Well, this one’s just weird. Don’t get me wrong, though – sometimes weird is really good, and this, I think, is the case with the latest additions to the stable of Rock/Water Pokémon, Binacle and Barbaracle. I have to admit, when I idly dreamed in the lead-up to X and Y about what kinds of animals or plants I would have liked to see Pokémon based on, barnacles were not exactly top of the list. But hey, whatever works.
There are two kinds of barnacles, both of which are actually crustaceans, distantly related to animals like shrimp and crabs. The ones we normally tend to think of when we hear the word ‘barnacle’ are the sessile kind, which from the outside look like nothing so much as tiny lumps of rock with wide, flat beaks. Searching for images on Google will turn up countless pictures of these things in huge colonies, encrusting stones, the hulls of ships, the bodies of living whales… pretty much anything, really. When submerged in water, the ‘beak’ opens up and the barnacle flails a dozen or so hairy appendages around to ensnare the microorganisms upon which it feeds. Binacle is not one of those. Binacle is one of the less well-known stalked barnacles, which anchor themselves to their chosen support by a long fleshy stalk and flail their entire bodies around in the water hoping to catch food in their mouths. The result is – functionally, if not anatomically – a little grabbing hand with a hungry face on it, attached to a rock by a long bendy arm, which of course is exactly what Binacle is. In particular, the species known as the Japanese goose barnacle bears an uncanny resemblance. ‘Goose barnacle’ is a trivial name given to the whole order of stalked barnacles, and perhaps the most disappointing thing about them is that they do not in fact have anything to do with geese. They were believed by mediaeval Europeans to be the larval form of a type of bird, known for this reason as the barnacle goose, which migrates to the Arctic in spring to breed, and so was not usually seen to lay eggs (although one German bishop, sceptical of these claims, did manage to breed them in captivity) – resulting in a convenient loophole that allowed Christians to eat barnacle geese during Lent, and on other occasions when meat was forbidden, since they weren’t really birds. None of this is really relevant to Binacle, who has nothing to do with geese either (and this is perhaps the most disappointing thing about it), but I thought you ought to know.
The things I learn while writing this $#!t, I swear…
Funnily enough, Binacle’s lifestyle is actually nothing like a barnacle’s. They aren’t sessile, for one thing; their head-claw-things are strong enough that they can just drag their rocks with them along the beach as they search for seaweed and other detritus to eat. Why do they have rocks at all, then? I can only assume the answer is “for bludgeoning things.” Each of the standard Binacle that we fight and capture in the games consists of two individuals anchored to the same stone, but apparently they can and do have disagreements that result in one of them relocating, so presumably solitary ones also exist in nature – and maybe ‘triplets’ too, although two seems to be their preferred organisation, for whatever reason. I wonder how this is supposed to play into their gender? In the real world, each individual barnacle is either male or female, but a pair of Binacle functions as a single Pokémon for breeding purposes and the species as a whole has a 50/50 gender ratio. I can only suppose that males hang out together and females do likewise, or maybe they naturally breed in groups of four. Anyway, Binacle is a pair of barnacles sharing a rock. How do you make a barnacle interesting? Answer: evolve it into a seven-headed barnacle golem (each of its two legs and four arms is a head, similar to Binacle’s original two, although apparently one-eyed this time, and we can’t really see what the feet are like – look, I just really enjoy typing the phrase ‘seven-headed barnacle golem,’ okay?). It’s… honestly I don’t know what to call Barbaracle, but it’s certainly a creative direction for this design. Even gets the whole ‘creepy hands with eyes’ thing going. Very nice. The Pokédex seems pretty clear that the original two Binacle divide into seven, but I still wonder whether it’s also possible to create a Barbaracle by assembling seven Binacle – or whether these seven, like the original two, sometimes fight and split up, since they explicitly still have minds of their own. I can imagine them arguing over which ones have to be the feet this week, and I hope against hope for an anime episode where Ash encounters an angry, snarling Barbaracle head that’s been abandoned by its long-suffering arms and legs so everyone can learn a Valuable Lesson about teamwork and leadership. Finally for today, I do want to call out a rather silly line from the Pokédex: “When they evolve, two Binacle multiply into seven. They fight with the power of seven Binacle.” Well… I should bloody well hope so, since there are seven of them. Then again, I suppose they may have felt that clarification was necessary, since apparently a pair of Binacle can only manage to fight with the power of one Binacle. It’s times like this that I almost think it would be worth it to learn to read Japanese, just to cross-reference these things with the originals. Almost (don’t look at me like that; I’ve got three other languages to practice).
