Helioptile and Heliolisk


Now that I think about it, it’s kind of strange that there aren’t really many Electric Pokémon based on real-world methods of electricity generation; for the most part they just conjure up electrical energy through – one presumes – a similar kind of biochemical process to that used by the electric eel, only turned up to eleven.  Well, either that or magic.  Let’s be honest; for at least some of them it’s probably magic.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Helioptile.

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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.


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.


Official art by Ken Sugimori of the trashy, pedestrian 'Natural' Furfrou.  Some people just have no class at all.

I have a long history of bitter feuds with gimmick Pokémon – Pokémon apparently designed to show off some manner of unique mechanic.  This is not because I have problems with the gimmicks themselves; things like Spinda’s seven zillion and one unique spot patterns or Chatot’s ability to interact with the DS’s microphone (an ability now obsolete, incidentally) certainly add something to those Pokémon.  The trouble is that often the designers appear to think that one gimmick is all it takes to produce a finished design and that these unique Pokémon don’t deserve anything else, with two results: 1) their combat abilities generally border on ‘completely unsalvageable’ and 2) the gimmicks are often the only interesting thing about them.  It is therefore with no small amount of trepidation that I go into my analysis of Furfrou, the show poodle Pokémon, whose main distinguishing feature is his broad selection of fur trims, which can be styled in Lumiose City’s fantastically popular Friseur Furfrou salon.  Is that all there is to Furfrou?  Is it worth the attention Kalos gives it?  Can we find anything else to like about him?  Will I make it through this entry without suffering an aneurysm?  Tune in to find out… right now!

For the people of Kalos, and of Lumiose City in particular, owning a stunningly coiffed Furfrou is among the most vital aspects of the elusive and wondrous state of being that is True Stylishness.  Lumiopolitans (for so I have arbitrarily chosen to call them) are ardent connoisseurs of style in all its manifestations – stylish dress, stylish battling, stylish transportation, stylish personal grooming, even stylish diet – and there is no other channel by which their respect and adoration may be more quickly won or lost.  The exquisitely stylish tourist can expect to be admitted to exclusive establishments and offered choice discounts; the unkempt hitchhiker… can not.  One of the qualifications for the life of style is having a well-groomed Furfrou, and one of that life’s benefits is access to ever more exclusive and extravagant cuts and dyes: an ordinary customer will be offered only the frightfully plebeian ‘Star,’ ‘Diamond’ and ‘Heart’ trims, while those who have demonstrated their superior taste can request ‘Pharaoh,’ ‘Kabuki,’ or ‘La Reine;’ the truly elegant, as a badge of their absolute class, can have their Furfrou done in the coveted ‘Matron,’ ‘Dandy’ and ‘Debutante’ styles – these last three appear to have had the fur on their heads somehow pressed into a variety of crisply-outlined hat shapes.  It goes without saying that trainers sporting lesser Furfrou trims should be regarded with haughty disdain, reserving true respect for those whose Furfrou are maintained in the highest of styles.  Take careful note, however: be cautious when dealing with the trainer of a ‘Natural’ Furfrou.  Such a person may be an utterly philistine no-hoper who wouldn’t know stylishness if it walked up and offered them a designer handbag, or they may be may be an ultra-classy fashion ninja making a richly satirical comment on the nature of mainstream Kalosian style that operates five or six degrees of irony beyond anything you can even comprehend, much less mimic (much like Jim the Editor’s appreciation of certain rap artists).  Be sure to observe carefully the shape and tint of the individual’s sunglasses before jumping to any conclusions.

 The more socially acceptable Heart (pink), Diamond (orange) and Star (blue) Furfrou trims.  I suppose these are okay.So, as you might have guessed, what persuades me to tolerate Furfrou’s gimmick – even though all nine styles look utterly ridiculous – is that it makes a lot of sense in the context of Kalos’ broader themes.  It’s silly and pretentious, just like the Kalosians; Furfrou, unlike Spinda and Chatot (to stick with the examples I used earlier), is a part of the underlying atmosphere of the region in which X and Y take place.  They’re the French, turned up to eleven; of course they have an otherwise-useless Pokémon based on a poodle whose complicated fur styles act as an esoteric status symbol for his fashion-conscious trainers.  It would almost be unrealistic to expect them not to.  Furfrou himself is not all that interesting, particularly when you consider that his most unique power is apparently the ability to sit still and be groomed by human hairdressers in a variety of increasingly frivolous ways – I think that needs to be put out there.  Kalos’ cultural obsession with him, though, is at least amusing, and apparently goes back centuries, since Furfrou were traditionally used as the bodyguards of the Kalosian monarchy.  Honestly I have trouble imagining any of the available styles as appropriately imposing royal bodyguard attire (well, except maybe the Pharaoh…) and am compelled to wonder whether Pyroar might have been a more appropriate choice, though perhaps ancient Furfrou trims were a little more imposing.  I think this is probably a reference to Louis XVI, the king who was deposed by the French revolution, who had a particular fondness for poodles and is actually credited with responsibility for the creation of the first miniature breeds.  He is unlikely to have used them as bodyguards, although I confess that the mental image of the King of France staring down the Third Estate from behind the protection of a pair of savagely yipping miniature show poodles does fill me with a curious shade of joy.  I can find little to like about Furfrou as a Pokémon; he’s really rather generic.  He makes a neat cultural fixture though.

 The elegant and sophisticated La Reine (pale blue), Kabuki (red) and Pharaoh (deep blue) Furfrou styles.  Can you feel the waves of envy washing over you as you behold their beauteous forms?

Despite much anticipation and speculation by players prior to the games’ release, Furfrou’s various trims have no effect whatsoever on his battle qualities: all Furfrou are pretty much the same (in spite of the Pokedex’s groundless assertion that Furfrou become more agile when their fur is kept trimmed).  This is rather a shame, because Furfrou could do with some extra tricks, as we’ll see.  As a Normal-type, he fights an uphill battle for relevance; having only one weakness is nice, but one immunity and no resistances isn’t exactly ideal for a defensive Pokémon, which is what Furfrou tries to be.  This might have made a sensible effect for different trims, actually; give each style one or two associated resistances (or even immunities) to bulk out his somewhat lacklustre resistance profile and allow players to tailor their Furfrou (literally) to the needs of their teams.  Jim wants to give Furfrou a ‘Hair Strike’ (like an Air Strike but with hair… or something) attack that shakes off a cloud of loose hairs, which then turn rigid and fly at the target like Jolteon’s Pin Missiles; different coat styles would give the attack different elemental properties.  Because of Furfrou’s support predilections, I’m more inclined to want something in the fashion of Secret Power, with constant type and damage but variable secondary effects.  Anyway.  As it is, Furfrou’s principle assets are high speed, good special defence, and a lovely ability – Fur Coat – that roughly doubles his normally weak defence (just watch out for Mold Breaker Pokémon like Haxorus, who will shred Furfrou’s luxuriant coat like tissue paper… I mean, Haxorus can also do that by, y’know, being Haxorus, but you get the idea).  Furfrou’s physical attack stat is passable but no more, so ideally you’re going to need to find one or two solid support options to mix in if you want Furfrou to contribute.

