I’ve probably mentioned before that I quite like slightly darker takes on Pokémon, primarily because I think the setting and many of the creatures have a lot of potential for that kind of plot (witness, for instance, some of the spinoff games like Colosseum on the GameCube). A startling number of Pokémon already have some surprisingly dark designs and flavour text; even in the original games Cubone wore the skulls of their dead parents as helmets, which is pretty strong for a kids’ game when you think about it. The Pokédex also reports a couple of disturbing urban legends – like a Hypno abducting a child, and a boy with telekinetic abilities waking up one morning mysteriously transformed into a Kadabra. Gyarados, meanwhile, is famed for levelling cities and Mewtwo is, if anything, more destructive still. Ghost Pokémon, of course, take the cake; for instance, Ruby and Sapphire’s Shedinja, a mysterious Pokémon that seems to possess the shell shed by Nincada when it evolves into Ninjask, supposedly steals the soul of anyone who looks into the crack in its back. I could go on about this for days, you understand, but what I mean to do here is give you a little context for when I start talking about today’s Pokémon, the Ghost-types Yamask and Cofagrigus, because Yamask’s design… in some ways is not nearly as troubling as some of what we’ve seen in the past, but in other ways is so much worse.
Game Freak have been very evasive in the past about what Ghost Pokémon actually are. All I’m sure of is that many, perhaps most, of them aren’t really ghosts at all but do possess supernatural powers related to death and the dead. However, in the case of Yamask, a Pokémon found in ancient ruins and burial sites, they’ve been very up-front with us. They’re ghosts, all right; these Pokémon were once people. Yamask’s mask is a stylised representation of the face it had when it was alive. Sometimes, the Pokédex says, it looks at its mask and cries, because it can remember its former life. So… these are the spirits of people, who have somehow been transformed into these ghostly shadows and have been wandering through the ruins of their destroyed civilization for centuries weeping for the lives they remember leading… and we’re going to stuff them into tiny balls and train them to fight for our amusement.
Fellow trainers, we are horrible, horrible people.
Still a cool back-story though.
By all accounts, Yamask get their own back when they evolve into Cofagrigus (this is one of the most dramatic evolutions I’ve seen in a while, but I think the continuation of the Egyptian aesthetic just about holds it together). Basically they turn into massive golden sarcophagi that eat people and mummify them, employing a tactic common in real animals – that of pretending to be something appetising or otherwise attractive to lure prey – except that their prey is grave robbers. Cofagrigus feed on gold and incorporate it into their bodies, creating the distinctive golden armour that both tricks looters into drawing close and protects them from all but the strongest physical attacks. One of my pet peeves with the Pokémon world is that all archaeologists are looters and treasure hunters, so personally I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of many of them being eaten by angry sentient coffins and turned into zombie minions. It’s a fun concept that adds to the air of mystery around the ancient civilizations of the Pokémon universe; I just wish we’d gotten to see it developed further.
As I said, Cofagrigus are extremely tough Pokémon. The low hit point total hurts, but his excellent special defence and absurd physical defence help to compensate. Likewise, the Ghost element has resistances that aren’t particularly helpful and a painful weakness to Dark attacks (which will come up often thanks to the number of people that like to use Pursuit and Sucker Punch) but is strongly benefited by its immunities to Normal and Fighting attacks. The main problem Cofagrigus has is inability to heal; most Ghost types can at least fake it with Pain Split (this doesn’t heal exactly; instead it splits the remaining health of the user and the target evenly between them), but Cofagrigus can’t and has to rely on Rest, which is by no means unworkable but tends to complicate things. The good news is that Cofagrigus can boost his special attack and special defence simultaneously with Calm Mind, already has crazy-good physical defence, and is reasonably adept with energy attacks to begin with. This is probably his best option, I think – slowly chewing his way through the opposition with powerful special attacks and defences that will rapidly become all but untouchable, occasionally taking a nap to heal up. Sadly, he doesn’t have a strong offensive movepool – besides Shadow Ball, which is something of a given, all he’s really got are Energy Ball and Psychic, which both come from pretty lacklustre offensive types, so he’ll need to use Calm Mind quite a few times to be sure of blowing through all the resistances he’ll meet. Cofagrigus can also spread burns around with Will’o’Wisp to steadily damage foes and neuter their physical attacks, which is always useful, especially as he doesn’t have enough hit points to fully exploit his wonderful defence score. The only other really attractive options I can see here are Trick Room (something you want to build a team around – basically, sets up a distorted space where slower is faster) and Disable, which has been steadily improving since it was introduced in Red and Blue and is now 100% accurate; given Cofagrigus’ immunities and good defences it’s entirely possible you’ll encounter Pokémon now and then with only one move capable of severely hurting him, in which case Disabling that move will really throw a spanner in the works (Gengar is better at this, though).
Mechanically speaking Cofagrigus does rather step on the toes of Dusclops and his evolution Dusknoir, from Ruby/Sapphire and Diamond/Pearl respectively – two heavily defence-focussed pure Ghost-types with significantly wider movepools than Cofagrigus (what’s more, other than Calm Mind there’s nothing in particular Cofagrigus does much better than they do). Luckily, our sinister sarcophagus does have one thing they can’t take: a unique ability (for those who haven’t been with us for a while, abilities are the passive skills all Pokémon have that were introduced in Ruby and Sapphire). His ability is Mummy, which has no effect of its own but copies itself onto any Pokémon that touches Cofagrigus, overwriting that Pokémon’s own ability in the process. For most opponents this will be more an annoyance than anything else but a few specific Pokémon will find it absolutely crippling – Azumarill, for instance, will have her attack score cut in half if she loses Huge Power and will no longer be able to meaningfully harm Cofagrigus, while Gliscor and Breloom, who normally regenerate while poisoned and so typically carry an item called a Toxic Orb to poison themselves, will suddenly start taking severe poison damage when they lose Poison Heal. These are, again, fairly specific cases – they represent a niche use for Cofagrigus, valuable not because it’s extremely powerful but more because no one else can do it without wasting a move slot on Gastro Acid or whatever.
Cofagrigus has problems. He should be able to make a pretty decent tank or wall, but just doesn’t have enough tools to make use of his natural endowments. If nothing else, it would’ve been really nice if he’d been given Pain Split or something. Still, it’s not impossible to make something of Cofagrigus, and Mummy makes him an absolute nightmare for Breloom, Gliscor, Hariyama, Conkeldurr, Heracross, Azumarill, Scizor, and a few others. What’s more, Yamask is frankly just too much fun not to keep, with a fun – if disturbing – concept that makes me interested to see more.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!