Well, it’s a bear trap.
I don’t think it’s more than that.
…I have to talk about it anyway, don’t I?
Stunfisk was… a Pokémon I had very mixed feelings about in 2011, then promptly forgot about for most of the next 8 years. But now it’s back with a shiny new Galarian regional form, and I suppose I just have to deal with that. Original recipe Stunfisk’s angle was that it’s a flatfish that hangs out on beaches and mud flats and zaps you if you step on it. It’s like a flounder or plaice mixed with an electric eel – or like a stonefish, that kills you with horrifically painful venom if you step on it – or like a stargazer, which is a fat ugly fish with eyes on the top of its head that isn’t flat like Stunfisk but does bury itself in sand and can produce electric shocks – or like a torpedo ray, which is flat and lives on the sea floor and can zap you but doesn’t really look like a fish-fish – or like a mudskipper that can survive on land because it can breathe air through its skin. It’s a rich tapestry of derpy fish that all come together to produce one supremely derpy derpfish, is the point.
New Stunfisk… is also still a fish, but in addition to being a fish, is a bear trap. So, I guess, let’s talk about bear traps.
Bear traps with spring-loaded steel jaws belong to a class of traps called “foothold” or “leghold” traps. Foothold traps come in a range of sizes, depending on what kind of animal you’re after – Stunfisk, whose “jaws” (actually modified fins, according to the Pokédex) open to about 70 cm wide, is pretty hefty even for a bear trap. The springs of a big foothold trap form very long “arms”, about where Stunfisk’s fins are, but the jaws themselves don’t need to open to more than 40 cm for even the biggest animals, since you’re only trying to grab one leg. Stunfisk’s huge jaws might be able to close over a smaller Pokémon’s entire body, more like a Venus flytrap than a human hunter’s bear trap, at which point Stunfisk can presumably just wriggle back down into the mud and stay there until its unfortunate prey suffocates. Like a stonefish, flounder or torpedo ray, foothold traps can be camouflaged to avoid arousing animals’ suspicion, usually by using leaves, grass, bark and so on to conceal parts of the mechanism. Unovan Stunfisk doesn’t appear to have bothered with this. In fact, it has a big yellow exclamation mark that seems like it ought to be a warning symbol. This is a sensible choice if it uses its electricity mainly to defend itself – think of the bright colours of poisonous animals like dart frogs – but very strange if, as the Pokédex claims, it’s actually an ambush predator like a torpedo ray. Maybe it mainly hunts Pokémon that have trouble seeing the colour yellow, or are just extremely stupid. Galarian Stunfisk, on the other hand, puts in a little effort with a black and green camo pattern, ensuring that even if it’s not completely covered in mud, it won’t stand out unless you look closely. There is, of course, one part of its body that isn’t camouflaged: its bright red-and-white lips, which act as a lure for curious prey.
Wikipedia claims that foothold traps were invented in the 1600s to keep poachers off big country estates. It provides no source for this claim and no further explanation or evidence, and I have genuinely struggled to find any further information on the earliest examples of traps like these. The best I have been able to come up with as a source on animal traps in Renaissance Europe is a book by English author and translator Leonard Mascall, probably first published at some point in the 1580s, which goes by the delightful name A booke of sundrie Engines and Trappes to take Polcats, Buzards, Rattes, Mice, and all other kindes of Vermine and Beasts whatsoever, most profitable for all Warriners, and such as delight in this kinde of sport and pastime (in 16th century England it was apparently customary to front-load most of a book’s content into the title). Mascall provides a description and illustration of a fox trap, which he says “is called a foote trappe, because it taketh all by the foote” and which appears to be made of a plank of wood with a hole in it, tied to a bent tree. It seems to work by using the tension of the bent tree to pull a loop of rope tight around the animal’s leg – no sign of vicious steel jaws, here or anywhere else in the book. The point is, if this is the kind of technology that was being recommended in late-16th century England for trapping wild animals by the foot, I am prepared to believe that our familiar steel-jawed traps did not exist before 1600. It also seems pretty clear that they were commonplace by 1800. That is as far as I will stick my neck out on this particular subject.