Furfrou’s staple attack will probably be the Normal type’s universal go-to, Return, unless you want to try to flinch-spam stuff to death with Headbutt and Thunder Wave.  Sucker Punch is good for getting the drop on really fast Pokémon, and also gives Furfrou something to do against Ghosts, though it can be a trifle inconsistent since it will only work against opponents who are about to use direct attacks.  Electric damage is useful but Wild Charge, with its unwelcome recoil, is not a great attack; probably a better option is U-Turn, eternally valuable more for the free switch it entails than for the actual damage it does.  Furfrou doesn’t get a lot of support options, but considering that his greatest strength is not dying, we should take a look.  He’s one of the few Pokémon with access to Cotton Guard, the most powerful physical defence buff in the game, so if you want to really work with that ability and turn him into a total brick wall, you have the option – it’s not a brilliant option, mind you, since a great physical wall ideally should be able to switch into physical attacks at will, but if you have the opportunity to set up, Furfrou will be damn hard to take down (unless, y’know, something wildly implausible like a critical hit happens).  Packing Toxic to capitalise on that survivability might be your best option for actually hurting things – alternatively, carry Thunder Wave to sting the special attackers who will inevitably switch in to bypass Furfrou’s monstrous physical defence.  The trouble is that Furfrou doesn’t have any rapid healing moves, so any damage he takes tends to stick.  A Rest/Sleep Talk set could be interesting, though status moves tend not to mesh well with those.  If you have someone else to set up Stealth Rock and the like on Furfrou’s behalf, Sleep Talk would allow Furfrou to bypass the negative priority of Roar and use his high speed to shuffle opposing Pokémon through your entry hazards without giving them a chance for reprisal.  It’s a bit of a ridiculous strategy, is complicated by the fact that Furfrou’s not that fast, and isn’t even a terribly unusual thing to be able to do, but I’m running out of ideas here (and, in fairness, few Pokémon as fast as Furfrou can match his toughness).  If you’re feeling particularly brazen you could even try Swagger and trust in Furfrou’s ridiculous hair to protect you from any boosted attacks that get through the confusion effect.  This is not a good idea, but again, I’m short of them at the moment.

 The divinely fantastical Debutante (cream), Dandy (green) and Matron (purple) styles.  Their trainers must be at the very cutting edge of fashion; I am practically orgasmic just being in the presence of such radiant class!  Oh.  Um... hang on... gotta go get some paper towels...

Furfrou’s special movepool is actually a lot more appealing than his physical movepool, but he just doesn’t have the stats to back it up.  A Charge Beam set, including Surf, Dark Pulse and Grass Knot, would allow him to boost up to potentially viable levels and would certainly bring a surprise factor to the battle, but his initial special attacking power is just so lacklustre that it’s hard to see why you’d bother, and it’s also unfortunate that Furfrou has no strong Normal-type special attacks.  Snarl is an odd choice, but will lower the target’s special attack as well as doing Dark damage, and might be a good way to take special attackers by surprise if they switch in on you.  That’s… honestly about it; I think I’ve covered practically every useful thing Furfrou can do.  For a Normal-type, his movepool is almost obscenely small.  Perhaps move tutors in the next sixth-generation game will give him a new set of tricks, but I’m not holding my breath…

So that’s Furfrou – a Pokémon who tells us more about Kalos than he does about himself.  As walking, breathing accessories go, Furfrou isn’t bad, but he suffers from a severe lack of ability to… like… do things, and that comes through when you try to use him in battle.  I have trouble understanding why any self-respecting monarch would pick Furfrou, of all Pokémon, as a bodyguard (other than having a totally unashamed preference for style over function, which… in fairness is probably exactly what the reason was), and that’s a problem here.  What makes this Pokémon suited for that, either in the past or today?  Does their plethora of classy trims have any connection with this ancient role?  Do I even care?  No.  No I do not.  Next!

Litleo and Pyroar

Official art of Litleo by Ken Sugimori.

We should probably talk about these ones next.  I didn’t use Litleo for very long, because my Fletchling unexpectedly evolved into a Fire-type and I didn’t want two of them.  Still, I had one on my party for a little while, and I feel like I got to know her, so it makes sense.  So, these Pokémon are lions.  I am notoriously ill-disposed to Pokémon that are just animals, because I want more.  Granted, of course, these are lions that breathe fire, but hey, Beartic is a polar bear that shoots icicles and just look how well I got along with him.  That was three years ago, though; I’m being nice now.  Well… okay, ‘nice’ is a bit much.  I’m being marginally less irritable now.  Let’s give these two a shot and see what I can make of them.

So let’s start with the obvious: gender differences.  Pyroar is one of only two Pokémon in X and Y with major sexual dimorphism, the other being Meowstic.  In Pyroar’s case, it obviously mimics one of the most famous and recognisable examples of sexual dimorphism in the real world: lions have manes, lionesses don’t (although female Pyroar get that long flowing crest so that they don’t seem too boring).  Sort of an predictable choice for a lion Pokémon, but major gender differences are something that Pokémon underexploits, so I’m hardly going to complain about seeing more of it.  The way the pattern of red-and-yellow stripes on a male Pyroar’s mane recalls the distinctive shape of a Fire Blast attack – the Japanese symbol for “large” or “great” – is also a nice touch.  The divergences between male and female Pyroar also come through in their behaviour, which is nice – you can compare Nidoking and Nidoqueen, or contrast Jellicent and Unfezant, who draw attention to gender but don’t make much of it.  Male Pyroar, specifically the male with the most impressive mane, are said to be the leaders of their prides, which obviously draws on the male leadership of real leonine social structure.  It’s also worth noting that only ¼ of all Pyroar are male, reflecting the composition of real prides, which will generally include only 1-2 males and perhaps 5-6 females.  Interestingly the Pokédex chooses to emphasise the females’ role in raising cubs, when in fact real lionesses are generally responsible for hunting (something for which the stronger but slower males are less suited) and tend to leave the males to protect the cubs in their absence; otherwise the males and females are equally involved.  I suspect the reversal comes from the fact that the activity of raising children tends to be gendered ‘female’ in most human societies, while hunting is more likely to be gendered ‘male,’ and the designers attributed a standard feminine activity to female Pyroar without thinking about what lions actually do.  It’s a little disappointing that Pyroar should be made to conform to human gender stereotypes in this way when there exists such an obvious reason for them not to (I always thought the role of lionesses in literally bringing home the bacon was fairly well-known, but perhaps not…).

 A lion and a lioness.

Litleo and Pyroar don’t subdue prey with claws, teeth, and brute strength like real world lions – why bother with any of that when you can breath fire?  Probably because of the sunburst shape of the males’ manes, there’s a long-standing association between lions and solar imagery going back to the Near Eastern Bronze Age, which male Pyroar are happy to accentuate.  That does make Fire something of an obvious choice, granted, but not as obvious as Ice on a polar bear.  I sort of wish they had played up the solar idea a bit, maybe with a sun-related ability (goodness knows none of Pyroar’s current abilities would be missed).  Another critical aspect of what these Pokémon are about is also drawn from real lions – their roar.  Lions roar; aside from the males’ glorious manes, their fearsome roar is probably the most iconic thing about them (for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, think of the crest and motto of House Lannister: respectively, a golden lion and the phrase “Hear Me Roar”), and Litleo and Pyroar have two skills related to that: the relatively rare Hyper Voice attack, and their signature move, Noble Roar.  This, I think, is the reason they’re Normal dual-types and not straight Fire, which would otherwise make just as much sense; they rely as much on their explosive vocal range as on their fire, and sonic abilities remain among the ‘miscellaneous’ powers still associated with the Normal type (compare Jigglypuff, who became Fairy/Normal in X and Y while Clefairy is now pure Fairy).

The other interesting thing about Pyroar is that the male seems almost made to be Lysandre’s signature Pokémon (and Lysandre is, to my recollection, the only NPC in the game who uses a male one): the bright red mane is reminiscent of Lysandre’s extravagant hairdo, the species designation “the Royal Pokémon” matches Lysandre’s royal Kalosian heritage, lions are a common symbol in Mediaeval heraldry, perhaps furthering the ‘royal’ associations, and they are traditionally associated with pride (to the point that the word even became the collective noun for a group of them), which is probably Lysandre’s most significant flaw – the pride that led him to believe he had the right, indeed the duty, to decide who would live and who would die all around the world.  Even the fire abilities recall the name of Lysandre’s organisation, and Lysandre himself is regularly described metaphorically as ‘burning’ with passion.  This wouldn’t be the first time a human character has taken certain cues from a Pokémon – Wake’s lucha mask is modeled on a Swampert (though he doesn’t actually have a Swampert, in any of his incarnations), Chilli, Cilan and Cress match the distinctive hairstyles of Simisear, Simisage and Simipour, Alder’s hair seems to be styled after Volcarona, and I believe Gardevoir inspired Diantha’s dress.  The intended implication may be that Pyroar was Lysandre’s first Pokémon (Gyarados is now his strongest, but seriously what kind of troll Professor starts a kid off with a Magikarp?) and the one with whom he has the deepest relationship.  Can you push that even further?  Maybe – Pyroar’s ‘royal’ designation might come from being a traditional starter Pokémon given to children of the Kalosian monarchy, and even today given to their descendants. 

