One of the perennial hazards of modern life is having to keep all of our different wires straight. Everything you own has a different charging cable, and all of them, if they are ever moved or placed in a bag or, gods forbid, allowed to come into contact with each other, will instantaneously morph into eldritch spaghetti as soon as your back is turned. Xurkitree is, as far as I can tell, the result of letting too many of your different charging cables get tangled up until they achieve a collective malevolent sentience, then steal your Christmas decorations and elope with a bunch of zip ties. But now, just when you thought the lunatic nightmare was over… Xurkitree has returned from outer space. For revenge.
Like all Ultra Beasts, Xurkitree is a weird and deliberately alien Pokémon, but at the same time bizarrely familiar. Its body is a bundle of wires, held together by plastic zip ties. Its legs and tail are power plugs, but with much sharper pins that would clearly be a safety hazard if left lying on the floor, and are evidence of either terrible design or the aforementioned malevolent sentience. Its splayed “fingers” with their distinctive angles remind me of the contacts at the edges of a computer chip. And when it assumes a conical “tree” shape in its dormant state, its big glowing spikey head resembles nothing so much as the star on top of a Christmas tree – hence the -tree ending of its name. If Ultra Beasts represent invasive species, as we’ve been told, then Xurkitree is perhaps the encroachment of human technology into the wilderness, particularly the vast networks of cables that we lay across the world to support the conveniences of our modern lives. Or… y’know, it’s just the embodiment of some Game Freak designer’s frustration with the collection of sixty different dongles necessary to power all their devices.
Official sources on Xurkitree seem confused about whether it consumes electricity or produces it. Wicke says, for instance, that “its most distinctive feature is an organ that can generate power. She continues, almost within the same breath, that “when it begins to run out of power, it stabs its legs and tail into the soil, entering a treelike state as it absorbs electricity from the ground” (which… in itself is a weird thing to say, since we usually think of the ground as electrically neutral, a convenient place to dump practically any amount of excess positive or negative charge). The Pokédex, likewise, tells us that Xurkitree on Earth have been observed raiding power plants for their electricity. This is a contradiction that comes up a lot with Electric Pokémon in general, so I don’t want to be too hard on Xurkitree here, but… if you can generate electricity, why do you need to absorb it? Why not look for more of whatever nutrients allow you to generate it? Plants produce carbohydrates, which they need to live; if they run out of carbohydrates (e.g. because they aren’t getting enough sunlight) they don’t start roaming around eating other plants, they grow towards the light so they can make more. When humans run low on energy, we don’t start guzzling pure ATP (I mean, of course people have tried it, but the jury’s out on whether it actually does anything); there’s a whole complicated biochemical cascade between the stuff we eat and the stuff we directly use as a source of cellular energy. I’m going off on a grouchy tangent about this, but there is a pretty obvious mental retcon we can make, which is just to say that the organ Wicke identified is a kind of organic battery that stores the electrical energy Xurkitree feeds on, and she either misunderstood its function, or simply misspoke. That, at least, seems to me like it’s consistent with Xurkitree’s behaviour as we observe it in its natural environment (at least, as far as we have the opportunity to do so).
Xurkitree’s domain is known as the Ultra Plant, a world wracked with cataclysmic lightning storms. When the player arrives there, the Ultra Wormhole spits them out onto a pillar of black stone rising high above the ground, with huge cables like colossal versions of Xurkitree’s arms wrapped around it. A couple of Xurkitree dance along these cables beneath you, inaccessible. Similar pillars and plateaux are visible in the distance. Because the world is so dark, it’s difficult to tell exactly what the landscape below is like – from some angles it looks like the surface of a calm ocean, but it’s also covered in round shapes that could be the tops of trees. Whatever the terrain actually is, as far as the eye can see it’s dotted with what seem to be dormant Xurkitree, with their bundled cable “arms,” “legs” and “tails” spread out beneath their “heads” in a five-sided pyramid shape. They range in size from “normal” to downright titanic – some of the more distant ones could be hundreds of metres tall. Maybe all Xurkitree eventually grow this large – maybe the ones we directly meet in the games are infants. If they are in fact the ecological equivalent of trees on their homeworld, they could live for hundreds of years and never stop growing, just passively absorbing electricity from the storms above and the ground beneath (incidentally, there are an awful lot of Thunder Stones lying around Xurkitree’s world, so it’s conceivable that the earth itself has weird electrical properties, explaining how Xurkitree can draw power from the ground). It’s even possible that the vast cables wrapped around the stone pillar where we enter the Ultra Plant are the appendages of a truly monstrous Xurkitree that we can’t fully see. When we enter the Ultra Plant, after crossing from one stone pillar to another along a gigantic cable, dodging lightning bolts as we go, we encounter “our” Xurkitree in this dormant state. A direct hit from a bolt of lightning wakes it up, and it springs to life and attacks.
