, and as soon as they’re both ready, they head back to the Vermillion Gym. On the way they run into Team Rocket, who have come to cheer for them – Jessie and James have realised that if Pikachu loses, then all the effort they’ve spent trying to steal him will have been a waste, so they do a strange little dance with a morale-boosting chant, then run away. These guys already have way too much emotional investment in stalking the kids and Pikachu, and we’re only a few weeks in… at this rate they’re going to be basket cases by the end of season one. Anyway, Ash and Surge have their rematch, but this time, Pikachu makes use of his one big advantage over Raichu: she has greater physical and electrical strength, but he’s a lot faster, and can evade most of Raichu’s physical attacks like Mega Punch and Body Slam. Surge gets annoyed and commands Raichu to blast the whole stadium at once with her Thunderbolt so Pikachu can’t dodge, but when the dust clears, Pikachu is… standing on his tail, perfectly unharmed, having discharged all the electricity through it and into the ground. Raichu tries to attack again, but she’s all out of power and has to go back to physical attacks. Pikachu gives her the run-around until she can’t keep fighting any longer, then finishes her off. Lt. Surge admits defeat and gives Ash his Thunder Badge, they shake hands, Ash and Pikachu celebrate, and Team Rocket wander off into the sunset, realising too late that “we wasted this episode cheering for the good guys!”
Y’know… now that I come to think about it, it’s totally my blog’s one-year anniversary today. I mean, I was on Blogspot for most of that time, but it still counts.
(The archive may tell you differently, but it is a lying bastard, and is also confused because I live in a country that is in the future. I’m… pretty sure it’s a year today.)
To recap: in that time, I’ve passed judgement on every single one of the 5th-generation Pokémon (well, okay, except for Kyurem, but he had an excuse), discussed the various Team Evils of the past and present, vigorously insulted all six Champions of the Pokémon League, taken on the top ten dumbest Pokémon of all time (plus Farfetch’d) and gotten a couple of weeks into the first season of the Pokémon anime.
Not bad, if I do say so myself. Maybe if I keep this up I’ll finally be made a Pokémon Master someday, for my great and glorious contributions to… whatever it is I claim to be doing here. I probably had a point; I can’t remember what it was at the moment but I must have had one.
Anyway, in celebration of my anniversary, here are my five favourite entries of the year, in no particular order. If you haven’t read them before, check ‘em out!
The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, #10: Delibird
Ducklett and Swanna
Champions of the Pokemon League, Part 3: Steven
Roggenrola, Boldore and Gigalith
And, just for the nostalgia value, my very first real post:
As for the year to come… well, who knows? I’m hoping to get into a good rhythm alternating between blocks of anime and blocks of other stuff, and so far my plans for that “other stuff” include:
- Reviews of all the starter Pokémon (well, except for the Unova ones because, y’know, I did them already).
- A series on what I would do with the Pokémon games
once I finally manage to assassinate and replace Junichi Masuda if I ever, through some entirely non-felonious coincidence, gain a position of power in Game Freak.
- A playthrough journal of Black/White 2, once they’re released.
- And if you’re really unlucky I might even try my hand at writing a fanfic at some point.
As always, though, I’m open to suggestions - speak up and I might decide that whatever you’re thinking of is a way better idea than that dumb stuff I was planning anyway! Now, let’s have us a good year!
Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village – Charmander: The Stray Pokémon – Here Comes the Squirtle Squad
Okay, last entry was so long this is starting to get ridiculous, so I’ll try to blaze through the synopsis of these three episodes as quickly as I can so I can spend more time on commentary; here goes nothing!
These are the episodes in which Ash meets and catches, in rapid succession, his Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, each under unusual circumstances. Bulbasaur is the guardian of the ‘hidden village,’ a kind of halfway house deep in the forest for Pokémon abandoned by their trainers, run by a girl named Melanie, who patches them up and releases them back into the wild. Bulbasaur is initially hostile towards Ash for intruding into the village and trying to capture one of the Pokémon, an Oddish, but warms to him when he, Brock and Misty help protect the village from Team Rocket. Melanie suggests that Bulbasaur leave with Ash so he can grow stronger, and so the Pokémon of the village can get used to surviving on their own again, and Bulbasaur agrees on the condition of a battle with Ash – which, of course, Ash wins. Soon after, Ash and his friends encounter Charmander waiting alone on a rock in the forest. Ash tries to capture Charmander, but Pikachu establishes that he actually has a trainer already, so they decide to leave him and travel on to the next Pokémon Centre. That night, they overhear a trainer named Damian bragging about his huge collection of Pokémon and explaining how he finally managed to ditch his useless Charmander in the wilderness by telling it he’d be back soon. Brock is furious and Damian’s group nearly comes to blows with the heroes, but Nurse Joy #147 breaks up the fight. Since a storm is brewing, Ash, Brock and Misty go back and look for Charmander, and manage to bring him back to the centre before his tail flame sputters out. Early in the morning, Charmander escapes and wanders off to look for Damian again, but he stumbles across Ash’s group on the road and saves them from Team Rocket. Damian shows up and wants Charmander back, but Ash convinces Charmander that Damian is a good-for-nothing jerk and the little salamander Pokémon joins Ash’s team instead. Ash’s Squirtle, finally, leads a gang of juvenile delinquent Squirtle who terrorise a small town with pranks, vandalism, theft, and their awesome sunglasses. The Squirtle Squad resent humans because all of them were abandoned by their trainers, and Meowth exploits this by tricking them into thinking that he owns and controls Jessie and James (which… let’s face it, is not far from the truth). Meowth manipulates the Squirtle into capturing Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock, but they let Ash return to town to buy medicine since Pikachu is injured. When Ash returns as promised, he finds that they have released his friends, since they aren’t a genuinely malicious bunch. He then helps the Squirtle Squad when Team Rocket inevitably turn on them, and coordinates them to put out a forest fire started by Team Rocket’s weapons. The Squirtle are reintegrated into society as part of the local fire brigade, and the leader joins Ash to travel Kanto with him.
The Path to the Pokémon League – The School of Hard Knocks – Mystery at the Lighthouse
Yep; I’m doing these out of order, for a couple of reasons. One is that I really want to do episodes ten, eleven and twelve as a group, and spend a whole entry just on episode fourteen, which sort of leaves thirteen as the odd one out. The other and far more important reason is that I feel these three episodes have a unifying theme, which is what I want to discuss today – see if you can guess what it is.