 Male Pyroar, with his distinctive mane.

Pyroar seems intended to serve as a special sweeper.  Although her defences are poor and her physical attacks not worth the effort, she’s very fast, and her special attacks pack quite a punch.  Defensively, Normal/Fire is a mixed bag – six resistances (including Fire, Ice and Fairy) and a Ghost immunity (something which is shaping up to be quite valuable in this generation) are nothing to sniff at, but Pyroar’s four weaknesses are all to powerful and common offensive types: Ground, Rock, Fighting and Water.  Offensively, though, Fire Blast and Hyper Voice are a pretty solid combination, even if they leave her in a bit of trouble against most Rock-types.  The neat thing about Hyper Voice is that sound-based attacks have been improved in X and Y and can now bypass Substitute, which makes Pyroar very dangerous to certain Pokémon who rely on Substitutes to stall for time.  Beyond that, options are sadly limited – there’s Dark Pulse on the side, and if you’re planning a sun team, Solarbeam is an option, though bear in mind that weather in general is substantially weaker now that the effects of Drought et al. have limited durations.  The usual package of alternate Fire moves is available – Flamethrower for greater reliability and Overheat for single-shot power.  Other than that, you’re probably looking at either Hidden Power or a support move for the final slot.  Hidden Power is easier to use now, since its power rating is always 60 rather than randomly determined for each individual.  A Grass-type Hidden Power is probably the best complement to Pyroar’s main attacks, if you can get it, but a move with 60 power is not exactly a brilliant deal.  The signature move, Noble Roar, seems like more of a flavour thing than something that would be especially useful in battle – it reduces the target’s attack and special attack, which is irritating, but can be shaken off by switching out and won’t protect Pyroar from critical hits.  The nice thing about Noble Roar is that it’s good for catching Pokémon as they switch in, since it doesn’t matter whether the target favours special or physical attacks.  Still, it might be better suited to a somewhat tougher Pokémon.  Burning incoming opponents with Will’o’Wisp is probably a better option if you’re looking to give Pyroar stronger defensive capabilities.  Yawn could also be interesting; most people will switch out after being hit by Yawn rather than let a Pokémon fall asleep the next turn, so that could be good for keeping Pyroar’s most dangerous opponents off her back.  Finally, she’s fast enough to make good use of Taunt, and can more effectively break defensive Pokémon that way by denying them access to their support moves.

 Female Pyroar, with her impressive crest.

None of Pyroar’s abilities are much use, sadly.  Rivalry gives a damage bonus against Pokémon of the same gender, but a corresponding penalty against Pokémon of the opposite gender – certainly flavour-appropriate for a Pokémon with strong gender differentiation, but too unpredictable to plan strategies around, since there’s no way to know the gender of Pokémon you’ll be facing ahead of time.  Moxie is an attack boost every time you knock out an opponent – great, except Pyroar doesn’t use physical attacks.  If for some reason you do want to focus on Pyroar’s physical side, well, get used to disappointment, because her strongest physical Fire-type attack is Fire Fang, and her coverage options basically extend to Crunch and Wild Charge.  Flame Charge lets you do damage while increasing your speed, and is generally a good secondary attack, but speed isn’t really high on Pyroar’s list of concerns anyway.  Her final ability, Unnerve, prevents opponents from eating berries.  Whoop-dee-f*cking-doo.  In short, Normal/Fire is actually pretty solid and Pyroar certainly has the stats to back it up, but she’s just not a versatile Pokémon, and her lack of relevant, useful abilities makes it difficult for her to sparkle.

I think overall I lean a little on the ‘meh’ side with Pyroar.  On reflection I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with her; as far as the whole ‘being a lion’ thing goes, she does a solid job, and the focus on her roar as a weapon makes sense with the design while giving her a pretty good combination of primary attacks.  I come away from this one feeling like there’s room for more, though.  Playing up the royalty aspect somehow might have been more interesting, and Pyroar would be an excellent Pokémon to give a sun motif and solar abilities, which would also make a good combination with a royal theme, particularly in Kalos (given the presence in the background of Louis XIV, the ‘sun king,’ as a historical model for the Kalosian monarchy and the Parfum Palace).  Drawing on the heraldic associations of lions, maybe going for a more stylised look, might be a good way of doing that.  I like Pyroar well enough, particularly the female form which makes an effort to match the male form in overall majesty while still creating a very different impression of her nature, but I feel just a little underwhelmed.

Final Thoughts: Eevee

Official art of Eevee, by Ken Sugimori; image copyright by Nintendo, yaaay.All these entries on Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Espeon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Glaceon… what about little Eevee?  Doesn’t she deserve some love too?  When you think about it, Eevee is actually the most important of the lot.  Without her, all the rest are just generic Pokémon of their own types, for the most part; many of them are well-designed, but they’re not really all that interesting on their own.  To no small extent, the thing that makes them worth thinking about is their common origin – a tiny Normal Pokémon with limitless potential.

Eevee is called “the Evolution Pokémon” – indeed, the word ‘evolution’ is the origin of her name, in both English and Japanese (where she is Eievui).  She pioneered the idea of a branched evolution, a concept that was originally unique to her, with her split into Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon in Red and Blue.  When other branching evolutions were introduced in Gold and Silver, Eevee continued to have more branches than anyone else with the addition of Espeon and Umbreon, and today she has a grand total of seven possible final forms.  Eevee wasn’t just the first Pokémon to have multiple evolved forms, though – I think she actually got the whole idea spectacularly right, to an extent that subsequent Pokémon haven’t.  Split evolutions typically develop different ideas of a single design, and gain their real significance when you view them together, as pairs of Pokémon, but few of them go in radically different directions the way Eevee does, and the differences between their powers and abilities are often minor.  Slowbro and Slowking are probably the worst offenders – Slowbro has better physical defence, Slowking has better special defence and access to a few extra moves, and the opposition in their flavour is basically that Slowking is smart and Slowbro is dumb, because Slowking is high on Shellder venom 24/7 or something.  Bellossom and Vileplume are another pair where the differences are very subtle; Bellossom isn’t a Poison-type, but they have basically the same combat roles, and although thematically they represent an interesting day-night duality, it’s not something that comes through a great deal in their designs (largely because Vileplume was created first and Bellossom added later).  What all of these splits have in common is that, for the younger Pokémon who has the potential to go either way, it’s not a significant design element.  Poliwhirl doesn’t care that he could evolve into either Politoed or Poliwrath.  It doesn’t matter to Clamperl that she could become either a Huntail or a Gorebyss.  It’s just incidental that these Pokémon happen to have a choice.  For Eevee, it’s very different.  For Eevee, the choice is the whole point.

 Another piece by the inimitable Diaris (http://diaris.deviantart.com/), this time of Eevee rolling around in an orchard.

I believe that this is the key to Eevee’s consistent popularity throughout the franchise’s life: she offers something for everyone.  Her multitude of evolved forms represent not just many elements but many ways of appealing to players; whether you like cute Pokémon or tough Pokémon, beautiful Pokémon or mysterious Pokémon, Eevee can make it happen (just about the only aesthetic type missing is a brutish Pokémon).  This is a huge potential strength for the idea of branched evolutions, which most of them don’t fully exploit, and I think future designs could do some wonderful things by building on this model.  One of my pet ideas, which some of you might remember from my wrap-up entry on the starter Pokémon earlier this year, is to have a game with only one choice of starter Pokémon, but to give that Pokémon a branching evolution dependent the way your relationship with it develops.  Storyline-dependent split evolutions would, I think, be a very fun concept to work with and could produce a lot of cool ideas with interesting impacts on the way the games feel… but let’s get back to Eevee.  The point I’m making about the versatility of Eevee’s aesthetic appeal is also at the heart of one of my problems with Leafeon and Glaceon – I think that by the time Game Freak got around to adding Grass and Ice versions of Eevee, most of the possibilities for aesthetic development had already been exhausted.  Leafeon’s wide, alien eyes and foliage-covered body produce an aura of mystery and otherworldliness similar to that cultivated by Espeon, while Glaceon’s sleek, beautiful form shares a great deal with Vaporeon in terms of design goals.  I don’t think adding Leafeon and Glaceon was necessarily a mistake.  They could have been done well.  The problem is that, traditionally, Eeveelutions don’t have a whole lot of variety or detail other than those basic design choices and their elemental affiliations – their powers are typically very standard fare, and most of them don’t have particularly interesting behavioural traits or personalities.  As a result, they’re interesting only within the context of their family, not as independent Pokémon themselves.  Even this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, I should emphasise – because, of course, we always will view them as a part of that family – but it does, in my view, place a limit on how effective any future additions can be.  There are enough of them now that the essential point has been made already.

