Leo M. R. asks:

So, last time we talked a little bit about signature Pokémon and how (ever since Ruby/Sapphire) most Gym Leaders’/Elite Four members’/Champions’ signatures are always newly-introduced Pokémon. Let’s talk about that more. I’m of two minds about this paradigm.

On the one hand, I do think new generations *should* showcase new Pokémon in major battles, since that is the major draw of new Pokémon games. On the other hand, I feel like it’s gotten to the point where Game Freak design certain Pokémon specifically to fit a particular character they’ve come up with, regardless of the Pokémon’s own merits. XY was particularly bad with this: Vivillon was the only new Bug-type introduced in Gen VI and half of its raison d’être was just to be Viola’s signature. I would argue a similar case for Heliolisk/Clemont, Avalugg/Wulfric, and to a lesser extent Pyroar/Lysandre. SwSh may have begun moving away from this somewhat, but I still get the same impression with Drednaw/Nessa, Centiskorch/Kabu, Coalossal/Gordie, Alcremie/Opal, and like the entirety of Bede’s teams. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those are badly-designed Pokémon necessarily; I’m just saying it seems to me they only exist to be the signatures of their respective Trainers, and not much else. What are your thoughts?

Continue reading “Leo M. R. asks:”

Bergmite and Avalugg

Bergmite.

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.

One of many recent attempts to build a pykrete boat.

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.

The Franz Josef Glacier, one of the reasons my home country is exactly what you've seen in Lord of the Rings.

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?

Avalugg.

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.

Winter is Coming

As the Americans in the audience may have surmised, leaving Chicago after the end of that conference I mentioned was rather more difficult than anticipated, as a result of the somewhat melodramatically named ‘polar vortex’ that swallowed the northern half of the country this week (y’know, Polar Vortex would be a neat name for a Pokémon move… Ice-type equivalent to Heatran’s Magma Storm, maybe?).  Still, despite the cancellations of three buses, a rented car, and a train, I have managed at last to escape the benighted place and am back in the much more reasonable winter of Cincinnati, so at long last, the show… and the snow… must go on.

Although the land around it is warm and pleasant enough, Snowbelle City itself is constantly blanketed in snow, far more so than Dendemille Town further north.  Much of this is probably due to the presence of at least two Abomasnow who seem to live in the town, their freezing auras filling the sky with perennial snow-clouds, but the inhabitants give just as much credit to the local Pokémon Gym.  “Thanks to the cold air that seeps out of the Gym, no-one in this town needs air conditioning!”  Well, sure, random Snowbelle resident, but I think that without the Gym you might be able to cut down a little on the hypothermia, so unless heatstroke used to be a major problem around here I think you might be better off letting me demolish the place.  Snowbelle City’s Gym is run by a man named Wulfric, whom I can only assume is an Ice Pokémon specialist, but he isn’t here – he has apparently gone for a walk in the nearby Winding Woods.  Since there’s not much else to do in the town other than learn the ‘ultimate’ Grass, Fire and Water moves (the decidedly underwhelming Frenzy Plant, Blast Burn and Hydro Cannon), I suppose it’s my job to go and get him.  The Winding Woods, like everything else outside the city limits, are unaffected by the aura of cold emanating from the Gym, but there’s something else not quite right about them… the paths don’t quite match up with each other, and sometimes turning right around and walking back the way you came will send you to a different place entirely.  The reason for this soon becomes clear: the forest is inhabited by Zoroark, who doubtless use their powers to obscure the true routes through the Winding Woods and befuddle travellers for their amusement and the protection of their nests.  Cunning Noctowl and Gothorita deploy their own psychic abilities to enhance the effect, and the whole forest hums gently with the soporific song of Jigglypuff (who is now a Normal/Fairy dual-type).  I confront the Pokémon who control the place and demand safe passage, catching one of each species and defeating several more, but they remain intent on twisting my path until the very end – when I finally find what it is that the Winding Woods are protecting.

In a wide, flower-filled meadow, a heavyset bearded man with a voluminous blue winter coat is standing at the end of the forest trail talking to a group of Furfrou, Fletchling and Espurr.  They flee when they see me, but the man holds his ground.  This, of course, is Wulfric.  The meadow, which he calls the Pokémon Village, is a place for Pokémon who were abandoned by their trainers and have nowhere else to go, as well as a few who have grown too powerful to have a place in the outside world anymore.  Wulfric agrees to return to his Gym immediately to meet my challenge, but advises me to look around the hidden village first.  My curiosity piqued, I agree.  Most of the Pokémon here are ones I’ve met before, including a number of the same species that inhabit the Winding Woods (although I do meet and capture a Ditto as well).  Far more interesting is just what the place is like.  The Pokémon here seem to have a fascination with human items, having gathered a large number of rubbish bins to root through, as well as a couple of car tyres set up on a knoll like some sort of decoration.  Many of them proudly offer items to me as gifts when addressed with courtesy.  There are also a number of ramshackle bivouacs scattered around the clearing, one occupied by a deeply sleeping Snorlax – as architecture goes, creatures like ants and termites can manage far more complicated structures, but these ones seem like the kind of thing humans would build.  I get the distinct impression that the Pokémon who live here (who all have personal history with humans) have a certain fondness for collecting things from human civilisation, purely because they think it’s neat – like souvenirs.  For the most part, they want nothing to do with humanity, but still find us interesting, much more so than most other Pokémon do.  At the back of the clearing, though, set into a cliff face, I find something more interesting than any of it, though – a cave entrance, guarded by a single human who names it “the Unknown Dungeon.”  The phrase “Unknown Dungeon” in Pokémon can only mean one thing, and suddenly what Wulfric was saying about Pokémon too powerful to have a place in the outside world makes an awful lot of sense.  Only a Champion-level trainer can enter the dungeon, of course – so I’ll just have to come back later.  Off to get that last badge!

