I think it started as an April Fools’ joke, to be honest. One day, someone at Game Freak went down to the pit where they keep the creature design guys, lined them all up, and said to them, apparently with a straight face,
“Tauros, but with ridiculous hair. Make it happen.”
When one of them emerged a week later with the stack of designs they were hoping to exchange for bread and water, this thing was in the pile. No-one remembered that it had been a joke because the guy who thought of it had been killed for a trivial offense the day before, so they decided to run with it, the creature design department got a dozen extra tofu bars and Bouffalant made it into the final game.
I may have embellished the details slightly but I’m pretty sure that’s approximately how it happened.
Honestly, though, Bouffalant really is Tauros, but with ridiculous hair. Tauros is a large, powerful, angry wild bull that likes charging things. Bouffalant is a large, powerful, angry wild bull (okay, bison, but that’s still a bovine; it counts) that likes charging things and has an afro three times the size of his own head. The base concepts are identical. The way Tauros has been made to stand out is that he has three tails which he uses like whips, lashing not other Pokémon but himself, to make himself angrier so he’ll attack that much harder. Personally I think this is pretty badass. The way Bouffalant has been made to stand out is his ridiculous hair. What’s more, the design really takes his hair seriously; it’s part of his battle tactics. Bouffalant’s afro acts as a gigantic shock absorber that allows him to charge his foes all the more recklessly. I’m going to say this again, because it bears repeating. Bouffalant has an enormous afro so it can cushion his head against the impact of a charge. Just go with it. Apparently Game Freak felt this was so important to the design that they made a signature move for him out of it, Head Charge (the Japanese name for this attack – and I’m not even joking – is a direct transliteration of the phrase “Afro Break”). There are at least a dozen Pokémon with special abilities that practically beg to be made into signature moves that emphasise their uniqueness, and they made one out of Bouffalant’s hair? I… just… why? I shouldn’t be annoyed because this is the kind of cool toy I think a lot more Pokémon should get, but I am! Why would you spend the effort on a comedic knock-off of Tauros? More generally, if the concept had been shelved in the first place, which other Pokémon would have gotten more attention? That is, frankly, what I think should have been done, because putting Tauros in Black and White instead and giving him a new power or two would have taken one tenth the time and effort of creating from scratch a Pokémon that turned out to be nothing new or special anyway. These people badly need to sort out their priorities.
Let’s talk about the objective stuff; that’ll make me feel better.
So, Head Charge. It’s a massively powerful Normal-type attack, similar to Double Edge in that it causes the user to take recoil damage. The difference is that Double Edge’s recoil damage is 33% of the damage it deals to the target, while Head Charge’s is only 25% (because of the protective afro). Whatever else I may think about Bouffalant, this attack is excellent and no-one should ever use him without it. Together with Bouffalant’s prodigious physical strength, Head Charge ensures that he can cause heavy damage to anything that doesn’t resist Normal attacks. The trouble is, Rock and Steel Pokémon do resist Normal attacks, and Ghost Pokémon are completely immune to them, but nothing in the game is weak to Normal attacks. Obviously, Bouffalant is going to need some other attacks for variety. Like all truly dedicated bruiser Pokémon, he can learn Earthquake, a good choice on just about anything and a solid answer to many Rock- and Steel-types. Stone Edge generally works very well alongside Earthquake but is somewhat prone to going off-target, and I don’t think it’s strictly necessary since Bouffalant has so many options. Megahorn gives you a strong Bug-type attack, its sheer power making up for the fact that Bug is a relatively weak offensive type, or alternatively, Payback provides a Dark attack with which to hammer Ghost-types. One very nice thing Bouffalant gets is Wild Charge, a physical Electric attack – these are normally a little sub-par, and Wild Charge is no exception, being slightly less powerful than the energy-based Thunderbolt and causing recoil damage into the bargain, but in Bouffalant’s case the recoil damage is actually a good thing because one of his abilities, Reckless, beefs up the damage output of all attacks with recoil damage (and Bouffalant can take recoil damage pretty well; he’s very resilient all-around). With this factored in, Wild Charge (and Head Charge too) are frighteningly powerful. The alternative to Reckless is Sap Sipper, which grants immunity to Grass attacks and actually makes Grass attacks strengthen Bouffalant even more – the trick is, it won’t be all that easy to find Grass attacks to switch him into since their comparative uselessness makes them fairly rare, so Reckless is probably better (still good if you’re really scared of, say, Whimsicott though). Bouffalant can also send his attack score sky-high by learning Swords Dance, which I would normally be pretty excited about, but the way Bouffalant handles in battle just isn’t suited to that kind of tactic; he’s strong and he’s tough, but by Arceus he’s slow. Swords Dance might let him smash one Pokémon or scare it off, but if your opponent then sends out a faster Pokémon with a strong Fighting attack, there’s not much choice but to switch Bouffalant out, and then you’re back to square one. You’re better off just hitting things, which is really all Bouffalant can do – aside from Swords Dance, he’s a point-and-stab Pokémon, no bells and no whistles, but he is decent at it.
Despite being a straight Normal-type with a high physical attack score, Bouffalant actually works very differently to Tauros, whose main selling-point is that he’s wonderfully fast. That’s not going to make me forgive him, though; all it means is that in practical terms he’s a bit more like Snorlax. It’s still a terrible design that is distinguished from an existing one solely by an unbelievably stupid gimmick. In short, I stand by my original account of how Bouffalant came into being; I’m not sure how else it could have happened.
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let it be locked up in a shearing shed forevermore!