Someone asked me a few days ago which of the remaining ten elements I would most like to see used for a new Eeveelution.  Honestly this is one of those times where I have to begin my answer with “actually, I wouldn’t, but since you ask…”  After Leafeon and Glaceon, I think that continuing to add more would be rather labouring the point.  Eevee has more evolutions than any other Pokémon in the game, allowing her to express interesting themes of adaptability and diversity.  Most of the evolutions themselves are not especially interesting in isolation, and are more valuable for being part of that wider idea.  Why add more?  Only if you can do something different, something that casts a whole new light on the themes established by the existing members of the family.  Let’s talk about those themes for a bit because they’re important.  Evolution, as defined in the Pokémon universe, is of course a very different thing from the kind of evolution we talk about in modern biology, but in Eevee the two are fortuitously united.  Real evolution, of the kind first outlined in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, is the barely perceptible change of species (not – and this is important – individuals) over the course of generations in response to environmental pressures.  It does not aim in any direction.  It doesn’t make species stronger or faster or smarter.  It only makes them better suited to specific sets of environmental conditions.  The contrast with Pokémon evolution, which operates within an individual’s lifetime and (with a few notable exceptions) normally does make them stronger, faster, smarter and (again, with a few notable exceptions) larger, is obvious.  Eevee acknowledges the real-world concepts of evolution with her great spread of possible evolved forms – none of them superior or inferior (well, yes, okay, we all know Flareon is rubbish and Espeon is ridiculous, but it doesn’t seem like the designers intended for things to work out that way), merely different, and better adapted to different roles and different lifestyles.  At the same time, though, Eevee is still ‘evolving’ like a Pokémon, changing within her own lifetime to reflect the environment around her (this is actually more similar to the alternative, now discredited, model of evolution once proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and I am becoming convinced that species of Pokémon actually develop by Lamarckian evolution – Google it; it’s fascinating stuff).  This creates a fascinating contrast, which is why I’ve been so interested in probing the environmental conditions that lead to each of Eevee’s evolved forms, and why I think this is the aspect of the design that Game Freak should be focusing on in the future – it doesn’t just have the potential to tell us some fascinating things about all Pokémon, it could even be educational too!

 A more realistic take on Eevee by RacieB (http://racieb.deviantart.com/).

The problem – and it’s one I’ve been trying to work around as I go – is that the designers’ level of commitment to this concept doesn’t seem to have been constant all the way through.  In particular, their use of the theme of environmental adaptation is rather haphazard.  As I mentioned in Glaceon’s entry, it makes sense to us on a certain level that Pokémon in hot places should fight with fire, and Pokémon in cold places should fight with ice, and Pokémon that live in forests should act like plants, and so on, because we expect them to take on the traits of the things around them.  When you think of it from an ecological standpoint, though, it starts to get quite odd.  It makes sense for Glaceon to resist cold, because she lives in cold places, but does it make sense for her to use the cold, when everything around her will resist cold as well?  Conversely, it makes sense for Leafeon to be able to use the plants around him, since he’s a jungle Pokémon, but does it make sense for him to adopt a lifestyle that leads him into direct competition with all those plants?  This is the reason I don’t place Flareon in a volcanic environment, even though this is something of a standard choice for Fire Pokémon – of course the fire-based creatures that live there already, like Slugma or Magmar, would innately be able to use fire, but if you were a Normal-type moving into a place like that, what survival advantage would be conferred by gaining fire abilities?  In the end, of course, a complete ecology of the Pokémon world is a long way off – if there’s even any possibility it will ever happen at all – but I think looking at Eevee in a more critical light might be a good place for any such project to start.

 Before today, you all had to trudge through the endless dreariness of your dull and unfulfilling lives without the awesomeness that is an Eeveelution rock band.  Now, thanks to Tinysnail (http://tinysnail.deviantart.com/), you no longer have to!

Let’s return to that question I was supposed to be answering.  What else could you evolve Eevee into?  Ground, Rock, or Fighting?  They would be obvious choices for filling that one remaining aesthetic niche, but I’m not sure the idea of a brutish Eevee is necessarily one that would achieve any particular appeal.  Poison?  What thematic aims would be served by creating a poisonous Eevee?  Flying, Bug or Dragon would be… odd, put it that way.  They would make our new Eeveelution very much an odd one out in the Field egg group, since those three types are some of those that map most closely onto corresponding breeding groups, and they also raise some concerns about what environmental stimulus, exactly, would prompt Eevee to sprout wings or additional legs.  Ghost could potentially bring up some points about Eevee’s interaction with humans, but I’m not convinced you could do anything with it that Espeon and Umbreon didn’t.  I’d prefer to leave Steel out of it, because that’s getting perilously close to drawing human modification into things, which I worry would rather miss the point.  In fact I think there’s really only one type you could do anything interesting with if you wanted to make an eighth evolved form for Eevee.  It’s Normal.  All the other forms focus on shedding Eevee’s flexibility in exchange for becoming supremely well-adapted to a particular environment; a Normal-type evolution could instead look at the idea of retaining that adaptability; instead of having the narrow movepools that signify the specialisation of the other forms, she could use a wide selection of moves to act as a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ type character (something like, say, Clefable or Mesprit, except that it would be the whole point of the design rather than an unintended result).  I might abandon the traditional Eeveelution stat spread as well, and give it flat average stats across the board, just to ram the point home.  This is a Pokémon that travels widely and can live anywhere.  It can’t settle down and really force other species out of their permanent niches, but it can get by in just about any environment.  As a result, it’s both adventurous and capricious, preferring not to stay in one place for too long, and, like humans, prizes wide knowledge and varied experiences.  The unfortunate weakness to this design is that I really have no idea where I would take its art – all my concerns about retreading old ground still stand, and I’m not especially wild about the obvious route of just creating a bigger, fluffier Eevee either.

The point I am by slow degrees trying to make here is that Eevee, in my opinion, is a fascinating Pokémon, who can provide some interesting lessons in design that haven’t really been appreciated or explored, even by her own more recent family members.  Her massive popularity (and that of her older siblings) isn’t just a question of cuteness, because of course Eevee is cute, but there’s nothing really to recommend her over the legions of other cute Pokémon out there.  She succeeds because she can be many things to many people.  If you love your Eevee, she will grow with you, reflecting your own ambitions and your own choices – and that, when it comes right down to it, is what Pokémon is all about.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, Honourable Mention: Farfetch’d

Oh, Farfetch’d.  You deserved so much better.

