…and where else to start but with my very own starter Pokémon? Before the English versions of Black and White were released, Snivy was given the fan nickname “Smugleaf,” and you can see why. My gods, he looks pleased with himself, doesn’t he? Honestly, I think Smugleaf would have been a better name than Snivy as it fits with the impression of haughtiness that Nintendo seems to have been aiming for with this entire evolutionary line, but it was not to be. Ah well. It certainly works anyway, in my opinion (except that the name “Servine” is a little unfortunate – it makes me think “servile,” when he is anything but). All three of these Pokémon clearly think not only that they’re smarter than you, but also stronger, more important and infinitely more handsome. You will want to strangle them within about five minutes.
Snivy is the latest of five Grass-type starter Pokémon, and maintains the long-running tradition that they be reptilian in design (well, okay, Bulbasaur was kind of a frog-thing, but it still counts). Grass-types in general tend to be slow and defensively oriented, and can be infuriatingly hard to get rid of if that’s how you choose to play them. The starters, interestingly, don’t really buy into this so much – Venusaur was very evenly balanced between offense and defence and can be used effectively either way, Meganium was defensively biased but not overwhelmingly so, and Torterra is tough, but can also hit like a truck if he really wants to. Then there’s Sceptile, the third starter. Sceptile was Nintendo’s first prominent attempt at a Grass-type that actually had a decent turn of speed to it (nobody cares about Jumpluff). Sceptile is ridiculously fast, packs quite a punch when using elemental attacks, and is distressingly frail for a Grass-type. Serperior is something else again – an odd combination of the classic defensive Grass-type with a speedster like Sceptile. Serperior has easily the weakest attacks of any of the five, while being reasonably tough and slower than Sceptile but not by much. I’m actually led to believe that Nintendo intended Serperior to be used as what’s known as a “Sub-Seeder” – a popular strategy for Grass-types that combines Leech Seed, which drains away a portion of your opponent’s health every turn, with Substitute, which drains away a portion of your own health to create a buffer against attacks. The idea is to use the health you drain from your opponent to keep creating Substitutes, preventing you from ever losing more than ¼ of your energy each turn while the Leech Seed constantly heals you, thus stalling the other Pokémon to death. It is incredibly frustrating and it works best with a Pokémon that’s very fast – making Sceptile one of the best at it, though I suspect Serperior will be able to do it better.
The alternative for Serperior is all-out attack. “But wait!” you say, “I thought you told us that Serperior couldn’t out-damage a limp dishrag!” Well, it’s true that his attacks aren’t stellar. However, since Ruby and Sapphire, all Pokémon have had things called abilities, which provide ‘passive’ benefits to enhance certain moves or tactics. Nintendo has a generic ability that gets passed out to all starter Pokémon, which gives their elemental attacks a power boost when they drop below 1/3 of their normal health, like a kind of panic button. This is not terribly exciting. What’s exciting is that Black and White allow Pokémon to be sent to an online area called the Dream World, and in the Dream World you can find and bring home Pokémon with different abilities to the ones they would normally have. I am still a little hazy on how this is supposed to work, since the English version of the Dream World isn’t online yet, having been delayed by the present crisis in Japan. What I do know is the effect of a Dream World Snivy’s alternate ability, “Contrary.” By the sheer force of its own colossal ego, Snivy inverts the effects of moves that lower its stats (like Growl or Leer) or raise its stats (like Swords Dance – so obviously he won’t be using those). Why is this important? Well, one of the attacks Serperior can learn is called Leaf Storm, an attack introduced in Diamond and Pearl. It’s more powerful than a Solarbeam and doesn’t waste your time charging up, but it halves your Pokémon’s Special Attack stat after you use it. Consider the combination of Contrary and Leaf Storm, and cackle maniacally with me. Sadly, Grass is a rather silly attack type to rely on, as there are a lot of elements that resist it – and unlike Sceptile, Serperior doesn’t really have any other options to fill out his move set. Still, I cannot help but be tempted by the possibility.
All in all, I like Snivy and friends. Their depressing lack of firepower can be frustrating early in the game, but they make up for it if you stick with them, and although a snake Pokémon isn’t exactly something new, a snake Pokémon that isn’t a Poison type is nice, and fast but tough is an interesting combination of attributes, one which I don’t think we’ve seen on a Grass type before. On top of that, their haughty attitude is hilarious when it’s pointed away from you.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!
…it’s all downhill from here…