In the Path to the Pokémon League, Ash challenges an unofficial Pokémon Gym run by a gruff Texan kid called A.J. with an unbroken winning streak of ninety-eight battles – ninety-nine after A.J.’s fierce Sandshrew defeats Ash’s Pidgeotto. Ash decides that A.J. must have cheated to beat a Flying Pokémon with a Ground Pokémon and starts poking around the gym. A.J. is an extremely harsh master, having his Pokémon engage in constant practice fights and training exercises, and keeping them in line with his whip (A.J. has trained his Pokémon to respond to the crack of his whip, and uses it to command them in battles). All of A.J.’s Pokémon wear restraining harnesses, possibly the forerunners to the Macho Brace introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, which restrict their movements and force them to develop stronger muscles to move normally, and he has his Sandshrew swim in his pool to train away its weakness to water. Ash is horrified by his Spartan training style, but Brock observes that A.J.’s Pokémon are actually in excellent health; A.J. prepares all of their food himself and carefully tailors his recipes to the dietary needs of each species. Ash attempts to convince the other Pokémon that they can leave A.J. and travel with him instead, but they seem to find him tiresome and ignore him. Sandshrew is especially loyal to A.J.; they have been together for many years and long ago promised to grow strong together, no matter what obstacles stood in their way. The episode ends with A.J. and Sandshrew earning their hundredth victory by defeating Team Rocket, who tried to sneak in and steal Pikachu but accidentally got Sandshrew instead. As they had promised themselves, they close down the gym and leave on their own journey to start collecting badges and entering tournaments.
Showdown at Pewter City - Clefairy and the Moon Stone - The Waterflowers of Cerulean City
In which Ash… earns… his first two Gym Badges. Arguably. Also stuff happens with some Clefairy.
When Ash and Misty arrive in Pewter City, they are greeted by an aged hobo selling rocks. Don’t scoff; rocks are the whole basis of Pewter City’s economy. The hobo leads them to the Pokémon Centre where Misty points out a poster advertising the Indigo League tournament, which explains that contestants need to earn eight official Gym Badges to enter. Ash… apparently didn’t know this. Why the hell was he going to Pewter City? If he didn’t know about collecting badges, what could he possibly have wanted to do there? Buy rocks? Misty cautions Ash not to rush into a Gym battle and offers to lend him some of her Pokémon, but Ash ignores her, challenges the local leader, Brock, and quickly learns that Brock’s signature Pokémon, Onix, is fifty times Pikachu’s size and invulnerable to electricity. Ash surrenders to keep Pikachu from being turned into red paste, and leaves the Gym in despair. On the street he meets the hobo, Flint, who explains that Brock is a very powerful trainer and could go much further than being Gym Leader of a hick town, but is kept in Pewter City by his countless younger siblings – Brock’s father ditched the family to become a Pokémon trainer, this sort of thing being socially acceptable in Kanto, and his mother died soon after (or… so the English translation claimed… long story). Despite his sympathy for Brock, Flint provides Ash with a “strategy” to defeat him: overcharge Pikachu by hooking him up to a derelict hydroelectric paddle-wheel… which Ash will turn manually (realism is cast aside so Ash can work for his victory and prevent this whole episode from being a blatant exercise in cheating… I mean, it kind of is anyway, but they were trying). Although Pikachu nearly explodes, Flint’s plan works: the next day, he fries Brock’s Geodude with relative ease. Onix is still too strong, but unfortunately for Brock, Pikachu’s wild electrical blasts set off the Gym’s fire suppression systems, drenching Onix and rendering him vulnerable. The characters’ reactions are fascinating. Ash declares that he doesn’t want to win on a fluke and leaves the Gym, which makes sense; he’s still far too proud to accept this kind of victory. Misty, who’s watching, seems to think Ash should have taken his lucky break and finished Onix, because all’s fair in Pokémon and war, so she clearly has no moral compass. And Brock… Brock follows him and just gives him the Boulder Badge, because he doesn’t really give a damn about this whole Gym Leadering thing anyway. Flint turns up and reveals himself as Brock’s father; apparently he was an appalling trainer and returned to Pewter City not long after leaving, but decided to become a rock salesman instead of going home to care for his vermin offspring. I guess Ash has reminded him how not to be a massive jerk, because he’s decided to become a proper father again (and also run the Gym, presumably… despite being a self-confessed failure as a trainer…) so Brock can go on a road trip.
Ash Catches a Pokémon – Challenge of the Samurai
These two episodes record Ash and Misty’s journey through Viridian Forest, during which Ash captures his first two wild Pokémon: Caterpie and Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto really isn’t very interesting; he’s mostly a utility Pokémon who turns up whenever Ash needs to take advantage of his flight, and I don’t think there are any episodes that focus on Ash’s relationship with him (until, amusingly enough, the episode where he finally evolves into a Pidgeot and promptly ditches Ash to go hang with his old flock). He does serve as an illustration of the kind of rapport ‘normal’ trainers and Pokémon tend to have, which I guess is useful in its way because Ash’s relationships with most of his other Pokémon are anything but normal. For me, though, Pidgeotto is probably Ash’s most forgettable Pokémon. Caterpie is much more fun to talk about so I’ll probably spend most of this entry on him.
Pokémon: I Choose You – Pokémon Emergency
Today I begin my journey through the Pokémon anime, scheduled to last… until I get bored, though I’ll be taking breaks periodically to keep doing stuff related to the games too. Well, there’s no sense wasting time; here we go!
The first episode, Pokémon: I Choose You, introduces us to our hero – and I use the term loosely – Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town. Ash is, of course, in all the movies, including the ones I’ve been reviewing recently, but before now I haven’t wanted to spend a lot of time describing his character, so let’s do that now. He’s ten years old (supposedly, he is exactly ten years, ten months and ten days old when he begins his journey – which would mean that he actually turns eleven at some point between now and episode nine, and never mentions it) and absolutely fanatical about Pokémon and Pokémon training, but, as soon becomes clear, knows next to nothing about either. If you’ve seen anything of the anime at all, you’ll know Ash can be a little slow at times, to put it mildly, though he does gradually get better, and is also unflinchingly honest, forthright and idealistic (to the point of being rather “Lawful Stupid” initially, but he seems to get over this fairly quickly). His general ignorance, while somewhat odd given his lifelong ambition to become a Pokémon Master, is a necessary conceit to ease in viewers who are unfamiliar with the franchise; when your viewers need things explained to them, it helps if one of your characters does too. Ash’s other most important trait is probably his pride. He is absolutely convinced that he is an immeasurably talented Pokémon trainer and bound – nay, destined – to one day become the very best, like no-one ever was. He hates to lose and has a bad habit of inventing excuses for his defeats, or even accusing his opponents of foul play. This, ladies and gentlemen, is our protagonist.
I haven’t really watched the Pokémon anime in… I don’t even know. Years. I stopped paying attention about midway through the Johto series, largely because the timeslots just weren’t convenient for me anymore. However, I’ve just recently begun watching it again on the official website, which has about ten episodes available at a time from each of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh and (as of last week) Unova, and rotates them at a rate of five episodes each week. A couple of months ago, the Kanto series rotated back to Pokémon, I Choose You, (a.k.a. episode one) and I started watching from the beginning. I have been taking notes. No, seriously. They’re in my desk drawer. I’ll give a synopsis of each episode so everyone knows what’s going on, but you can find one of those anywhere on the internet; what I really want to write about is what they tell us about the world of Pokémon (particularly stuff that we don’t learn from the games or that seems to contradict the games), why I think that’s interesting and, perhaps in some cases, what the games might be able to take from the anime.