 Farfetch'd.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I’m guessing that most of you who followed my Top Ten list thought Farfetch’d was going to get a spot on there somewhere – so much so that I feel I need to do an entry on him just to talk about why he didn’t turn up!  For the benefit of those of you out there who had no childhood, Farfetch’d is a vanishingly rare wild duck Pokémon from the original one hundred and fifty, so rare in fact that on Red and Blue he can’t be caught in the wild and must be obtained from a trainer in the game by trading away a Spearow.  The reason he is vanishingly rare is because he tastes delicious and carries his own garnish: a stalk of green onion, a common ingredient in recipes for duck stew.  His Japanese name, Kamonegi, literally “duck with leek,” is apparently an abbreviated form of an expression meaning either “something fortunate but far-fetched” or “a person naïvely walking into a con or dangerous situation” – like a duck carrying its own garnish (it’s also the name of a popular Japanese noodle dish).  This is a frighteningly bad survival strategy but since it’s acknowledged as such in-universe I can live with that.  Interestingly, although it’s one of the most well-known facts about Farfetch’d, only the anime mentions that people eat them – as far as I am aware, it never explicitly comes up in the games; his Japanese name and his design certainly seem to suggest it though.  Farfetch’d’s leek isn’t just to make him taste good, of course; it’s his main defensive weapon, which he needs to survive.  According to the Pokédex, he also uses it to build his nest but, annoyingly, it’s not made clear whether he uses it as a tool or a building material (I’m tempted to say it depends on the quality, since Farfetch’d are supposedly very discerning about their sticks and often fight over the best ones).  Most of Farfetch’d’s strongest attacks are executed with his stalk, which he wields like a sword, striking attackers with lightning-fast cuts.  He will defend his weapon with his life, since without it he might as well be dead.  Farfetch’d is a weird, quirky Pokémon, that much is certain, but everything in this design makes sense in context, there’s nothing superfluous, and it’s actually really clever once you get the joke.  Very few Pokémon manage to pull off cute and badass at the same time, but I think Farfetch’d manages it with his spunky attitude and his refusal to give up, whatever the odds against him.  Honestly, I think he’s one of the best-designed Pokémon of the original generation (certainly the best of the four different Normal/Flying Pokémon available in Red and Blue) and that’s why he didn’t feature in my Top Ten, regardless of how weak he is in battle – and, as we’ll soon discover, he really is horrible.

 Art of Falkner's Farfetch'd from the trading card game, by Atsuko Nishida.

Farfetch’d is better than Unown, Luvdisc, Dustox and, arguably, Pachirisu.  I realise this is probably not very encouraging but I have to work with what I’ve got.  Normal/Flying is a distressingly bad type with redundant offensive coverage, critical weaknesses, and few useful resistances outside of the helpful immunity to Ground attacks.  Farfetch’d’s best stat score – physical attack – is at a level that would be considered a significant weak point on most Pokémon.  Thankfully, his other scores are not significantly worse, but this is small comfort.  As this stat distribution attests, Farfetch’d is primarily a physical attacker; Brave Bird and Return offer spectacularly powerful Flying and Normal attacks that fail just as spectacularly to make up for his lack of physical strength, while he can access several attacks of other types courtesy of his green onion sword, such as Poison Jab, Leaf Blade and Night Slash.  Like most bird Pokémon, he can also learn U-Turn and Steel Wing.  Except for Leaf Blade, which helps a great deal against Rock Pokémon, these techniques will rarely be more effective than his primary attacks anyway (U-Turn is still a good choice though, as always).  Notably, Steel-types resist every single one of them.  To hurt Steel-types, Farfetch’d has to rely on Revenge, which forces him to take his turn after his opponent even when he’s faster, or Heat Wave, which does special rather than physical damage and, worse, is only available to him on Platinum version and is thus incompatible with what is easily his best passive ability, Defiant (which he gets from the Pokémon Dream World).  Farfetch’d can attempt to increase his meagre damage output with Swords Dance (or Work Up if you’ve decided to use Heat Wave and want to boost special damage as well), but that requires that he live long enough to use it.  He can also use Agility to redeem his poor speed stat, but that will leave him without the necessary power to hurt anything.  He can try using both, but finding time to do that is even more difficult than trying for just one, and also leaves him with only two attacks to work with.  Finally, if you’re really masochistic you can get Farfetch’d to heal himself with Roost and prolong his suffering, or try to turn him into a sort of physical tank with Curse.

 Farfetch'd and Baby Farfetch'd being adorable.  I can't actually read the signature, but I am reliably informed that it reads "Hisakichi" and that the original artist may be found at http://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=127257.

The one great blessing Farfetch’d enjoys is a custom item: the elaborately titled Stick.  Holding a Stick dramatically increases his chance of scoring a critical hit (the base rate is 1/16, which the Stick increases to ¼; high critical-ratio moves like Leaf Blade and Night Slash jump from 1/8 to 1/3).  With this in mind, and given his flavour, what mystifies me is that Farfetch’d doesn’t have the Super Luck ability, especially considering that the vast majority of Pokémon with this ability are birds.  Super Luck would give Farfetch’d even more critical hits (1/3 for normal attacks, and ½ for attacks like Leaf Blade – the hard limit in the game’s programming), which on its own isn’t enough to make Farfetch’d effective but would certainly help.  The first addition I would want to make to Farfetch’d, therefore, is Super Luck, replacing one of his current two absurdly situational abilities, Keen Eye and Inner Focus (while we’re at it, might as well replace the second one – Sniper doesn’t fit quite as well as Super Luck thematically, but triple-damage criticals make sense in the context of what I’m doing with Farfetch’d).  The second thing he needs is a reasonable way of penetrating the manifold resistances of Steel Pokémon, which include about two thirds of the elements in the game (honestly I think this is a major game balance concern in itself but that’s not what we’re here for).  Water, Fire, Electric and Ground attacks don’t really suit Farfetch’d, but you could probably make a solid argument for giving him a Fighting-type signature move (a lot of Farfetch’d cards have an attack called Leek Slap, but I’d also be tempted to give it a really ridiculous name like Onion Kata, just because it’s Farfetch’d); something with a high critical rate to keep up the theme, and probably more power than Night Slash but not a lot more.  What I’m dancing around is the fact that none of this will be enough unless Farfetch’d evolves and earns some stronger stats to back it up.  Much as he needs it, I just don’t know what to do with him.  Unlike all the other Pokémon I’ve been talking about Farfetch’d has a very neat design, which I don’t want to tamper with.  It’s not so much that the design is utterly brilliant, although it is very good; it’s more that Farfetch’d hits some very specific notes, culturally speaking, and it’s hard to think of a meaningful way to develop on that (especially given how little I actually know about Japanese culture).  If pressed, I would try to work with the idea that a duck carrying a green onion is symbolic of naïveté; in his evolved form, which I think should have perhaps a small crest and slightly more varied colours but nothing bright or gaudy, Farfetch’d becomes wiser and worldlier.  He still carries his green onion, since he still needs it to survive, but he is normally quite reclusive and is highly practiced at keeping himself hidden.  While in the open, he often walks along the ground to conceal his own agility, only to spring into the air when attacked.  Rather than foraging for food himself, he often prefers to trick other Pokémon into leaving their own food unguarded, or even con them out of it.  His stats all increase, but their distribution doesn’t change much; his biggest strengths are still physical attack, special defence and speed, in that order.

I could actually sympathise, strange as this may seem, with a designer who consciously chose not to evolve Farfetch’d.  He may be desperate for the extra power, but I am wary at seizing if for him at the expense of his significant appeal.  Nonetheless, after more than ten years, I would have hoped someone could have come up with a design for a Farfetch’d evolution that wouldn’t ruin the adorable little guy.  I’ve seen suggestions by a number of people that Farfetch’d is supposed to suck, in keeping with the idea of naïveté, but I hope that’s not true; he’s an awesome Pokémon and doesn’t belong at the bottom.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, #5: Delcatty

