One of Pokémon’s grand traditions is Pokémon who are very difficult to train on account of their weakness, but evolve into very high-statted and powerful beasts. Magikarp is the classic example, practically unable to fight at all, with Feebas following very closely in the same mould. Larvesta and Noibat are better able to fend for themselves but take a very long time to evolve and are pretty pathetic until they do. It’s one of the most powerful expressions of Pokémon’s theme of nurturing leading to growth. Alola’s most traditional contribution to the list is really Cosmog, who is even worse than Magikarp until he suddenly isn’t, but we can also count the Turn Tail Pokémon, Wimpod, and its fearsome evolution Golisopod.
I’m going to break with my usual format somewhat and begin by talking a little bit about Wimpod and Golisopod’s unique abilities and signature move, because they’re a pretty big part of the “presentation” of this dramatic evolution from a weak, pathetic silverfish-like creature into an alien-looking chitin-armoured behemoth. Wimpod’s unique ability is simply called Wimp Out, and it is very much what it says on the tin: when Wimpod’s HP is reduced below 50%, it… wimps out, fleeing from a wild battle or switching out. Wimp Out only triggers once; it doesn’t repeat if Wimpod is subsequently switched back in and takes damage again (unless it’s been healed back over 50%). There are also a few forms of damage that won’t trigger it, including weather damage and self-inflicted confusion damage (burns and poison, on the other hand, do trigger Wimp Out). The point is, Wimpod is too pathetic to face real battle. Even the Pokédex calls it “astonishingly cowardly.” Naturally, one would expect that when Wimpod evolves, that useless ability will be replaced by something really devastating. The mighty Golisopod’s ability… is exactly the same. It gets rebranded as Emergency Exit, and the description now refers to the Pokémon “sensing danger,” so we now see Golisopod as behaving tactically, but Emergency Exit is mechanically identical to Wimp Out. Golisopod gets the high base stats we expect from a Magikarp-to-Gyarados evolution, but its ability is at most a change in perspective. Golisopod, unlike Wimpod, can fight – it just chooses not to, wherever possible. It has a fundamentally peaceful nature, and is rarely encountered in the wild because it normally spends its days meditating in seafloor caves. Of course, there’s also a line from the Ultra Sun Pokédex claiming that Golisopod “will do anything it takes to win,” which… is pretty clearly not true, but we’ll let that one slide as just generic Pokédex boilerplate.
So, what manner of creature do we have to thank for this shy and reclusive killing machine? Golisopod’s English and Japanese names both make it clear that this is none other than the internet celebrity known as the giant isopod, genus Bathynomus. Isopods are an ancient order of crustaceans that predates the dinosaurs. Because their evolutionary origins are so remote, there’s a bit of debate about what their closest relatives are, but they probably include a variety of small marine shrimp-like creatures. The isopods themselves are a fairly diverse bunch and like Wimpod they can be found on land, in fresh water, or in the sea, although few of them can actually swim – the aquatic ones just sort of shuffle along the seafloor or riverbed. Woodlice (which in New Zealand we call slaters, though you may know them as pillbugs, roly-polies, or any number of other local names) are the members of the family you’re most likely to have met in person. All isopods have segmented bodies and seven pairs of limbs – I can only count four on Golisopod, but we’ll chalk that one up to artistic license; the segmented body is right, and the number of limbs is at least trying for “too many.” Wimpod’s elongated body, dramatic eyebrows and multi-pronged tail, as well as the silver-grey colour of both Pokémon, rather bring to mind the silverfish, which is actually an insect and not related to isopods at all, but they do look and behave a little bit like terrestrial isopods. Most isopods are very small – woodlice, which cap out at a few centimetres, are actually some of the larger ones. Even other marine isopods are mostly pretty tiny, and a lot of them are parasites on fish… but a few of them migrated to the cold, dark, high-pressure environments of the deep ocean. Like Golisopod, they adapted to the extreme conditions by growing to sizes undreamt of by their less intrepid cousins: 30 cm long is common for a giant isopod, and some species can grow even larger, with specimens of Bathynomus giganteus over 70 cm reported.
These little – or, uh… not so little – guys are weird. They’ve become an internet sensation because of their distinctly alien but… somehow kinda cute(?) appearance, and are very popular in Japan, where they are kept by several aquariums. They have big eyes that reflect light like a cat’s – an adaptation for life in the deep ocean – and like woodlice, they curl into balls when threatened. Life on the ocean floor is pretty dull, and devoid of conventional opportunities for hunting or foraging – most large animals down there are scavengers. Wimpod, likewise, will happily devour rotten food and also likes to collect random items. According to the Sun and Moon website, Wimpod are sometimes used as cleaners because they’re so good at eating and collecting scraps and rubbish – the Pokédex even claims that their desperately flailing legs will sweep the ground clean as they run away from enemies. While that last part is a bit of an exaggeration, it is true that giant isopods can clean things pretty thoroughly. The pace of their natural lives is largely dictated by the carcasses of fish, sharks, whales or other large marine animals that occasionally drift down from above, provoking a brief scavenging frenzy that leaves nothing but pristine bones and silence. Other seafloor creatures want those rotting carcasses too – the isopods have to be quick! Sometimes giant isopods will go after fish traps and trawlers, shredding the catch (to the annoyance of fishermen), and some species that frequent shallower waters have been known to swarm and devour small sharks! Videos of these feeding frenzies… well, let’s just say they should leave little doubt that Golisopod’s status as a brutal physical attacker is well earned, and even its reputed ability to cleave air and water with its sharp claws doesn’t seem so far fetched.
