Today’s Pokémon is our second Ultra Beast, the abomination of hulking muscle and red life-juice that is Buzzwole. While clearly just as weird and arguably un-Pokémon-like as Nihilego, Buzzwole is weird and un-Pokémon-like in very different ways, the main commonality being that Buzzwole also lacks well-defined facial features (I mean, it kind of has eyes, but they look more like real insectoid compound eyes than the heavily anthropomorphised eyes that Bug Pokémon often have, and are very small and indistinct). However, unlike the unrelentingly alien Nihilego, Buzzwole is if anything weirdly and unsettlingly human while simultaneously being obviously insectoid – fitting for the Bug/Fighting type combination, but a striking contrast to the one previous Bug/Fighting Pokémon, Heracross. Let’s take a closer look.
Buzzwole is about 60% pecs and biceps, with a squat domed head perched on top of four relatively spindly legs evenly spaced around its abdomen, and a vicious-looking mosquito-like stabbing proboscis. The Pokédex attests that it can “pulverise a dump truck with a single punch,” which honestly sounds pretty much par for the course for a Fighting Pokémon, but clearly we’re supposed to be impressed by its physical strength. Buzzwole itself is also pretty invested in making sure we’re impressed by it, and “goes around showing off its abnormally [stop judging, Pokédex; you don’t know what’s normal for this alien species] swollen muscles.” Wicke also gives us a similar line that Buzzwole strikes bodybuilding poses practically every time it moves or does anything – so often and so insistently that observers have speculated it’s a form of communication. The Pokédex similarly suggests that the displays could be either a boast or a threat. They’re too alien for us to understand what the actual intent is, but we’re confident they’re communicating some kind of message: in short, Buzzwole literally talk to each other using a highly evolved dudebro sign language of rippling pecs and jacked biceps (incidentally, if you see me at the gym in the next couple of weeks, I swear I’m looking for real-world parallels as a form of ethnographic research, not just checking out pretty guys). There’s a weird element of realness in all this, in that big, powerful muscles like this are, even in the real world, basically meant for showing off. Athletes and even most martial artists don’t look like Buzzwole; bodybuilders look like Buzzwole, people who compete in contests that are primarily about the aesthetics of a heavily muscled frame rather than any practical application of strength or skill. At the same time, though, there’s inversion; as a Fighting-type we’re probably allowed to assume that Buzzwole is naturally very strong, but the actual source of its extreme strength and bulging muscles… well, it sounds like Buzzwole doesn’t come by its namesake swoleness entirely by intense training and personal effort, put it that way.
According to Wicke (who frankly has her $#!t together way more than the Pokédex does), Buzzwole has the power to absorb energy to make itself stronger through some kind of “chemical reaction” in its muscles, which also causes them to bulge to ludicrous sizes. Wicke isn’t explicit about the mechanism, but it would make sense if the “energy” were siphoned from other organisms, via that impressive proboscis. Buzzwole’s muscles appear to be clear and filled with a bubbling red liquid, which should perhaps make us suspect that “energy” is a euphemism here – Buzzwole is an uncomfortably buff mosquito, and like real mosquitoes, it’s after your blood. If you’ve ever seen a real mosquito after a satisfying meal, you’ll be familiar with the way the bright red blood is visible through the insect’s swollen abdomen, just like Buzzwole’s muscles. Now, Jim the Editor got on my case here about extrapolating too much from the available evidence, because the games never say that Buzzwole drinks blood, and… well, fair enough. But then I watched the Buzzwole episode of the anime. And… okay, look, there’s no delicate way to put this: Buzzwole fµ¢£ing drinks a Snorlax. It deflates into a horrific leathery skin-bag. If anything, saying that Buzzwole drinks blood may not be going far enough in describing whatever the hell happens in that scene. I mean, the Snorlax gets better; Lillie sprays some Full Restore on it and crams Sitrus Berries into its gullet until it re-inflates, but I’m still revising my personal boundaries for where I think the Pokémon anime is willing to go. In reality, of course, only female mosquitoes feed on blood, to obtain the proteins necessary for laying eggs (their normal food is plant nectar). Buzzwole, like all Ultra Beasts, is genderless – at least, according to our vague understanding of Pokémon gender – but it’s amusing to me, given the difference in behaviour between the mosquito sexes, that Buzzwole looks like a masc4masc dudebro who skipped one too many leg days. For all we know, this is what the female of that species looks like! Maybe we’ve never seen a male Buzzwole; they might be tiny, weedy Pokémon whose spines snap like twigs when exposed to Earth’s gravity. Would I bet money on that idea? No. But I think we can all agree I would have been doing you a disservice by not suggesting it.
