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 #1: Unown

…surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  I think a lot of people dismiss the Unown so completely as to forget that they even exist, which stands as a testament to what awful Pokémon they are.  I’m going to reverse my usual order of dealing with things and talk about their gross incompetence first, then move on to my distaste for their flavour and design, because, believe it or not, it’s the latter that I really take issue with.

I already spent a paragraph of my entry on Sigilyph last year discussing my opinion of the Unown; in short, that creating them is not a reasonable or even a sane response to any concept brief that does not include the phrase “absolutely no practical use or value.”  No harm in going over it again, though.  Unown is almost certainly the worst adult Pokémon in the entire game.  Luvdisc arguably comes close, but that’s about it.  Even most unevolved Pokémon are probably better choices than Unown.  The reason for this isn’t Unown’s stats, which are dreadful, or his element, which is unfavourable, or his ability, which is actually useful and the only reason even to consider using him (he can Levitate and is therefore immune to Ground attacks).  It’s his movepool – or, more accurately, the fact that he doesn’t have one.  Unown can learn exactly one attack: Hidden Power, a move which is available to so many Pokémon that it’s quicker to list the ones who can’t learn it (Caterpie, Metapod, Weedle, Kakuna, Wurmple, Silcoon, Cascoon, Kricketot, Burmy, Combee, Magikarp, Ditto, Wynaut, Wobuffet, Beldum and Tynamo – and it’s worth noting that all the Pokémon on that list, save Ditto and Wobuffet, are juveniles).  Hidden Power’s strength and element vary between individual Pokémon, but even the best Hidden Powers aren’t very strong; normally it’s used by Pokémon with poor movepools who desperately need an attack of a specific type.  So, basically, Unown gets a single lacklustre special attack, which can be of any type.  If you can be bothered hatching dozens of the things until you get one with the right Hidden Power, you even get to choose which type that is!  You’ll do the most neutral damage with Psychic, since Unown is a Psychic-type, but you’re more likely to get super-effective hits with a type like Ice, Fighting, or- wait; why am I even talking about this?  If you’re even contemplating using Unown then you’re probably going to lose anyway, because just mentioning that you might pick him in preference to one of your other Pokémon will annihilate your whole squad’s self-esteem so completely that they might never speak to you again, and if they do it will be to tell you that they’ve all decided to go into rehab for alcohol abuse.
The Unown spelling out a message, by Gold Eyed Castform (http://goldeyedcastform.deviantart.com/)

That’s why the world at large hates the Unown.  Now it’s time to talk about why I personally hate them.  If you’ve read a lot of this blog, you might have gathered that I am an utterly shameless fanboy of anything connected to the history of the Pokémon world – Pokémon like Claydol and Sigilyph, locations like the Ekruteak towers, characters who study history like Cynthia, Lenora and Morty, you name it.  The Unown are part of that history; there are twenty-six different forms of Unown whose bodies bear a striking resemblance to the twenty-six letters of the modern Latin alphabet (plus the “!” and “?” forms introduced by Fire Red and Leaf Green), the implication being that they provided the inspiration for the first alphabetic scripts.  You can still see Unown-derived inscriptions in places like Johto’s Ruins of Alph.  In the anime (most notably the third movie, Spell of the Unown), the Unown are depicted as enigmatic and powerful extradimensional beings capable of altering reality.  Their motives are absolutely inscrutable.  Although they live in their own unobservable dimension they are very protective of certain ruins and artefacts.  They seem to have a tendency to abduct people who try to study them, but also use their incredible powers to fulfil a young girl’s every desire in the movie.  They’re among the most alien creatures in the entire Pokémon world, as well as intimately connected with one of the most important developments in human history (the origin of writing).  In the games… well, in the games, they’re just twenty-eight Pokémon for you to capture: an extraordinarily tedious and ultimately pointless side-quest.  You only need one to finish the Pokédex, and the rewards for catching the other twenty-seven have always been remarkably underwhelming; Diamond and Pearl, for instance, give you alphabet stickers to put on your Pokéballs.  In Heart Gold and Soul Silver, which are admittedly much better, the scientists studying the ruins eventually figure out more about them and uncover the meaning of some of the (annoyingly cryptic) inscriptions once you capture all the Unown: you learn that the people of the ruins had a special relationship with the Unown, and the Pokémon statues in the area were built to honour them, but the human inhabitants eventually abandoned the site because they realised that the growth of their community was hurting the naturally reclusive Unown.  This is interesting stuff, but we still don’t actually learn anything about the Unown themselves, or why they were so important to the people of the Ruins of Alph in the first place, or how they came to be connected with writing, or what the nature of their supposed power is.  These Pokémon are completely irrelevant to battles, which are the games’ primary focus, so I expect rather a lot of them in terms of lore and plot relevance, which they don’t really deliver.

