hugh_donnetono asks:

Out of all the early game rodents – Raticate, Furret, Linoone, Bibarel, Watchog, Diggersby, Gumshoos, and maybe Alolan Raticate too – which ones do you think are the most poorly-designed, both fluff-wise and gameplay-wise, and what would you change about those worst ones if you could? (I told you it’d probably be me.)

GOD DAMN IT HUGH

okay, let’s see

Diggersby is pretty much fine on both fluff and gameplay, to my mind.  Gumshoos is… fiiiiiine?  I mean, it’s weird, but I will concede there is something clever going on with the noir detective/mobster aesthetic between Gumshoos and Alolan Raticate.  It could do with an increase to its defences, and maybe a better priority move than Quick Attack (buffing the Stakeout ability would be nice too – maybe have it raise Gumshoos’ attack when something switches in against it?).

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Bunnelby and Diggersby

Official art of Bunnelby by Ken Sugimori; Nintendo is the way and the truth and the light, etc.

Tradition is tradition is tradition, and tradition dictates that no Pokémon generation is complete without an evolutionary line of exceptionally mundane Normal-type rodent Pokémon. [EDIT: correction for my phylogenic carelessness; rabbits and hares are not rodents but belong to a closely related group of their own, the lagomorphs – for our purposes, though, the distinction is probably academic] As with Talonflame, Game Freak seem to feel that they are in quite an odd position; if the Pokémon they design is not sufficiently banal and inconsequential, it will not fulfil the implicit requirements of Tradition, but if they go too far… well, is there really anyone out there who wants more perfectly generic rodent Pokémon?  Pokémon are weird creatures with a penchant for doing the impossible, but they are also a representation of the variability of life in the real world, variability that includes the animals we see all over the place and get, frankly, a little bored with – how should that conflict be handled?

History lesson time.

My difficulty with Raticate is that, although larger-than-life as all Pokémon are, otherwise he is a rat and does rat things: gnawing and chewing and infesting and breeding and surviving everywhere it has no right to be.  That’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also just about the only Pokémon I can think of that has no supernatural powers whatsoever – even the ability to gnaw through concrete is something actual rats can do, which I suppose in a way is just testament to what a badass animal the Norwegian rat is.  Similarly, Furret’s most significant power, as far as I can make out, is being long and bendy, while Linoone… can run in a straight line, I guess?  Bibarel represents an early experiment in the same kind of encouraging dual-typing as we see in both Talonflame and Diggersby, but Water is a type that tends to get splashed around (pun most heinously intended) rather liberally, normally on the grounds that a Pokémon lives in or near water, and I’m shadowed by the question of what it actually adds to Bibarel.  Don’t even get me started on those creepy Unovan hell-beasts.  Linoone’s Belly Drum shenanigans notwithstanding, none of these are particularly effective Pokémon either, because if there’s no flavour reason for a Pokémon to have useful abilities, it often won’t get them (although it has to be said that many of them make amazing HM whores in generations three and four, particularly Bibarel with his access to water-related abilities).  Bland designs make bland strategies; the two can’t be completely separated.  With that in mind, let’s go to Bunnelby and Diggersby.

 Some species of rabbit are very social creatures and build complex interconnected systems of burrows, normally with at least two entrances - as mammals go, they are quite impressive architects.

