Does it matter? Trapinch is basically an insect – it’s supposed to be an antlion or something – and Flygon looks basically like a reptilian western dragon, with Vibrava being somewhere in between (and, appropriately enough, a dragonfly). Since they’re in the Bug breeding group, I’m inclined to say that they’re biologically more like insects, despite Flygon’s appearance.
Well, Pokémon evolution is sufficiently different to real-world evolution anyway that details like whether it’s ‘adaptation’ or not kind of go over my head. Darwinian evolution has no effect on individuals. Organisms cannot ‘evolve’ within their own lifetimes. Only populations can evolve. What Pokémon are doing – dramatic change within the lifetime of a single creature – is really metamorphosis; it makes more sense to compare Bulbasaur to, say, what a cicada or dragonfly does. Evolution is a bit of a silly thing to call it, I suppose, but I think I’ve been desensitised to it over the sixteen years I’ve been playing Pokémon.
Single-typed Ice Pokémon do not have a terribly good record on this blog. Black and White produced three of them, and I condemned all three (for different reasons, of course); later on, Glaceon was partially responsible for my coming to the conclusion that we should just be done with Eeveelutions and move on to something else. For some reason Game Freak’s designers seem to have trouble getting past “this Pokémon has ice powers” as the central feature of what these Ice-types are and do. Bergmite and Avalugg… well, there’s something there… let’s take a look.
The Pokédex describes Avalugg, with a group of Bergmite huddled on its back, as resembling “an aircraft carrier made of ice.” This would strike me as a rather uninteresting and honestly pretty silly comparison (which, let’s be honest, would not be atypical for the Pokédex), if not for the fact that there was in fact a time during World War II when the Allied Powers actually tried to build an aircraft carrier made of ice. Well, to be more precise, due to the difficulties involved with working in ice it would have been more of a great big floating mass than a ‘ship’ in the traditional sense, and it wasn’t exactly ice, either; they tried to develop a new composite material for the purpose. Known as pykrete, from the name of the man who first suggested the idea, Geoffrey Pyke, it was a tough, relatively lightweight and extremely cheap construction material made by freezing water mixed with sawdust or wood pulp. The binding effect of the cellulose fibres in the wood makes the ice dramatically less brittle, comparable in strength to concrete, and because wood is a poor conductor of heat it also insulates the ice from temperature changes and makes it melt far more slowly than normal ice. The material is – naturally – far, far cheaper than steel, as well as being naturally buoyant. For obvious reasons, pykrete ships would have been most useful at fairly extreme latitudes, and a low surface area-to-volume ratio is also important (so the ship needs to be very large, preferably with an enclosed design). Several promising tests were conducted and enthusiasm for the idea was high for a while. Eventually though, the Allies started to win the war without it, and thought it was better just to keep doing what they were doing rather than rely on this bizarre experimental material, so the idea’s never really been properly tested (people like the Mythbusters have tried small pykrete ships, which just don’t have the thermal mass to survive above the freezing point of water for long; you need to think big with this stuff). It’s a cool little bit of military history. It’s entirely possible that Avalugg is just an iceberg Pokémon and nothing else, and that the “aircraft carrier made of ice” thing is just a really dumb simile, of course, but personally I think this is much more interesting.
Anyway… so what? There’s a reference in the Pokédex to a cool story about a wacky military experiment, which I like, but where does that leave us? Avalugg, this reference seems to be telling us, is based on what is, essentially, a huge block of ice. As a result, Avalugg is… well, a huge block of ice. Other than a flat top and the fact that it can apparently swim – it can learn Surf – which makes sense since ice floats (though it’s a bit odd that it lives in the mountains), it doesn’t seem to have taken anything from being based on an aircraft carrier, although to be honest I’m not sure what else you could take from that. Maybe a symbiotic relationship with Flying Pokémon – perhaps Wingull and Pelipper come to rest on their backs as they drift across the sea, or maybe land-dwelling Pokémon even spread between continents on the backs of Avalugg? That might have been neat. I’m reminded a little of Geodude, Graveler and Golem, who are living rocks and not much more; that’s not bad in itself because just the idea of a living rock creature or a living iceberg is cool on its own, but I’m also drawn to make unfavourable comparisons with Cryogonal and Glalie, who are basically living ice as well but have a bit more personality to them. Having said that, the Pokédex’s references to Bergmite living in herds are nice, and the idea of a large group of them sitting on an Avalugg’s back is a nice image that ads a bit more to our impression of how these things live. Maybe they bunch up like that for protection while sleeping, or whenever they have to travel long distances, perhaps by water? Avalugg’s art is pleasing enough; it has a sort of reptilian, tortoise-like feel that creates an impression of tremendous mass and slow but overwhelming force, like the millennia-long advance of a glacier. We’re a little short on Ice Pokémon that have tried to convey that sense. Bergmite is a bit odd because it seems to have a body underneath the ice, which vanishes when it evolves, perhaps being completely absorbed into the ice over time somehow. I guess it’s… kind of cute, though, in a weird, bug-eyed sort of way. I wonder whether these things eat? Possibly not, or very little; if their bodies are mostly made of ice they can probably survive on water for the most part. Bergmite, apparently, can repair fissures in their frozen bodies using nothing more than cold air (or, presumably, the water in the air), so even drinking might be unnecessary for them. They just keep going, oblivious to everything happening around them – like a glacier.
