Yes, I’ve finally gotten around to the second of Unova’s three starters, the Fire-type Tepig… and so far it doesn’t look so bad. Tepig is pretty cute, I have to admit, and while it’s not the first time we’ve had a pig Pokémon, it is very different from the previous one – Grumpig is a manipulative Psychic-type that specialises in soaking up elemental attacks, while Tepig is intended as a physically-inclined heavy hitter with a bit of survivability. The only major gripe I have with Tepig is that his name is a little bit daft. I don’t know whether Tepig had a fan nickname before the English release of Black and White came out like Snivy and Oshawott (a.k.a. Smugleaf and Wotter) did, but if he had one it has to have been better than Tepig. I understand Game Freak must be running out of fire puns by now – they’ve already used char, magma, flare, molten, cinder, lava, explosion, torch, combust, blaze, erupt, coal and heat – but was tepid really the best word they had left? It makes me think of warm water – not even hot or boiling water, because tepid is basically a synonym for lukewarm. I’ll let Tepig pass on that, though, because he’s cute, generally nicely put together, and actually almost convinced me, for the first time ever, not to pick the Grass-type starter for my first play-through. So, let’s see what he evolves int-
Okay… that just looks ridiculous. Pignite and Emboar are hardly the worst-designed Pokémon I’ve ever seen, but I’m having a hard time taking them seriously. Let’s compare them to the first four Fire-type starters. Charizard is awesome, and that’s not my opinion, that’s fact. He’s a fire-breathing freakin’ dragon, and he is a living symbol of the criminal negligence of the Poké-world’s government in allowing ten-year-old kids to get their hands on such ridiculous power. Personally I’ve never liked Typhlosion much, but to be fair to her she looks a lot better the way Ken Sugimori’s drawn her in the official art than she does in-game. I’m not sure what sort of animal Typhlosion is meant to be, but I’m leaning towards wolverine – one of the most psychotic real-world species on Earth, which Typhlosion lives up to with her access to the rare and devastating Eruption attack. Blaziken looks pretty silly in her art; personally I think her in-game sprites are a good deal more badass. While the execution is often less than ideal, I quite like Blaziken’s design – if nothing else, seeing a bird Pokémon that isn’t a Flying-type is refreshing (although the way her concept apparently references the practice of cockfighting has certain unfortunate implications). I’ve talked in the past about why I like Infernape; mostly because I approve of the idea of a Fighting-type that relies on speed and dexterity rather than physical power. I know there are people who don’t like Infernape but I for one don’t understand their position; I’ve always thought he’s pretty badass. Looking at Emboar, the swirling patterns on his chest make me think that the designers were going for the same aesthetic as they did with Infernape (look at the golden swirls on his shoulders, chest, knees and wrists) but went completely overboard with it; Infernape’s design was more subtle with them and it worked. The barrel-shaped body is supposed to emphasise Emboar’s stability, I guess, but I can’t help but think that it just makes him look fat. It doesn’t help his case that his signature move, Heat Crash, does damage based on how much heavier he is than his target (incidentally, how come Emboar and Samurott get signature moves and Serperior doesn’t, huh?). I am gradually warming to Emboar somewhat, mostly because the things I don’t like about him, in particular his total lack of grace, are almost certainly intentional to the design. I’ve seen worse Pokémon in the past (*cough*Watchog*cough*) and I’m certainly going to again before I’m done with Black and White; I just don’t think he matches up to Charizard or Infernape. Pignite, on the other hand, really is stupid and nothing is ever going to change that.
While I’m on the subject of unfavourably comparing Emboar to his predecessors, I’d like to bring up my irritation that the designers went for the Fire/Fighting type combination again – this being the same one taken up by Combusken and Monferno, the middle forms of Blaziken and Infernape. Why? No-one thought that Servine and Dewott needed secondary types, so why slap one on Pignite? And, given that this was going to be done, why choose the same secondary type that the past two Fire starters got? All this aside, it could be worse. Infernape leaves you with the distinct impression that the design brief for the Sinnoh Fire starter was “Blaziken, only better.” Compared to Blaziken, Infernape basically exchanges raw power for speed (he also gets a better selection of moves; some Pokémon have all the luck). The thing is, though, neither one can really take a hit, but Infernape is fast enough not to care because he can level his targets before they can fight back – and Fire and Fighting are such good attacking types with such powerful attacks available to them, notably Flare Blitz, Close Combat and Fire Blast, that Infernape’s relatively weaker attacking strength doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things (in Black and White Blaziken gets her own back by gaining the obscenely good Speed Boost ability, but that’s another story). I was momentarily worried that Emboar was going to be just another out of the same mould, since that had been proven to be a winning formula, but a look at his design and a brief glance at his numbers are enough to tell that Nintendo was going for something quite different this time. In terms of offensive might, he blows Infernape out of the water, and he’s tougher as well, but he’s also quite slow. The point was clearly to build something capable of taking a hit and then striking back with overwhelming force. The problem is that it’s not going to work. Emboar is tough… compared to Blaziken and Infernape, who take hits like teenage pop-stars. Compared to other tank Pokémon he’s really nothing special. The other problem is that while offensively Fire and Fighting are two great tastes that taste great together, defensively they’re really nothing special. In particular, the idea of a Fire-type tank is badly damaged by the weaknesses to Earthquake and Surf, two of the most common attacks in the game. I’m being very hard on Emboar again, though. He can hit hard with both physical and elemental attacks and his movepool is pretty impressive: as well as his Fire and Fighting attacks, he can learn Earthquake, Stone Edge, Head Smash, Wild Charge… if you’re willing to work with his weaker special attack stat, there’s Grass Knot, and even a Water-type attack, Scald, making him (as far as I know) the only Fire Pokémon in existence to learn a strong Water attack. You can even try to patch up his terrible speed with Flame Charge, a weak new physical Fire attack that makes its user faster with every strike. With all these options, and more I won’t get into, I’m sure you could make something out of Emboar – it’s just that, once again, he won’t match up to the other Fire/Fighting starters since his defences are quite suspect and he’s too slow to forget it.
I really don’t know about Tepig, Pignite and Emboar. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true; I love Tepig and I hate Pignite, but I really, really don’t know about Emboar. I don’t like him personally but I’m not happy calling him an objectively bad design either. He’s far from unusable; in fact he’s probably stronger than most of the Pokémon I’ve looked at so far, but I think we’re all sick of Fire/Fighting starters after Blaziken and Infernape and it doesn’t help that Emboar simply doesn’t meet the standard of raw kickassery that they set.
Oh, screw it; I’ll let him live. But Pignite is to be cast into the pit!
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!