We’re really getting into the dregs now, folks.  See… most Pokémon are good at something.  It’s often something bizarrely specific that would barely make sense to most people, like how Linoone is the only Belly Drummer who’ll eat a Salac berry at 50% HP instead of 25%, or the way Smeargle can pull off really weird sets with stuff like Endeavour and Dragon Rage or Spore and Transform thanks to his ability to learn every move in the game.  It’s very rare that you get a Pokémon who isn’t good at anything at all… but it does happen.  One of them is Delcatty.
Delcatty and her juvenile form Skitty are cats.  If you’ve ever owned a cat (which I have) then you pretty much know everything about them already.  They’re cute, they like to chase things and make themselves pretty, they’re popular with female trainers, and they are completely indifferent to everything beyond their own whims.  They’re different from Persian in that Persian embraces the cruel side that cats have; if you screw with Persian, the claws are coming out and your face is going to start looking a lot less pretty a few seconds from now.  If you screw with Delcatty, she’s much more likely to say “eh, whatever,” and wander off.  Delcatty doesn’t have a nest like most Pokémon do because she would never feel invested enough to bother defending it, doesn’t eat or sleep according to any schedule because she would never pay enough attention to bother keeping track of one (this comes from Ruby version but, incidentally, Emerald contradicts this, saying that Delcatty are nocturnal), and never fights if she can avoid it because that’s clearly too much effort.  She reminds me of nothing so much as The Cat Who Walked By Himself, from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (you can find the story here http://boop.org/jan/justso/cat.htm, among other places), a fable that tells how the Cat, rather than being tamed like all the other wild creatures, instead tricked the Woman into a bargain with him so that he could do as he pleased for all time.  The Cat’s catchphrase is “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me,” which pretty much sums him up.  I doubt Delcatty was directly inspired by this particular story but she’s a product of the same age-old stereotype that cats are aloof, and only ever do exactly what suits them (including being ‘tamed’ by humans).  Pokémon doesn’t really do anything with the idea other than say that this is what Delcatty is like, and it only makes things worse that someone seems to have at least had this perception of cats in the back of his mind when Persian was created, even though it’s not the focus for Persian.  There’s only so much variation you can squeeze out of a lithe, elegant domestic cat when you’re committed to making it a Normal-type; Delcatty’s clearly not the same as Persian since she looks more overtly pampered, even dressed-up, but I find myself asking what this design achieved that Meowth and Persian didn’t.
Although it has nothing to do with my analysis here, I would be remiss if I did not mention the internet phenomenon that is Hot Skitty-on-Wailord Action, since it is easily the most interesting thing about these Pokémon, as well as one of the most egregious examples of Pokémon’s propensity to rape the science of biology on every level imaginable simultaneously.  Due to the somewhat simplistic way in which Pokémon games determine reproductive compatibility, a Skitty – a two foot tall kitten – and a Wailord – a fifteen metre long whale – are capable of having children together, and presumably… y’know… doing all of the things one needs to do in order to have children.  This being the internet, hilarity ensues.  Perhaps fortunately, this is one mystery of the Pokémon world that Professor Oak is unlikely ever to solve… after all, the sheer logistics alone are beyond comprehension.
Like Spinda, Delcatty is afflicted with uniformly dreadful stats and, as a Normal-type, has few weaknesses but no clear strengths.  Again like Spinda, she also enjoys the traditional great blessing of the Normal type: a vast movepool.  Theoretically, Baton Pass allows her to bestow the benefits of Calm Mind, Work Up or Charge Beam upon her allies, Wish and Heal Bell provide her with means of keeping her team healthy, and Thunder Wave, Charm and Fake Tears offer a variety of ways to incapacitate her enemies.  Of course, since Delcatty is neither fast nor tough, it’s likely she’ll have no more than one turn to do any of this.  She has access to the famously effective combination of Thunderbolt and Ice Beam, and could use Calm Mind alongside those to buff herself into some kind of special tank.  This won’t work either because special attack and special defence are among the weakest of her many weak points.  Double-Edge, Zen Headbutt, Wild Charge and Sucker Punch present a reasonable spread of physical attacks, and with Sucker Punch she doesn’t even have to worry about her lacklustre speed so much, but at this point you’re bailing out the Titanic with a thimble.  Delcatty’s signature move, Assist, is fascinating but ultimately unhelpful; it allows her to use any move known by any Pokémon on her team, chosen at random, which is a little like asking your four-year-old sister to run through the Battle Tower a couple of times for you.  The crowning insult is Delcatty’s unique ability, Normalise.  As far as I know, Normalise is the only ability in the game which is so poorly thought-out as to be actively detrimental to a Pokémon that possesses it (discounting those specifically designed to be, like Truant).  It’s an interesting idea: all of Delcatty’s moves are treated as Normal-typed, and therefore get a damage bonus for being used by a Pokémon of the same element (the ‘same-type attack bonus,’ or STAB).  The trouble is that Normalise makes it impossible for Delcatty to hit anything super-effective, since Normal isn’t strong against anything, and that’s just about the only way she can possibly hurt anything.  Normalise does allow Delcatty to hit Ground-types with Thunder Wave and pick up STAB on a couple of moves with useful side-effects (Sucker Punch is the only one that jumps out at me, though).  I would say that it’s unlikely to be worth it but, let’s face it, Delcatty’s offensive effectiveness is not a huge sacrifice to make.  If you don’t like Normalise, her Dream World ability, Wonder Skin, is quite neat – it gives her a 50% chance to ignore most attacks that don’t cause direct damage – but the thing about Delcatty is that most Pokémon won’t need techniques like that to beat her anyway; it’s much easier just to squash her and move on.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find interesting fan art of Delcatty?  I put it down to the fact that Delcatty herself just isn't a very interesting Pokémon at all. LucLightning (http://luclightning.deviantart.com/) has done a pretty good job, though.

Skitty’s evolution to Delcatty is triggered by a Moon Stone, which makes it unlikely that Game Freak will ever evolve Delcatty further – so, if possible, I need to think of a way to make Delcatty useful without evolving her.  I would love to work with Assist, but Assist is problematic because a number of Pokémon besides Delcatty can get it as a hereditary move (including Weavile and Infernape, who would gleefully take anything powerful enough to make Delcatty effective and use it to break the game forever).  Instead I’m going to start by making Normalise more effective.  Normalise, if you ask me, does exactly what it should, but is the wrong way around: instead of making Delcatty treat all her own attacks as Normal, it should make her treat all attacks that hit her as Normal.  This will cause the vast majority of Pokémon to lose their STAB against Delcatty, making it much less easy to steamroll her with one solid attack.  That’s extremely useful, but it’s not enough, so I’m going to turn to Delcatty’s flavour and hope that what I come up with there will inform me further.  Delcatty doesn’t fight for anything; she’ll abandon resources and territory without a second thought.  A Pokémon like this would never survive unless it could afford to abandon these things so lightly, which implies that Delcatty is resilient, adaptable and capable of surviving pretty much anywhere (which, incidentally, fits quite nicely with my version of Normalise) – she is the Cat who walks by herself, and all places are alike to her.  She can tolerate thirst, hunger and extremes of temperature, identify nutritious plants by instinct having never seen them before, and move unseen and unheard by predators.  All cat Pokémon are said to have nine lives, but the superstition is thought to have begun with Delcatty’s proverbial ability to miraculously come out of anything smelling of roses.  In fact-
Nine lives.
That’s it!  Nine is clearly too many, but that could actually work.
Okay, bear with me here.  What I have in mind would probably make more sense as an ability, but it synergises well with either Wonder Skin or Normalise and I don’t want to lose that, so it’ll have to be a custom item that only works for Skitty and Delcatty instead: a silver collar called a Life Band.  When Skitty and Delcatty are in a very relaxed state, especially while they are grooming, they give off excess life energy, which is stored in their collars until they need it.  In a battle, a Life Band will release its energy to cure any status ailment (poison, sleep, and so on) that affects Delcatty, heal her by 25% of her health if she ever drops below 50%, restore the PP of any of her attacks if she runs out so she can keep using them, or negate any stat penalties she takes from moves like Growl.  The collar can only produce one effect per turn and will only work a certain number of times (like I said, nine is probably too many… then again, this is Delcatty we’re dealing with; the ability to deny STAB will do a lot for her, but her defences are still awful).  It recharges whenever the Pokémon wearing it rests at a Pokémon Centre, or whenever she gets time to chill, if she’s wild – so it’s in Delcatty’s best interests to spend as much time relaxing and preening as possible!
I’d like to do more with Delcatty.  I’m acutely conscious that I’ve made a wild Pokémon rather reliant on an item which sounds like it should be man-made, and that the item itself is rather more fiddly than any effect that currently exists, as well as extremely powerful.  Assuming evolution is off the table, though, providing Delcatty with the support she needs necessitates… a fair bit of creativity, to say the least, because few Pokémon indeed are as impossibly bad as Delcatty.