I’m not going to devote an entry to each individual episode because I just don’t think I’d have that much to say about them (except for a couple of really important ones). More likely, I’ll do them two or three at a time, according to whatever seems to make sense – I’m anticipating that some groups of episodes will just ‘go’ together. Also, I’m not going to try to take on the whole fifteen-year run of the anime in one go, since that would a) get boring and b) probably kill me. My current plan is to do everything up to episode 32 (when Ash earns his Soul Badge), which should take six or seven weeks, then do another project (on the suggestion of a reader, I’ll be reviewing all of the starter Pokémon), which should take about five weeks, then cover the anime up to episode 63 (when Ash earns his Earth Badge – he kind of takes a holiday of about 25 episodes between his Fuchsia and Cinnabar Gym battles and I don’t even know where he is for most of that time… possibly Belgium). After that… whatever takes my fancy, I guess!
So, Alamos Town is surrounded by thick fog, no-one can leave, most of the town’s Pokémon trainers have just been summarily crushed by a living nightmare, and apparently there is an extradimensional god/pink magic dinosaur hanging out somewhere in the town. Also the local baron is a Lickilicky.
That’s great odds.
Oh, this movie…
My so-called “best friend,” Jim, gave me the DVD for this movie, the tenth in the series, (along with the eleventh, Giratina and the Sky Warrior) for Christmas. A couple of weeks ago I managed to make him watch it with me. This movie…
It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, because it does eventually, it’s more that the whole first half of it is one great big long “what the hell is going on and why do I care?” It opens with a scientist guy reading cryptic nonsense from a dead person’s journal, intercut with scenes of the nightmare the journal describes: two enormous magic dinosaurs fighting in the middle of an electrical storm in space, a place the narration calls the “space-time rift.”
One quickly learns that in Rise of Darkrai it’s generally best just to go with it.
HERE BE SPOILERS!
Where I left off last time, Ash was chilling with Zekrom in the basement while Damon continued his ill-advised plan to return the Sword of the Vale to its original site. While Ash is gone, Mannes (who has been doing recon in his crazy-awesome home-built Klinklang-powered helicopter) tries to suggest to Damon that something might not be quite right here, since the Dragon Force appears to be doing a few minor things it probably shouldn’t, like incinerating the forest. Damon is unconcerned. Meanwhile, Juanita decides to have another go at Reshiram with her Golurk, because she apparently has terrible pattern recognition; Golurk lobs a couple of Hyper Beams at Reshiram but quickly winds up embedded in the castle wall. Just as Reshiram is about to nuke it, Ash and Zekrom explode out of the base of the Sword of the Vale and intercept the white dragon’s attack. As soon as he gets the chance, Zekrom drops Ash off at the tower and goes to deal with Reshiram, which involves a great deal of incredibly flashy CG explosions, lasers, shockwaves and miscellaneous sparkly bits (okay, I’m disdainful, but as Pokémon battles go, Reshiram vs. Zekrom is pretty spectacular). Reshiram loses and nearly falls into the chasm created by the seething Dragon Force as it flows across the land, but Zekrom saves her at the last minute. By this point, Pikachu has gained the upper hand over Damon’s Reuniclus up in the tower, and Ash is trying to break Victini free from the six miniature Pillars of Protection at the centre of the room. He isn’t having much luck, until Reshiram suddenly turns up and obliterates the pillars. Then this exchange happens.
Damon: Reshiram!? What the hell!? This was totally not in the plan!
Reshiram: Oh, hey, Damon… so, about that plan? That little project we had going? Turns out it might destroy the world a little bit. My bad; this is totes my bad. But, you know, who’d have thought, right?
I’m writing this from memory, so that may not be an exact quote.
Now, where were we? Ah, yes; Ash, Pikachu, Iris and Cilan were in mayor Mannes’ office with him and Damon, who were about to tell our plucky young heroes the history of Eindoak Town and the Sword of the Vale. Right.
A couple of weeks ago I went, against my own better judgement, to see the new Pokémon movie, Pokémon White: Victini and Zekrom. Is there, you may well ask, a Pokémon Black: Victini and Reshiram? Yes, there is. Only White was actually released here in New Zealand though (and that only for one weekend), and the reason for this is that they are the same damn movie. You see, Pokémon has finally taken its policy of always releasing two nearly-identical games at a time to its most insane possible conclusion by releasing two nearly-identical movies at the same time. There are, I am lead to understand, numerous little cosmetic differences, but the plot is the same, which leads me to wonder what the point is supposed to have been. I’m getting ahead of myself, though… let’s talk about what happens.
So, Game Freak have thrown us a curve ball. There is to be no “third game” to the Black and White series as is traditional (Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, Platinum) but rather a “Black Version 2” and a “White Version 2.” I hope they know what they’re- oh, who am I kidding, of course they don’t but I hope it works anyway. In hindsight this makes perfect sense. The theme of dualism is so ubiquitous in Black and White that the standard pattern of “games 1 and 2 are identical, then game 3 has a whole ton of flashy extras” would have just broken the whole thing. I never would have seen it coming, because the very idea of Game Freak breaking such a long-established formula is all but inconceivable, but nonetheless, here we are. Despite being labelled as sequels, my suspicion is that these games will still follow the pattern of Yellow, Crystal and so on (essentially the same game but with cool new stuff added), just with more emphasis on continuation of the story past the point where it ends in Black and White. So, what can we expect to see out of the sequels and what do I most want to see?
Oh, Farfetch’d. You deserved so much better.
I’m guessing that most of you who followed my Top Ten list thought Farfetch’d was going to get a spot on there somewhere – so much so that I feel I need to do an entry on him just to talk about why he didn’t turn up! For the benefit of those of you out there who had no childhood, Farfetch’d is a vanishingly rare wild duck Pokémon from the original one hundred and fifty, so rare in fact that on Red and Blue he can’t be caught in the wild and must be obtained from a trainer in the game by trading away a Spearow. The reason he is vanishingly rare is because he tastes delicious and carries his own garnish: a stalk of green onion, a common ingredient in recipes for duck stew. His Japanese name, Kamonegi, literally “duck with leek,” is apparently an abbreviated form of an expression meaning either “something fortunate but far-fetched” or “a person naïvely walking into a con or dangerous situation” – like a duck carrying its own garnish (it’s also the name of a popular Japanese noodle dish). This is a frighteningly bad survival strategy but since it’s acknowledged as such in-universe I can live with that. Interestingly, although it’s one of the most well-known facts about Farfetch’d, only the anime mentions that people eat them – as far as I am aware, it never explicitly comes up in the games; his Japanese name and his design certainly seem to suggest it though. Farfetch’d’s leek isn’t just to make him taste good, of course; it’s his main defensive weapon, which he needs to survive. According to the Pokédex, he also uses it to build his nest but, annoyingly, it’s not made clear whether he uses it as a tool or a building material (I’m tempted to say it depends on the quality, since Farfetch’d are supposedly very discerning about their sticks and often fight over the best ones). Most of Farfetch’d’s strongest attacks are executed with his stalk, which he wields like a sword, striking attackers with lightning-fast cuts. He will defend his weapon with his life, since without it he might as well be dead. Farfetch’d is a weird, quirky Pokémon, that much is certain, but everything in this design makes sense in context, there’s nothing superfluous, and it’s actually really clever once you get the joke. Very few Pokémon manage to pull off cute and badass at the same time, but I think Farfetch’d manages it with his spunky attitude and his refusal to give up, whatever the odds against him. Honestly, I think he’s one of the best-designed Pokémon of the original generation (certainly the best of the four different Normal/Flying Pokémon available in Red and Blue) and that’s why he didn’t feature in my Top Ten, regardless of how weak he is in battle – and, as we’ll soon discover, he really is horrible.
