Today’s Pokémon are probably the strangest thing Alola has thrown at me so far, and definitely spice up the early game a bit – electrical Bug-types with battery-like abilities, which (thank all the gods) conspicuously do not become butterflies or moths. We’ve had beetle Pokémon before – Heracross – and even stag beetle Pokémon – Pinsir – but Grubbin, Charjabug and Vikavolt have little in common with either, as we’ll see.
Grubbin is… well, a grub – a soft-bodied beetle larva. As far as I can tell, it’s not based on any one species in particular; beetle larvae mostly look pretty similar to non-specialist eyes (unlike caterpillars, which are often brightly coloured or have bristles, or eye patterns that make them resemble dangerous snakes). Grubbin instead achieves a distinctive look by exaggerating the mandibles of a beetle grub into two brightly coloured, striped horns as long as the whole rest of its body – in fact it kinda winds up looking like a stag beetle or Hercules beetle pupa. Grubbin’s particular thing is its unusual relationship with Electric Pokémon: it likes to live around Electric-types because their powers deter bird Pokémon from attacking (or, alternatively, around power plants and substations). This makes good sense – both thematically, as a grub, and mechanically, as a Pokémon weak to Flying attacks, Grubbin has every reason to fear bird Pokémon, but rather than develop costly and complicated adaptations to defend itself against them, it just hangs out with Pokémon whose own powers will scare them off. It seems to be implied that Grubbin picks up electrical abilities as a result of this constant association, because it’s initially a straight Bug-type, but learns Spark at level 16 and then evolves into the Bug/Electric Charjabug. Charjabug logically ought to be a beetle pupa, but doesn’t really look much like anything; it’s weirdly square, and seems to be more of a caterpillar than anything else. It seems to owe its Japanese name (Dendimushi) to this particular kind of caterpillar that exists in Japan (denkimushi) whose sting feels like an electric shock, but Charjabug lacks its distinctive bristles, and I think mostly owes its blocky appearance to a desire to make it look mechanical, artificial – an aesthetic that continues when it evolves into Vikavolt.
Vikavolt’s species designation – “the Stag Beetle Pokémon” – immediately gives away what it’s supposed to be. Stag beetles are a family characterised by their oversized, powerful mandibles; where Pinsir uses these to tenderise and brutalise enemies in close combat, Vikavolt instead uses them to charge up its Electric attacks. This family includes some of the largest beetles – and by extension some of the largest insects – in the world, like the giraffe stag beetle, which can reach an impressive 12 cm long, not counting the mandibles (Vikavolt is quoted as 1.5m long, which probably does include the mandibles but is nonetheless downright terrifying). Drawing on the beetles’ hard carapaces, Vikavolt’s design is very angular, with lots of sharp corners and straight lines, giving it an almost robotic appearance. The Sun and Moon website describes it as “like a fortress that zooms through the forest,” which is an odd image, in that zooming through forests is not in my experience something fortresses are known for, but pushes the same sort of design angle. It’s odd that the Pokédex says it “zips around,” and that the website talks about its speed and aerial acrobatic skill, since Vikavolt is very much not a “zippy” Pokémon, nor is it one that has much cause to be “on sharp lookout for an opening.” Stag beetles, much like fortresses, are not exactly graceful in flight, so Vikavolt is slow, and not an actual Flying-type (though it does come with Levitate). This is not a subtle Pokémon. Vikavolt is forceful, rampant and destructive, like Genesect, Drapion or Scolipede. From reading its flavour text, you get the impression that Vikavolt is very good at navigating around opponents to hit their weak points from unexpected directions, but using this thing is rather different: Vikavolt actually handles like a drugged whale, but has no qualms about blasting its way through any and all obstacles with overwhelming electrical attacks. Still, I suppose they did give it Acrobatics and Agility, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical of any disconnect there.
What’s interesting about Charjabug and Vikavolt is the weird relationship they have in the wild. Charjabug, we’re told, have a phenomenal capacity to store electricity (hence the battery-inspired design). Vikavolt can take advantage of this by picking Charjabug up and carrying them into battle, slung under their bodies. Charjabug’s extra power can then supercharge Vikavolt’s already devastating electrical beam attacks. In the game, this tactic is represented by Charjabug’s signature ability, Battery, which enhances the special attacks of allies in multiple battles. The ability doesn’t carry over to Vikavolt (who replaces it with Levitate), so at the moment its competitive relevance is pretty sharply limited, though I expect in future it will probably be distributed more widely (it sure kicks the cr@p out of Plus and Minus, while conveying much the same theme). I suppose you can do a kind of support-focused Eviolite Charjabug in doubles (for those not in the know, a Pokémon holding an Eviolite that is not yet fully evolved gets a substantial +50% buff to both defence and special defence), but… ehhhhhhhh? As for where this even comes from in terms of Charjabug’s flavour, larval insects spend most of their existence eating, storing energy in order to sustain their metamorphoses into their adult forms… so we might think that Grubbin, in a similar vein, are devoted entirely to charging themselves up with electrical energy so that, as Charjabug, they can act as power-packs for adult Vikavolt. In turn, we may suspect that Vikavolt’s ability to generate its own electricity is relatively limited compared to more conventional Electric-types. Charjabug, then, isn’t an intermediary stage in quite the same way as Metapod, Silcoon, etc.; it’s actually a fairly specialised organism in its own right that provides important support to its own much rarer adult form. Of course, in the games, trainers’ Vikavolt don’t have the luxury of having Charjabug to assist them with free power… except for Sophocles’ Totem Vikavolt, who totally squanders the Battery bonus by using only physical attacks, a la Ghetsis’ Hydreigon on Black and White 2.