The name “Ultra Plant” seems strongly suggestive of an artificial origin for this bizarre landscape – some kind of power generation facility that exploits the constant thunderstorms. We know that there are humans in other worlds within Ultra Space besides our own, because we’ve met the Ultra Recon Squad, whose technology appears highly advanced. It’s plausible to me that the Ultra Plant might have been built by a faction like them, and that Xurkitree are the accidental result of their technology being empowered with vast amounts of electrical energy. They might have come to life in the same way as Voltorb did (whatever we imagine that might be) – maybe what we witness is actually a Xurkitree being born when lightning strikes a power plant module. The different sizes of Xurkitree, in that case, might be related to the function or design of the plant, rather than stages of a life cycle, and larger ones might require bigger electrical discharges to bring to life. The question that remains, if we decide that the Ultra Plant is artificial, is “where are the people who built it?” It’s not clear, for any of the worlds we visit, whether the terrain we see is supposed to be representative of a whole planet (in other words, whether these are Star Wars-style “single biome planets”) so maybe there’s a huge high-tech city just over the horizon, outside the stormy area, being powered by all this nonsense. On the other hand, maybe we are supposed to assume that this storm covers the entire planet – in which case, the Plant might have been created by an even more powerful civilisation with the power to travel and transmit power through Ultra Space. Heck, maybe it supplies power to Ultra Megalopolis. Whoever is responsible, there’s something I can’t help but find a little bit sinister about anything that can fill a horizon with gigantic living lightning rods – or what it could be using all that power for.
Xurkitree is an absolutely murderous Electric-type special attacker with the second-strongest Electric attacks in the entire game, its Thunder only narrowly falling short of Zekrom’s Bolt Strike against targets with equal special and physical defence. It follows a very simple strategy: who cares that other Pokémon can outrun you and your defences are only average? You’re about to shove 1.21 gigawatts of pure electric pain straight up their butts, so whatever they’re going to hit you with, it’d better be good. What’s that, you say? You used Thunderbolt, but something in Xurkitree’s general vicinity is still alive? Xurkitree has a solution to that too: a BIGGER THUNDERBOLT. Xurkitree is one of only three Pokémon with access to an extremely rare move: Tail Glow, originally Volbeat’s signature move, which raises the user’s special attack stat by about +150%. If you somehow manage to get the breathing space to use it a second time, you max out at +300%. Volbeat can’t really do much with this except try to Baton Pass the buff, because Volbeat has horrendous base special attack and a “meh” special movepool. On the other hand, the second Tail Glow Pokémon, Manaphy, has always traded very heavily on this move ever since its introduction in Diamond and Pearl. Manaphy has a type which is pretty solid on both offence and defence, strong all-round stats that make it hard to deal with quickly, a good special movepool, and a kickass ability (Hydration) that makes it extremely difficult to even slow down when it has rain support. Xurkitree is a lot more powerful than Manaphy with that monstrous special attack score, and Electric is a pretty good type both offensively and defensively, just like Water. It also has the perennially useful option of Volt Switch to get itself out of trouble, just as Manaphy can take U-Turn. By comparison, though, it suffers on flexibility: Xurkitree is quite a bit slower and more fragile, its Beast Boost ability just piles up more special attack power (which is frankly gratuitous at this point), and it has fewer good special attacks to choose from. When your one big trick is a massive blast of electrical energy, you also have a larger blind spot than Manaphy, because only a few Pokémon are immune to Water attacks, but all Ground-types are immune to Electric attacks.
I think on balance Xurkitree is probably a worse Tail Glow sweeper than Manaphy, but not by a wide margin, and they’re quite different Pokémon so it wouldn’t be a straight case of being outclassed anyway. That monstrous special attack stat deserves to be emphasised again and again. Sure, a level 1 Sandshrew can block even Xurkitree’s Thunderbolt harmlessly, but that’s why we have coverage moves. Xurkitree doesn’t have a lot of these, but it does get Energy Ball, which allows it to put the hurt on Ground-types who think they can stop it. Dazzling Gleam for Dragon-types is on its list too, as is Signal Beam for Grass-types, although at this point we’re starting to scrape the barrel power-wise. There’s not really any way for Xurkitree to be secure against all three and still have room for Tail Glow, though, unless you’re prepared to soft-reset for Hidden Power: Ice. Alternatively you could decide you don’t even need Tail Glow and take a Choice item instead – unlike Manaphy, Xurkitree’s special attacks are pants-wettingly terrifying even without it, and a Choice Scarf can net you some surprise kills by making it unexpectedly fast. Other than these variations on the general theme of “excruciating electric death,” there’s not really a lot else Xurkitree does well – it has support moves, but there’s not much of an argument for using them when you could just fry everything in sight. The one possible exception is Hypnosis, which is a decent move to throw out when you just don’t know what your opponent is going to switch to, since there are multiple things that resist Electric attacks and Xurkitree kinda has to work to cover them all. One thing I’ve seen suggested is a Psychic-type Z-Crystal, which sounds odd since Xurkitree has no damaging Psychic attacks, but makes sense once you realise that Z-Hypnosis grants the user a speed boost (not subject to Hypnosis’ iffy 60% accuracy). Its average speed is the main thing holding Xurkitree back from just murdering everything, so if you can score a speed boost and put a designated counter to sleep, thus buying time for Tail Glow… well, that might just be the game. Bear in mind, though, that Xurkitree has little room for error in choosing a coverage move, and that your team can only use one Z-move per battle: make it count.
Xurkitree is a fairly straightforward Pokémon to actually use, with all the power anyone could want and just enough defence to avoid being a total glass cannon. It’s not subtle, but hey, who needs subtlety when you can throw a lightning storm at anyone who annoys you? On the flavour side, though, it combines the two separate forms of weirdness of both artificial Pokémon and Ultra Beasts, leaving us to wonder exactly what else might be out there in the void, building alien power plants and leaving planets scarred by lightning. Too bad we’ve probably seen the last of Ultra Space since different generations of Pokémon games rarely build on each other. Oh well…