It’s funny, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Water-type starters. Funny, because some of my favourite Pokémon are Water-types. Maybe it’s because they’re always juxtaposed with the Grass-type starters, which for me is no contest. If that’s the case, then perhaps examining them in isolation will make the truth come out. Let’s give it a try…
Squirtle is adorable. As far as cuteness goes, amongst the first-generation starters Squirtle’s nailed it. Of course, I think turtles are just adorable animals by nature, but it’s hard not to go all warm and gooey inside when you see him staring up at you in Sugimori’s art over there. However, this does bring up my problem with Squirtle, since, sadly, I do have one; he’s… well, just a turtle. Apart from the squirrel-like tail (which does, I must concede, further multiply his cuteness factor) the designers haven’t really done much with him, which I think is typical of the flaws in many of the less creative Water-types and symptomatic of a problem in the way Water Pokémon are designed: Water, compared to Fire and Grass, is an element with requirements that are relatively mundane and easy to meet. All you need is for your Pokémon to live in the water. This is part of the reason there are so damn many of them; more than 1/6 of all Pokémon are Water-types, which makes it the most common element by a comfortable margin, and a lot of them are just ‘this Pokémon is an animal that lives in the water!’ Not all Water Pokémon fall into this trap, of course (like I said, some of my favourites are Water-types), nor is Squirtle without merits, but I can’t help but feel that he is, overall, a less creative concept than Charmander or Bulbasaur. Evolution to Wartortle makes him a bit more elaborate; the rudder-like ears and luxuriantly furry wave-crest tail are nice touches, and although his cultural association with longevity is a bit predictable for a turtle Pokémon, it’s still good background detail. If Squirtle is too little changed from a standard turtle, I think Wartortle is just right; the development of the tail into an actual eye-catching feature that’s evocative of his element was exactly what that design needed. Finally we have Blastoise, who feels a little odd to me. Venusaur and Charizard both feel as though they continue the same changes that we see in Ivysaur and Charmeleon; the flower bursting into bloom on Ivysaur’s back as he slowly takes on a primeval appearance, the horns growing on Charmeleon’s head as he begins to leave behind his lizard form and become something more. Blastoise, with his stubby tail and understated ears, reverses the changes we see as Squirtle evolves into Wartortle, in particular losing the physical aspects that are responsible for Wartortle’s connotations of age and experience, almost as though he’s just decided to go in a different direction entirely. He suddenly begins to look a lot more like a real-world turtle again… except of course that Blastoise has high-powered water cannons, for no other reason than because they’re awesome. What’s the deal with these, anyway? Are they made of bone? Metal? Either raises odd questions, so again, it’s best to go with the awesome and not try to explain it. The fun thing about Blastoise is that his cannons aren’t just for direct attacks; he can also use them as boosters to increase the speed and power of his tackles (so presumably he can rotate them backwards?), which makes him sound even more badass.
You might have guessed I’m a bit conflicted about Blastoise. It’s impossible to deny that he’s a brutally awesome Pokémon. However, I’m bothered by a lot of the details, particularly the way the whole evolutionary line fits together. I do like Squirtle, Wartortle and Blastoise, particularly Wartortle, but I don’t think this design is as carefully thought-out or coordinated as those of the other two starters – and I think I know why. This is the list of hexadecimal index numbers used by the game engine of Red and Blue to identify all of the first-generation Pokémon. This list has prompted a lot of fascinating discussions I don’t really have time to get into, but what matters today is that many people believe it represents the order in which the first-generation Pokémon were designed and programmed into the game (mainly because Rhydon, who is independently known to have been the first Pokémon ever created, is at the top, and there’s no other ordering principle to the list). What’s interesting is the position of the starters. Ivysaur is one of the oldest designs, while Bulbasaur and Venusaur come in together at a much later point, suggesting that they were designed around Ivysaur, giving the whole line cohesion. Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard seem to have been thrown in almost at the last minute, all together (so they’re essentially a single design), at the same time as Squirtle and Wartortle – I’m guessing this represents the moment the Grass/Fire/Water starter paradigm was created – but Blastoise is much older. You can construct a number of other interesting patterns from this list. Dragonite predates Dratini and Dragonair just as Blastoise predates Squirtle and Wartortle. Psyduck and Golduck were not created together. Gastly, Haunter and Gengar were all designed at different times, and Haunter came last. Assuming that the index numbers do indeed represent what they are often taken to represent, this might explain my frustrating little details; Blastoise was originally a stand-alone design, and Squirtle and Wartortle were much newer pre-evolutions that fit with each other, but don’t quite match the original idea.
That’s quite enough of my baseless speculation, though; if you’re reading this you probably want to know what I think of Blastoise’s capabilities. Blastoise kind of fell flat in Red and Blue because he didn’t really do anything that other Water-types didn’t; all of them could learn Water and Ice attacks, most of them were tanks, and (unlike Charizard) Blastoise wasn’t unique in his ability to learn Earthquake. Gold and Silver gave Blastoise the tools that have been his mainstay ever since: superior special defence, from the splitting of the special stat, and Rapid Spin. Rapid Spin is one of the vital necessities of competitive Pokémon, since it’s the only way to get rid of ‘entry hazards,’ traps that damage your Pokémon every time you switch; relatively few Pokémon can actually learn it, so those that do are almost guaranteed a niche (except for Delibird, because he is silly), as Blastoise has been for all these years. He also picked up a couple of amusing tricks like Curse, Roar and Mirror Coat, followed by Yawn and Iron Defence in Ruby and Sapphire, adding to his talents as a defensive utility Pokémon. Most of the fourth generation’s presents for Blastoise were diversifications of his offensive movepool – Focus Blast, Flash Cannon, Zen Headbutt, Aqua Jet, Signal Beam and, in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, the coveted Water Spout – but he’s not fast enough or powerful enough for aggressive strategies to make sense for him, and he didn’t really gain anything that added to his specialist role. Blastoise still is, and probably always will be, a support Pokémon first and foremost; in addition to all the utility powers he had before, he’s picked up Dragon Tail, so he can smack Pokémon around while forcing them out of play, and like most of the Water-type crowd, he now has access to Scald, a less powerful trade-in for Surf that can cause burns, crippling physical attackers. What Blastoise lacks in Black and White is a conspicuously game-changing Dream World ability (also Shell Smash, which would let him do something with that aforementioned offensive movepool, but I guess Carracosta would still be better at that anyway). Chlorophyll and Solar Power fundamentally alter Venusaur and Charizard’s capabilities, while Blastoise’s Rain Dish… well, if you were planning on building a rain team anyway, the extra trickle of healing will certainly help Blastoise to do his job better, but it’s no substitute for an actual healing technique, the absence of which is one of the main things holding Blastoise back. It’s not a bad ability, especially not for a defensive Pokémon, but Venusaur and Charizard’s new toys kinda leave Blastoise in the dust on this one.
I really wish I could think of something as nice to say about Squirtle and his evolutions as I did about Bulbasaur and Charmander, because I don’t think they’re bad Pokémon by any measure. I’m just… sort of ambivalent. They’re… y’know. They’re okay. They don’t make me want to rave about how wonderfully designed they are, or how versatile and powerful they are; nor have they committed any real sins, and if I had been looking over Red and Blue prior to their original release, I probably would have passed over them without comment. Whoo.
That is all.
You may go.