Game Freak have tried to make defensive Ice Pokémon before. It doesn’t usually end well, because Ice is almost indisputably the worse defensive type in the game; you get four weaknesses, three of them to very common and powerful attack types, and only one resistance, to Ice itself. That’s not to say an Ice-type can’t do defence; it’s more that only Cloyster and Walrein have ever really been good enough at it to rise above the shortcomings of their element. A defensive Ice-type, practically by definition, has to have some pretty impressive assets to succeed. What does Avalugg have? Well, for one thing, the fifth-highest defence stat in the game, behind Shuckle, Regirock, Steelix and Mega Aggron, and a good deal more HP than any of those four (awful, awful special defence, but hey, who’s counting?). Recover, for another. Being one of the slowest Pokémon in the game makes Recover a bit tricky to time correctly, but it lets Avalugg survive and heal off practically any physical damage that isn’t super-effective, and a good deal that is. Excellent attack power and a solid physical movepool help too. Avalugg’s primary attack is Avalanche, which is only powerful if Avalugg has already taken damage that turn and messes you up a bit if your opponent, say, uses Swords Dance or something, or switches out (it also forces Avalugg to move after its opponent, but that’s something Avalugg will usually be doing anyway), but is otherwise very nasty. Earthquake combines well with Avalanche, giving you at least a neutral hit on everything except for Bronzong, Cryogonal, Shedinja, some of Rotom’s forms, and Surskit. Stone Edge offers a few more super-effective hits. Crunch gives good neutral coverage, which Avalugg has anyway. Gyro Ball is attractive, since its power increases when used by a slower Pokémon against a faster one and Avalugg is one of the slowest there is, but there actually aren’t that many Pokémon who take significantly more damage from Gyro Ball than they do from Avalugg’s main attacks. Any and all of these can mix with Curse to continue building up Avalugg’s defence and power, though I don’t think I’d really recommend that since it isn’t a difficult Pokémon to force out. Unfortunately, if we use Avalugg as something of a tank, capitalising mainly on its physical power, the literal elephant in the room is Mamoswine. Mamoswine lacks Avalugg’s obscene physical defence and ability to heal, but has much more powerful Earthquakes and can use Ice Shard to beat things that outrun it (and really, why doesn’t Avalugg get Ice Shard? It’s made of ice!). There’s no way Avalugg can compete with that kind of power – so what are its support options like?