Bunnelby’s thing is his ears.  Rabbits’ long ears are of course among their most distinctive characteristics, but they don’t really do a whole lot other than… well, hear things.  Presumably help to radiate heat in species that live in hot climates.  Pretty standard stuff for ears to do, really.  Not so Bunnelby’s ears.  They are the largest organ in his body and are also his primary manipulative appendages, with ends almost like paws that he uses to scoop earth and dig the warrens that rabbits are famous for; the anime also portrays him as using his ears for most of his attacks.  The tips are brown, as though stained by mud, but a ruff of brown fur around his neck, the same shade, suggests that this is their natural colouring.  Diggersby continues to create the same impression with a speckled pattern at the edge of the brown portion; it’s a nice way of bringing his Ground typing into his physical appearance.  His mighty ears, even more potent than Bunnelby’s, can pummel through bedrock or lift and carry heavy loads.  How they can do this, tethered as they are to his body by the relatively slender and probably hollow parts of his ears responsible for hearing, is something of a mystery; in a real animal it would be difficult to understand how they can even be held up, let alone swung forcefully without simply ripping them off.  Then again, many Pokémon are in the habit of doing six impossible things before breakfast, and anatomical plausibility should probably be low on our list of criteria for evaluating them (although, having said that, this is one of the harder ones to overlook since Diggersby doesn’t have a lot of explicit special powers that could be used to justify it).  Ground Pokémon are known for being especially solid and stable, so maybe their flesh and bones can take a great deal more weight than we are accustomed to putting on our various appendages?  The information about Diggersby presented to us by the Pokédex focuses on their uses in the human world, where like Machoke and Gurdurr they are regularly enlisted as construction workers – like the comedic stereotype of construction workers, they are also lazy and like nothing more than lounging around once their work is done.  I’d actually be more interested in how they work ecologically, though; Bunnelby only dig into soil like ordinary rabbits (albeit rabbits with prehensile ears) but Diggersby can go much deeper and presumably can only navigate larger tunnels as well.   What might their ‘warrens’ start to look like?  The purpose of a burrow is surely defeated if something much larger than a Bunnelby can easily get inside, so the resulting structures could end up looking quite complicated, with the Diggersby-sized entrances protected carefully from smaller predators.

The thing about my relationship with Diggersby is that I can’t help but think he looks a little bit like a mouldy potato.  A damning assessment, one might think.  I’m pretty sure Diggersby isn’t meant to be a particularly elegant or awe-inspiring Pokémon, though; in fact I’m pretty sure he is meant to look fat and lazy, and he does that remarkably well.  He doesn’t exactly look like he could crush bedrock (although he certainly could – see below for the reasons bludgeoning power is at the core of Diggersby’s skill set) and is a little out of place in the traditionally ‘tough’ and ‘badass’ Pokémon crowds; to be honest, I’m not sure who he’s supposed to be appealing to.  The unkempt lazy bastard demographic, I suppose (you know, now that I put it like that, I’m really starting to empathise).  In a way, strangely, the fact that Diggersby is so shamelessly unappealing is actually what I like about him.  Rabbits are cute and cuddly; making a cute and cuddly rabbit like Buneary – or, to an extent, Bunnelby – is just a little bit cliché and predictable.  Making a muscular but pudgy rabbit who looks kind of like he needs a shave is much more out of left field, while still tying into a well-known trait of actual rabbits via the construction worker aesthetic: they’re good at digging.  This Pokémon has undeniable personality – not exactly an attractive personality, but nonetheless a much clearer one than his normal and Normal rodent predecessors have tended to exhibit… with the possible exception of Watchog, who, again, scares me.  Some unorthodox ideas went into this Pokémon, and I think on some level they kind of work.

 Diggersby.

If you want to use Diggersby, you’re going to want one with the hidden ability, no ifs, no buts.  As truly entrancing as Diggersby’s Cheek Pouch bull$#!t is (I mean, who doesn’t want to get bonus health back for eating any kind of berry?  That thing is gold, am I right?), there is simply no passing up the ridiculousness that is Huge Power.  To make clear how big a deal this ability is, I should clear up a common misconception about it – a lot of people seem to think Huge Power doubles the abstract ‘base attack’ score generic to a Pokémon’s species, which would effectively move Diggersby from an abysmal 56 to a fairly convincing 112.  In fact, it doesn’t; what it doubles is the Pokémon’s actual concrete attack stat with training, level, nature and individual variation factored in – for a level 100 Diggersby, this is likely to be somewhere in the low 200’s if he’s been trained for physical attacks (which he should be!) and will double to about 440-460 – equivalent to a base attack score around 160, approaching the likes of Slaking and Rampardos.  This Pokémon is a blunt instrument of epic proportions.  Earthquake is, of course, the key move here, backing up Huge Power with similarly dramatic bludgeoning force.  Either Stone Edge or Wild Charge is practically mandatory to punish Flying-types who seek to take advantage of their Ground immunity.  Normal attacks are, as always, mainly useful for being able to do neutral damage to most things, which isn’t that great an asset on a Pokémon like Diggersby, who has a fairly solid array of offensive types to choose from, but since he is a Normal-type, Return is probably worth checking out.  Hammer Arm and Power-Up Punch add Fighting-type options to round out the spread of dangers Diggersby can present.  Power-Up Punch is probably the smarter option unless you’re looking at a Choice Band set, since Diggersby can’t really afford to lose speed using Hammer Arm, and the power you sacrifice on your Fighting attack (which isn’t going to be your main one anyway) is relatively easy to justify when you can get a boost for your other attacks by using Power-Up Punch.  Always worth consideration, especially in conjunction with Choice items, is U-Turn; with Diggersby’s doubled attack stat, even this relatively weak move will leave quite a sting as he flees the scene.

