Some days I get to talk about Pokémon that are just really awesome. Whether by design, or mechanics, or the way the mechanics fit the design, or some other little twist – because Game Freak do still make Pokémon like this. That’s the real reason for this blog, actually; I realise I probably give the impression that I’m here primarily to bitch about Pokémon that aren’t up to standard, but remember that I do still play these games and love them. That’s right, Game Freak, I’m on your side. I’m here to answer the people who complain that Pokémon has been going downhill since Gold and Silver (or since Ruby and Sapphire, or whatever, there’s a batch of ‘em for every generation). And some days, I get to do just that.
Other days I get Maractus.
Maractus is a dancing cactus. It could be worse; in much the same way that destitution could be worse, because at least you don’t have the plague yet. We’ve had “dancing plant” before, and we’ve had “cactus” before, but Maractus is so different from the last cactus that I’m sort of willing to let her off on that one. Cacturne, her predecessor, was a sinister nocturnal hunter whose purpose in existence is to remind you what a scary place the desert is – and in my opinion, he did that pretty well. Maractus is a bright, happy diurnal performer, and on some level I can’t help but be annoyed by making a desert Pokémon so unrelentingly cheerful. When Maractus dances, she makes sounds like those of a pair of maracas (hence the name) as she moves, and I think she sings too – and this scares away bird Pokémon that would try to eat her seeds. Never mind that she’s already a cactus and presumably covered in little bristly spikes to keep the birds off. These are specific problems that I personally have with Maractus. The thing is, though, often when a Pokémon doesn’t appeal to me I can at least see that it might appeal to someone else. In this case… I really don’t know who the designers thought would like Maractus. She’s not really cute, she’s not clever, she’s certainly not badass… looking at her, I think they were going for cute, but compared to some of the things Game Freak have had to work with in the past, making a cute Pokémon out of a flowering cactus should have been child’s play. I’m tempted to say that their mistake was straying in the direction of humanoid; I know it seems like the obvious route for a cactus but it’s clearly not the only possibility and I think another form would have worked much better (humanoid also further invites comparison to Cacturne, which is never a good thing). I don’t often like saying that a design is objectively bad (well, unless it’s totally derivative or suffers from a complete disconnect with the game mechanics, neither of which Maractus is guilty of) but this one has me tempted.
Now, if we turn on the other hand to the mechanical aspects of how Maractus is put together, I can without hesitation come up with a whole slew of objective reasons why this is a dumb Pokémon. To start things off, Maractus upholds the grand Grass-type tradition of having a tiny, poorly-put together movepool. I don’t know that I’d say her movepool is as bad as Lilligant’s, but only because Maractus’s physical attack stat is decent enough for her to use Poison Jab without being laughed at. Well, no, okay, that was a lie; no-one can use Poison Jab without being laughed at because Poison attacks are awful, but Maractus’s physical attack stat is decent enough for her to pretend she doesn’t care. Small victories. Even Maractus’s support movepool is pretty bad, though, which is distressing because that’s normally a Grass-type’s saving grace; the only promising techniques I can see are the traditional Grass-type mainstay Leech Seed, and Spikes, which sets up a trap to damage your opponent’s Pokémon on every switch. If nothing else, Maractus’s passive abilities are nice. Chlorophyll allows Maractus to actually move quickly if you have something set up Sunny Day for her, which, combined with her good special attack stat, would make her rather threatening. Unfortunately Chlorophyll isn’t exactly unusual for a Grass-type, so using a Maractus with Chlorophyll tends to invite rather awkward questions, such as “why not use Exeggutor?”, “why not use Shiftry?”, “why not use Tangrowth?”, and “for heaven’s sake, why not use Leavanny?”, questions to which Maractus doesn’t really have an answer. Much better to go with Storm Drain (unfortunately this is Maractus’s “hidden ability” so, unless Maractus should suddenly appear in the Dream World, we’ll have to wait for Game Freak to come up with some other way to get a Storm Drain Maractus). Storm Drain grants total immunity to Water-type moves (which means that Water attacks represent an opportunity for Maractus to switch in for free, which we like) and also boosts her special attack whenever a Water attack hits her, thus giving Maractus the potential to act as a very effective answer to Water Pokémon in general. She’ll still be slow without Chlorophyll, of course, and her nonexistent special movepool will quickly put a stop to most anything she might have planned when her Water-type opponent retreats and something trickier comes out instead, but, well, better a one-trick-pony than a dead horse…
You know, I think Game Freak have taken up some kind of position that there should be more Grass-types, but don’t have many actual ideas for Grass-types. This is why they keep churning out frightfully generic Grass Pokémon like Bellossom, and Sunflora, and Cherrim, and Carnivine, and Leafeon, and Simisage, and Lilligant, which are neither interesting nor useful. Part of the trouble is that they seem to have a number of preconceived notions about what Grass Pokémon are and are not allowed to do, and the list of things they are not allowed to do is very long and includes the vast majority of useful special attacks (example: there is one Grass Pokémon that can learn Thunderbolt and one that can learn Surf; there are two that can learn Ice Beam, and you can sure as heck forget about Flamethrower). The result is an irritating surplus of Grass Pokémon like Maractus, whose greatest asset is an excellent special attack stat, and who nonetheless make absolutely terrible special attackers because it is next to impossible to get anywhere on Grass attacks alone, Grass being an appalling offensive type. Many, such as Vileplume, learn to deal with it by focussing on support instead and using their powerful Grass attacks as a backup, but Maractus is just doomed. Doomed, useless, and, if I am any judge, unloved (and if anyone can love a useless Grass-type, it’s me; trust me on that).
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Hand it over to the Mexicans and see if they can’t get some tequila out of it…
EDIT: I didn’t plan things this way, but several months later I realised that my next four entries after Maractus were all Fire-type Pokémon. I think this represents a subconscious desire on my part to burn Maractus until there is nothing left.