One of my companions for much of my X playthrough, Malamar is one of the more eccentric Pokémon out there. Inkay has one of the weirdest evolution methods yet – reach at least level 30 while holding the 3DS upside down (heaven knows what that means from an in-universe perspective – possibly that Inkay’s evolution is, appropriately enough, completely unpredictable). Add to that several unusual and subversive skills, a unique type combination, and a personality midway between Niccolò Machiavelli and Oscar the Grouch, and this Pokémon is anything but typical. Let’s take a look.
Inkay and Malamar look like phosphorescent deep-sea squid or perhaps some kind of cuttlefish, though they’re not actually Water-types and in fact they may not be aquatic at all, since you only ever encounter them on land and they have no water-related powers. This is far from the only misleading thing about them. As Dark-types, Inkay and Malamar specialise in deception, and as Psychic-types, they possess the intelligence and mystical powers to be uniquely good at it (appropriately enough for Pokémon based on some of the most intelligent invertebrates on the planet). Adorable little Inkay confuses opponents and drains their energy by flashing the haunting bioluminescent patterns on her mantle, giving her the opportunity to escape while they are unable to fight. The ability to influence and control the minds of others is not extremely rare among Psychic Pokémon – Hypno can do it, Grumpig can do it, Gothorita can do it, Beheeyem can probably do it – but Inkay’s evolved form, Malamar, supposedly excels all others, enchanting opponents with a combination of complex gestures and those mysterious flashing lights, until they dance to her tune alone. Unlike Inkay, Malamar doesn’t employ her powers mainly in self-defence – her hypnotised prey are commanded to walk right into the grasp of her tentacles where she can start to consume them with digestive acid. They’re designed to appeal in very different ways, being recognisably related but moving from a cute, wide-eyed pastel-toned baby to a sinister, monstrous adult with a vicious beak, a malevolent glare and a dark, forbidding version of the same colour scheme (Malamar gives me major flashbacks to Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) – both Pokémon you might want on your side, but for very different reasons. Do Inkay dramatically change their personalities and outlook upon evolving, or are they hiding Malamar’s nasty, scheming side all along? Evolution reverses Inkay not only in temperament but in physiology, so that rather than floating with her tentacles dangling below her mantle, Malamar instead stands on her mantle with her tentacles waving above like the snake-infested hair of a Gorgon. The reversal, along with their signature move Topsy Turvy, gives Inkay and Malamar their species designations, ‘the Revolving Pokémon’ and ‘the Overturning Pokémon,’ respectively – though I think it’s also worth bearing in mind the less literal meaning of ‘overturn’: to upset, to overthrow, to abolish. The verb ‘revolve,’ too, is a cognate of ‘revolution.’ As we’ll see, overthrowing order is something Inkay and Malamar are rather good at.
Worth more than a little discussion is the anime episode featuring Malamar, A Conspiracy to Conquer – skip this paragraph to avoid spoilers. In this episode, a mysterious cloaked woman calling herself Madame X uses her Malamar’s extremely advanced hypnotic powers to take control of Jessie and James (who, incidentally, have largely returned to their bumbling old selves after their brief flirtation with competence in the Unova series), prompting Meowth to flee and temporarily join up with Ash’s party. Madame X and Malamar eventually take control of Pikachu to add to their dangerous ‘Pokémon patrol,’ as well as Ash’s current companions in the X and Y series, Clemont, Bonnie and Serena, before eventually being stymied by Ash and Pikachu’s magical friendship bull$#!t. The twist is that ‘Madame X’ is in fact just a brainwashed Officer Jenny, and the real villain is Malamar herself, who has built some kind of terrible doomsday device in an abandoned radio telescope station, intending to use it to take over the world (all this is translated for us by Meowth). Now caught in the act, Malamar decides to blow up the weapon and flee to begin her work anew elsewhere in Kalos. Well. So much for “Pokémon do bad things because master bad.” This is actually not the first time the anime has featured a decidedly evil Pokémon (one thinks, certainly, of the manipulative Togepi from Where No Togepi Has Gone Before, who shows that such things are possible even in the most benevolent species), but it’s definitely unusual, and I think Malamar is unique among non-legendary Pokémon in the scale of her villainous ambition. Even Mewtwo had his angsty backstory reasons for trying to take over the world, and also had arguably benevolent motives towards other Pokémon (or at least, those he didn’t view as traitors and collaborators) – if Malamar has any such redeeming motivations, she doesn’t bother to explain them. The end of the episode hints that we haven’t seen the last of this Malamar, and I certainly hope we’ll learn more in the future. The natural ability to dominate the minds of others would presumably create a fairly callous outlook in many members of this species; if a Pokémon were going to try to take over the world, it makes a certain amount of sense that it would be one of these ones. On the other hand, most Malamar obviously don’t (well, one hopes not; maybe the others just hide it better), so it’ll be interesting to see if this particular Malamar has a backstory to explain her tremendous ambition and cruelty.