The bad news for Diggersby is practically everything else about him: his defences are reasonable, but nothing to write home about, and he’s not the fastest thing on two legs.  The former, he mostly just has to deal with; the latter, on the other hand, can be at least partially alleviated by his access to Agility and Quick Attack – you probably should use one or the other, since, again, Diggersby is great at dishing out hits but not so good at taking them.  Being a Normal-type with such a colossal attack stat actually makes Quick Attack reasonably solid – after all, Aqua Jet always worked for Azumarill, who functions on the same basic principles.  As an alternative to Agility, Diggersby also gets Swords Dance (you know, just in case that 460 attack stat starts to bore you); you definitely want Quick Attack available if you pick that option.  He can also learn Flail, and a Focus Sash set with Flail and Agility might be sufficiently amusing and destructive to be worth a shot if you can keep him from taking any passive damage that would break the sash – it helps that Diggersby is immune to Sandstorm damage, but with entry hazards as popular as they are it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth (still… as Epic Flails go, Diggersby’s would be pretty impressive… maybe the AI trainers in the Battle Maison would fall for it…).  There aren’t really any other compelling options for this guy, which is sort of a weakness – he’s fairly predictable.  Almost nothing can absorb his attacks with impunity, but he’s naturally slow, not all that tough, has only a passable defensive type combination, and is very likely to be carrying a Choice item that will restrict his tactical options further.  Reliance on Normal and Ground attacks is also a big welcoming invitation to any of the many Levitating Ghost-types out there.  Diggersby is a sledgehammer – use him as such, but remember to bring your chisels along as well.

The bottom line for me is that you can pretty much explain Raticate, or Furret, or Bibarel, by saying “it’s a rat Pokémon” “it’s a ferret Pokémon” or “it’s a derpy beaver Pokémon.”  Saying of Diggersby “it’s a rabbit Pokémon,” while certainly correct, would clearly be missing the point.  There should be rodent Pokémon in the game, there should be Normal Pokémon in the game, and there should be common Pokémon based on common animals in the game – indeed, some of these categories deserve, if anything, more attention!  Bunnelby and Diggersby are a step in the right direction; they take something generic and everyday, and they twist it.  It doesn’t necessarily make total sense, but it’s interesting, and it immediately suggests a battle role based on overwhelming physical force, giving this Pokémon something cool to do.  Diggersby is far from my favourite Kalos design, but for once that’s mostly because of my own taste in Pokémon and not because the template has led to a half-assed creation.

Grassroots Movements

Now that all this Mega Evolution business is firmly out of the way for now, I think it’s time for another round of training.  I head down to the eastern gates of Shalour City with a bunch of my Kalosian Pokémon for some levelling, and run into Serena on the way.  Serena has a gift for me: the HM that teaches Surf.  Surprisingly early, but I’m not going to complain.  “It’s kind of amazing how a person like you came to Kalos and ended up travelling with me,” Serena says.  “It’s like destiny in a way.”  Okay, I admit I’m not always totally sure what this girl is getting at, but that one was definitely a come on.  She doesn’t seem inclined to pursue the conversation any further, though, so I continue on my way.  The outskirts of Shalour City feature Mareep, Exeggcute, Tauros, Miltank, Slowpoke, Pachirisu and Chatot – the last of which I quickly learn to hate.  Unless I am very much mistaken, Chatot’s signature move, Chatter, has been updated.  Where it previously had a variable chance of confusing its target based on the volume of the sounds Chatot had learned, now it just seems to confuse you every f@&$ing time.  It is basically Air Cutter and Confuse Ray in one aggravating package.  I mean… okay, Chatot needed a boost, and I’m glad Game Freak apparently recognised that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to despise the little bastard with every fibre of my being.  A few of my Pokémon evolve here – Bunnelby into Diggersby, whom I’ve talked about already, Espurr into Meowstic, both at level 25, Pancham into Pangoro (with a Dark Pokémon in my party, as I had been advised by readers), and Skiddo into Gogoat, both at level 32.  I found Meowstic thoroughly underwhelming at first, since it’s a Psychic Pokémon whose shtick is “this Pokémon has psychic powers,” but it was suggested that I get one of each gender – not only do the males and females look very different, they appear to learn different attacks.  The females learn destructive techniques like Charge Beam and Shadow Ball, while the males learn support moves like Charm and Miracle Eye.  I guess that’s kind of interesting.  Pangoro… well, I’m getting heavy Ursaring and Beartic vibes from this thing: big, slow, brutish, and a little too fond of beating things up.  Honestly I’m beginning to wonder whether Game Freak are capable of taking the concept of ‘bear Pokémon’ in any other direction.  Gogoat is kind of neat, I guess; picking a mountain goat to be the primary riding animal of historic Kalos is left-field enough that I can respect it, and mountain goats are pretty badass animals.  A number of my other Pokémon do not evolve: Swirlix and Spritzee (whom I’m led to believe are trade evolutions), Honedge, Amaura, Helioptile, Binacle and Skrelp (as well as a few others who, based on the pattern of empty spaces in my Pokédex, aren’t going to – like Carbink, which surprised me; she doesn’t look fully evolved).  At least some of these probably just need more time.

