Just out of curiosity, does anyone remember which Pokémon from Red and Blue was referred to in the Pokédex as the “Hermitcrab Pokémon”? That’s right: it was… Slowbro?
No, I don’t know either. I guess Slowbro could be said to take inspiration from hermit crabs in that he uses another creature’s shell as his own, except that in his case the other creature is still living in it too and the shell is obviously too small to fit anything more than his tail inside it anyway… so yeah; I’m not sure what they were smoking when they came up with that one (but Slowbro is still awesome). I only bring up Slowbro because today’s Pokémon, some thirteen years later, actually is a hermit crab.
Took ya long enough!
Unlike Slowbro, however, who grabs the base concept and takes a flying leap down the proverbial rabbit hole, Dwebble gives you a fighting chance at following the designers’ logic. See, while a real hermit crab looks for nice abandoned shells to make his home in, Dwebble looks for… rocks. His acidic saliva allows him to hollow out likely-looking stones, then he crawls inside and suddenly has a nice solid protective shell. Without the rock on his back Dwebble actually looks something like a scorpion, with a curved tail which… well, I honestly don’t know what that’s for. So, why does Dwebble not use shells like any sensible hermit crab? Because he lives in the middle of the desert, of course. It’s an illogical but at the same time vaguely intuitive leap to move a crab from the beach to the desert: exactly the kind of leap that tends to produce interesting Pokémon, which is great. Whenever Dwebble’s rock is broken – which, the Pokédex seems to imply, isn’t all that rare an occurrence – he becomes nervous and agitated until he finds a new one, understandably enough. What the Pokédex doesn’t say, conspicuously, is whether Dwebble abandons old rocks and finds new, larger ones as he grows like a real hermit crab – I’m not sure whether that’s because he doesn’t do this or because we’re supposed to infer that he does, though I suspect the latter. All in all, this isn’t exactly a deep concept, but it might be informative to compare this to, for instance, Beartic, whom I looked at last week. Beartic is a polar bear with exactly the powers and abilities you’d expect polar bears to have if they were Pokémon, and little to no elaboration beyond that. Dwebble is a hermit crab, only he lives in the desert, and lives inside rocks instead of shells, and since he obviously can’t wait for rocks that happen to be hollow to turn up, he has acidic saliva that allows him to hollow them out himself. They’ve made changes from the base animal that are interesting and consistent – and this is enough to keep me happy. See? I really don’t ask for all that much here.
Now, with Crustle, they’ve developed this idea in a way that I think is really strange, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Crustle is basically a big flat crab with a massive slab of stratified rock on his back, which he carries around huge deserts for days on end using his incredible strength and endurance. Why? Well, we know Crustle are very territorial, so it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for them to travel long distances regularly… but then again, they are also very competitive and often engage in fierce battles with each other, so the loser of such a fight might very well have to walk quite a long way to find a new stomping-ground. As for why on earth they lug the damn things around on their backs in the first place, because if they’re just for protection then they’re a very impractical way of getting it… I honestly didn’t go into this expecting to find a sensible reason for that (it’s a creative advancement on Dwebble’s design, but it’s also really bizarre) but I actually think there is one: we’re told that when Crustle fight for territory, the loser is the one whose enormous bloody slab of rock breaks first. The implication of this could be that the rocks are actually a kind of status symbol, if you can believe it – which is not without parallel in the real world; it’s more common in birds than crustaceans but some species actually cultivate impractical features, on the basis that the individual with the most outrageous [whatever] must be exceptionally strong to be able to cope with such a handicap, and therefore an attractive mate. This concept is making a whole lot more sense than I thought it would when I first met Crustle. More Pokémon like this and I might start thinking Game Freak’s designers are actually competent.
As always, I mean to look at Crustle’s mechanical portrayal as well. His type, logically enough, is Bug/Rock – not new, but not overdone either. Shuckle had this combination in Gold and Silver, followed by Anorith and Armaldo in Ruby and Sapphire. Shuckle’s a weird little Pokémon who has almost no offensive capabilities whatsoever but can take a jackhammer to the face without so much as flinching, while Armaldo is a big, slow, blade-festooned monstrosity who’s reasonably tough but excels most at stabbing things in the face. Both suffer from the fact that Bug/Rock is a very powerful offensive combination but a relatively poor defensive one – these Pokémon have only two resistances (to Poison and Normal, themselves two of the worst offensive types in the game, and consequently among the least often used). Crustle is more defensively-inclined than Armaldo and thus suffers for it even more. Their movepools are fairly similar – with one notable exception I’ll get to later, I don’t think there’s much of anything Crustle can do that Armaldo can’t. Their meaningful offensive options are for the most part identical (strong Bug attack + strong Rock attack + Earthquake = fun times); since Crustle is more defensive, though, you probably want him to be on support duty anyway, and his choices there aren’t wide, but they’re good: everyone loves Stealth Rock because it makes switching Pokémon in and out a painful decision for your opponents, causing damage each time in proportion to a Pokémon’s vulnerability to Rock attacks, and not many Pokémon actually learn it in Black and White since there’s no TM for it anymore (Armaldo, for instance, can only have Stealth Rock if you teach it to him on an older game and subsequently move him up). Spikes is on his list as well, and while Spikes is generally inferior to Stealth Rock because it needs to be used three times to reach full effectiveness, it’s good to have both if that’s your thing. Crustle’s tough enough to get at least a couple of turns to prepare these – in fact, with his ability, Sturdy, it’s actually impossible to knock Crustle out with a single attack, so he’s a decent choice for this job. If you want what really makes Crustle interesting, though, you want Shell Smash. Shell Smash is a lovely new set-up move that weakens your defences but also makes you twice as fast and twice as strong. Only a scant handful of Pokémon can learn this attack; in Crustle’s case, it turns him from a defensive Pokémon into the dangerous sweeper that his type combination wants him to be. The defensive penalties make it a dangerous technique to be using, and it doesn’t help that there are relatively few other things Crustle can do, since nearly any trainer will be on guard for this strategy the moment Crustle shows up. If you can pull it off, though, he’d be difficult to stop.
I didn’t like Crustle at first, but I have to admit he’s growing on me – and I never had any really serious doubts about Dwebble. They’re a creative concept, they’re not exactly powerful but they have a very rare skill and the potential to use it effectively, and they haven’t committed any sins against game balance or the spirit of Pokémon. What more can I reasonably ask for?
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!