The Top Ten Worst Pokemon Ever, #7: Spinda

…great.  I’m only four Pokémon in, and Spinda’s already shown up.  Well, let’s get this over with…
Spinda is a crazy-eyed dancing midget panda, and that is yet another phrase I never imagined I would one day have to use.  Although Nintendo will never admit this because their name is built on being family-friendly, Spinda lurches through life in a state of perpetual drunkenness.  His movements are erratic, halting, and unpredictable, and in battle he relies mainly on stumbling around the attacks of his bewildered opponents as they try in vain to comprehend his demented tactics.  Despite appearances, Spinda actually maintains perfect mental clarity throughout his seemingly random dance; whether he moves like that on purpose to confuse his enemies or his thought processes are simply too warped for other Pokémon to follow is open for debate.  Much like Delibird and Castform, Spinda was designed as a gimmick Pokémon, and his gimmick is in his physical appearance: no two Spinda, the Pokédex confidently informs us, have exactly the same pattern of spots.  I don’t really think this is that interesting, but I… suppose it’s nice that they went to the effort of writing a little sequence of code to randomly generate four and a half billion different patterns of spots for Spinda to choose from… and then went to the effort of mentioning it in every Pokédex entry they ever wrote about Spinda, just so no-one would forget how clever they’d been… and then went to the effort of moving directly on to the next Pokémon in the Hoenn ‘dex, because the spot gimmick was obviously so awesome that Spinda didn’t need anything else, like an evolution…

…please kill me…

Seriously, though… this thing about the spots isn’t clever.  In the real world, that’s the norm, not the exception (giraffes, cows, cheetahs, penguins; the list goes on), and until I’m told otherwise I’ll assume that it’s the norm for Pokémon with spots as well (yes, Game Freak, I know that the sprites for other Pokémon don’t have four and a half billion different personalised spot patterns to choose from, but they don’t show other physical deviations like scars either – that doesn’t mean they aren’t there).  It’d be a lot more unusual if we’d been told that all Spinda have exactly the same pattern.  It still wouldn’t be particularly interesting unless they’d invented a fun reason for it, mind you, but it would at least get an eyebrow raise out of me.  I might be harping about Spinda’s spots rather excessively, but I think that as mature adults the important thing for us to remember here is that HE STARTED IT!

Norikumi (who has a great deal of brilliant Pokémon fanart at http://norikumi.deviantart.com/) shows us what Spinda does for fun: be ridiculous.

If Spinda’s peculiar fighting style intrigues you, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that his support movepool is incredible.  Trick Room, Encore, Baton Pass, Calm Mind, Work Up, Trick, Wish, Fake Tears, Icy Wind, Hypnosis, Rapid Spin and Disable are all open to him, a list that contains a number of useful utility powers with applications in both aiding teammates and crippling the opposition.  Powerful Normal attacks like Return add offensive options to his repertoire.  Shadow Ball and Psychic are on offer if you want him to use special attacks, Rock Slide and Wild Charge if you want him to use physical attacks, and Sucker Punch for hitting stuff before it kills him.  If you’re prepared to get a Spinda from one of the older games, even more options open up.  Dream World Spinda have access to a very powerful combination indeed: Spinda’s Dream World ability, Contrary, reverses all stat changes applied to him, while Superpower, a devastating Fighting attack, cuts both attack and defence when used – a Contrary Spinda will actually get stronger and stronger each time he uses it.  Now for the bad news.  The bad news is that Spinda’s stats are awful.  He can’t take hits, he can’t dish them out, and he can’t even run away very fast.  Those support moves are nice, but if Spinda wants an opportunity to use them he needs to either outrun something or scare it off, and he doesn’t have the speed for the former, the firepower for the latter, or the bulk to take a hit when he fails.  To make things worse, Normal is just a painful type; Spinda’s primary attacks will never be super-effective, and his solitary resistance (actually an immunity) ensures that almost every Pokémon in the game will have a move capable of exploiting his brittle defences.  By virtue of his huge movepool, there are probably several ridiculously specific combinations of support techniques that only Spinda can pull off, but in any single role he’s almost certainly outclassed several times over (Espeon is a better Calm Mind-Passer than Mr. Mime, who’s better than Girafarig, who’s better than Spinda… you get the idea).  No-one wants a Rapid Spinner with Wish badly enough that Spinda becomes a better option than just picking independently useful Pokémon.
Part of the problem with Spinda is that his iconic powers focus on confusion.  Assuming your Spinda doesn’t come from the Dream World, he can have one of two confusion-related abilities: Own Tempo makes Spinda immune to confusion, Tangled Feet allows him to dodge attacks more effectively while confused, and his signature move, Teeter Dance, confuses all the other Pokémon currently in play (so in a double battle, that’s both of your opponents and your partner).  The reason this is part of his problem is that confusion is not something serious players use.  Like sleep, confusion has a variable duration that limits its effectiveness, but unlike sleep, confusion only disables an afflicted Pokémon half of the time, and can be cured just by switching out.  Facing an opponent who relies on confusion is a pain, as anyone who has ever set foot inside a cave in the Pokémon universe will attest, but relying on confusion yourself pays off only sporadically, and there are other strategies that offer a much more predictable return on your turns and moveslots.  When confusion is used in serious play, it’s normally stacked with other effects that can deny an opponent’s turn: paralysis and flinching (neither of which Spinda can use effectively).  Because confusion is an unusual tactic, abilities that defend against it are, at best, situational.  Spinda’s flavour is all about confusion, though… and I want his strategy to be the same.

Okay, this... this is not what I had in mind at all, but it's AWESOME.  A lot of people who do Spinda evolutions seem to focus on the dazed/drunk aspect, and Spindrunk here, by Shinyscyther (http://shinyscyther.deviantart.com/), was by far the most hilarious one I found.Unlike Sunflora, there’s no reason Spinda shouldn’t evolve, so we have plenty of latitude to change his movepool, abilities, stats, and even type.  Spinda has two abilities that are worryingly situational at best, so I think the most straightforward thing to do is change them for new ones that fix Spinda’s main problem (the fact that confusion, compared to the five primary status effects, is simply not very debilitating) by imposing additional penalties on confused Pokémon while Spinda is in play.  Confusion represents a failure of a Pokémon’s strength of will, which is commonly connected with special attack or special defence, so I want one ability to automatically weaken both of those stats when a Pokémon becomes confused while Spinda is in play (the penalty stays in place after the confusion wears off, or if Spinda switches out, and can be triggered by self-induced confusion such as Petal Dance causes).  This ability is geared at making it impossible for a confused Pokémon to do anything but switch out to shake off the penalties.  For the other, let’s take the opposite route: confused Pokémon cannot switch out while Spinda is in play; they can only stay in and suffer.  If Spinda uses Baton Pass to switch out to another Pokémon, the confused Pokémon stays trapped (the same way Mean Look used to work and inexplicably no longer does), but only as long as it stays confused.  Spinda’s evolution should have strong defences so he can switch into some attacks without the benefit of resistances, and high speed to be able to fire off a Teeter Dance before being attacked, but his damage potential should remain low to encourage him to keep to his customary support role.  Likewise, his offensive movepool should not be notably expanded (his enormous support movepool should be enough for anyone once he has the stats to back it up).  As for flavour… Spinda’s evolution has spots that, impossibly, seem to move.  In fact, when researchers look at a photograph, it has no spots at all… but when the photograph is held up next to the real Pokémon, the spots seem to mysteriously reappear.  The light-twisting properties of its shimmering fur can cause people to see what they expect to see, rather than what is really there, and its form appears to distort subtly as it moves, causing headaches in anyone that tries to focus on it.  Other Pokémon who lock eyes with it feel compelled to imitate its unsteady, lurching walk, dazing them and limiting their movements, but however erratically this Pokémon walks, it always seems to reach its destination as quickly as if it had gone in a straight line.

I’m not sure what Spinda’s evolved form should look like (personally I want it to defy all attempts at nailing down its exact appearance, but there’s got to be something for the artwork and sprites), but I think that flavour and abilities like this are the way to go.  This little jerk should be able to bamboozle you just by looking at you, and then do what he came to do and be gone before you even know what’s happening.  As is, he simply fails not only to do that, but to do anything useful whatsoever.  I get that Game Freak thought the spot thing was cool (well, no, actually that’s a lie; I don’t get it at all, but let’s pretend that I do for the sake of argument) but it doesn’t mean that Spinda shouldn’t also be a powerful Pokémon – there is no such thing as too much awesome!

