We’re down to our last two Ultra Beasts: Stakataka and Blacephalon, who were added to the roster only in Ultra Moon and Ultra Sun (respectively). We don’t know as much about them as we do about all the others, because we never see their homeworlds. All the original Ultra Beasts, whom we first met in Alola in Sun and Moon, are encountered in Ultra Smoon by travelling through Ultra Space to their own worlds (while Poipole is involved in the story of the Ultra Recon Squad, and gets a major supporting role in the anime). These two, we only ever meet in Alola, and we also get no information about them from Wicke, who is otherwise a fount of interesting (if occasionally dubious) intelligence. As a result, there’s more I’d like to know about Stakataka that I just don’t, like what kind of ecosystem produces a creature like this, and how it behaves in its natural habitat – things that, for normal Pokémon, we tend to learn as a matter of course. But we have the Pokédex, we have the design, we have Stakataka’s in-game types, stats and mechanics, and we have the anime episode it stars in, so let’s take a look and see what we can do.
Stakataka is a communal organism, like a man o’ war jellyfish in the real world. Each of the “bricks” that make up its body is actually an independent living thing, and they cluster together to form a wall-like structure for (presumably) safety in numbers, hence its Interpol codename, UB Assembly. Funnily enough, it isn’t the first communal organism in generation VII, or even the first one with an architectural inspiration – Sandygast and Palossand are made up of millions of spirits, each possessing a single grain of sand. Each of Stakataka’s bricks has a single glowing blue eye, and when the collective is at rest (as shown in the anime) the eyes are all turned inwards towards its hollow interior, so that it looks for all the world like an ordinary building made of dark grey stone. The “legs” that we can see in its official art are made up of bricks that have temporarily left their places along Stakataka’s edges and rearranged themselves to form limbs. Why it needs limbs, if each brick can move independently, isn’t clear. Maybe the structure is stronger and keeps more of its defensive utility if most of the bricks stay locked in place and only a few of them move around, or maybe (as in a jellyfish) the individual creatures that make up its body actually have specialisations – some of them are responsible for moving the collective, some of them are responsible for fighting, and so on.
The Ultra Smoon website explains that Stakataka’s eyes glow red when Stakataka is angry (we see this in the anime), or “when confronting another” – which I suppose implies that Stakataka sometimes fight each other in their natural habitat, perhaps over territory. Its species designation is “the Rampart Pokémon,” referring to a type of pre-industrial military fortification, and its English name seems to contain the word “attack” (though I think this resonance is only in English, not other languages), so it makes sense that we might be supposed to imagine Stakataka as an aggressive, competitive creature, trying like the inhabitants of a mediaeval castle to exert control over a stretch of the surrounding land. The anime also shows that Stakataka gets extremely antsy if you put something on top of it (in the relevant episode, this is a tasteless golden statue of a local property developer), and now I’m going to get more tenuous, but this could be a reference to a castle’s keep being captured or having someone else’s flag placed at the top – an upsetting development for its previous owners.
When I break down Pokémon designs, I usually go to Bulbapedia first to see what they think the design is based on; I don’t always agree, but it’s a good starting point. I like their suggestion that Stakataka’s appearance is influenced by the mokumokuren, a many-eyed yokai that lives inside damaged screen doors and other architectural features, and can only be made to leave by conducting appropriate repairs. Mokumokuren don’t usually live in stone walls, but the aesthetic is a good match. I’m less convinced by any attempt to link Stakataka to any specific ancient stone building. Bulbapedia’s suggestion is that it’s inspired by the architecture of the Talaiotic culture of the Balearic Iron Age, and… well, sure, I guess? The thing is, one ancient stone tower or pyramid kinda looks a lot like any other. There’s this trope of people looking at the pyramids of Egypt, and then noticing that the ancient Maya also built pyramids, and then you learn that there are ancient pyramid tombs in China and Korea, and what could it all mean – aliens??? It means pyramids are a good shape if you want to make a really impressive monument by piling up a bunch of rocks. Likewise, squarish towers are a good shape if you want to keep an eye on a large area of the landscape. Stakataka doesn’t have any really distinctive architectural features that could convincingly link it to any particular ancient building or type of building – it’s more of a generic stone structure with an air of mystery about it. It could be meant to invoke the same curiosity as other artificial-looking Ultra Beasts about whether it could really have been “built,” like Palossand, and who might be out there in Ultra Space to do the building (the “aliens built the pyramids” stuff is nonsense, but that doesn’t mean Stakataka can’t be a reference to the idea – there could even be architectural styles in the Pokémon world that were inspired by it).