…surprised? You shouldn’t be. I think a lot of people dismiss the Unown so completely as to forget that they even exist, which stands as a testament to what awful Pokémon they are. I’m going to reverse my usual order of dealing with things and talk about their gross incompetence first, then move on to my distaste for their flavour and design, because, believe it or not, it’s the latter that I really take issue with.
I already spent a paragraph of my entry on Sigilyph last year discussing my opinion of the Unown; in short, that creating them is not a reasonable or even a sane response to any concept brief that does not include the phrase “absolutely no practical use or value.” No harm in going over it again, though. Unown is almost certainly the worst adult Pokémon in the entire game. Luvdisc arguably comes close, but that’s about it. Even most unevolved Pokémon are probably better choices than Unown. The reason for this isn’t Unown’s stats, which are dreadful, or his element, which is unfavourable, or his ability, which is actually useful and the only reason even to consider using him (he can Levitate and is therefore immune to Ground attacks). It’s his movepool – or, more accurately, the fact that he doesn’t have one. Unown can learn exactly one attack: Hidden Power, a move which is available to so many Pokémon that it’s quicker to list the ones who can’t learn it (Caterpie, Metapod, Weedle, Kakuna, Wurmple, Silcoon, Cascoon, Kricketot, Burmy, Combee, Magikarp, Ditto, Wynaut, Wobuffet, Beldum and Tynamo – and it’s worth noting that all the Pokémon on that list, save Ditto and Wobuffet, are juveniles). Hidden Power’s strength and element vary between individual Pokémon, but even the best Hidden Powers aren’t very strong; normally it’s used by Pokémon with poor movepools who desperately need an attack of a specific type. So, basically, Unown gets a single lacklustre special attack, which can be of any type. If you can be bothered hatching dozens of the things until you get one with the right Hidden Power, you even get to choose which type that is! You’ll do the most neutral damage with Psychic, since Unown is a Psychic-type, but you’re more likely to get super-effective hits with a type like Ice, Fighting, or- wait; why am I even talking about this? If you’re even contemplating using Unown then you’re probably going to lose anyway, because just mentioning that you might pick him in preference to one of your other Pokémon will annihilate your whole squad’s self-esteem so completely that they might never speak to you again, and if they do it will be to tell you that they’ve all decided to go into rehab for alcohol abuse.
My… my words… they are gone… left me for greener… green things. I don’t even that I just accidentally the verb.
Luvdisc… just… what?
…today I have the distinct displeasure of talking about Luvdisc, the Rendezvous Pokémon, a tiny pink heart-shaped fish with no useful powers whatsoever. Luvdisc’s flavour text… isn’t actually that bad. Mostly it explains that Luvdisc, being a heart-shaped Pokémon, is the subject of a number of widespread customs and superstitions about love. Giving a Luvdisc to a person is viewed as a gesture of affection, and tradition has it that a couple that meets a Luvdisc will be in love forever. One assumes that Luvdisc is associated with love because of its heart-shaped body. They’re also known for assembling in huge numbers at coral reefs during their mating season. They don’t seem to do anything remarkable, though (they’re not even the only Pokémon with a heart motif; female Pikachu have heart-shaped tails and female Heracross have heart-shaped horns). Couples who swim together in tropical oceans are often followed by Luvdisc, which could imply that they have an ability to sense emotion, I guess, and I’ve always privately assumed that Luvdisc mate for life and have unusually elaborate courtship rituals. I remember an episode of the anime in which the Cerulean Gym, where Misty has now formally become the Gym Leader, acquires a pair of Luvdisc. When they eventually get together, their love for each other proves to be contagious and a surge of affection rushes through all the spectators at the Gym’s famous water ballets, and this seems to be some power of Luvdisc’s rather than simply an effect of the inspirational performance. Again, it’s not really bad; more underdeveloped, to the point that I’m left not really caring.
Why? Just… why?
I understand that they like their Pokémon templates – things like “rodent-based Normal-type trash” and “Grass-Fire-Water starter trio.” I know I spent most of last year complaining about it non-stop, but I understand. I do. It has to be comforting to have something in your game that you know will work the way you expect it to work, so you can go and innovate somewhere else without worrying too much about the basics. I get it.
To design exactly the same Pokémon and act like no-one was ever going to know, on the other hand; that… just… look, it isn’t even that I don’t understand how they weighed up the pros and cons of what they were doing; it’s that I can’t actually comprehend what the pros were supposed to have been in the first place!
But that isn’t the worst part.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Wurmple, Silcoon, Cascoon, Beautifly and Dustox, a family of Bug-types native to Hoenn. Wurmple is basically Caterpie and Weedle shoehorned into a single body; every single characteristic of his design is shared by one of the two. That’s… pretty much all you need to know. Wurmple evolves into either Silcoon or Cascoon, based on factors which are randomly determined and impossible to predict or influence. This is sort of a troll way to evolve, if you ask me, but it’s far from the worst (*cough*Vespiquen*cough*). Silcoon and Cascoon themselves are, likewise, basically Metapod and Kakuna, except round and largely featureless. There’s a bit in Cascoon’s Diamond version Pokédex entry which I initially thought was interesting, stating that the inside of Cascoon’s shell is very hot because all of its cells are working so feverishly towards its evolution, but then I found out that this same factoid was originally from Kakuna’s Sapphire version entry, so it’s official: the designers are completely shameless. The one genuinely interesting thing about either of these Pokémon is that Cascoon apparently remembers every opponent it ever faces and every injury it ever suffers while waiting to evolve, so that it can get revenge when it finally does. This doesn’t really tie in to what Dustox is like at all, though, so… eh, whatever. Silcoon evolves into Beautifly, who is Butterfree, except that she makes no sense. I guess I should elaborate. Apparently Game Freak were, let’s be fair to them, aware of what people would think when they met Beautifly (this is also, I assume, the reason Beautifly’s art is so much more naturalistic than Butterfree’s) and decided to tell us that she actually has a brutal dark side; Beautifly is a savage hunter who will drain her prey’s vital fluids through her proboscis! However, they spend just as much time talking about how Beautifly is a pollinator, which means, pretty unambiguously, that her main food source is nectar, not the blood of the innocent (exactly the same as Butterfree). To top it off, the whole “she looks beautiful but actually she’s a vicious blood-sucker” thing was also done in the same set of games by Gorebyss, who pulled it off far more effectively. Now, Dustox, to his credit, is not Beedrill. Unfortunately, he is Venomoth. Everything Dustox does – nocturnal behaviour, attraction to bright lights, scattering toxic powder, radar senses – was attributed to Venonat and Venomoth first, except for his irritating habit of swarming in brightly lit cities and devouring all the foliage he can find. I admit that this is an interesting ecological detail and just the sort of thing I like, but it’s too little, too late for a Pokémon that is blatantly a cheap rip-off of a far more awesome pre-existing design.