I’m not even going to try to turn Unown into a usable Pokémon, like I’ve been doing with everyone else on my Top Ten list.  I have literally nothing to work with; they can’t do anything and there’s nothing to indicate what they should be able to do.  Besides, their flavour text indicates pretty clearly that a single Unown is all but powerless; the mysterious reality-warping powers we see in other media are a result of the interaction between two or more Unown.  In a game where the standard format is one-on-one combat, there’s little room for Pokémon who are only effective in swarms.  Instead I want to share my thoughts on how to integrate the Unown into the rest of the game in a way that doesn’t feel tacked-on and irritating.
The illustration of the DARK Unown card, by Hideaki Hakozaki, from the Undaunted expansion of the TCG.

A single Unown is nothing.  Two or more Unown together have power.  This seems like it must be a reference to letters, which are meaningless on their own, forming words.  But why would an ancient civilisation make that comparison and base its alphabet on the shapes of the Unown?  To answer this question, I’m going to draw on an idea from the Pokémon trading card game and what it seems to imply about how their abilities work.  I don’t actually play the trading card game, but I bought a few booster packs while I was in Italy because they came in these awesome collectible tins with pictures of Reshiram and Zekrom on the front, so now I have a few dozen Italian Pokémon cards, and one of these is an Unown card.  It features four Unown spelling out the word DARK and has the following ability: una sola volta durante il tuo turno, quando metti Unown nella tua Panchina, puoi cercare nel tuo mazzo una carta Energia Oscuritá, mostrarla al tuo avversario e aggiungerla alle carte che hai in mano.  Poi rimischia le carte del tuo mazzo.  For those of you who can’t read Italian or don’t know how the card game works, the point is that a group of Unown can come together to spell a word and create a supernatural effect in line with that word.  I gather that other cards featuring Unown work according to a similar premise, with a whole range of words and corresponding effects.  What this seems to imply is that the Unown are broadly analogous to the idea of a “language of the universe” that you get in a lot of high fantasy (implying in turn, oddly enough, that the universe speaks a slightly old-fashioned dialect of English, but the Unown require a fair bit of suspension of disbelief from a linguistic perspective anyway).  The words they form quite literally tell the story of the world, and they can rewrite that story by forming new words… if there are enough of them to create the sentences.  What does this have to do with the ancient alphabet?  Simple.  A lot of the oldest scripts in the world are pictographic – that is, a symbol represents a word or concept rather than a sound, and the symbol for, say, a goat is probably developed from a picture of a goat.  For a culture with a pictographic script who encountered the Unown and observed their powers, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to start representing darkness with the sequence DARK, and gradually, word by word, they get used to representing their entire language in the form of sequences of Unown.

As I mentioned, it’s not easy to make use of Unown’s ability to alter reality in a fight since the vast majority of Pokémon battles are one-on-on-one, and most of the rest are two-on-two, leaving room for only a handful of pronouns and prepositions.  But what could the Unown do for you outside of combat?  Here’s my suggestion.  In ruins where Unown are present, researchers sometimes find small blank tablets.  The Unown you capture can be coaxed onto these tablets in groups of three to five, spelling out short words.  The number of words you can spell is limited by the number of different Unown letters available to you, with more letters appearing over the course of the game (possibly when you solve puzzles, as in Gold and Silver).  Arranging the Unown into certain words, which can be determined by clues around the ruins, can cause them to unleash their powers in a predictable fashion to create various utility effects when a tablet is activated.  You can’t use your Unown in battle while they’re on tablets, but hey, they’re Unown – why would you want to? – and they don’t take up space in your party.  What I’m driving at here, obviously, is replacing HM techniques like Cut and Surf with the actual words CUT and SWIM (for example), since HMs are a huge pain in the neck and the bane of every trainer’s existence, but I can think of other possibilities too, like a CHASE or TRAP tablet that prevents wild Pokémon from running away, or a FIND tablet that reveals the locations of hidden items.  The number of effects you can create is limited by the number and size of tablets you can find (longer words produce more powerful effects, but larger tablets are rarer).  Villains attempting to learn how to use the Unown themselves might provide an opportunity for a nice side plot (or even part of the main storyline).

