The time has come at last, my friends, to fill that nagging gap I’ve left behind me: time to talk about the third Unova starter, Oshawott. Now, I saw Oshawott for the first time back when Nintendo revealed the Unova starters last year (at the time, he had the fan nickname Wotter), and my first thought was that he’d pretty clearly been dropped on his head as a child. Tepig and Snivy are so much more expressive in the official art; Tepig is happy-go-lucky and cute, while Snivy is a smug bastard, but Oshawott just looks vacant. Personally I think someone dropped the ball on Oshawott’s official art and in-game sprite (which looks the same); in the show you can see Oshawott with actual facial expressions, making him look cute, proud, even devious – here, by contrast, he looks like a lobotomy outpatient. This is a shame because it made a lot of people, including me, dismiss Oshawott without serious consideration – and, moreover, before meeting his awesome evolved forms, Dewott and Samurott. The concept behind this line is that they’re samurai Pokémon. Lacking steel weapons, Oshawott fights with the razor-edged shell on his front, which is called a scalchop. A scalchop can be thrown or used in hand-to-hand combat, and is represented in the game by Oshawott’s signature move, Razor Shell. Dewott has two scalchops which he wields together, and Samurott has a pair of huge shell swords, which are normally tucked into the armour plates on his front legs (in Japanese the swords are called ashigatana – sea lion katana – but the name hasn’t appeared in any English media yet since the word doesn’t appear in the Pokédex). Although I haven’t seem him do it, I… presume Samurott can stand on his hind legs in battle because his swords wouldn’t be much use otherwise – and, as little credit as I normally give Game Freak, I can’t imagine that would slip past even them. Seriously, though, Samurott is a pretty badass Pokémon – the Pokédex tells us that he can actually avoid a lot of fights just by staring his opponents down, and I can believe that. The shell blades do a good job of combining the elements of the design where they could have been ham-fistedly pasted together (not that having Dewott wear padded samurai armour and wield a steel katana wouldn’t have been fun too, but it’s not exactly Pokémon).
So, how does Oshawott stack up against the previous Water starters? Although I usually like Water Pokémon in general, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Water-type starters but I’ll try my best to be fair. I will join the ranks of countless other Pokémon fans before me in declaring Squirtle absolutely adorable but my heart belongs to Bulbasaur now and forever. I just don’t think the Squirtle line are as interesting or creative as their counterparts… Blastoise is pretty damn badass though. As far as practical applications go, Blastoise is a fairly generic bulky Water Pokémon but does have a niche as a Rapid Spin-user. Johto’s Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr are hopelessly bland, in my opinion – and historically they were also terrible Pokémon, since their greatest strength is an excellent physical attack stat, which went unused since before Diamond and Pearl all Water-type moves were special attacks. The fourth generation gave them some cool toys, like physical Water and Ice attacks, Swords Dance and Dragon Dance, but Feraligatr still winds up playing second fiddle to Gyarados to at least some extent. I don’t like the Hoenn Water line, Mudkip, Marshtomp and Swampert, very much, but from a dispassionate viewpoint I have to admit they’re very well done; the “big ugly brute” aesthetic doesn’t appeal to me but they’re a fine example and a creative one at that – and what’s more, Swampert is one of the very few starters who managed to actually be really powerful on a competitive level as opposed to merely decent. My favourites by a long shot, though, are the Sinnoh Water-types, Piplup, Prinplup and Empoleon – and only partially because Game Freak managed to do a penguin Pokémon without automatically making it an Ice-type. Empoleon’s charisma and formidable bearing are just great qualities in a partner Pokémon, and his type combination (Water/Steel) is unique and has an odd but powerful resistance profile. People don’t use Empoleon much but there are one or two rather specific tactics that he does very well, so don’t underestimate him. Samurott goes for the same general feel as Empoleon, I think, and I’m not sure who does it better, or which design is more creative (though I certainly feel he blows Feraligatr out of the water – so to speak – in that department). On the whole, I think these guys compare pretty favourably – in terms of their design, at least (well, except for Oshawott’s terrible art; anyone who was first exposed to Oshawott through Ken Sugimori’s official artwork needs to go and watch Ash’s Oshawott kick some butt on the TV show right away). But are they as strong as their predecessors? Let’s find out.
As I alluded to earlier, most starter Pokémon are not incredibly strong. They tend to have high stats, which makes them a good bet in-game, but they rarely possess the versatility and depth to perform in high-powered competitive play (the principle exceptions being Swampert, Blaziken and Infernape, though Empoleon and Charizard have niche uses and the others are far from unusable). Samurott is no different. With few weaknesses and attacks that are difficult to resist, Water is one of the best single types in the game – but it’s also the most common, so Water Pokémon need to have cool tricks if they want to stand out. Samurott is of average speed at best, and he’s not particularly tough for a Water-type, so his main draw is that he has excellent scores in both his attack and special attack stats, which makes it trickier for opponents to guess what kind of defence they need to mount. The trouble is that Samurott suffers from some unfortunate mismatches in this regard. His special movepool is far better than his physical movepool, with Grass Knot and Air Slash to back up the Water-type standards of Surf and Ice Beam, but it’s his physical side that gets the wonderful set-up move Swords Dance. The only really worthwhile physical attack Samurott has outside his Water attacks is Megahorn – which, don’t get me wrong, is a great move and does some pretty serious damage to most Grass-types, but it still leaves Samurott with some discomforting holes in his offensive coverage. If nothing else, he does have some good choices as far as Water attacks go – Aqua Jet, the Water-type Quick Attack, can help to compensate for his poor speed, and his signature move, Razor Shell, while it is a bit weak, has a 50% chance to weaken its target’s physical defence, which makes taking another attack from Samurott a far dodgier proposition than you might have bargained for – but they’re still just more Water attacks. He can Taunt defensive Pokémon to lock down their support moves, which is nice, or Encore them to force them to repeat those moves over and over, temporarily disabling them, but I don’t know that there’s really anything to recommend Samurott in particular as a user of these moves.
Again I find myself on the fence. Dewott and Samurott are a bit bland and lacklustre in battle, and it’s really weird that their special attack score is the higher of their two offensive stats, considering their design, but they’re cool, creative Pokémon, and they’re not by any means terrible. You know what, though? The internet hates Oshawott and he doesn’t deserve it. He’s not nearly as bad as his regrettable artwork makes him look and damnit, he’s been through enough. I wish Samurott could learn, say, Stone Edge, or Superpower, maybe even Beartic’s Icicle Crash, but, heck, he’s not that bad.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist (and they’d damn well better be grateful)!