I now need to cross a river mouth to continue my journey in the direction of the next town, Coumarine City.  I was sort of banking on Photia being able to learn Surf (sure, she’s not a Water-type, but she’s a squid; come on!), but apparently not.  Luckily, help is on hand, in the form of a random guy who wants to give me his Lapras!  I briefly consider adding Lapras to my main team, but decide against it; I’ve just added Orion to my party and I think I want my next switch to be for a Kalos Pokémon.  Anyway, Lapras dutifully takes us across the river.  The only other notable event of this trip is that I encounter a Skiddo ranch – one which is apparently happy to led random strangers ride the Skiddo.  Skiddo are restricted in their movement in certain important ways (they have difficulty with stairs) but they do possess an incredible supernatural ability that Pokémon trainers the world over have longed for since the dawn of training itself: they can jump up ledges.  Now I just need to figure out how to smuggle one out of this area and nothing will be able to stop me…

I soon reach Coumarine City, which I think is Cherbourg, although I admit I haven’t been exactly sure where I am for a while now.  Coumarine isn’t a huge city in terms of population, but it’s very spread out; half of the city is scattered around Azure Bay and is mostly harbour buildings, while half is at the top of a high ridge, where the Gym and Pokémon Centre are; the two areas are connected by monorail.  As I enter the city, I receive a message from Serena on my holo-caster: battle in front of the Coumarine Gym, now.  Wait, how does she even know I’m in- oh, whatever.  I take a cursory glance around the harbour, accept a Good Rod as tribute from one of the locals, and head for the monorail – only to find Professor Sycamore hanging out with the actress Diantha in the station.  Sycamore congratulates me on achieving Mega Evolution, and begins speculating on how it works, and particularly on why it’s only ever been documented in Kalos.  Diantha suggests it could be something to do with Kalos’ legendary Pokémon, which Sycamore seems to think is reasonable.  He apparently has something to do, and leaves rather quickly after that.  Diantha doesn’t stick around either, but does offer to battle the next time we meet.  You know, I didn’t give this chick much thought the first time I met her because I was sort of focused on Lysandre, but I’m getting the impression she’s quite important.  She couldn’t be the Champion of Kalos, could she?  An actress?  Then again… I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who looks ridiculous enough… and if Lysandre really is the leader of Team Flare, it would make sense for them to be clearly set opposite each other, as they were in that first conversation (alternatively, maybe the game is screwing with me and it’s actually the other way around).  Hmm.  Well, anyway, up the monorail I go – I have a date (or something) to get to.  Serena has kind of let herself go; her Pokémon have barely levelled at all since our last battle in the Tower of Mastery.  She wants to see Mega Evolution, and although I promised myself I wouldn’t use my Digivice unless I had to, I oblige her by Digivolving Ilex and flattening her Braixen with a super-powered Petal Dance.  As a result of the battle, Tereus also hits level 35 and attains his final form: the falcon-like Talonflame.  I’m beginning to wonder whether his fire powers are mostly for decoration, since he seems to be predominantly a physical attacker, hasn’t learned any other Fire attacks since Ember (which sort of lags behind Aerial Ace in damage potential, even against Fire-weak targets), and doesn’t seem likely to be compatible with most of the Fire-type physical attacks I know of like Fire Punch or Fire Fang – Blaze Kick, maybe?  Only time will tell…

