Piplup, Prinplup and Empoleon

Piplup, Prinplup and Empoleon.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; at Nintendo, no-one can hear you scream.I love penguins.  So clumsy on land, so graceful the moment they hit the water, and adorable to boot… Who doesn’t think Piplup is cute?  Seriously, who doesn’t?  I certainly do, although I have the same sort of problem with him and his evolved form, Prinplup, as I did with Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr; namely that they’re just penguins.  Those capelike flaps they have down their backs are a nice touch, beginning the line’s background nobility-and-royalty aesthetic by making them look like little princes or dukes without seeming too out-of-place.  That’s hardly at the centre of the design, though, and overall they’re a little bit unremarkable.  Luckily, unlike with poor Totodile, Game Freak actually seem to have put some thought into this Pokémon’s personality.  Cute though they may be, Piplup are also filled with stubborn pride; they ignore orders, quickly brush off any failures, and seem to find charity and kindness offensive, caring only to prove that they don’t need any help to survive.  Prinplup, likewise, have an incredibly strong arrogant streak.  In a major departure from the way real penguins behave, Prinplup are incapable of living together in colonies because, like monarchs, they cannot stand to look upon others as equals (or, heaven forbid, superiors).  As Empoleon, the ‘Emperor Pokémon,’ they remain extremely proud and lash out at anyone or anything offensive, however they do seem to gain a measure of self-control; they’re said to avoid squabbles if they can, and it’s implied that they can live in groups, led by the Empoleon with the biggest horns (presumably Piplup live in colonies led by Empoleon, leave when they evolve into Prinplup, and return only once they have evolved again and learned to keep their pride under control).  Now, those horns… The designers really do seem to have made an effort to make sure that Empoleon isn’t ‘just a big penguin,’ with the clawed hands on the insides of his bladed flippers, and his sharp-edged dorsal and ventral fins, but the big, obvious thing is that set of three horns.  Empoleon’s horns spring from the upper surface of his beak and form a kind of visor over his face, in the shape of a trident.  It looks a bit strange, and probably implies that his beak works more like a mammalian jaw than most birds’ do (since the upper part would be more or less fixed in place and wouldn’t be able to flex upwards) but that’s not inherently a problem.  It protects his face, and the trident is a good strong symbol of power and the ocean (in fact, now that I come to think of it, it forms a nice symbolic connection between his two elements, Water and Steel).  I can’t help but think that Piplup and Prinplup are missing something in their art to give them uniqueness and focus, some extra detail or adornment; Empoleon does have that, though, and the heavy emphasis placed on their character traits is quite refreshing.

Shiny Piplup with a bowtie, by Adam Dreifus, who may or may not be a mantis shrimp (http://adamdreifus.tumblr.com/).  Bowties are cool.

So, what do you do with Empoleon?  Well… he’s a pretty weird Pokémon.  He’s the only Water/Steel dual-type in the game, which is a big plus; his unique set of weaknesses and resistances leaves him with unfortunate vulnerabilities to three of the stronger offensive types, Fighting, Ground and Electric, but eleven resistances and a Poison immunity is nothing to sniff at (Steel-types have all the luck…).  In spite of all the talk in his Pokédex entries about being able to cleave apart icebergs with his bladed wings, Empoleon is actually a special attacker – one of the most powerful Water-type special attackers in the game, in fact, behind Omastar, Gorebyss and a couple of legendary Pokémon.  Unless you teach him Agility, he’s far too slow to be a sweeper, but with solid defences and all those resistances, he might do okay as a sort of tanky thing.  I know that what people used to like doing with Empoleon was this one absurdly specific moveset that only he could do properly, which involves using Substitute to slowly drop Empoleon’s HP until he’ll eat a Petaya Berry to boost his special attack, then using Agility and going nuts.  Thanks to Empoleon’s Torrent ability, his low health causes his Water attacks to enjoy a further damage bonus, so very little can stand up against his Surf at that point, and Ice Beam cleans up most everything else.  Petaya Berries aren’t available on Black and White yet, though, and the synergy between the berry and Torrent is kind of the lynchpin of the whole tactic.  That’s not to say you can’t still use Empoleon as a sweeper, of course.  He doesn’t have a whole lot of special attacks outside the Water-type standbys of Surf and Ice Beam, but with Grass Knot to handle other Water-types, that doesn’t leave all that many blind spots (refrain from using Flash Cannon unless you really hate Ice Pokémon; Steel attacks are silly).  If you can be bothered importing an Empoleon from Platinum and desperately need help with Dark- and Psychic-types, Signal Beam is an option, but you’re probably better off with Grass Knot.  If you really want to confuse people, you could slap Swords Dance on your Empoleon, since his physical attack stat isn’t terrible and his physical movepool is decent (you’ve got Waterfall, Earthquake, Rock Slide, Drill Peck, and Brick Break) and he does have Aqua Jet to compensate for his appalling speed.  Like I said, though… only if you really want to confuse people.