Rapid Spin is the main option to keep in mind. Even with Defog available as an alternative means to clearing Stealth Rock, Spikes and Toxic Spikes, Rapid Spin is still important if you want to be able to do that without blowing away your own entry hazards, and there still aren’t all that many Pokémon who learn it. It’s an important move to have. Unfortunately, Avalugg’s not really a good Rapid Spinner, since it’s an Ice-type and takes fairly severe damage from switching in while your opponent has Stealth Rock up, which is exactly when you need Rapid Spin. Other than that… well, I guess it can force switches with Roar, potentially ending an attempted sweep from a physical attacker who managed to power up. It’s not the worst Pokémon to use Toxic. That’s… kind of it. Huh. I was sort of expecting there would be more in there. Avalugg’s abilities aren’t great either. Own Tempo makes a Pokémon immune to confusion, which just doesn’t come up often because confusion is such a gamble anyway, but I suppose if you really hate Klefki it couldn’t hurt. Ice Body, which heals the Pokémon every turn during hail, was the staple of Walrein’s defensive strategies in generations IV and V, but now that permanent weather effects are no longer a thing it just doesn’t work so well anymore. What you probably want is Avalugg’s hidden ability, Sturdy. Sturdy makes it impossible to knock a Pokémon out if its health is at maximum, which is slightly silly because if you’re using Avalugg for Rapid Spin you can almost assume it’ll take at least a little bit of damage as it switches in, and in any case, there’s a very clear and threatening line between things that can one-shot Avalugg (special attackers) and things that can’t (physical attackers). On the other hand, thanks to Recover it can get back to full health after being damaged, so it’s not the worst Pokémon to have this ability, and it certainly beats the other two ability choices. Also, bear in mind that Avalugg can learn Mirror Coat as a hereditary move from Corsola, via Squirtle, to reflect back twice the damage it just took from a special attack, provided it survives (which Sturdy can sometimes ensure it will). It’s a risky way to play Avalugg that could easily backfire, but the possibility of turning the tables on special attackers seeking to take advantage of its weakness on that side is extremely attractive.
In order for a really defence-focused Ice Pokémon to work, either the Ice type itself needs to be seriously buffed so that it isn’t such a massive drag, or the Ice Pokémon in question needs a really spectacular unique advantage – an awesome signature move, a perfect stat distribution, a really mind-blowing support movepool, or a cool ability (maybe something really ridiculous like being able to absorb all physical attacks directed at friendly Flying-types – Talonflame and Gyarados, meet your new best friend), preferably more than one of those things. Avalugg… well, Avalugg is a huge block of ice, and it has none of those things. The design doesn’t suggest anything particularly remarkable that it should have, and so it doesn’t get anything. It’s not really bad at what it does, nor is it a markedly uncreative or unoriginal design, it’s just… adequate. It’s one of those Pokémon that makes me feel like it’s missing that little something extra to make it really awesome – maybe a mega evolution somewhere down the road. At the moment, it’s not grievously flawed, just a little bit bland.
I offer no explanations, justifications or apologies for my brain’s subjective gendering of Pokémon designs (which often makes little sense even to me), nor do I expect such from others.
Well, that was really quite spectacular.
See, this is the thing that’s quite nice about Pokémon. In a lot of games that have… shall we say ‘issues’ with balance, the inferior option is completely and unarguably inferior all the time. Pokémon just has so damn many attacks and abilities that practically everything has some skill or combination of skills that nothing else can imitate. Se Jun Park has found Pachirisu’s: only a bare handful of Pokémon can learn Follow Me, which is an incredibly easy attack to screw up but very dangerous if you’re good with it, and of those, Pachirisu is the only one who can actually restore health while using it (via Volt Absorb). Super Fang also means that her nonexistent attack scores don’t really matter, while her defences are actually pretty solid – not great, but she only has one weakness anyway. Stick a couple of powerful Electric-weak, Ground-immune Pokémon on the team – Gyarados and Talonflame – to force your opponent to bring out powerful Discharges and Thunderbolts while messing up their Earthquakes, and you’re all set. I mean, she’s still useless in singles – it’s just not the same game, and you’d never pull off that kind of $#!t without the right partners – but hey, it’s something Pachirisu’s good at! This calls for celebration!
Let’s talk about dragons.
If there’s one thing Game Freak are good at, it’s thwarting English-speaking fans’ expectations of what a ‘dragon’ is (odd, considering that the Japanese name for the Dragon type in Pokémon is a transliteration of the English word ‘dragon’). If I had a dollar for every time I’d ever heard someone complain about how cutesy Dragonite is a Dragon Pokémon but badass, firebreathing Charizard isn’t, I would have… like, eight, maybe nine dollars, easy. Then of course there’s fluffy Altaria, the Eon Twins, Shelgon, Mega Ampharos (who owes her existence to a Japanese pun – Ampharos’ Japanese name, Denryu, can be taken to mean either “electric current” or “electric dragon”), and now Charizard actually is a Dragon (sort of), but we also have these adorable things: Goomy and Sliggoo, two blind swamp-dwelling molluscs whose most remarkable feature is their ability to constantly secrete disgusting slime. One might be forgiven for thinking ‘Dragon’ now really just means ‘weird $#!t.’
…so, wouldn’t it be fun if I told you there are not one but two snail dragons this thing could be based on, one from Japanese folklore and one from southwestern France?
