Alone of all the Pokémon on my Top Ten list, Delibird makes me feel a little guilty about putting him on here, which is why I’ve shunted him all the way down to #10, of course. Why? Well, on my very first play-through of Silver version, all those years ago, I had a Delibird. He was absolutely useless, bless his little heart, but he tried his best and I loved him for it (I was young and naïve, and still believed the Nintendo propaganda that any Pokémon could be powerful if you worked hard enough at it). A rare Ice Pokémon found in the coldest part of Johto, Delibird is a cute if somewhat awkward-looking red-and-white bird with a long, wide tail that he wraps around himself to serve as a sack for carrying food. He looks a little like a penguin, and some aspects of his design make me think of puffins and similar seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff-faces and carrying food to their chicks all day. Delibird aren’t actually marine Pokémon; they live in high mountains, although I suspect that the specialised tail is an indicator that they naturally have a very wide foraging range, possibly covering many terrain types. They seem to be an inherently altruistic species, as they have a reputation for sharing the food they’ve gathered with lost travellers. In various contexts outside of the main series of games, Delibird are often employed by humans as messengers and couriers because of their natural delivery habits and unusual intelligence. The associations with delivery make clear the real inspiration for Delibird’s design: with his red-and-white colour scheme, his sack of goods, and even a white feathery ‘beard,’ this is nothing other than the Pokémon Santa Claus. It’s a strange idea, to be sure, but it hasn’t been pushed beyond the boundaries of good taste; Delibird’s dedication to collection and delivering food to his offspring is a sensible way of translating the gift-giving idea onto an animal, especially since it exaggerates the habits of many real birds rather than coming completely out of nowhere. Physically, Delibird looks a bit odd, and you have to wonder how he manages to fly with those penguin flippers (I suppose it doesn’t require that much more suspension of disbelief than, say, Dragonite with his dinky little wings), but the bright scarlet of his body and the white of his downy tufts make him look cheerful, cute, and most importantly different from all the other innumerable bird Pokémon. What I’m saying, in short, is that my guilt about putting Delibird in the Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, even at number ten, isn’t just about my own fond memories of the little guy; I genuinely think this is a well-executed concept. If that’s the case, you may well ask, then what on earth did he do to deserve this treatment?
To be blunt, although I may have a soft spot for Delibird, he is undeniably one of the most useless Pokémon ever created. To start with, his stats are terrible; in fact, Delibird has the worst stats of any adult Pokémon (discounting Ditto, Smeargle and Shedinja, and tied with… one of the other Pokémon on my Top Ten list). His speed is barely average, his attack and special attack scores are worse, and his defences are nothing short of appalling. To add insult to injury, left to his own devices Delibird will only ever learn one attack: his phenomenally bad signature move, Present, a Normal-type attack with variable power; sometimes it’ll be terrible, sometimes it’ll be decent and occasionally it will do a great deal of damage… but, then again, sometimes it will actually heal its target. Needless to say, if you’re brave enough ever to use Delibird, you should avoid Present at all costs and teach him something worthwhile. The trouble is, there’s very little you can teach him. Since we’ve established that Delibird is marginally less terrible offensively than defensively, you might look at his available special attacks… and learn that he can only manage Ice attacks, plus Future Sight (a Psychic attack which is admittedly powerful, but doesn’t hit until two turns after being used). His physical movepool is arguably better; Ice Punch is weaker than Ice Beam, but if you’re importing Delibird from an earlier game, old TMs and move tutors give him access to Focus Punch for punishing Steel-types, Seed Bomb for Water-types, and Body Slam to spread paralysis (as well as Signal Beam and, if you’re desperate, Water Pulse on the special side), none of which make me jump up and down with excitement, but Delibird needs everything he can find. Even though Delibird himself is even more inept with physical attacks than special attacks, his Hustle trait compensates by letting him trade accuracy for power on all of his physical moves (and since Aerial Ace can never miss anyway, that’s win-win for Delibird). The sad thing is that even with Hustle, Delibird’s attacks are fairly impressive but not game-changing, especially considering that Brick Break, Ice Punch and Aerial Ace are quite low-power anyway, and that missing even once will probably doom Delibird thanks to his papery defence stats. The two alternative abilities to Hustle, Insomnia and Vital Spirit, do exactly the same thing, just to troll the poor bird – they grant Delibird immunity to sleep, which is useful, don’t get me wrong, but only a minor benefit, and it’s hard to forego Hustle for that since it represents the closest thing to a niche Delibird can ever hope to attain. Delibird’s support movepool is, if that’s possible, even worse, with but a single gem: Rapid Spin. Rapid Spin clears away the nasty pointed things scattered by the very popular Stealth Rock, Spikes and Toxic Spikes techniques, which would otherwise cause damage to your Pokémon every time you switched one in. There are perhaps a dozen Rapid Spinners in the entire game, and Delibird bears the dubious honour of being the worst one, since he’s the only one afflicted with a double-weakness to Stealth Rock, and therefore loses a full 50% of his health just from switching in while the move is in effect.
Now, then: how do we fix this? With the right attacks or abilities, you can go a long way on surprisingly little, but I think Delibird’s stats are just too far gone, barring some sort of absurd custom item or ability, which means we have little choice but to evolve him. I am loathe to do so, since much of the appeal of Delibird’s art is in its neatness and simplicity, and I’m not sure where evolution could take the design; in particular I am worried about the risk of inflating the Santa Claus influences, which would quickly make the whole thing irredeemably tacky. Again, though, there is little choice; Delibird needs a boost to all of his stats. The second thing to do is repair that dreadful signature move. Delibird is the Delivery Pokémon, and Present signifies an attack using the eclectic contents of his delivery sack. There’s already an attack that lets a Pokémon throw its held item – Fling, a Dark attack – and Delibird actually learns it; he just doesn’t want to use it because the only item that does enough damage to make a single-shot Dark attack worthwhile is an Iron Ball, the weight of which strips Delibird of the solitary advantage his Ice/Flying typing gives him (immunity to Ground attacks) until after he’s thrown it. Flinging a Flame Orb or Toxic Orb does only minor damage but provides a reliable, accurate burning or poisoning attack; again though, those items will make Delibird suffer as long as he holds them. Now, we’ve established that Delibird’s Dream World ability, Insomnia, is completely redundant to one of his regular abilities, Vital Spirit (do you see where I’m going with this yet?). So, when he evolves, let’s have Insomnia change to Klutz, Lopunny’s ability, which renders a Pokémon both unable to use items and immune to their negative effects. Then, let’s rewrite Present into a version of Fling that can be used multiple times; Delibird doesn’t have just one Iron Ball, he’s got a whole bag of them (also, change the dumb rule that says a Pokémon with Klutz can’t use Fling). Lopunny takes advantage of Klutz by using the Switcheroo technique to swap harmful items onto her opponents while stripping them of their beneficial items; Delibird is going to take advantage of it by simply bombarding targets with whatever dangerous cargo he’s carrying. Fighting with items is exactly what Delibird’s flavour and signature move suggest he should be good at doing; this would allow him to do it properly. He’s going to need some more attacks as well (I’d suggest U-Turn, Acrobatics, Air Slash, Light Screen, Stockpile, Endeavour, Baton Pass and Agility, for starters) but that’s the substance of what I’d want to change.
Unlike most of the Pokémon in my Top Ten, I really genuinely want to see Delibird succeed… I just know in my heart it’s never going to happen. So I’m going to have to take out my frustrations on the other nine!