Testing, testing, one, two, three.
This is a blog about Pokémon, which I’m moving to Tumblr after close to a year on Blogspot, since my more technology-literate friend assures me that Tumblr is, as they say, “where it’s at.” Just as soon as I learn how to use Tumblr and figure out a convenient way of moving my archive.
This was my original post, from March 31st, 2011, which should give you the gist of it:
So, Pokémon Black and White came out just a little while ago. On the one hand, that means new Pokémon – one hundred and fifty-six of them, in fact! On the other… new Pokémon are always a mixed bag. I have long been of the opinion that ever since the third set of Pokémon games, Ruby and Sapphire, Nintendo have been setting an arbitrary target for the number of new Pokémon they felt the new games should have, failing miserably to meet it, and then making stuff up at relatively short notice to fill in the blanks in the Pokédex.
In case my tone is not being properly conveyed across the electronic void, I have an exceedingly low opinion of this state of affairs.
Still, whenever it comes up in conversation – which it does often, since playing Pokémon is kind of seen as my ‘thing’ amongst my friends – I doggedly insist that Nintendo do still have good ideas from time to time, and that a great many post-2002 Pokémon are indeed worthy of existence and can be compared favourably to the members of the hallowed original 151 if you look at them from a certain angle and squint a little bit.
Anyway, having played through most of Black and White now, I feel a pressing need to rant about everything I’ve seen and how far I believe Nintendo has succeeded – or, in an alarming number of cases, failed – in their quest to drag ever more money out of- er… I mean… to bring joy and wonder to a new generation of lovely children. And stuff. Because I’m opinionated, damnit!
I’m going to be working through the Unovan Pokédex in order (EDIT: as it happened, I quickly changed my mind about doing it in order and bounced around all over the place), rambling about each Pokémon’s design, powers, back-story, and general worthiness of name “Pokémon,” with all the authority of a random blogger (I’m on the internet so I MUST BE RIGHT!) and I’m going to try to do it, as far as possible, in terms that will make some sort of sense to people who haven’t played Pokémon since the heady days of Gold and Silver – so stop me if I’m starting to confuse you.
So… time to get started…
I finished that project on Christmas Day. The official purpose of Pokémaniacal is now “whatever I damn well feel like;” I’m happy to take suggestions. I update every three days, and can currently be found at http://pokemaniacal.blogspot.co.nz/, but hope to relocate completely within the next two weeks.
Here’s a picture of Pikachu.
Well, in any list of the dumbest Pokémon of all time, the bugs were bound to put forward a representative sooner or later. Today I’ll be looking at the musical cricket Pokémon, Kricketune, and his significantly less irritating younger sibling, Kricketot. I have always had a soft spot for Kricketot, ever since I caught one shortly after starting Diamond version for the first time. Kricketot is a tiny, brightly-coloured beetle who communicates by knocking his antennae together to make sounds like the chimes of a xylophone. His physical appearance is suggestive of a rotund little man in a neat waistcoat and shiny shoes (he’s supposed to remind you of a conductor), while at the same time including no aspects that are actually out-of-place on a beetle Pokémon. Kricketot isn’t an especially clever design and there’s not much to say about him, but he’s cute and reasonably well done. He’s also very difficult to train since (on Diamond and Pearl anyway) he knows no attacks other than Growl and Bide, and can only damage other Pokémon by waiting for them to hit him first. You won’t have to put up with this for long though; like many Bug Pokémon, Kricketot evolves very rapidly… into Kricketune. I always hoped he would evolve again, but he never did, the little jerk. I kept him around for a while because I needed a Pokémon who could use Cut, and eventually ditched him for a Parasect when I got far enough in the game to receive Pokémon from Leaf Green. So… why do I hate Kricketune so much, anyway?
We’re really getting into the dregs now, folks. See… most Pokémon are good at something. It’s often something bizarrely specific that would barely make sense to most people, like how Linoone is the only Belly Drummer who’ll eat a Salac berry at 50% HP instead of 25%, or the way Smeargle can pull off really weird sets with stuff like Endeavour and Dragon Rage or Spore and Transform thanks to his ability to learn every move in the game. It’s very rare that you get a Pokémon who isn’t good at anything at all… but it does happen. One of them is Delcatty.
Delcatty and her juvenile form Skitty are cats. If you’ve ever owned a cat (which I have) then you pretty much know everything about them already. They’re cute, they like to chase things and make themselves pretty, they’re popular with female trainers, and they are completely indifferent to everything beyond their own whims. They’re different from Persian in that Persian embraces the cruel side that cats have; if you screw with Persian, the claws are coming out and your face is going to start looking a lot less pretty a few seconds from now. If you screw with Delcatty, she’s much more likely to say “eh, whatever,” and wander off. Delcatty doesn’t have a nest like most Pokémon do because she would never feel invested enough to bother defending it, doesn’t eat or sleep according to any schedule because she would never pay enough attention to bother keeping track of one (this comes from Ruby version but, incidentally, Emerald contradicts this, saying that Delcatty are nocturnal), and never fights if she can avoid it because that’s clearly too much effort. She reminds me of nothing so much as The Cat Who Walked By Himself, from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (you can find the story here http://boop.org/jan/justso/cat.htm, among other places), a fable that tells how the Cat, rather than being tamed like all the other wild creatures, instead tricked the Woman into a bargain with him so that he could do as he pleased for all time. The Cat’s catchphrase is “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me,” which pretty much sums him up. I doubt Delcatty was directly inspired by this particular story but she’s a product of the same age-old stereotype that cats are aloof, and only ever do exactly what suits them (including being ‘tamed’ by humans). Pokémon doesn’t really do anything with the idea other than say that this is what Delcatty is like, and it only makes things worse that someone seems to have at least had this perception of cats in the back of his mind when Persian was created, even though it’s not the focus for Persian. There’s only so much variation you can squeeze out of a lithe, elegant domestic cat when you’re committed to making it a Normal-type; Delcatty’s clearly not the same as Persian since she looks more overtly pampered, even dressed-up, but I find myself asking what this design achieved that Meowth and Persian didn’t.
This isn’t fair.
I already did these ones. I did them while I was talking about Emolga. It isn’t FAIR, damnit!
…ladies and gentlemen; Plusle, Minun and Pachirisu.