Pro tip for using any wiki: always glance at the “talk” page. It’ll give you an impression of the editorial process, and potentially even controversies that didn’t make it to the main page. In this case, I discovered a comment by Bulbapedia user .Rawr! dated to October 2017, suggesting that Stakataka is based on the jumping stones of Nias, an island in western Indonesia. The stones in question are flat-topped, roughly pyramidal structures. In the island’s traditional coming-of-age rituals (watching these is now a major tourist attraction because of the considerable athletic skill involved), young men have to leap over these stones, which can be up to two metres tall. This never went into Stakataka’s actual Bulbapedia page, and I’m fairly sure no one else has ever picked it up, probably because in October 2017 there was no damn reason to believe it; Stakataka does kind of look like a jumping stone to me, but, again, it kind of looks like a lot of things. Except… in August 2018, we got the Stakataka episode of the anime, The Long Vault Home – and it begins with Ash and his classmates jumping over vaulting boxes in a PE class. Ash and Kiawe, because they are Ash and Kiawe, turn it into a competition, stacking the vaulting boxes higher and higher to see who can clear the biggest obstacles (then Lana comes in and casually outdoes both of them). Eventually, Professor Kukui runs out of stacks, but promises to get more. The next day, the kids unexpectedly find Stakataka asleep on the lawn and assume that it’s a new piece of gym equipment Kukui has acquired – so, of course, Kiawe tries to vault over it (he winds up falling into its hollow interior, and is briefly traumatised by all Stakataka’s eyes staring inward at him). The use of vaulting practice as a motif for introducing Stakataka to the anime is… just specific enough for me to think that maybe this really is what Stakataka’s designers had in mind, and .Rawr! was some kind of mad prophet, cursed by fate to howl divine truths that the world was not yet ready to hear into an uncaring night.
…or, y’know, it’s a total coincidence.
Stakataka is a huge pile of bricks, and it has the defensive stats to prove it: meh HP, but good special defence and ludicrous physical defence. In terms of pure physical bulk it stands head and shoulders (or… roof and architrave, I guess?) above luminaries like Skarmory and Ferrothorn, and it can take special attacks much better than Skarmory can too. The downside is that Rock/Steel, counterintuitively, is a poor defensive combination, with double weaknesses to two of the best and most common attack types in the game, Ground and Fighting (this is why Mega Aggron’s greatest selling point, arguably, is losing its Rock type). A moderately powerful Earthquake will critically wound Stakataka; special Ground or Fighting attacks are fortunately much rarer, but an Earth Power or Focus Blast even from a Pokémon with fairly lacklustre special attack can one-shot it, depending on how much special defence training it has. Still, if you can stay away from those moves, it’s a highly resilient Pokémon that can be relied on to soak up some fairly extreme physical damage.