Buzzwole’s homeworld is the Ultra Jungle, a lush tropical world that seems at a glance like one of the more earthlike realms in Ultra Space – with the exception of the gigantic, inexplicably musclebound trees that tower over the rest of the forest, rivalling a nearby cone volcano in height. Buzzwole appears to live inside the volcano, as its appearance coincides with a blast of erupting lava – not an especially tenable habitat for an ordinary Bug-type, but of course Buzzwole is anything but. Now, part of the point of the Ultra Beasts, according to an interview with planning director Shigeru Ohmori in an official player’s guide, was to express the real-world idea of invasive species (see also Gumshoos) – introduced species that take over their new environment, hunting or simply outcompeting native species to extinction. Invasive species are a particular problem for isolated islands like Hawai‘i, because they are often home to unusual and highly specialised native species, so it makes sense that it’s the Hawaiian-inspired region that gets the Ultra Beast incursion. However, it is a dogma of the Pokémon world that Pokémon are innocents – which means we can’t apply a real-world policy of extermination. Looker and Anabel suggest that part of their mission is to protect the Ultra Beasts themselves, and the anime takes a similar stance – their unusual behaviours and powers can cause terrible damage, but they actually find living in our world extremely stressful. Buzzwole is an interesting case, though, because its own native habitat doesn’t look all that alien – it’s a tropical jungle, similar to habitats we find in Alola. Sure, there’s an active volcano, and it’s not clear how important that is for Buzzwole, but the real Hawai‘i has active volcanoes too, so it can’t be a huge obstacle. The missing element is… the huge and bewilderingly ripped trees. I’m tempted to speculate that the muscle trees are ordinarily Buzzwole’s food source (Heracross, who explicitly feeds on tree sap, is again an interesting comparison). When deprived of them by an unexpected trip through an Ultra Wormhole, it will go after anything that looks similar, armed with a vicious proboscis evolved for piercing tough, bizarrely muscular wood to get at the hyper-nutritious steroid sap within. If you happen to be a musclebound human or humanoid Pokémon filled with delicious blood… well, you can appreciate how Buzzwole’s presence in Alola might not be a good thing.
Like all the Ultra Beasts, Buzzwole has a highly skewed stat distribution – in this case, extremely high physical stats and extremely low special stats – and the Beast Boost ability, which raises your strongest stat whenever you score a knockout. Depending on exactly how you train Buzzwole’s stats, its Beast Boost will hit either attack or defence. Unlike Nihilego, Buzzwole doesn’t have the speed to use this ability to snowball, so it’s not as crucial or defining an ability as it is for some of the other Ultra Beasts (this is, in my view, something of a problem with Beast Boost as a unifying mechanic for the Ultra Beasts – it’s a good ability for pretty much anyone, but it’s noticeably better for any Ultra Beast who can pursue a build combining speed and power). It seems natural to make comparisons to Heracross here, since they’re both Bug/Fighting dual-types who trade on their great physical strength, but they’re actually quite different. Heracross is much less tanky than Buzzwole, at least on the physical side, and has historically been heavily defined by his ability to boost his already impressive attack power even further with Swords Dance or the Guts ability, and by his access to very strong attacks of both the Bug and Fighting types (Close Combat and Megahorn). Buzzwole is slower, tougher, has no Megahorn or Swords Dance, and instead of Close Combat gets Superpower, which is less attractive since it leaves the user with reduced strength. Instead its primary attack is likely to be the weaker Hammer Arm, which only hits your speed. Buzzwole’s strongest Bug attacks are Lunge, which imposes an attack penalty on the target, and Leech Life, which was promoted to a viable attack in Sun and Moon and can provide our giant buff mosquito with some surprisingly good healing; the Ultra Smoon tutors can even back that up on the Fighting side with Drain Punch. Buzzwole may not even need that though, because – in company with a lot of more obviously airborne Bug-types – it actually gets Roost, for on-demand healing. Just add Bulk Up and that, in principle, is a decent physical tank, but in practice Bug/Fighting is not a fantastic offensive combination, failing to deal effectively with Flying-, Poison- or Fairy-types, so we’d better look into Buzzwole’s other attacks for answers.
