Coming to you from Los Angeles Airport as I wait for my connecting flight to Auckland! Isn’t that exciting? Well, no, not really, but this is my life apparently. Anyway.
We’ve just had a dog, so now let’s have some cats. We’ve had loads of cats before, but these ones at least have the decency to be weird, alien cats with mysterious powers. I’m torn between wondering why we needed more cats after Persian, Delcatty, Purugly and Liepard, and being relieved that Espurr and Meowstic are not just the pampered pets with few notable powers that we’ve come to expect from cat Pokémon in the past. These cats certainly have a few tricks up their sleeves… or rather, their ears (as we’ll see)… so let’s take a look and figure out what makes them worth our time.
Espurr and Meowstic are known as the ‘Restraint Pokémon’ and the ‘Constraint Pokémon.’ They possess absolutely devastating psychic powers, possibly the greatest of any non-legendary Psychic Pokémon described to date (though it’s hard to tell because any sort of quantification of psychic power is hard to come by in Pokémon) – the Pokédex credits Meowstic with the ability to disintegrate a heavy-duty truck with the sheer force of their telekinetic blasts. Unfortunately, their control over these powers is somewhat lacking. I’m not exactly certain how serious this lack of control is, but I think the implication is that actually unbinding that degree of power would mean subjecting everything in a 90-metre radius to the full force of their psionic wrath – this, in many cases, would probably be a bad idea. The idea of someone’s ‘true power’ being too wild and dangerous to use except in the most dire of circumstances is a fairly well-explored one in fiction about super-powered characters, particularly psychic ones because mental abilities are often associated with discipline and force of will; I think even Pokémon has had one or two designs before that draw on the theme, like Golurk, whose overwhelming power is kept in check by the seal on his chest. The weird thing about the way Espurr and Meowstic handle that trope is exactly how they keep their powers under control: they emit psychic energy from a pair of eyeball-patterned organs inside their ears, so they can apparently hold it in quite simply by folding up their ears to cover these glands. So apparently these are the kind of psychic powers that can be blocked by flimsy layers of fur and cartilege. Well, it makes sense that containment would involve something fairly straightforward – otherwise these Pokémon would surely have levelled Kalos long ago – but it does make the whole thing seem a little bit silly. On the other hand, Espurr’s art and in-game model do a good job of conveying the idea that she’s basically a walking bomb – her posture is stiff, her eyes wide and staring, as if constantly under stress and potentially about to explode (this also gives her a very different aesthetic feel to previous cat Pokémon). Meowstic appear, appropriately enough, to have grown a bit more comfortable with the whole thing; their movements remain understated and controlled, though, and they keep their ears firmly folded over, just in case. Training these Pokémon, unusually, is an exercise in getting them to unleash power they already have – very carefully.
Aside from the radical and dangerous psychic abilities, Meowstic’s other big thing is somewhat more obvious: pronounced sexual dimorphism. The females are white with blue trim and yellow eyes, the males blue with white trim and blue-green eyes. They also adopt very different battle roles – their stats are the same, but they learn very different sets of moves as they level; the males favour support techniques, while the females learn powerful special attacks. This seems to subvert the kinds of roles traditionally assigned to male/female counterpart characters in video games – when there is an explicit contrast, female characters will regularly have support powers and often healing abilities, while male characters tend to be the heavy damage dealers (the age-old domestic woman/warrior man trope). Nidoqueen, for instance, has a very similar selection of moves to Nidoking but is encouraged by her more defensive stat bias to favour their support options like Stealth Rock rather than going total-aggression like Nidoking tends to. I’m not sure what to say about Meowstic’s inversion of the typical arrangement other than that it seems to be there, but it’s nice to see and makes a pleasant contrast to many other male/female Pokémon pairs (Pyroar, for instance, who sticks to the stereotypes despite the fact that the real behaviour of lions gives her a very good reason not too…). Actually, the fact that Meowstic have a support archetype option at all is pretty odd considering the kind of things we’re told about them and the nature of their powers – maybe the thing to take from this is that the males are better at letting out very small, restricted doses of energy, while the females are capable of going to higher levels of intensity without losing control?