So, there we have it: that’s the top ten worst Pokémon ever and what I would do with each of them to make them less… worst.

“But wait!” I hear you cry, “What happened to Farfetch’d?”

Don’t worry.  He’s next.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever #2: Luvdisc

My… my words… they are gone… left me for greener… green things.  I don’t even that I just accidentally the verb.

Luvdisc… just… what?

…today I have the distinct displeasure of talking about Luvdisc, the Rendezvous Pokémon, a tiny pink heart-shaped fish with no useful powers whatsoever.  Luvdisc’s flavour text… isn’t actually that bad.  Mostly it explains that Luvdisc, being a heart-shaped Pokémon, is the subject of a number of widespread customs and superstitions about love.  Giving a Luvdisc to a person is viewed as a gesture of affection, and tradition has it that a couple that meets a Luvdisc will be in love forever.  One assumes that Luvdisc is associated with love because of its heart-shaped body.  They’re also known for assembling in huge numbers at coral reefs during their mating season.  They don’t seem to do anything remarkable, though (they’re not even the only Pokémon with a heart motif; female Pikachu have heart-shaped tails and female Heracross have heart-shaped horns).  Couples who swim together in tropical oceans are often followed by Luvdisc, which could imply that they have an ability to sense emotion, I guess, and I’ve always privately assumed that Luvdisc mate for life and have unusually elaborate courtship rituals.  I remember an episode of the anime in which the Cerulean Gym, where Misty has now formally become the Gym Leader, acquires a pair of Luvdisc.  When they eventually get together, their love for each other proves to be contagious and a surge of affection rushes through all the spectators at the Gym’s famous water ballets, and this seems to be some power of Luvdisc’s rather than simply an effect of the inspirational performance.  Again, it’s not really bad; more underdeveloped, to the point that I’m left not really caring.

Luvdisc does not evolve into Alomomola.  I spent a perfectly good rant on this subject last year when I wrote about Alomomola herself, the sunfish Pokémon from Black and White, but the collective Pokémon fan-base was trolled so hard by it that I think it deserves another mention.  Alomomola certainly looks like she evolves from Luvdisc (and actually, her flavour has similarities too, but she’s more about platonic than romantic love), which was the conclusion everyone came to when she turned up in promotional material before Black and White were released.  Since Luvdisc’s reputation as one of the most terrible Pokémon in the game is nothing new, most of us were delighted at the prospect.  I still think Game Freak must have known what people would think when they saw Alomomola, which leaves me wondering why on earth they picked her… that’s probably best discussed another time, though.

 

Luvdisc is universally hailed as one of the weakest Pokémon ever.  He’s in the game for one reason alone: to provide a source of Heart Scales, an item which can be used to pay a move tutor to teach Pokémon moves they have forgotten (or, in some cases, moves they would never have learned on their own).  These scales can sometimes be taken from captured Luvdisc, and this apparently counted as Luvdisc’s fifteen minutes of fame, after which Game Freak forgot about him completely.  He has one great strength, which is that between his high base speed, Agility, and the Swift Swim trait, he can run away from just about everything.  This spectacularly fails to compensate for the fact that Luvdisc can’t actually do anything.  He learns Water and Ice attacks but they are irrelevant because his attack stats are, astonishingly, worse than Pachirisu’s.  He can use Attract and Sweet Kiss to disrupt his enemies but they are more annoying than effective (and many Pokémon can do that better than him, using the more accurate Confuse Ray).  He can ward away status effects and critical hits with Safeguard and Lucky Chant, but neither of those is even remotely necessary to defeat Luvdisc because his defences are appalling.  He can heal himself over time with Aqua Ring, but won’t live long enough for the healing to add up.  Luvdisc’s best hope will generally be to hit something with Toxic and then try to keep himself from dying for as long as possible using attraction and confusion, but since both of those conditions are wiped when a Pokémon switches out and Luvdisc’s only means of trapping a Pokémon in play is Whirlpool, from Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s HM05 (not to mention the fact that attraction isn’t effective against Pokémon of the same gender as the user), he’s unlikely to keep it up for long against a halfway competent opponent.  Most things that are weak to neither Water nor Ice can ignore Luvdisc quite safely and go about their own business, especially Pokémon that are also immune to Poison.  A Dream World Luvdisc has the Hydration ability rather than Swift Swim, and will cure himself of status problems at the end of each turn as long as it’s raining.  Aside from the obvious benefits, this makes it possible for Luvdisc to heal himself completely with Rest without having to worry about sleeping for two turns.  Sadly, Luvdisc has such underwhelming defensive stats that not even this will guarantee his long-term survival.  In order to be successful, Luvdisc is going to need more power, more toughness, more attacks, more support techniques and more useful abilities.