Before me move on, a quick note on Vikavolt’s evolutionary path. Actually playing with Grubbin in the game’s story is a bit of a pain, because Charjabug is one of three Pokémon (the others being Nosepass and Magneton) whose evolution requires exposure to a “special magnetic field.” In Sun and Moon, this means you have to take them to the Vast Poni Canyon, close to the end of the game, and long after you will have first encountered an enemy Vikavolt (Sophocles’ Totem), which is extremely unusual for the past three generations (normally a Gym Leader’s signature Pokémon is one that either would have recently become available to you, or very soon will). Three-stage Bug Pokémon in the past have been known for evolving very quickly, and being strong early- to mid-game choices as a result. This is basically the key draw of early-game Pokémon – they tend to reach their peak power very quickly. Purely because of the geography of the game’s setting, this is emphatically not true of Vikavolt, making a very odd departure from the way Pokémon availability normally works, to the extent that I almost think it has to be an oversight.
Once you actually get Vikavolt, it’s a pretty tricky Pokémon to use. Vikavolt takes “artillery” to a whole new level. Painfully slow and with defences no better than decent, it nonetheless comes with a special attack score to rival some of the most powerful in the game, like Chandelure. Certainly it has the strongest special attacks of any Bug Pokémon in the game, with even Pheromosa and Volcarona noticeably behind; among Electric-types, only Xurkitree and Mega Ampharos can best it. The previous Pokémon to wear the Bug/Electric type combination, Galvantula, was able to wield incredible forces by enhancing the accuracy of Thunder with the Compoundeyes ability. Vikavolt’s Thunderbolt (or Discharge in doubles) just blows that out of the water on raw power alone, but can’t match Galvantula’s blistering speed. Bug/Electric, as Galvantula taught us, is a pretty solid combination. You only have two weaknesses, Fire and Rock, and Vikavolt adds a useful Ground immunity, courtesy of the Levitate ability. Bug attacks – for both Galvantula and Vikavolt, this is primarily Bug Buzz – cover Electric’s blind spot for Grass-types, and being a Bug-type also makes it thematically appropriate for you to learn Energy Ball, so it’s difficult for Ground-types to switch in and absorb your Thunderbolts with impunity. Those three attacks form the core of Vikavolt’s offensive capabilities. Flash Cannon is its other significant special attack, and is mostly useful to punish anyone who tries to counter you with a bulky Fairy-type special tank like Florges or Sylveon; if you’re confident your team can handle them by other means, ditch Flash Cannon. Air Slash is technically there, but it’s a weak move and doesn’t really fill any major holes in Vikavolt’s type coverage. Volt Switch, the special Electric-type counterpart to U-Turn, is on Vikavolt’s movelist as well. It’s a fantastic move, and always worth consideration, but Vikavolt’s simply not the best Pokémon to use it, for similar reasons to Incineroar, Gumshoos and Toucannon: being slow with mediocre defences, it’s a very difficult Pokémon to get into play safely, and once it’s there, its time is best spent causing as much havoc as possible with its obscene special attack stat. It shouldn’t be aiming to keep itself safe with a hit-and-run, because it may not live to do it a second time; it should be aiming to brutally murder things in, if possible, a single Choice Specs- or Life Orb-boosted attack.
Unlike all those other sledgehammer-style Pokémon I’ve been reviewing so far, Vikavolt actually learns Agility, and the thought of what this thing could do if it could actually move is nothing short of terrifying. Even after using Agility, there are still a number of perfectly respectable Pokémon that will outrun Vikavolt, especially ones that carry Choice Scarves, so you’re probably never going to make Vikavolt a proper sweeper as such, but it might be worth playing around with. Getting Trick Room support from your team is a bit difficult to pull off in singles, but makes Vikavolt damn near unstoppable for a short time if it works. Alternatively, you can Thunder Wave things to slow down important targets in a way that helps your entire team, but playing support seems like something of a waste of Vikavolt’s talent for destruction. If you’re facing multiple opponents, you can slow them all down with String Shot or Electro Web; these moves aren’t worth it in singles but can be useful support options in other formats. Finally, Vikavolt can learn Roost for healing, so, like many Alolan Pokémon, you could theoretically try shoehorning it into a sort of off-tank role, dumping speed and putting a lot of points into Vikavolt’s HP. I’m not convinced it has the durability to really make that work though.
In sum, Vikavolt is another of these Pokémon that Alola seems to like, with one or two very powerful tricks up its sleeve, but enough substantial flaws to make it very difficult to use and abuse. It’s not really a glass cannon, but perhaps something of a porcelain one. That’s an unusual role for a Bug-type, or for that matter an Electric-type, to have (I think the closest comparison is probably Magnezone), so although it’s just about the only Alolan Pokémon that effectively has no unique move or ability, I’m happy to call it pretty original on that score. Its style is profoundly weird; it looks like a distinctly inorganic Pokémon, but it isn’t, and some of the writing team seem like they may have been a little out of touch with how Vikavolt actually fights. On the other hand, it does some really creative things with the relationship between its different evolutionary stages, and the battery theme fits surprisingly well with an insectoid design base. It’s a bit bizarre, but it’s undeniably very cool.