With Serena dealt with, I take a moment to explore Coumarine City.  The game seems to have chosen this moment to have NPCs explain a whole bunch of stuff related to the Dream World, and the fact that Pokémon in hordes will occasionally have their Hidden Abilities (!).  I sit down for a rest on a park bench next to an old man, and strike up a conversation.  “So those egg-like things that are found at the Pokémon Day Care… strictly speaking they’re not eggs.  They’re more like a Pokémon cradle.”  Oh, well, that’s interesting becau- wait, WHAT?  Wha- WHAT?  CONTEXT, man, give me context!  What- what do you think an egg IS, “strictly speaking”?  Do eggs other than Pokémon eggs even EXIST in this world?  What does this statement MEAN?  I almost want to say that what he actually means is something like “aren’t eggs cute?  It’s like they’re like a cradle for Pokémon!” but surely if that were what he meant then he wouldn’t have said “strictly speaking they’re not eggs.”  Why does this world insist on confounding me with one insane non sequitur after another!?

I need to smash something.  I’m going to the Gym.

The Coumarine Gym, finally, is a Gym I can respect: a Grass Pokémon Gym.  Build around a huge and unimaginably ancient tree, liberally festooned with balconies and trellises for the vines and foliage to climb over, this is the kind of place I could see myself taking over as a base of operations for a glorious crusade.  Having to swing on ropes from one platform to another is a bit tiresome, but I could always remodel (on that note – although they are visually stunning, the Gyms of this game are a little short on the ‘puzzle’ front so far, mostly just being a way to show off the game’s ability to model a three-dimensional environment).  I’d have no qualms destroying the current inhabitants either – Pokémon Rangers.  Pah.  Bunch of smug hippies who think they know what Grass Pokémon are all about and love nothing more than ‘defending’ the wilderness from ‘deranged sociopaths’ like me.  Grass Pokémon aren’t about peace, calm and oneness with nature – they’re about horrible debilitating pollen attacks and suffocating overgrowth!  These morons have no idea of the $#!t they’re playing with here!  Pan, my Quilladin, has known Pin Missile for a while now (vastly improved from its previous incarnations), and Cecrops’ poison is useful too.  We fight our way to the top, encountering little resistance (although one of the trainers does bring a fairly potent Exeggutor to bear against us).  And there, I meet the Gym Leader, Ramos… a sweet, humble old Scottish gardener with a huge pair of pruning shears, who loves the sheer indomitable tenacity of plants.

You know what?  This guy I can work with.

Ramos doesn’t put up much of a fight, sadly.  His first Pokémon, a Jumpluff, sets itself on fire trying to attack Tereus and then falls to an Aerial Ace, prompting him to bring out his partner, a Gogoat.  I figure this can be Pan’s moment to shine and bring him out to Pin Missile his way through the rest of Ramos’ team.  Gogoat drops quickly; the last Pokémon, a Weepinbell, is neutral to Bug attacks and puts up more of a fight, so I eventually have to switch in Cecrops, who deals with it easily enough.  Ramos obligingly hands over a Grass Knot TM and his badge: a gold frame in the shape of a stylised leaf, filled in with blue-green glass, called the Plant Badge.  As a result of the battle, Pan reaches level 36, a traditional level for starters to reach their final forms, and does not disappoint, becoming a huge Grass/Fighting-type Chesnaught, a bipedal mammalian creature of unclear extraction with a viciously spiked tortoise shell.  He also gets what I take to be a signature move: Spiked Shell, which seems to be a variant of Protect with a minor retributive effect against close-range attacks.  I think I like this Pokémon; he does a fairly solid job staking out his own niche among the Grass-type starters, and doesn’t seem derivative of anything that’s gone before at first glance.

The next route leads back to Paris, which presumably has a Gym of its own in the previously inaccessible northern areas, but first I want to check out Azure Bay and the mysterious cave marked on my Town Map…

Ridiculous quote log:

“Pokémon sind im Pokéball.  Ich sitze auf dem Stuhl.”
…ja; sehr gut.  Bleib auf diesem Stuhl.