The Top Ten Worst Pokemon Ever, #9: Castform

Much as Delibird was (I believe) the best-designed Pokémon in my Top Ten, Castform is arguably the strongest (and if that doesn’t send shivers down your spine, nothing will).  Introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, Castform is a Pokémon created by Hoenn’s Weather Institute to serve a very specific purpose: predicting and manipulating the weather.  To this end, he possesses a unique ability that is his claim to fame: Forecast.  In calm, overcast weather, Castform is a wholly unremarkable Normal-type, but Forecast causes his form and element to change with the weather; he becomes a Water-type in heavy rain, an Ice-type in snow or hail and a Fire-type under clear skies.  His signature move, Weather Ball, changes too; giving him an excellent Water, Ice or Fire attack as appropriate (the Water and Fire versions of Weather Ball also get power boosts from the routine effects of rain and sun, respectively, becoming very strong indeed); it can also become a Rock attack in a sandstorm, but Castform himself lacks a form for that weather condition, so the attack itself will be weaker and Castform will have to expose himself to sandstorm damage in order to use it.  Weather Ball, Forecast and his wide selection of other special attacks make it relatively easy to tailor Castform for use on a rain, sun or hail team, but I don’t think he has the defensive bulk to pull off the set Game Freak probably had in mind when they created him: [Weather Ball – Sunny Day – Rain Dance – Hail], switching between weather conditions and forms as appropriate.  Probably better to stick with just one, and supplement Weather Ball with Thunder (if you’re using rain), Thunderbolt (if you aren’t), Solarbeam (if you’re using sun), Energy Ball (if you aren’t), Fire Blast, Scald, Ice Beam, or Shadow Ball.  Like I said, Castform has a lot of choice; he’s unlikely to get far as anything other than a special-attacking weather controller, but the diversity he can manage within that role is surprisingly impressive.

Castform's four different weather forms posing as a team,  by Tazsaints (http://tazsaints.deviantart.com/).

Now, don’t get me wrong; Castform is bad.  He’s fairly slow, relatively frail and, unless he can score a super-effective hit, unlikely to do much damage with anything besides a sun- or rain-boosted Weather Ball.  However, he’s only garden-variety bad, not gouge-out-your-own-eyeballs bad.  Unlike Delibird, you can actually use Castform in a variety of roles.  He’ll be outclassed in just about all of them, and by his very nature he’s actually more vulnerable to other Pokémon that like to mess with the weather, such as Politoed and Ninetales, but he’s also capable of putting on a respectable performance now and again.  Why, then, am I spending this entry talking about Castform instead of one of the many Pokémon out there who are even more horrible?  Well, truth be known, I have long regarded him as one of the blandest Pokémon in existence.  In order to be totally fair to Castform, I must point readers to the relevant instalment of George Hutcheon’s BulbaNews column, On the Origin of Species (http://bulbanews.bulbagarden.net/wiki/On_the_Origin_of_Species:_Castform – seriously, go read it; it’s not long), which traces the poufy, grey-white Castform we know to a traditional Japanese weather-charm called a teruteru bozu (‘sunshine monk’).  In principle this is a perfectly solid idea, but I’m still inclined to say that it’s been handled poorly.  Aside from the weather manipulation idea, which was the whole point, the only thing Castform takes from the teruteru bozu is the most boring thing about them: their physical appearance.  Why would you create a Pokémon in imitation of an entirely nondescript doll made of white tissue paper?  If it had been my work, I’d say that the dull appearance was a necessary evil to get at the interesting stuff – the folktales and customs behind these things.  However, not only does the traditional lore associated with teruteru bozu have no impact on Castform’s design whatsoever (the Pokédex just repeats “Castform’s appearance changes with the weather” ad nauseam), Game Freak have managed to lock themselves out of using those ideas in future by declaring that Castform was an artificial Pokémon created by the Weather Institute – a glorified barometer, not something that could ever have had any impact on Hoenn’s cultural development or mythology.  So, with respect to George Hutcheon, I still think Castform is a terrible idea!
All right, money where my mouth is and all that… if I’m so clever, how would I have changed Castform?  Well, as you may have guessed, my first move would be to retcon that idiocy about Castform being a creation of the Hoenn Weather Institute, because that doesn’t make sense anyway.  Why would a bunch of meteorologists have the expertise to create a new Pokémon?  Having a bunch of Castform in the Institute for research purposes I could buy, but creating them from scratch has got to be ridiculously high-level genetics.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read up on where teruteru bozu come from, culturally speaking, and try to rewrite Castform based on that…

Edface (http://edface.deviantart.com/) shows us that even Castform can, in fact, be awesome.

…okay.  Got it.  So, Castform.  Castform have the ability to draw atmospheric water into themselves or expel water back into the air, allowing them to summon or banish clouds within a small area.  They can also break down pollutants and purify the water they absorb.  Castform use their powers to regulate weather patterns and encourage the plants they eat to grow tall and produce lots of berries.  Because they cannot create rain, only move it around, they normally travel a great deal to manage the climate of larger regions, drawing water away from places with too much rain and bringing it to drier areas.  Their passage is welcomed by humans, who offer Castform gifts and treats to entice them to return often, because villages in Castform’s territory nearly always enjoy successful harvests.  However, if Castform are attacked or insulted, they may strike back by causing droughts, or even by freezing rainclouds to create hailstorms.
Mechanically speaking, Castform is just about the only Pokémon on this list that I think could be made to work without evolving it; you could probably make him at least usable by tacking a couple of rider effects onto Forecast – I’d say first, that as long as Castform is actually on the field, he has absolute control of the weather and all other Pokémon attempting to change it will fail (so Tyranitar, Hippowdon and Politoed can no longer block Castform’s Solarbeam just by switching in), and second, that all of Castform’s weather effects are permanent until overridden, like the effects created by the Drought and Drizzle abilities.  Of course, you could also evolve Castform to rid us of his tissue-paper-doll blandness (bearing in mind that those changes to Forecast might well be too much if Castform actually had good stats to back them up; I might still make the first change, but I think I would leave the second).  Actually I’d be tempted to evolve him into a Dragon or pseudo-dragon, a la Gyarados, given the associations dragons have with rivers and water in Asian myth, and the appearance of dragons in Japanese weather stories.  Alternatively, he could shift further towards a humanoid design, to reflect the idea of itinerant weather-priests that made me suggest Castform should be a habitual wanderer; this also allows us to keep closer to the teruteru bozu that originally inspired Castform’s appearance (at the moment I’m thinking of an ethereal figure somewhat like Gardevoir).  Either of these ideas could be combined with an evolutionary split like Eevee’s, into forms that specialise in sun, rain and hail, carrying the Drought, Drizzle and Snow Warning abilities for automatic and permanent weather effects.  Part of me wants to keep Forecast on any evolution that Castform gains because it’s so much the core of his design, however, the split evolution would allow me to rewrite Forecast as I suggested without concern for making it overpowered, while his newfound “not fully evolved” status would give Castform himself the option to buff his meagre defences by holding an Eviolite.  Between Forecast and an Eviolite, Castform might actually be able to hold his own even against his more powerful evolutions (much as, for instance, Chansey can fulfil certain specialised roles more effectively than Blissey).
It could be argued that I’m inherently prejudiced against Castform because of my flagrant ignorance of Japanese culture, and that would probably be fair.  The thing is, though… nothing about Castform suggests that that’s where his origins lie; it’s almost like the designers wanted it to be an inside joke, or something, and once he’s stripped of those cultural associations, there’s nothing left.  He’s just a greyish-white blob that can turn into a cartoon sun, a raindrop, or a snowcloud.  Given the sheer prominence of weather-manipulation in Ruby and Sapphire, with the advent of Groudon and Kyogre, I would have thought that putting slightly more effort into making Castform interesting was a no-brainer; this little guy should by all rights be one of the flagship Pokémon of those games, not the barely-used gimmick he is.