I suppose by this point I shouldn’t be surprised at the weirdness and inventiveness of folklore, let alone Japanese folklore, but things like “there is actually such a thing as a snail dragon” still kind of sneak up on me. The Japanese snail dragon is called the shussebora, which means something like “ascending spiral” (Google Translate comes up with “career screwed,” which funnily enough is exactly what happens to anyone who relies on Google Translate for anything remotely official). The shussebora is a conch that manages to live for three thousand years – one thousand in the sea, one thousand on land, and one thousand in the mountains (…perhaps corresponding to Kalos’ three subregions, the last of which is where Goomy are found?) – and is then transformed into a magical dragon, apparently keeping its spiral shell. Its French counterpart is lou carcolh, which I’m pretty sure is just Occitan for “the snail.” This is much like calling the First World War “a good run for the coffin industry,” since this creature is basically a giant, evil snail that supposedly lives in a cave near the town of Hastingues, using its mile-long snake-like tentacles to grab people, slime them, and drag them back to its mouth. This probably says something rather worrying about the psychology behind the French culinary speciality escargots à la bourguignonne. Calling this one a ‘dragon’ might be a bit of a stretch, and I think the shussebora explains Sliggoo more elegantly; however, apparently the carcolh has… somehow… penetrated Japanese cultural consciousness to a sufficient extent to warrant an appearance as an enemy in Final Fantasy XIV, and the fact that it’s French is reason enough to suspect that it might have influenced the designers in creating a snail-dragon Pokémon for their France-inspired region.
The interesting part about the whole shussebora myth is that it (and other similar stories featuring any sort ‘ascension’ after a long period of trials; there are a zillion of them) sounds a lot like how Dragon Pokémon in general tend to work: traditional Dragon-types are weak and often rather unimpressive for a very long time, growing at a slower rate than most Pokémon, but eventually undergo a grand transformation into something very different and much more powerful. It’s the ‘ugly duckling’ story that is Pokémon evolution, pushed to its logical extreme. Dratini and Dragonair, with their long-delayed and extremely dramatic change into Dragonite, provide the template for this, of course, but it’s mainly the third-generation Dragons who seize it with both hands: useless little Swablu, nondescript Trapinch and flightless Bagon become majestic Altaria, Flygon and Salamence. Magikarp and Gyarados, despite not being Dragons-with-a-capital-D, also deserve mention. A three-thousand-year-old snail becoming a dragon just fits the way Dragon Pokémon tend to work extremely well. Goomy’s Pokédex entry even references the theme obliquely by calling out her status as “the weakest Dragon-type Pokémon” (perhaps paralleling Magikarp, who is, in-universe, infamous for being the weakest Pokémon of all) – their weakness is probably the most notable thing about young Dragon-types. The end result of all this is Goodra: a squishy, slimy and extremely affectionate creature who, despite her somewhat inglorious origins, possesses all the strength you might hope for and expect in a Dragon-with-a-capital-D. Her dinosaur-like form, probably meant to justify her typing (after all, the shussebora has to actually become a dragon in the end), reminds me, mostly because of the way her ‘horns’ sweep back behind her head, of the Parasaurolophus, which was my childhood favourite dinosaur – although of course she’s probably still more like a mollusc biologically, and we know from the Pokédex that her horns, like a snail’s eye stalks, are retractable. This one definitely aims at ‘cute,’ and succeeds – she’s all soft and smooth lines, with a simple colour palette and a docile expression, the way the curl in her tail recalls the spiralling shell of her previous form is a nice touch, and she seems to display an almost maternal attitude towards trainers. Goodra’s love of slimy hugs sounds a little worrying once you recall that Sliggoo’s slime is a dangerous acid that she uses to defend herself from predators, but it’s probably fair to attribute to her a degree of control over her biochemical abilities that would prevent any… mishaps.
A final word of caution: Goodra is… one of those Pokémon you want to be really careful about image searching, put it that way. I’m not sure who decided, or when, or why, that Goodra was one of the most erotically desirable Pokémon of the sixth generation, but apparently it happened and now humanity will have that on its collective conscience for all eternity, along with the crusades, Arceus and the Jewel of Life, and the extinction of the mammoth, so if you’re out there I hope you’re happy.