Malamar is a really weird Pokémon to use, with some very funky powers, but that’s exactly what makes her fun. She’s the only Pokémon with Contrary as a regular ability, which (since hidden ability Serperior still stubbornly refuses to be a thing) means she’s the only competent Pokémon with access to it so far (no, Shuckle does not count). Contrary reverses all stat changes applied to Malamar – among other things, this means she can increase her own physical stats with the devastating Fighting attack Superpower, prevent Pokémon with Intimidate from switching in safely, horribly abuse the attack penalty caused by Aegislash’s King’s Guard, get a free speed boost from switching in while your opponent has Sticky Web on the field, and intercept Defog (which now clears entry hazards from both sides of the field and is therefore actually useful for some teams) for an evasion boost. Malamar does have other abilities, but they are silly. Contrary is great, but it can only apply to Malamar herself – which is where her signature move, Topsy-Turvy, comes in. Topsy-Turvy takes any stat modifiers affecting the target and reverses them: Swords Dance becomes a steep attack penalty; Agility starts to slow you down; Calm Mind becomes a debilitating mental fog. Bear in mind that this isn’t the same as putting the Contrary ability on your opponent; they can always cancel out the penalties by reapplying the same moves. Topsy-Turvy makes Malamar particularly gifted at stopping Pokémon who normally rely on such techniques to make themselves unstoppable, although of course she’ll often have to survive a first strike to do it. Slow users of Swords Dance, Bulk Up, Nasty Plot, Calm Mind or Curse are vulnerable; Pokémon who favour Dragon Dance, Agility or Quiver Dance, not so much (particularly the latter, who will almost invariably have Bug attacks with which to murder Malamar). In doubles, Malamar can also combine with a partner who uses Draco Meteor, Overheat or Leaf Storm to reverse the partner’s special attack penalties and produce frightening damage potential. She has a few other support moves worth thinking about – the main ones are Reflect, Light Screen, Hypnosis and possibly Trick Room if you really tank her speed – but Contrary Superpower is her big trick, and she’s not really a supporter by nature.
Probably the biggest downside to Malamar is that she’s one of the few Pokémon aside from Normal-types who manage to have no resistances at all – only an immunity to Psychic attacks, which is not terribly useful – so she’s comparatively difficult to switch in safely. She’s also weak to Bug and Fairy attacks (almost any U-Turn will blow a huge hole in her even after a couple of Superpower boosts, which, considering U-Turn’s popularity, is not a good place to be in), and has no particularly high stats – pretty good HP, attack and defence, passable special defence and speed, but nothing outstanding. This makes it a little difficult to figure out what Malamar is supposed to be good at – she’s uncomfortably slow for a dedicated sweeper, even if she can switch into Sticky Web, although she does have a very sweeper-like mentality in the way she starts to build momentum after using Superpower once or twice. Her inability to learn Sucker Punch to deal with faster enemies, particularly special attackers, is painful. She’s not tough enough to take many hits reliably, and although Sticky Web can help her speed and Superpower will buff her defence, there’s almost no easy way to patch up her poor special defence, so she remains vulnerable, and it’s hard to decide whether to train her in speed or endurance. On the bright side, Superpower, Night Slash and Psycho Cut give her a pretty solid range of attacks; she may struggle to inflict meaningful damage if she hasn’t had a chance for a Superpower boost, particularly given the low power of Psycho Cut and Night Slash, but at least she’s a fairly dangerous Pokémon for the Fighting-immune Ghost-types to switch into. The way Superpower combines an attack and a buff for Malamar also makes her an interesting choice for a Rest/Sleep Talk set that slowly builds power and momentum while healing damage, since it leaves her with room for one more attack (probably Night Slash), a luxury such sets can rarely afford. It’s unfortunate that she’s relatively weak defensively, though – against many opponents, she doesn’t have the endurance for it. Malamar is very good at dealing with a few specific Pokémon, most notably the deadly Aegislash, and does so in a unique and interesting way, but she’s not exactly top-tier on her own merits and needs to be used with care. Don’t rely on Malamar to win one-on-one brute force engagements.
I like Malamar because she’s weird. She turns things upside down, literally and figuratively, wherever she goes. Grumpy, unpleasant and possibly outright evil she may be, but her unique powers make her temperament well worth putting up with, and she’s a Pokémon I’d like to see more of in future – whether it’s in stories or in battles.