Just for clarification, these three aren’t part of an evolutionary family. Plusle and Minun seem to be different forms of one species, and Pachirisu is completely separate and wasn’t even introduced in the same game. Plusle and Minun probably deserve to be a bit lower on the list and Pachirisu probably deserves to be a bit higher, but I’ve lumped them together because I hate all of them for the same reasons, namely: a) they’re increasingly annoying rehashes of Pikachu, and b) they suck.
What, you need more?
Pikachu’s pudgy yellow face is the emblem of the absurdly successful Pokémon franchise and is widely recognised even by people who barely know what a Pokémon is. He has almost certainly made Nintendo more money than any other single Pokémon, and he can be summed up as “cute rodent with electrical cheek pouches,” so the obvious thing to do was make more cute rodents with electrical cheek pouches, right? So obvious, in fact, that Plusle and Minun barely seem to be a different species from Pikachu at all. I think they’re supposed to be based on rabbits, while Pikachu is traditionally described as a mouse, but all three are depicted so stylistically that that they ‘meet in the middle,’ so to speak. Plusle and Minun are distinct from Pikachu in that they are frightfully unsuited to combat; instead they dedicate themselves to encouraging their partners (Plusle and Minun were released in Ruby and Sapphire, the generation that introduced the concept of double battles, and are shamelessly dedicated to promoting the new battle format). There’s no word on how this would work outside of the context of a team of Pokémon under the command of a trainer – what do Plusle and Minun do in the wild when they’re attacked? Pair up and cheer for each other? In fact this is exactly what happens when you face pairs of trainers with Plusle and Minun in Ruby and Sapphire – they stand there and cast Helping Hand on each other, but neither of them actually does anything. As for Pachirisu… her squirrel design, I think, represents at least an effort to distance her from the older Pokémon, and her habit of gathering loose fur into electrically-charged balls and keeping them amongst the berries she stores in her nest (presumably as a deterrent to thieves like Rattata) is, admittedly, a clever way of linking the squirrel concept to her Electric element. As admirable as the attempt is, though, it’s missing the point; Pachirisu still isn’t a new idea, but an old one that they’ve dressed up.
…great. I’m only four Pokémon in, and Spinda’s already shown up. Well, let’s get this over with…
Spinda is a crazy-eyed dancing midget panda, and that is yet another phrase I never imagined I would one day have to use. Although Nintendo will never admit this because their name is built on being family-friendly, Spinda lurches through life in a state of perpetual drunkenness. His movements are erratic, halting, and unpredictable, and in battle he relies mainly on stumbling around the attacks of his bewildered opponents as they try in vain to comprehend his demented tactics. Despite appearances, Spinda actually maintains perfect mental clarity throughout his seemingly random dance; whether he moves like that on purpose to confuse his enemies or his thought processes are simply too warped for other Pokémon to follow is open for debate. Much like Delibird and Castform, Spinda was designed as a gimmick Pokémon, and his gimmick is in his physical appearance: no two Spinda, the Pokédex confidently informs us, have exactly the same pattern of spots. I don’t really think this is that interesting, but I… suppose it’s nice that they went to the effort of writing a little sequence of code to randomly generate four and a half billion different patterns of spots for Spinda to choose from… and then went to the effort of mentioning it in every Pokédex entry they ever wrote about Spinda, just so no-one would forget how clever they’d been… and then went to the effort of moving directly on to the next Pokémon in the Hoenn ‘dex, because the spot gimmick was obviously so awesome that Spinda didn’t need anything else, like an evolution…
…please kill me…
I’ve searched long and hard to bring you the worst Grass Pokémon of all time, and I reckon I’ve found it. Yes, I sincerely think that even Maractus is… um, that is to say… on balance, I really think that Maractus…
…look, I don’t want to say it. I can’t actually go on the record as saying that Maractus might be… y’know… better than something. I just couldn’t take it. Haven’t I been through enough?
Okay, today’s Pokémon is Sunflora, who really is the worst Grass Pokémon ever, with the most boring design and arguably with the weakest powers as well. Sunflora, the sunflower Pokémon, was released way back in Gold and Silver and is the evolved form of Sunkern, a tiny seed Pokémon whose unfortunate claim to fame is that she has the worst stats of any Pokémon in the entire game (yes, worse than Magikarp and Caterpie). Sunkern is… bizarre. The reason this entry is titled “Sunflora” and not “Sunkern and Sunflora” is that I honestly think Sunkern is an absolutely fascinating Pokémon. Like Metapod, Sunkern spends her entire life preparing for evolution. She eats nothing, rarely moves, drinks only morning dew, and can defend herself only by vigorously shaking her leaves in the general direction of her attackers. She also, and I quote, “suddenly falls out of the sky in the morning.” This… is probably the weirdest non sequitur the Pokédex has ever spat at me, which is saying something, and it keeps doing it; variations of the same line reoccur in game after game, like it’s the most important aspect of the design, but there’s never been any explanation of where they fall from or how they get there. For all I know, Sunkern inflate themselves with helium while they sleep and gently drift into the sky each night before expelling the gas with a massive belch in the morning and plummeting back to earth. That’s why I find myself unable to dislike Sunkern; I can’t muster any emotion towards her at all other than abject bewilderment. Sunflora, on the other hand, I am capable of disliking with immense vigour. The entire point of Sunflora’s design was that she gains nutrition and energy from sunlight and is extremely active during the day, but becomes inactive after sunset. The first problem is that this is a baseline characteristic of all Grass Pokémon. They’re plants, they all draw energy from the sun; even Gloom and Vileplume, who are based on one of the few plants in the world that doesn’t photosynthesise, learn Solarbeam and were eventually given the Chlorophyll ability in Ruby and Sapphire. The second and much thornier problem (if I may be excused the pun) is that Sunflora wasn’t even the only Grass Pokémon introduced in Gold and Silver who was associated particularly closely with the sun. The other was Bellossom, whose ritualistic dances to summon the sun are a far more interesting way of emphasising the solar connection than Sunflora’s frightfully generic characteristics. There’s nothing to justify Sunflora’s existence. I mean it. I’ve checked.
Much as Delibird was (I believe) the best-designed Pokémon in my Top Ten, Castform is arguably the strongest (and if that doesn’t send shivers down your spine, nothing will). Introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, Castform is a Pokémon created by Hoenn’s Weather Institute to serve a very specific purpose: predicting and manipulating the weather. To this end, he possesses a unique ability that is his claim to fame: Forecast. In calm, overcast weather, Castform is a wholly unremarkable Normal-type, but Forecast causes his form and element to change with the weather; he becomes a Water-type in heavy rain, an Ice-type in snow or hail and a Fire-type under clear skies. His signature move, Weather Ball, changes too; giving him an excellent Water, Ice or Fire attack as appropriate (the Water and Fire versions of Weather Ball also get power boosts from the routine effects of rain and sun, respectively, becoming very strong indeed); it can also become a Rock attack in a sandstorm, but Castform himself lacks a form for that weather condition, so the attack itself will be weaker and Castform will have to expose himself to sandstorm damage in order to use it. Weather Ball, Forecast and his wide selection of other special attacks make it relatively easy to tailor Castform for use on a rain, sun or hail team, but I don’t think he has the defensive bulk to pull off the set Game Freak probably had in mind when they created him: [Weather Ball – Sunny Day – Rain Dance – Hail], switching between weather conditions and forms as appropriate. Probably better to stick with just one, and supplement Weather Ball with Thunder (if you’re using rain), Thunderbolt (if you aren’t), Solarbeam (if you’re using sun), Energy Ball (if you aren’t), Fire Blast, Scald, Ice Beam, or Shadow Ball. Like I said, Castform has a lot of choice; he’s unlikely to get far as anything other than a special-attacking weather controller, but the diversity he can manage within that role is surprisingly impressive.
