I’m in kind of a good mood after Lillipup; I wasn’t sure it was still possible to make one of these early-game Normal-type Pokémon that was worth the pixels it’s drawn in, we’ve had so many before. Surely this is good news? Maybe this next Pokémon will also be-
What the-? Well, that’s… that’s quite disturbing, actually.
There is something deeply, deeply unsettling about this Pokémon’s eyes. I don’t think the designers were actually aiming for the “demonically possessed” look since the rest of Patrat’s flavour doesn’t support that, but if they were, they nailed it. Still, the eyes at least are all that I find truly bothersome about Patrat; the evolved form, Watchog, takes the freaky eyes and combines it with a stiff, rigid pose. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s something indefinably wrong with this Pokémon. I’ll… try not to judge him on this because I am aware that this is somewhat subjective, but I would not be surprised to be told that Watchog creeps the hell out of a lot of people. Let’s look at this from a slightly more objective standpoint, shall we? Patrat is based on a chipmunk and Watchog is based on a meerkat, but the meerkat is really the heart of both designs – I say this because their shtick is being keen sentries, something meerkats are known for. This… would be great if not for the fact that this was also Sentret’s shtick way back in Gold and Silver (and Sentret was a heck of a lot cuter). I will concede that Patrat’s actual skills make it much better at this than Sentret – its Keen Eye ability renders it immune to techniques that impair its vision, and it is explicitly able to see in the dark – but it’s still losing points as far as I’m concerned for being a second-hand concept. I’m also very confused that one of Watchog’s powers is apparently bioluminescence, because it seems like a thoroughly redundant (if not actively detrimental) quality for a creature that can see in the dark anyway. If you don’t need much light to see, then isn’t glowing in the dark like putting up a literal neon sign for predators? The Pokédex entry says that it’s supposed to intimidate predators but honestly, it still seems like a bad survival strategy to me.
I didn’t go into this expecting Watchog to be a very strong Pokémon, and having now used the thing I have the dubious pleasure of saying that I was absolutely right. His attacks are lacklustre, his defences awful and his speed middling – in short, he’s exactly like Raticate, Furret and Linoone. As always when this happens, I am forced to root through the damn thing’s movepool in hopes of finding something unusual that it can do, and as it happens Watchog does get a small selection of useful abilities to differentiate itself from the previous generic Normal-types. He has Hypnosis and Confuse Ray as disruptive options, although not particularly good ones. More interestingly, he learns Baton Pass. Baton Pass is a fascinating little technique that has been around since Gold and Silver, whose function is to switch another Pokémon into battle while keeping the effects of any boosts used by the first Pokémon, such as Swords Dance, Substitute or Agility. Watchog can in fact learn Swords Dance as well, so you could use him to pass that – a perfectly viable tactic for boosting something that can’t dance for itself, although I can’t imagine why you’d use Watchog as the passer as opposed to something that’s actually competent, like Scyther. The truly intriguing thing about Watchog is that it also learns Mean Look. This technique traps its victim in play, preventing it from switching out. The effect is lifted if the Pokémon that used it faints or switches out itself, limiting its utility… however, for some ungodly reason, Mean Look is one of the effects that can be transferred by Baton Pass. Doing so allows you to send in whichever of your Pokémon would most efficiently wipe out the victim while it remains trapped; if you manage to execute this tactic without a hitch, it is almost certain to destroy one of your opponent’s Pokémon – possibly several, if you use it as an opportunity to set up – but you’re unlikely to get more than one shot at it; once your opponent realises what you’re up to, your Baton Passer’s life will be short. Only five Pokémon besides Watchog can do this – Umbreon, Absol, Mew (using Block), Ariados (using Spider Web) and Smeargle (whose big trick is that he can learn absolutely anything). The trouble is, I can’t really think of any reason to use Watchog for this rather than Umbreon other than that he’s somewhat faster and isn’t weak to Bug-type attacks. Pulling it off would still more or less require him to take at least one hit, probably two, and with his poor defences and total lack of resistances, Watchog just can’t do that (a well-trained Umbreon, on the other hand, is nigh-indestructible). Still, with such a rare and unusual skill at his disposal, someone is bound to use Watchog and, since he’s so weak in almost every other respect, someone is bound to forget that he can do that, fall for it, and lose a critical team member.
Sometimes you want a Pokémon to be creepy. Sometimes it’s part of the design. Patrat and Watchog are not one of those times. They’re not meant to be unsettling, but they are, deeply so. If they weren’t so unsettling, on the other hand, they’d be pretty boring and forgettable (so, again, exactly like Furret). They’re dull, they’re weak, they’re all but useless except in a single role in which they are thoroughly outclassed anyway, and I cannot think of a single reason they should ever have been made.
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let it be cast back into the pits of hell from which it came!
EDIT: Since writing this entry I have learned that, actually, Mean Look, Spider Web and Block don’t work that way anymore in Black and White – the effect can no longer be passed. Why this was changed is a mystery to me. The number of Pokémon affected is minuscule and invalidating the tactic has almost no impact on game balance, aside from making Umbreon much less useful and finally eradicating the only reason ever to use Ariados. Thematically speaking, Baton Pass is so abstract anyway that any attempt to explain why certain effects can be passed and others cannot is doomed to failure. The practical upshot of all this for Watchog is that he is, in fact, completely useless.