Affairs of Slate

More Pokémon flock to join my cause as I head north from Cyllage City: Snubbul, Houndour, Sigilyph, Yanma, Emolga, Nosepass, Golett, a whole octet of Eevee, and an odd brightly-coloured winged humanoid Pokémon called Hawlucha, a Fighting/Flying dual-type plainly based on a lucha libre wrestler.  I don’t normally like designs that ape human subcultures, but for some reason Hawlucha works for me.  Maybe it’s because lucha libre is such a bizarre thing to begin with, and does also have a tendency to make use of animal imagery itself, which lends a sort of sense of credibility to the idea of a luchador who actually is a bird.  The Pokédex leads me not to expect an evolution, but Hawlucha seems plenty strong enough without one, working mainly off her blazing speed and powerful physical attacks.  Hanging around Cyllage City and chatting to people, I also find an interesting item: a puffy, creamy dessert known as a Whipped Dream, which “is loved by a certain Pokémon.”  Now, I’ve been around the block enough times to know that “loved by a certain Pokémon” is code for “triggers trade evolution” (so I suppose I shouldn’t eat it…), but whose?  A Fairy-type, presumably… Swirlix would make a great deal of sense, but then for some reason I’m not sure about the idea of a version-exclusive Pokémon going through a trade evolution… maybe this thing evolves Eevee into Sylveon?  That would make sense – if I were Game Freak, I’d want the means for evolving my new Eevee evolution to be available as soon as Eevee herself was.  Having no way to test this immediately, I finish reviewing my new Pokémon and set off.

The road north out of Cyllage City is fascinating.  The area is dominated by a huge array of standing stones – menhirs, a notable feature of the French Neolithic – laid out in a grid pattern.  Things like this are common all over Europe, of course.  So many of them in one place seems odd… but, in fact, in the real world this part of France does have a cluster of sites like this, the Carnac Stones.  What they’re for is anyone’s guess.  Luckily, archaeologists have a secret fall-back for when we don’t know what something is or what it’s for: just say the words “ritual significance” and no-one will question you, no matter how weird it is (because really, those ancient people had some seriously bat-$#!t rituals).  Accordingly, I draw a rough diagram of the structures in my notebook, write the word “RITUAL” beside it and underline it three times, then move into the ruins for a closer look… only to find that Team Flare is already here – three of the same four grunts as I fought in the Glittering Caves, to judge by the Pokémon they use.  What do they want with a Neolithic ruin?  Could be looking to loot the place – a structure like this could easily mark a burial site, which might mean valuable artefacts.  Well, we can’t have that.  Luckily, they are as incompetent in battle as we’ve come to expect from Pokémon villains.  The first grunt mentions something about an ancient legend from three thousand years ago – well, okay, actually I’d guess this place is at least two thousand years older than that, but sure, why not – but doesn’t explain any further, since he’s distracted by a call on his Holo-Caster (a curious little holographic communication device), which he claims is an update on his mission.  “Whoever thought this thing up must have been one truly stylish individual too!” he enthuses (the inventor of the Holo-Caster was, of course, Lysandre – enough with the clumsy hint-dropping already!).  A backpacker checking out the ruins gives me a little more information: apparently our old friend Colress from Black and White 2 was here a few years ago, and told him that the stones emit some kind of energy.  “Some kind of energy.”  Amazing work as always, Colress.