Giant isopods are used to feeding irregularly, so in captivity they’ll gorge themselves until they can barely move, then eat nothing at all for months. One giant isopod at the Toba aquarium famously refused all food it was offered for five years before finally dying of starvation – the aquarium staff never figured out why, and the other isopods around it kept eating normally (or… what seems to count as “normally” for them). Because they often go for so long without food, giant isopods have evolved a very slow metabolism; they can just… hang out, on the seabed, for weeks or months at a time, barely even moving if nothing happens to catch their interest. Whether this prolonged inactivity brings the giant isopod anything resembling enlightenment will likely have to remain a mystery for the ages, but Golisopod’s practice of meditating in deep, dark caverns for most of its life is presumably related. Wimpod, of course, are much more skittish and more closely resemble the small terrestrial isopods in their behaviour – though neither Wimpod nor Golisopod shares the distinctive ability of woodlice (and some giant isopod species) to protect themselves from predators by rolling into armour-plated balls. Fortunately, Golisopod doesn’t need Defence Curl to have a defence stat that’s through the roof – but making use of that stat can present some difficulties.
We’ve already seen Golisopod’s ability, Emergency Exit. It’s… well, I’m not going to sugar-coat this; it’s a bad ability. Usually it’s just going to force you to switch at inconvenient times. In principle, you ought to be able to use Emergency Exit to attack with Golisopod, then take an attack from an opponent, drop below 50% health, then switch essentially for free – this is the kind of play you might have in mind when putting U-Turn on a slow, tanky Pokémon like Scizor. The only problem is that, in order for this to work, Golisopod has to outrun the opponent… and Golisopod is slow, even by Alolan standards. If Emergency Exit activates before Golisopod’s attack for the turn, it’s potentially still slightly better than just switching normally, because Golisopod will take the damage instead of your switch-in, and Golisopod is pretty tanky in spite of its jumpiness. Still, it’s more likely to be an inconvenience than not. The irony is that Wimpod, whose ability is flavoured as just being a total coward, is actually better at using it than Golisopod, since its speed is much better and it’s more likely to be able to attack before Wimp Out activates. It’s just a shame Wimpod’s attack stats are terrible…
So Golisopod has a bad ability, but lacks the kind of inflated stats given to Pokémon like Slaking or even Archeops. Luckily, it gets a signature move designed to synergise with Emergency Exit: First Impression. This is a Bug-type attack with fairly high power and a speed priority of +2 – the same as Extremespeed, which means it will actually beat ordinary priority moves like Quick Attack. However, it can only be used on Golisopod’s first turn in play – so it’s rather in Golisopod’s interest to come in and out of play as often as it can, proving the old saying wrong by getting second, third and fourth chances at a First Impression. Since this is what you’re going to be angling for anyway, there’s some sense in putting a Choice Band on Golisopod – just beware; Choice Band First Impression hits like a truck, but you’ll have to switch out after one shot. Golisopod’s type, Bug/Water, is surprisingly good at offensive type coverage; since Bug attacks deal handily with Grass-types, you’re mostly just left with a few Water or Dragon dual-types that resist both. For your Water attack, although there might be an argument for trying out Razor Shell, you probably want Liquidation; it’s straightforward, accurate, powerful and has a chance to inflict defence penalties. Because Golisopod has solid type coverage already, there’s room to take Aqua Jet to compensate for its abysmal speed, or Leech Life for healing and more consistent Bug-type damage. Beyond that, you have a few attacks to choose from to round out an all-offence set. Rock Slide gets you the best overall coverage with its super-effective hits on Flying-, Ice- and Bug-types, but its power is sub-par and it lacks perfect accuracy; Brick Break has better accuracy and Drill Run (from Ultra Sun and Moon move tutors) more power, but they don’t combine quite as well with your primary attacks; Iron Head (tutors again) murders Fairy-types but little more; Sucker Punch gives you a third priority option, but is situational (failing against targets that aren’t about to use a direct attack).
Of course, Golisopod’s stats do make it pretty tanky – its physical defence score is enormous – so it ought to be able to pull off a more mixed fighting style with some utility built in. In practice, Emergency Exit does mess this up pretty badly, and there’s only one really good support technique on Golisopod’s movelist anyway: Spikes. You can give it Spikes as an egg move from Forretress or Cloyster, have it set up a couple of layers at the start of a fight, take a hit to trigger Emergency Exit, and then come back at some later point with a nasty First Impression (preferably on something that’s taken damage from switching into the aforementioned Spikes). And that’s… really about it. Taunt is on Golisopod’s list, but it’s too slow to be good at using it and would rather spend its time attacking anyway. It’s almost uniquely bad at Swords Dance and Bulk Up, thanks to its habit of switching out at inconvenient moments. Probably the most interesting alternative to a straightforward Choice Band moveset that I can think of for Golisopod is to just say no to utility and give it an Assault Vest to beef up its already decent special defence – its physical defence needs no help, and its attack is high enough to be useful without an item boost. Even Emergency Exit can become a useful pivoting manoeuvre in some situations if you build Golisopod in such a way that its main role is taking damage rather than dishing it out.
In spite of being a fairly inflexible Pokémon, and extremely difficult to use on account of Emergency Exit, it’s hard to deny that Golisopod is interesting – for, well, much the same reasons. It’s very hard to use, and even against AI opponents its foibles can be frustrating, but it’s also difficult to pass up Golisopod’s excellent stats and powerful priority attacks. The design carries a lot of the inversion of expectations that you get from real giant isopods (bugs that aren’t bugs, the size of small dogs, that live at the bottom of the sea, and are basically all chill always, except when they eat sharks). Wimpod sets us up to expect a monster evolution, and we get it, but it keeps Wimpod’s silliest weakness, and despite being legitimately terrifying, it hates fighting. They also incorporate enough elements from the lifestyle and behaviour of real giant isopods to keep me interested. It’s a cool Pokémon, and one of my personal highlights of generation VII.