A Prinplup by Rainbow Cemetery (http://rainbow-cemetery.deviantart.com/), looking exactly as arrogant and dismissive as Prinplup ought to be.Personally I think I’d go with the tank-style Empoleon; he has to rely on Rest or Aqua Ring for healing, which is a pain, but then again, eleven resistances… as with most bulky Water Pokémon, you’ll want to go with Black and White’s great gift to Water, Scald, over Surf – it’s less powerful, but burns will make life hell for opposing physical attackers (and, what do you know, physical is Empoleon’s weaker defensive side).  I’m pretty sure Empoleon’s only real ‘support’ moves are Stealth Rock and Roar (and Stealth Rock requires importing him from a fourth-generation game), but being able to lay the rocks down for yourself and then send Pokémon running into them with Roar isn’t too shabby.  And yeah, I guess technically Empoleon does have a Dream World ability – Defiant, which responds to any reduction in Empoleon’s stats by doubling his attack score – but unless you’re going with the confusing Swords Dance Empoleon route, this is just plain useless, so if you haven’t got a Dream World Empoleon, don’t worry; you’re not missing much.

The more I think about it, the weirder it seems that Empoleon isn’t a physical attacker; he certainly looks imposing enough, it fits his flavour, his physical movepool is, to be honest, probably better than his special movepool, and he gets Swords Dance and Defiant (in fact, Swords Dance is technically on his level-up list, so he doesn’t even need a TM).  I mean, it’s not like it’s central to the design, but “wings that can cleave through an ice floe” sort of suggests physical attacks are his primary fighting style, and also that he would, y’know, learn Steel Wing (okay, he can, but only by using an obsolete TM).  Some days though, I just don’t care, because Empoleon is still a pretty badass Pokémon – come on, an imperial armoured war-penguin?  Why the hell not?  Some of the artists seem to have a slight tendency to abuse him in the sprites and the anime, he gets very fat in some portrayals and it just doesn’t look right; penguins are meant to be sleek, and even if this is a bulky armoured penguin he still needs to swim.  Prinplup annoys me a little because he’s given up Piplup’s cuteness but hasn’t yet picked up the details that make Empoleon more than just a penguin; honestly, if he weren’t a starter Pokémon, I would be totally happy just to ditch Piplup and Prinplup and keep Empoleon as a stand-alone.  Again, though, I’m pleased that Game Freak have given these Pokémon psychological traits (because that’s the sort of thing we don’t learn about just by using them), and I like that those traits seem to develop as they evolve… even though it’s anyone’s guess whether that’s by coincidence or design.  On the whole, Mudkip, Marshtomp and Swampert are probably better designed, but as we know by now, I have an irrational dislike for Swampert, so Empoleon is probably my favourite Water-type starter Pokémon.

And that’s a wrap!  Twelve starter Pokémon, and all their evolved forms, done and dusted.  I want to do a sort of wrap-up for my next entry, talk about trends and ideas that have been thrown up by these entries, and maybe talk about my take on what’s important for a starter Pokémon.  After that, well, I’m sorry to say that real life has been catching up with me to some extent, so I’m going to take a break for, say, two weeks to work on my dissertation on archaeometry and the Greco-Roman pottery trade; then it’s right back to another thirty-odd episodes of the anime.  Should be fun!