At the end of the array of standing stones lies a town, littered with even more of the things: Geosenge Town.  We’re really getting into hick-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere territory now.  The fourth Team Flare grunt is here, snooping around and muttering to himself about the stones.  I follow him for a little while, but he disappears once he realises I’m on his tail.  Serena sees him too, but has nothing useful to contribute.  “He was here… but he isn’t any more.  And that way is a dead end.  Team Flare sure is weird.”  Thank you, Serena, for your dazzlingly insightful contributions.  The path the Team Flare grunt took ends in a round megalithic structure, maybe a tomb – but there’s something distinctly fishy about it; something seems to be concealed behind the closely ordered stones.  I try to have Ilex shove it open with Strength, but no luck.  This has got to be Team Flare’s hideout; goodness knows what kind of damage they’ve done to the site while building.  I stay in Geosenge a little longer, and hear a little about the standing stones from locals – apparently they don’t know what they are either, but theories range from tombs to monuments to some kind of calendar.  Supposedly there are “hundreds of millions” of them, which… well, okay, that would be at least four or five for every man, woman and child in France, which strikes me as unlikely, put it that way.  Finally, I set off again for Shalour City… and am promptly met by Korinna, the Shalour City Gym Leader, at the gates of Geosenge Town.  One of Korinna’s two Lucario still has a crush on me (which, in terms of updating my relationship status, is just way more than I can deal with right now), so she’d like to battle me and see what happens.  Fair enough, I figure.  Cecrops is getting pretty strong now, and as a Poison-type has a natural defensive advantage over Corinna’s Lucario duo; Glare and Rock Smash make quick work of both.  Whoo!  I beat another Gym Leader!  That means I- hey, wait; where does she think she’s going!?  That b!tch is running off without giving me a badge!  I beat her fair and square; how dare she!?  Has this harlot no respect for a Viscount of the Kalosian nobility?  Oh, I’ll show her when I get to her precious Gym and crush it beneath my iron boot… figuratively speaking.  If she’s lucky.

The road out of Geosenge Town is dotted with more interesting rocks – obelisks of clear blue crystal, this time, apparently natural formations, but it’s hard to be certain.  As always in Kalos, a completely new selection of wild Pokémon appears: Nidorino and Nidorina, Hariyama, Sawk (Throh appears to belong to Y), Staravia… and Kalos’ resident electric rodent, Dedenne.  Oh, joy.  I was so worried that there might not be a new electric mouse Pokémon, in this game which already includes all of the previous electric mice Pokémon.  And it even has the same colour scheme as Raichu.  Just what Kalos needed.  What was that?  Oh, it’s a Fairy-type.  Well, that makes it all right, then.  Because there’s obviously no way Plusle, Minun, Pachirisu, or (gods forbid) Pikachu ever could have passed as a Fairy-type.  All I can say is, you’d better evolve into something pretty f&$#ing spectacular, Dedenne, or I’m short-circuiting you by plugging that extension cord tail of yours into the most delicate orifice I can find…

Now all that stands between me and Shalour City is Reflection Cave, a cave system filled with more of those strange blue crystals, much larger ones this time, as well as huge panels of smooth, perfectly reflective stone like natural mirrors.  This is plainly just the game showing off at how good it is at doing reflections, but it is pretty spectacular; this is a beautiful area.  Reflection Cave is inhabited by a variety of Psychic Pokémon, mostly Mr. Mime (as one might expect from a place like this), but also Chingling, Wobuffet and Solosis.  Roggenrola and the occasional Ferroseed or Sableye round out the ecosystem, along with another new addition: Carbink, a curious little Rock/Fairy Pokémon with incredible defences but very little offensive presence.  Its body resembles a floating round stone, studded with crystals, but it looks like it has a little face hiding up at the top, and two big floppy ears like a rabbit’s.  Speaking of rabbits… I am here introduced by a Hiker to what must be Bunnelby’s evolved form, the inventively named Diggersby – a huge potato-shaped bipedal rabbit whose ears end in enormous digging claws, each almost as big as his body.  He seems to be a Ground-type, probably Normal/Ground.  Well.  It’s… not a cookie cutter Pokémon, I’ll give it that… Just as I reach the end of the cave and am about to emerge into Shalour City, my Pokémon hit level 30 – which means it’s time for Photia the Inkay to evolve into Malamar, a longer, darker coloured and all-around more menacing squid Pokémon that looks like it’s constantly plotting the painful demise of every imbecile who ever wronged it.  A few readers have been giving me cryptic hints about how Inkay evolves, on the grounds that the method was so weird I couldn’t be expected to puzzle it out on my own, and a few days ago I figured it out: you have to get it to at least level 30 with the DS upside down (incidentally: combining a level requirement with some other evolution method is something I don’t think they’ve done before, but it makes a lot of sense: I approve).  I didn’t even know the DS could sense its own spatial orientation.  What’s next, a Pokémon that will only evolve when you speak into the DS’s microphone the words “évolue-toi, s’il te plait”?

…don’t tell Game Freak I said that.

Ridiculous quote log

“Wow!  You and your Pokémon’s power levels are incredible!  They’re over 9000 for sure!”
…seriously?  We’re really going there now?

“Next I’m going to try challenging my own reflection to see who’s stronger!”
You go, Battle Girl.  Live the dream.