Alone of all the Pokémon on my Top Ten list, Delibird makes me feel a little guilty about putting him on here, which is why I’ve shunted him all the way down to #10, of course. Why? Well, on my very first play-through of Silver version, all those years ago, I had a Delibird. He was absolutely useless, bless his little heart, but he tried his best and I loved him for it (I was young and naïve, and still believed the Nintendo propaganda that any Pokémon could be powerful if you worked hard enough at it). A rare Ice Pokémon found in the coldest part of Johto, Delibird is a cute if somewhat awkward-looking red-and-white bird with a long, wide tail that he wraps around himself to serve as a sack for carrying food. He looks a little like a penguin, and some aspects of his design make me think of puffins and similar seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff-faces and carrying food to their chicks all day. Delibird aren’t actually marine Pokémon; they live in high mountains, although I suspect that the specialised tail is an indicator that they naturally have a very wide foraging range, possibly covering many terrain types. They seem to be an inherently altruistic species, as they have a reputation for sharing the food they’ve gathered with lost travellers. In various contexts outside of the main series of games, Delibird are often employed by humans as messengers and couriers because of their natural delivery habits and unusual intelligence. The associations with delivery make clear the real inspiration for Delibird’s design: with his red-and-white colour scheme, his sack of goods, and even a white feathery ‘beard,’ this is nothing other than the Pokémon Santa Claus. It’s a strange idea, to be sure, but it hasn’t been pushed beyond the boundaries of good taste; Delibird’s dedication to collection and delivering food to his offspring is a sensible way of translating the gift-giving idea onto an animal, especially since it exaggerates the habits of many real birds rather than coming completely out of nowhere. Physically, Delibird looks a bit odd, and you have to wonder how he manages to fly with those penguin flippers (I suppose it doesn’t require that much more suspension of disbelief than, say, Dragonite with his dinky little wings), but the bright scarlet of his body and the white of his downy tufts make him look cheerful, cute, and most importantly different from all the other innumerable bird Pokémon. What I’m saying, in short, is that my guilt about putting Delibird in the Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, even at number ten, isn’t just about my own fond memories of the little guy; I genuinely think this is a well-executed concept. If that’s the case, you may well ask, then what on earth did he do to deserve this treatment?
All right, let’s lay some ground rules here. Like I always did when I was working through the Unova Pokédex, I’ll do my best to examine all aspects of a Pokémon before assigning it a place in the Top Ten: I’m not putting anything on this list unless it is both a terrible concept and irredeemably pathetic – which automatically disqualifies pretty much everything from Black and White, because even though some of them were shockers, all of them, except for maybe Watchog, are an order of magnitude more useful than everything on this list. Think about that for a moment. Think back to some of my most vitriolic entries – Unfezant, Maractus, Emolga, Garbodor, for goodness’ sake – and let that sink in. In terms of blinding stupidity, many of them rival or even surpass some of the wastes of oxygen on my list, but none of them are anywhere near as blitheringly incompetent. Let that sink in. Conversely, a few legitimately terrible Pokémon have escaped inclusion on this list by being more quirky and interesting than the ones I’ll be covering over the next month; they are the Pokémon that belong on my wish list for future evolutions, while the ones you’ll find here just need to die in a fire.
My other big rule is that anything that evolves doesn’t count. I could spend an entry wittering about how useless Magikarp is, but the fact is, one day that Magikarp might evolve into Gyarados and come after me for revenge, and I don’t want that to happen. More to the point, the suckiness that is Magikarp was deliberately intended as a counterweight to the awesomeness that is Gyarados, so it’s not even as if Magikarp is weak because of incompetence on the designers’ part; that was done on purpose, and there was a valid reason for it. A few Pokémon would once have been absolute shoe-ins for this list until Game Freak, apparently realising the sins they had committed against the poor things, granted them evolutions in later generations. Nosepass gets an honourable mention here for taunting me by evolving into Probopass in Diamond and Pearl, becoming far too strong for me to consider him seriously for the Top Ten while at the same time becoming the stupidest Pokémon of the generation for two generations running, which I hadn’t even thought possible.
Why am I doing this? Well, as I’ve explained in the past, I consider myself to be on Game Freak’s side in that I want Pokémon to keep getting better and still genuinely believe that they’re the best people for the job… more or less. The fact is, though, writing about stuff I like gets repetitive after a while, and writing about stuff that’s merely average is boring from the start… but being able to work up a really good bit of bile against something is far more interesting.
I think it’s time for a good old-fashioned holy war…
…y’know, after the scale of my last project, finishing this one just doesn’t have the same inherent drama. Then again, I’m a little scared to try for something bigger, for fear I may rope myself into reviewing every Pokémon ever and die before I finish. Hrm. Anyway, on with the show!
The Champion of the Unova region, the New York-inspired setting of Black and White, is an exuberant, light-hearted giant of a man named Alder, who is the Pokémon universe’s equivalent to Bear Grylls. The man jumps off a cliff, for heaven’s sake, quite casually, without comment, and apparently for no other reason than that it was faster than walking. Not content with sitting in his palace at the Pokémon League waiting for challengers, Alder prefers to spend his time exploring Unova, and claims to know “every corner” of the region; it is on just such a trip that he first meets you and Cheren, one of the two rival characters of Black and White. Cheren is… well, I wouldn’t call him a jerk, to be fair; compared to Blue he’s an absolute saint, but he tends to look down on people who don’t take life as seriously as he does, and he’s extremely focussed on becoming a more powerful trainer, to the exclusion of all else. Cheren’s great ambition in life is to become the Champion, and he’s not impressed when he meets the current Champion, in his words, “goofing off” at a festival outside Nimbasa City, feeling that such frivolity is beneath the dignity of this noble office. Alder responds by questioning why Cheren wants to become Champion in the first place and what he thinks the whole point is, something Cheren doesn’t seem to have ever thought about. Another day, after Alder watches you defeat Cheren in a battle, Cheren is disturbed and annoyed that Alder described it as “a fine battle,” assuming that Alder was pleased he had lost (because, after all, what about a battle could possibly matter besides who won and who lost?). You later learn that Alder is interested in Cheren’s motives because he sees something of himself in Cheren; when Alder was younger, he was equally obsessed with becoming stronger, an obsession shared by his Pokémon partner. In time, though, Alder’s Pokémon (whose species is never mentioned, though it could conceivably have been one of Unova’s three starter Pokémon) became sick and died, causing Alder’s outlook to change. He now views strength for its own sake as transient and ultimately pointless, and focuses more on enjoying life.