Any opponent who thinks Stakataka is just a brick wall will pay a hefty price, though: it has an excellent physical attack stat, and a small but nonetheless deadly selection of moves to use with it. Number one on that list is Gyro Ball: a Steel-type attack that does more damage to targets that are several times faster than the user. Gyro Ball is a bit like Heavy Slam (which Stakataka weirdly doesn’t get, despite being a Steel-type and the eighth-heaviest Pokémon in the game), in that most Pokémon can’t even think about using it, because the ratios have to be absurd. Even if your target is three times as fast as you, Gyro Ball is sub-par. To max it out at 150 power (Earthquake, for comparison, is a 100), your target has to be at least six times faster. But Stakataka is slow. If you soft-reset for the slowest possible Stakataka you can get, with a speed-negative nature, you can theoretically keep its final speed stat at level 100 as low as 27, meaning that Gyro Ball will do maximum damage against anyone faster than 162. Some Pokémon likely to have a speed stat around 162 at level 100 include Trevenant, Torterra, Blissey, Ampharos and Aurorus – not exactly renowned speed demons. This gets even nastier if you put Stakataka on a Trick Room team (it can even use Trick Room itself, if you like), because then it can subvert its abysmal speed to outrun practically everything and potentially go for a sweep.
Selecting a Stakataka to train for a Trick Room team is really weird, because (and this is what’s most highly recommended on sites like Smogon) you can in principle produce one with a final attack stat higher than its defence – which means that its Beast Boost ability will trigger on its attack, letting it can snowball by knocking out enemy Pokémon. In order to do that, though, you need the stars to align for a Stakataka that’s relatively bad at the stat which is normally its best: you need specifically a Lonely nature, a high attack IV, and a low-to-average defence one, and of course your EV training needs to max out its attack without touching its defence. If any of that sounds confusing or not worth the effort to you, that’s fine. You can ignore all of it, and your Stakataka will still be a solid tank, and particularly effective on a Trick Room team. You just won’t be able to pull off the nonsense snowball sweeps that we’ve seen with Ultra Beasts like Naganadel and Xurkitree. You’re better off leaning into the tank role, putting more points into special defence than attack, and considering support moves. It gets Stealth Rock, it’s not a bad Pokémon to use Toxic, and it even gets some weirder things like Gravity, Magnet Rise (to undo that awful Ground weakness) and Magic Coat, and its toughness makes it a decent candidate for using any of them.
The other notable attacks on Stakataka’s list are Stone Edge, Earthquake and Superpower. Of the Pokémon that resist Gyro Ball, Stone Edge can hit everything except other Steel-types and a few dual-type Water Pokémon like Swampert and Keldeo, while Earthquake misses Flying or Levitating Pokémon, as well as a few more Water-types including Ludicolo and Golisopod. Between the two you can do neutral damage to pretty much anything. Superpower should usually be your last choice, only if you really want a four-attacks moveset, because it inflicts attack and defence penalties which undermine Stakataka’s staying power. However, it’s more reliable than Stone Edge, more powerful than Earthquake, and picks up a few more super-effective hits. Quite a few people recommend Rock Blast on Stakataka instead of Stone Edge if you’re playing it as a tank, because of Rock Blast’s higher PP. Crunching the numbers, factoring in Rock Blast’s higher accuracy, the fact that Rock Blast hits a variable number of times, and Stone Edge’s higher critical hit ratio, I reckon that on average we’re looking at a base power of about 72.7 for Rock Blast versus 85 exactly for Stone Edge (Rock Blast’s multiple hits can also break through Substitutes, which isn’t readily quantifiable). Is that worth it for twice the PP? Damned if I know, but at least now you have a number.
The strange thing about Stakataka is that it’s almost the same concept as Sandygast and Palossand, but with its aesthetics and lore reversed. Palossand is… kind of cutesy, with its sandcastle aesthetic, but when you learn about it, it’s actually a horrifying ghoul. Stakataka is dark, brutal (in the architectural sense, but the Pokédex does also call it a brute), sort of eerie, definitely creepy when all its eyes start staring at you, but like most Ultra Beasts it’s… honestly pretty chill once you get to know it? More so than the others, even, because it’s a wall; its lifestyle is literally to sit and be a wall. I think that simplicity is its strength, if it has one. Several of the Ultra Beasts feel a bit overdesigned, like there’s too much happening in their art to understand it all at a glance, but Stakataka, whatever else you might think of it, is not that. I want there to be more to it – but what’s there is enough.