Despite all the hype over the elusive element, Dragon isn’t even all that good anymore, because Fairy-types’ immunity to their attacks renders them extremely vulnerable to opportune switch-ins, and what was formerly their greatest strength – the fact that almost nothing resisted their attacks – no longer applies. Many of the biggest Dragon Pokémon themselves, like Dragonite and Garchomp, are so powerful that they can stay afloat no matter what, but many of the lesser Dragon-types like Druddigon are now left wondering what they did to deserve this. How does Goodra deal? Well, she has Dragonite-level stats, and there’s only so much a Pokémon can possibly do wrong at that point. Unlike her predecessors, Dragonite, Tyranitar et al., Goodra is a special tank, and a damn good one. She’s not great at sitting through physical attacks; she’s not terrible at it either, and she can learn Counter, but her greatest strength is her colossal special defence. There are things with greater special bulk than Goodra, such as Regice, Cresselia, and Blissey’s ass, but they are few in number and mostly don’t hit back very hard. Goodra, on the other hand, sports a nasty variety of special attacks and an excellent stat to back them up: Dragon Pulse, Fire Blast, Sludge Bomb, Ice Beam, Thunderbolt, Focus Blast, Muddy Water and, last but not least, for when you just really want to turn an opposing Pokémon into a smoking crater, Draco Meteor. She even has a solid attack stat and Earthquake (as well as Aqua Tail, Power Whip, Body Slam and Outrage, for quirkier versions) in case anything thinks it can out-special-tank her, or Heatran comes calling. In general, Goodra doesn’t have the offensive presence of a Salamence or a Garchomp, especially as she’s not very fast and has no set-up options aside from maybe Curse if you’re a bit eccentric, but can hold her own just fine. Goodra doesn’t ‘do’ support in general, which is a bit surprising for a such a friendly, maternal-looking Pokémon; more options there would be nice, of course, but this does also make her one of the surprisingly few Pokémon who do really well with an Assault Vest. This thing is pretty much the first item since Leftovers aimed mainly at giving options to defensive Pokémon, and trades a special defence bonus – increasing Goodra’s to titanic levels – for the inability to use status techniques, something that doesn’t really bother her. The more mainstream items like Leftovers and Life Orb are fine too, of course.
Probably the biggest downside to Goodra is that she can’t easily heal herself (hence the Assault Vest). One of her abilities can potentially change that: Hydration cures all status problems every turn as long as it’s raining, which means Goodra can do one-turn Rests on a rain team. As long as you’re doing rain, you can throw Muddy Water and Thunder in as well (she’s a slime creature and her evolution method is based on rain; of course she likes things moist). It’s awesome on paper, but do remember that weather is just not as powerful in X and Y since Drizzle and friends are no longer permanent-until-cancelled, making weather-based stalling strategies less than ideal. I reckon there’s better than even odds that Goodra will eventually get Giga Drain one way or another, though, so maybe someday healing will be on the cards for her. The alternative abilities are Sap Sipper, which gives Goodra a helpful immunity to Grass moves (including status techniques like Sleep Powder, Leech Seed and Spore), raising her attack stat whenever she’s hit by one, and Gooey, a hidden ability unique to her, which slows any opponent who touches her. Sap Sipper gets you free switch-ins on Grass attacks, though it’s unfortunate that Goodra isn’t really in the best position to take advantage of the resulting attack boosts and Grass attacks aren’t really common enough that you can plan on being hit by one, so it’s more of a good ability than a great one. Gooey is very cool, and a nasty surprise to many physical attackers who suddenly find that Goodra actually outruns them and can get in an extra hit. If you have no particular plans to abuse Hydration or Sap Sipper, it’s a great go-to ability and gives her something else to make her special.
Goodra – let alone Goomy and Sliggoo – may not be the first thing most of us think of when we hear the word ‘dragon,’ and they don’t really fight like most Dragon Pokémon either, but there’s little doubt in my mind now that they’re where they belong. A firebreathing badass is nice to have once in a while, but personally I think it’s best to take each type from as many different aesthetic angles as possible. Give us Mega Charizard, Hydreigon and Salamence, by all means, but Dragonite, Altaria and slimy-but-adorable Goodra have their place too… just as long as that place isn’t on my clean carpet.
Hmm. Well, I mostly intended that stuff to apply to the core series, and I’m not really sure how it would work if you turned it to a different mechanical framework, but if you think there’s something you can get out of it, please, go ahead! I’d be flattered, in fact – let me know how it goes!