The early history of the use of steel foothold traps (on the basis of my very limited expertise and frantic internet searching) seems pretty starkly divided between North America – where they are closely linked with the fur trade – and Europe, especially the UK, where they seem to be associated more with catching poachers. Historically, this is particularly tied to the “enclosure of the commons”: the centuries-long evolution of UK law that transformed most Mediaeval “common” land into the exclusive property of noble landowners, who sought new rights and powers to defend that property from poachers hunting animals on private land, particularly in the 18th century. Enclosure and poaching were controversial at the time and, frankly, still seem to be among historians today. That period of increased poaching and corresponding crackdowns is also probably what that Wikipedia article was referring to – although, again, I can’t find specific sources on exactly when these things were invented, and I can’t say for sure whether they were first used against humans or animals. The point of all this – the reason I’ve taken you, gentle reader, through this rough sketch of so much tangential history at all – is that I think it’s interesting to see a bear trap Pokémon as a Galarian regional form, considering the associations foothold traps have in the UK and the fact that bears have been extinct in Great Britain since at least the year 1000. These are not just animal traps; they can be human traps, and Stunfisk is certainly big enough to catch a person. Galarian Stunfisk might well be specifically adapted to prey on humans… which brings us back to those red-and-white, suspiciously Pokéball-like lips. What else could those be intended to lure? And of course, traps for humans are a staple of fantasy, and Galarian Stunfisk would be far from the first trap-monster.
Creatures that look like something harmless or desirable in order to attract prey are common in the real world: anglerfish dangle glowing lures on dorsal “fishing rods”; a snapping turtle’s pink tongue looks like a delicious wriggling worm; orchid mantises imitate flowers to draw pollinating insects. In gaming, the ur-example of “aggressive mimicry” is the Dungeons and Dragons creature known as the mimic, an amorphous shapeshifter that likes to disguise itself as a wooden treasure chest in order to attract greedy adventurers. Dungeon delvers see the chest, attempt to open it and are ensnared by the gluey secretions of the mimic, which then tries to swallow them whole. Mimics are a classic D&D monster, with roots in the game’s earliest editions published in the 1970s. Early JRPGs adopted a lot of tropes and monster designs from Dungeons and Dragons, and mimics consequently appear in multiple iterations of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, sometimes visible in the overworld and disguised as desirable chests. In Pokémon, beneficial items in the overworld look like Pokéballs, the Pokémon trainer’s fundamental tool – so we get Voltorb and Electrode, who appear in the first Pokémon games in the abandoned Kanto power plant, sitting innocently in the overworld mixed in with all the useful items scattered around the area. Provoke them and you risk getting hit with their powerful Selfdestruct attack. Voltorb, unusually, aren’t explicitly trying to lure anything by looking like Pokéballs – they happen to do that, but it’s implied that they look like Pokéballs because that’s what they are, Pokéballs that have somehow come to life. Voltorb’s successor is Foongus, who appears in the overworld of some parts of Unova looking from above like a normal item ball, thanks to its Pokéball-patterned mushroom cap. The Pokédex seems pretty confused about why Foongus and its evolved form Amoonguss display Pokéball patterns. We’re variously told that no one knows why, or that they’re trying to attract Pokémon, or people, or generically “prey” (implying that they’re carnivorous mushrooms), but also that “very few Pokémon are fooled” by their disguise, which is frankly understandable since it works from exactly one angle. I think the only possible conclusion is that Foongus and Amoonguss have evolved – very rapidly, since the advent of modern Pokéballs – specifically to prey on humans, the only creature dumb enough to see a random Pokéball lying in a field and think “yep, want that.”
Galarian Stunfisk is the first Pokéball-mimicking Pokémon designed in the era of wild Pokémon being visible in the overworld by default, as well as the era of 3D graphics in Pokémon games. And… well, it kinda suffers for that. Voltorb and Foongus could look exactly like dropped Pokéballs thanks to their games’ sprite graphics. Galarian Stunfisk buries itself in the dirt with only its Pokéball-patterned lips visible, but even then it looks like a Pokéball mostly buried in the ground, which is not something the game has ever shown us before or trained us to look for. Honestly in my first playthrough I ran into two or three of them before even realising that their lips were visible. And if you don’t know the Stunfisk is there, that’s still no guarantee it’ll get you, because if you just run directly over a Galarian Stunfisk without stopping, it will not snap shut quickly enough to catch you and force you to battle. There is one cool little trick to Galarian Stunfisk’s overworld presentation, though – if you whistle (by pressing your Switch’s left control stick), all the nearby Stunfisk will snap their jaws shut and briefly emerge from the ground before burying themselves again. Turns out those jaw springs are on a hair trigger.