The best two-attack type coverage Buzzwole can get for a tank moveset comes from using one of its Fighting attacks together with Stone Edge or Ice Punch (which it can learn from a move reminder, without needing access to the tutors in Ultra Smoon). If you want to go to three attacks, putting Leech Life back in is great for the incidental healing, though you’ll hit more types by taking Earthquake instead. At this point you have a pretty solid selection of attacks to choose from, but Buzzwole has a couple more niche options as well: Poison Jab or Iron Head can be used to make life much harder for Fairy-types, who otherwise counter Buzzwole pretty hard, and Thunderpunch is a good answer to a few Water-types, principally Gyarados, but it also works for Water/Fairy Pokémon like Primarina if you don’t have Poison Jab. Payback is there and I think it’s Buzzwole’s only move that really answers Ghost-types, who are also pretty good at bullying it; the trouble is that Payback only hits at full power if your opponent takes their turn before you, and doesn’t get its power bonus on switch-ins, so it only works if Buzzwole is willing to stay in and take a hit.
Buzzwole is tough (notwithstanding its vulnerability to special attacks – switch out against high-powered special attackers, even if they don’t have a type advantage) and has multiple sources of healing, so training it as some kind of damage sponge seems to me like the obvious course of action. Taking Buzzwole down with neutral-typed physical attacks is damn near impossible (but beware of anything with wings and a beak, as Buzzwole takes quadruple damage from Flying attacks), and even Taunting it doesn’t necessarily stop it from healing. Its speed is merely average, and it doesn’t have any speed techniques or priority attacks, so an all-out offensive approach is difficult to finesse. That said, we could imitate one of Heracross’ classic strategies by using a Choice Scarf to compensate for Buzzwole’s underwhelming, but not terrible, speed and use it for sniping injured or fragile Pokémon. Again, Buzzwole’s primary attacks aren’t as powerful as Heracross’, so there’s an argument it’s better off doing its own thing, but its higher base attack stat compensates partially, its coverage attacks are similar, and it can heal even without Roost. Choice Band probably isn’t a horrible idea either, since Buzzwole isn’t that slow and can afford to take a few physical hits anyway, but that route leaves you more open to disruption and status attacks. On the support side, Buzzwole gets Taunt, which is useful for messing with defensive Pokémon that attempt to counter it, but really Buzzwole is better suited to a more direct approach.
To be honest the number one takeaway from this whole article for me personally has been that image of Buzzwole drinking Snorlax, which I am never going to un-see and, as far as I’m concerned, amply covers its entry into the “horrifying alien monstrosity” club to which all Ultra Beasts aspire. I don’t know what else to tell you here; you can disagree with the general aesthetic weirdness of the overall creative direction Game Freak chose for the Ultra Beasts, but it’s hard to deny that Buzzwole is fulfilling it with gusto. As a fighter, it’s a flexible self-healing bruiser that’s not particularly ground-breaking as a Fighting-type but fairly unique among Bug-Pokémon, and damned good at what it does. It’s not the most mechanically original Pokémon in Alola, but it’s fine. Besides, I’m afraid if I criticise it too much I’ll wake up with all the fluids drained from my body.