As is the case for most Pokémon who learn it, Barbaracle’s battle role is to no small extent defined by Shell Smash, a sort of sweeper-in-a-can move that weakens your defences but also doubles your power and speed. Barbaracle’s not the fastest Pokémon out there, but after a Shell Smash it’s certainly fast enough. You can, if you so desire, even combine this with a White Herb to keep Barbaracle’s decent defences intact. The modus operandi, then, is to find something that can’t kill you immediately, use Shell Smash as it either runs away or flails at you uselessly, and then mercilessly brutalise everything in your path. Barbaracle is much faster than everything else with Shell Smash apart from Cloyster, and to further aid it in this endeavour it gets a lovely ability, one shared only by Mega Charizard X, Mega Aerodactyl, and apparently the soon-to-be Mega Metagross; it’s called Tough Claws, which gives a 1/3 bonus to the power of all moves that make physical contact with the enemy – which is not the same thing as ‘physical attacks’; be careful. It unfortunately doesn’t include Barbaracle’s best Rock-type attacks, or the universally-adored Earthquake, but it does make many otherwise lacklustre moves quite frightening: Razor Shell, for instance, which is at best a niche move for its original user Samurott, becomes a very powerful primary Water attack for Barbaracle that also has a good chance to weaken its target’s defence, making it much more difficult to stand up to a second hit (of course, when you’re in Barbaracle’s position, what you’re really hoping to do is one-shot things, and a physical Water attack that hits harder immediately would have been nice, but sadly Barbaracle doesn’t get one – c’est la vie). Night Slash and Shadow Claw, normally almost too weak to consider, are elevated to quite respectable heights, but their main draw is providing very good neutral coverage, something Water attacks already do quite well anyway. X-Scissor and Poison Jab become really nasty, and either can help to ward off many of the Grass-types that Barbaracle would otherwise fear; Cross Chop is a perfectly strong attack already and becomes just plain evil with the Tough Claws bonus, if you don’t mind its poor accuracy. Really, you’re spoiled for choice with this thing.
It almost seems like a crime even to consider doing anything else with a Pokémon that has Shell Smash, but on the other hand it’s sort of difficult to win at that game when you’re up against Cloyster, who has nonsense like Skill Linked Rock Blast and Icicle Spear, as well as a usable special attack stat. Alternatively, Barbaracle can use Rock Polish to speed up and outrun things, Hone Claws to do more damage and achieve reliable accuracy with Stone Edge, Bulk Up to play more of a tankish role, or Swords Dance to pull the old slow physical bruiser act. The advantage is that you can retain Barbaracle’s reasonably solid defences without having to use a White Herb and give up the possibility of a more powerful item. This, to put it mildly, is not a huge selling point as there are other Pokémon who can do each of these things much better. However, the options are there. Finally, and I mention this more for the novelty than anything else, Tough Claws does increase the power of Clamp, if for some reason you feel like using Barbaracle to trap things (or, hell, go full gimmick and stick a Binding Band on it; go nuts). Similarly, it almost seems like a crime not to use Tough Claws on this thing, but Barbaracle does in fact have other abilities, and if you’re using something like [Earthquake/Stone Edge/Razor Shell/Shell Smash], with only one move that benefits from Tough Claws anyway, you could consider instead Sniper, which improves critical hit damage. Critical hits, in case you’ve missed this, do only x1.5 damage in X and Y (x2.25 with Sniper) rather than the former x2 (x3 with Sniper), but the chance of scoring one scales more quickly with bonuses like Focus Energy – some Pokémon can actually hit 100% critical hit rates, making crit-spamming possible if not exactly brilliant for them, although Barbaracle is not among these. The base chance of scoring a critical hit is still only 1/16 (and still 1/8 for Stone Edge, Shadow Claw or Night Slash), so Sniper is actually a weaker ability under the new rules if you aren’t going to specialise, but it certainly can’t hurt. The last ability is Pickpocket, which is really rather silly – it steals the item of any opponent that makes contact with Barbaracle, provided it isn’t already holding one – but I mention it anyway because Barbaracle is, surprisingly enough, probably the best Pokémon to use this ability; the others who get it are Shiftry and Weavile, who just aren’t accustomed to taking physical attacks in the same way that Barbaracle is. That, and Barbaracle is literally made of hands, so Pickpocket is a nice flavour thing if nothing else.
I’m happy with this thing. Like I said, sometimes weird is really good, and if nothing else Barbaracle is an extremely offbeat take on ‘barnacle Pokémon’ – one might expect a very Ferrothorn-style sedentary creature that does nothing so well as sit and take hits, but instead we get this ridiculous thing, whose fighting style is nothing short of brutal. It’s certainly not the best Shell Smash Pokémon out there, and frankly there’s not even a whole lot of competition. However, a Shell Smasher is a Shell Smasher, and an ability like Tough Claws also makes Barbaracle prone to improve dramatically with additions to his movepool in future games. Watch this thing. Its head, hands and feet are certainly watching you.