It’s unfortunate that Meowstic’s stats don’t quite reflect what we’re told about their tremendous capacity for destruction – one is rather led to expect phenomenal special attacking power, with relatively poor speed to represent the need for constant restraint. In fact, although Meowstic are very fast, their special attack leaves quite a lot to be desired, which I suppose is a testament to the level of control these Pokémon can maintain over their powers… a little too much, if anything. Either that, or reports of their might are greatly exaggerated (which, coming from the Pokédex, would admittedly not be a huge shock). An excellent special movepool – Psychic or Psyshock, Thunderbolt, Energy Ball, Dark Pulse, Shadow Ball – means that Meowstic can at least bolster an uninspiring special attack score with strong type coverage. There’s also Calm Mind and Charge Beam to think about, if you want to take a more direct route to powering up; the female also gets Stored Power, which gets stronger with every stat boost the user accrues and can outdamage Psychic after two Calm Minds. Meowstic probably doesn’t have the defences to play that sort of game, especially without healing, but Stored Power is an unusual enough move to be worth looking into on anything that gets it. Me First (again, only for the female) is also interesting but tricky to use; it anticipates an incoming attack with more power, but fails if the user is slower than the target, and also relies on being able to guess what kind of attacks are coming at you. Really, Meowstic’s stat spread seems to belong more to some manner of supporter than a true focused attacker; passable but unremarkable in all areas except speed (and physical attack – don’t even go there), and with a respectable support movepool, this sounds awfully like a utility Pokémon – and, of course, Meowstic can do either, depending on gender.
The difficulty with Meowstic’s bifurcated movepool is that a lot of the best moves, particularly from the female’s list, are actually available to both of them anyway through a variety of TMs. What it all boils down to in terms of actually useful moves, as far as I can see, is that female Meowstic get Signal Beam, Me First and Stored Power while male ones get Mean Look and Misty Terrain (indeed, male Meowstic are at this point the only non-Fairy-type Pokémon to have access to this technique, for what it’s worth). The real distinction between males and females is their hidden abilities, which reinforce the battle roles outlined for them by their level-up moves. The female’s Competitive ability is a special attacker equivalent to Defiant, giving her a major special attack bonus whenever one of her stats is lowered by an opponent – kind of tricky to use, considering that lowering the enemy’s stats is not a particularly common tactic, but there are enough Pokémon with Intimidate running around that it’s worth a try, and Meowstic might actually do some serious damage if she could grab a Competitive boost. Infiltrator, one of the regular abilities available to both genders (which allows attacks to bypass Reflect, Light Screen and Substitutes), might end up being just as useful for an offensive Meowstic. The male’s ability, though, is far shinier (although in flavour terms it’s very difficult to see how it fits the ‘restrained’ Meowstic): the ever-delightful Prankster, which grants speed priority to all support moves. Being able to go first with his most important techniques means that a male Meowstic doesn’t need to focus so much on his speed and can afford to train his defences more instead, and even common moves like Reflect, Light Screen, Thunder Wave and especially Substitute have a lot to gain from an automatic first strike. The male also has access to a couple of unusual support moves the female lacks; the most notable ones are Mean Look, which could potentially make an interesting addition to a Calm Mind set if you manage to trap something with lacklustre special attacking capabilities, and Misty Terrain, the new Fairy-type field move (Meowstic is in fact the only non-Fairy-type Pokémon who can use this move so far). Misty Terrain blocks all major status ailments for Pokémon on the ground, and also dampens the effects of Dragon attacks – handy if for some reason you can’t have an actual Fairy or Steel Pokémon around.
More of a distinction between what these two Pokémon can do would be nice – the separate level-up movepools aren’t much good if most of the moves they contain are either not actually exclusive or kind of silly (Imprison and Miracle Eye, anyone?). I would have liked to see some more unusual stuff showing up, for both of them, like Gravity, Power Split and Healing Wish for the male, or Zap Cannon, Moonblast and Aura Sphere for the female. It’s also a shame the female’s hidden ability doesn’t really match up to the male’s Prankster, which is one of the best abilities in the game – I might have gone with something like Technician and stuffed her level-up movepool with really weird special attacks like Hidden Power and Silver Wind. The concept is pretty neat, though, if a little underdeveloped, and the gender differences add some spice; it certainly puts Delcatty to shame. Meowstic are the kind of Pokémon that live and die on their movepools, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to them once we have some sixth-generation move tutors running around…