Using Galarian Stunfisk
I don’t… understand… what Galarian Stunfisk is supposed to be good at. If, indeed, it’s supposed to be good at anything. It’s a Steel-type with a physical stats bias, but it doesn’t learn any physical Steel attack stronger than Metal Claw. It has a unique ability, Mimicry, that causes its type to change to match any active terrain effect (Electric Terrain, Psychic Terrain, Misty Terrain, Grassy Terrain), but it doesn’t learn any Electric, Psychic or Fairy attacks. In theory its shifting type should help it resist attacks from Pokémon trying to get boosts from terrain effects, but as a Ground/Steel-type, Galarian Stunfisk already resists Psychic and Fairy attacks, and is immune to Electric attacks, so it’s not an especially good counter to terrain teams either. Thanks to the Isle of Armour move tutor, it can pick up Terrain Pulse to ensure it will always have a strong attack to match its terrain-shifted type, but Terrain Pulse works off its mediocre special attack stat. It learns exactly one Grass attack, which is also its signature move, Snap Trap: a decent, if ultimately underwhelming, binding attack that combines the good accuracy of Infestation with the superior power of Whirlpool or Fire Spin. Other than that, its physical movepool is pretty much Ground attacks and Stone Edge, which is admittedly not a bad combination, plus Crunch, which is thematically appropriate but not especially useful, and Bounce, which is a bit of a meme. Thanks to Snap Trap, it’s quite good at trapping opponents in play, but… then what? It can’t learn Toxic, because Sword and Shield are the first Pokémon games in which there is no TM for Toxic (Unovan Stunfisk can bring it forward from an older game, but there’s no way for Galarian Stunfisk to take it). Its only healing technique aside from Rest is Pain Split, which works poorly with its high base HP. It can buff itself with Curse, I suppose.
Probably the best things you can say about Galarian Stunfisk are that it learns Stealth Rock, it’s reasonably tough and it has Steel-type resistances. None of that is very interesting or unique, and it means that Stunfisk’s Mimicry ability – its most distinctive quality – actively undermines one of its strongest features (if it ever comes up at all), but you don’t really need much else to be a passable utility tank. Steelix is more versatile, has much stronger abilities and is a better physical wall, but Stunfisk has solid special defence, can threaten to inflict sleep with Yawn and… and… I dunno; it can get Reflect Type, I guess??? Who doesn’t love Reflect Type? Galarian Stunfisk has its physical and special stats flipped compared with Unovan Stunfisk, and of course I can understand thematically why this was done, but I can’t help but think that it would have a much better shot at differentiating itself from other similar Pokémon if it were halfway decent at using special attacks, especially Terrain Pulse.
Galarian Stunfisk is… fine, I guess? It combines its predecessor’s flatfish ambush predator roots with a man-made ground trap, which at least makes sense and takes the design in a new direction. It looks kinda dumb, but that’s Stunfisk’s aesthetic, frankly. It lightly implies through the context of its design that it’s adapted specifically to prey on humans, but won’t lean into it, which is yet another chapter in the saga of “the Pokémon games being confused about how dark and dangerous their setting is allowed to be” (if Bewear gets to crush its own trainer to death with a hug, why can’t Stunfisk eat a kid or three?). It’s not a Pokémon I ever wanted to exist, but it’s here now. The problem I suppose I still have with Galarian Stunfisk is that, in a game that seems to be trying really hard to sell Pokémon as an immersive wilderness exploration experience full of “real” living creatures, its luring strategy is just so transparently incompetent. There’s no reason mimic-style monsters like Galarian Stunfisk shouldn’t work anymore in games with more advanced graphics than 90s Pokémon; Dark Souls, for instance, has mimics that look just like real treasure chests. Pokémon does make life hard for itself, though, by rendering most items in the overworld as Pokéballs and not using any “treasure chest” equivalent. We’ve already had Voltorb and Electrode, and there just isn’t much else a Pokémon can look like that players would habitually seek out and try to interact with. Berry trees, perhaps? Maybe that’s the direction Pokémon’s mimic monsters need to go in…
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