Just to prove that the Pokémon League is an equal-opportunity employer, here’s the series’ only female Champion to date: Cynthia, master of the Sinnoh League. Of all the Champions across all the different versions of the game, Cynthia is dearest to my heart, because, as of her debut in Diamond and Pearl, she was quite possibly the only halfway legitimate archaeologist in the entire Pokémon universe. She seems to think of herself as a Pokémon trainer first and a historian second, but her research is clearly important to her and she spends every free moment studying the history and mythology of ancient ruins around Sinnoh, like the Spear Pillar. If Cynthia’s glorious trench coat and its luxuriant fur trim represent what qualifies as casual attire for her, she has probably not spent a full day on a dig site in a very long time. Nonetheless, I can scarcely put into words how refreshing it was to meet someone in these games who was genuinely interested in the Pokémon world’s ruins for their historical significance and not because of the obsession with ancient treasure that drove the Ruin Maniacs of Ruby and Sapphire. Cynthia’s function in the plot is mainly to provide hints and exposition about the ruins you encounter, but she also has an inexplicable tendency to give you things at random for her own impenetrable reasons, like the HM for Cut when you first meet her in Eterna City, along with (only on Platinum) a Togepi egg, which is a remarkably silly thing for a Pokémon master to give to a total stranger (then again, it’s well-established that Pokémon masters can recognise, or think they can recognise, talented trainers by sight). Later she turns up again and gives you a few doses of Secretpotion to allow you to clear one of the most absurd obstacles in video game history: a blockade of Psyduck whose chronic headaches have rooted them to the spot on the road to Celestic Town. These headaches are not going to get better on their own, there is no other way to move the Psyduck, and Cynthia definitely isn’t going to give them the medicine herself; her research is far too important for her to waste time with such trivialities. This is doubly inexplicable because as soon as you give them the Secretpotion, Cynthia shows up to congratulate you and gives you your next assignment: to return a necklace (some kind of artefact she’s been studying) to her grandmother in Celestic Town. Wouldn’t this sequence have made far more sense if she’d given you the Secretpotion and the necklace at the same time? As far as Diamond and Pearl go, Cynthia fades into the background after that – almost to the point that meeting her again at the Pokémon League creates the same reaction as Steven does; you remember that you used to know who she was, but you’re not sure why you ever cared.
I suppose some people just aren’t cut out for the life of a League Champion. Like Red before him, Steven decides he has better things to do than defend his title in Ever Grande City and vanishes into the mountains so he can spend more time with his rocks, who miss him dreadfully while he’s training. In Emerald version, the job is, again, taken by someone more suited to a life in the spotlight: Hoenn’s most powerful Gym Leader, Wallace, a Water Pokémon master from Sootopolis City.
A flamboyant trainer who describes himself as an artist, Wallace is interested not just in winning but in doing so with style. He regards Pokémon battles as a form of artistic expression, promising you “a performance of illusions in water” before your gym battle in Ruby and Sapphire, and commending you first of all on your elegance when you defeat him in Emerald. He also has a tendency to prefer poetic descriptions over more mundane turns of phrase. He wears a beret and, in Emerald, extends his outfit with a long, flowing cape, evidently taking his fashion advice from Lance. In short, like Lance, Wallace is in many ways a little bit over-the-top… and, like Lance, that’s what makes him fun. Sadly Wallace doesn’t have nearly as much screen-time as Steven – he’s introduced in Sootopolis City at the game’s climax, later than any other Champion – but he does at least get an extra scene or two in Emerald that don’t appear in Ruby and Sapphire, where his entire function, story-wise, is to use his authority as Gym Leader of Sootopolis City to get you into the Cave of Origin, where Groudon (on Ruby) or Kyogre (on Sapphire) has set up its den and is preparing to take over the world, or something (I don’t know; I wasn’t really paying attention). The Cave of Origin is a weird place. It’s a deep, dark cavern in the middle of Sootopolis City, festooned with red and blue crystals, which appears to serve no function whatsoever. The mouth of the cave is guarded and it’s normally forbidden to enter, except for the Gym Leaders (and former Gym Leaders) of Sootopolis City, who seem to have some kind of ceremonial role as the cave’s protectors. According to legend, the Cave of Origin is opposite to Mount Pyre, the mountain where (apparently) everyone in Hoenn goes to bury their dead Pokémon; Mount Pyre is where life ends, while the Cave of Origin is where life begins. I think they believe that Pokémon (and humans?) are reincarnated there – but, of course, Pokémon of every species don’t constantly spill out of the Cave of Origin, so maybe it’s supposed to be where their souls return to the world of the living? Alternatively, maybe ‘Origin’ is to be taken literally, and it’s the place where life on Earth began? That might explain why Groudon and Kyogre are attracted there.
Steven, Steven, Steven. What is there to say about Steven?
Well… he likes rocks.
In Ruby and Sapphire, Steven is the Champion of Ever Grande City in Hoenn and the son of Mr. Stone, president of the Rustboro-based Devon Corporation, but lives in Mossdeep City, on an island in Hoenn’s northeast. He wears neat, formal clothing, enjoys talking to other Pokémon trainers about their training style, and likes rocks. Honestly, that’s pretty much it. In comparison to the other Champions, Steven is really quite bland. He seems to be a fairly quiet, analytical sort of person, and he often comes across as rather distant, particularly when he shows up near the end of Heart Gold and Soul Silver. He’s plainly quite adventurous, but he travels alone and doesn’t seem to spend much time around people. In fact, he steps down from his position at some point, so that Wallace becomes the Champion instead in Emerald version, possibly because he dislikes the attention and would prefer to spend his time looking for interesting rocks. This is all absolutely fine in its own way, and there’s something appealing about the idea of an unassuming Champion – you can see Lance coming a mile off, whereas this guy isn’t nearly as blatant. You’re not exactly surprised when you walk into the Champion’s room and find Steven there, since he was involved with saving the world during the game’s climax (albeit in an extremely vague advisory capacity); it’s more that there’s a moment of “oh, hey, it’s this guy! Um… what was his name again?” …which is the problem, of course. Steven is an incredibly forgettable character. Heck, I barely remember him and this is my schtick. His involvement in the story in Ruby and Sapphire is minimal. You first meet him when you bring him a letter from his father while he’s in the Granite Cave on Dewford Island looking for cool rocks. At one point you run into him on the road and exchange small talk before he wanders off. When you reach Mossdeep City, you have another dull and pointless conversation and he gives you an item that you just happen to need to continue the story (not because he knows you need it; he just… kinda has one lying around that he doesn’t want). Finally, when Groudon/Kyogre is awakened and begins playing havoc with Hoenn’s climate, he… talks for a while, tells you some things you knew already, and introduces you to Wallace, who actually matters. If Ghetsis, the principal villain of Black and White, has unwittingly stumbled into Pokémon from a high fantasy story, then Steven has wandered over from an informative but ultimately rather tedious geology textbook.