Wulfric’s Gym is literally a gigantic freezer.  In contrast to the sliding-floor puzzles of previous Ice-type Gyms (because, let’s be fair here, those were getting a little old), the path through the Snowbelle Gym is made up of a series of huge multi-coloured ring-shaped platforms that rotate to reveal different patterns of pathways and holes.  Matching up the pathways in the different rings allows challengers to progress – it seems complicated at first but it’s not difficult once you get your bearings.  I march through the Gym with my Grass Pokémon, Pan and Ilex, taking point, just to revel in their superiority, but elect for a little more caution when I reach the Ice-type Gym Leader himself, and go for Orion the Lucario.  Wulfric, predictably, opens with an Abomasnow to take control of the weather, and just as predictably Abomasnow falls to Orion’s Aura Sphere.  His second Pokémon, a Cryogonal, lasts a little longer thanks to its epic special defence, but can’t do much itself to hurt Orion either and ultimately fails.  Finally, Wulfric brings out his signature Pokémon – Avalugg, a huge four-legged, flat-topped slab of ice with a vaguely reptilian triangular head, who must be the evolved form of Bergmite.  Presumably he is, like Bergmite, a physical tank of some kind, but I never get to find out because Aura Sphere one-shots the poor beast.  Well… that was anticlimactic.  Wulfric rewards my victory with the Iceberg Badge, a hexagonal glass locket with a gold back and frame, a metallic blue mountain symbol set into the front and six brilliant sapphires at its corners, filled with shimmering blue Mystic Water.  As a bonus, he even throws in the Ice Beam TM.  Score!  And now, of course, with eight badges, I am at long last eligible to enter the domain of the Pokémon League, northwest of Snowbelle City, and challenge the Elite Four for dominance of the Kalos region!

Well… in a little bit.  I still need to catch the Pokémon available on the road to the Pokémon League – Spinda, Scyther, Ursaring and Altaria – as well as give a little bit of love to the last four of my Kalosian Pokémon who have yet to evolve.  Bergmite, as I have already learned, evolves into Avalugg, quite promptly at level 41, and is indeed an extremely focussed physical tank (because defensive Ice-types have worked so well in the past).  Upon reaching level 48, Noibat transforms into the more pterosaur-like Noivern, his draconic heritage finally shining through.  Presented with a recently acquired Dusk Stone, where all my other offerings have failed, Doublade becomes a mighty Aegislash, a sword-and shield Pokémon (so, one of the swords… turns into a shield?  That’s… weird; I would have made that a split evolution from Honedge) with two ‘stances,’ high-defence and high-attack, that it can shift between as it uses different moves.  Finally, when little Skrelp finally reaches level 48, he evolves into the sinister Dragalge, shedding his Water type to gain Dragon abilities instead (hey, neat – Dragon/Poison makes him a Dragon-type that can beat Fairy Pokémon).  So I was right all along – he’s a diseased Horsea who evolves into a diseased Kingdra!  Pretty badass for all that, though.  I must be close to the end now; I feel like the game is running out of new Pokémon to throw at me.  Of course, the auxiliary legendary Pokémon are bound to be lurking out there somewhere, and there are presumably a bunch more mega forms I haven’t discovered yet…

At the gates to Victory Road, an Ace Trainer with a Carbink, a Kingdra and a Raichu calls me to account for my crimes.  Carbink defies me long enough to smack Pan with a Moonblast, so that Kingdra can finish him off with Ice Beam, but Ilex ploughs through the rest with Sunny Day-boosted Solarbeams, and  I am permitted to enter the inner sanctum, where the great stone gates to the Victory Road ruins slide open, responding to the presence of my badges.  I pause for a moment at the entrance to the cave to take stock of the wild Pokémon – it takes me a while to find all the new additions to my Pokédex, but they’re there; Lickitung, Zweilous and Druddigon.  More interestingly, though, keeping my Exp. Share off all this time seems to have finally caught up with me, and the wild Pokémon here are at even higher levels than my hardened veterans – to say nothing of the trainers I’ll likely face.  Well, it makes sense that the citadel of the Pokémon League would be defended by the most powerful trainers in the land, and no-one said conquering France would be easy…

Ridiculous quote log:

“Try using Ice Beam on some Berry Juice for a delicious frappé!  Hey!  You gotta know your Pokémon and their moves outside of battles, right?”
Absolutely.  Some of my favourite moves for out-of-battle use include Torment, Thief, Curse, Leech Life, Nightmare, Explosion, Fissure, Eruption and Roar of Time.  Their utility applications never cease to amaze!