I just… look; Luvdisc evolves into Alomomola, okay?  There.  Luvdisc is fixed.

…okay, I know Alomomola isn’t strictly better than Luvdisc at everything, but she wouldn’t be the first or even the second Pokémon who actually gets slower when she evolves, and lots of unevolved Pokémon-

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘IT’S A COP-OUT’?

FINE!  You can have your Luvdisc evolution, but BY ALL THE GODS I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU REGRET IT!

The thing about a Pokémon who embodies love is that it’s not really an idea that lends itself to ass-kicking.  Maybe this idea occurred to Game Freak and they decided that it meant Luvdisc shouldn’t be good at fighting.  Well, I hate to break it to you, Game Freak, but this franchise is all about fighting, and it’s like that because you built it that way, so the message you’re sending here isn’t “some Pokémon are good at things other than fighting,” it’s “some Pokémon are worthless, including the one who’s a universal symbol of love.”  I hope I may be forgiven for not being totally okay with this.  Unfortunately, the most obvious solution – making Luvdisc a dedicated support Pokémon who spends every moment helping his friends – is already Alomomola’s niche, and she’s actually really good at it.  In terms of flavour as well, any evolution I could create for Luvdisc would come across so strongly as a reboot of Alomomola that there wouldn’t be much point in it; the fact that she even exists puts me in something of a bind.  I’ve discussed the problem at some length with my friend and proofreader, Jim, and this is what we’ve come up with.

 Okay, I know I should just let it go, but I had to bring this up: this is Molantine, a fake Luvdisc evolution by JoshKH92 (http://joshkh92.deviantart.com/). Notice how it looks exactly like Alomomola.  This was uploaded to DeviantArt in September 2008 - more than a year before Black and White were even announced. They *must* have realised that *everyone* would think Alomomola was a Luvdisc evolution when they put her in the pre-release promotions, because she is obviously exactly what a Luvdisc evolution would look like.  I can't escape the feeling that they were deliberately trolling us.

Luvdisc does indeed evolve into Alomomola; I’m not sure there’s any way to avoid doing that.  We’d probably give Alomomola herself some improvements, but she’s not important.  What’s important is that when Luvdisc evolves into Alomomola, he completely purges all his negative emotions: anger, spite, jealousy, sorrow and all the rest go… and they have to go somewhere.  The result is an evil version of Luvdisc, a Water/Ghost dual-type who looks more or less as you’d expect an evil Luvdisc to look: a jagged-edged broken heart, an ashen grey in colour (if that’s too bleak, maybe add some purple or dull red markings resembling lipstick).  Mechanically speaking, this evolution works the same way as Shedinja’s (he appears spontaneously from the shell left when Nincada evolves into Ninjask).  Dark Luvdisc lurk in the remains of coral reefs that have died off due to changing temperatures or tidal conditions, and sometimes in the darkness at the base of living reefs.  However, they are extremely difficult to find or drive from their nests since they can vanish from sight at will and pass through solid objects.  Dark Luvdisc is basically an evil spirit, and reviled as such in most places.  They retain Luvdisc’s powers over emotion and use them to toy with others, stirring up unwanted affections, dampening loving relationships, and generally tormenting people out of pure spite, all the while feeding off their negative emotions the way Luvdisc feeds off love and joy.  Is this too dark for Pokémon?  Well, not for a Ghost-type, we think – need we bring up Spiritomb?  In battle, dark Luvdisc use their ability to manipulate emotions to its fullest effect, creating false feelings of love in their opponents that are difficult to shake off: although they are genderless, like Shedinja, their Heartbreaker trait makes their Attract technique effective against all Pokémon, and causes any Pokémon under the influence of Attract to lose 1/8 of its health every turn, in the same way as Darkrai’s Bad Dreams ability affects sleeping Pokémon (I’m tempted to add that Attract has a 75% chance to prevent a Pokémon from acting instead of 50%, just for the first turn it’s in effect, but that’s getting to be a lot of effects for one ability).  Aside from the extra perks for Attract, this is mainly an offensive Pokémon; fast, like Luvdisc, but with high attack and special attack and comparatively poor defences.  Surf, Waterfall and Shadow Ball make up your primary options, with Ice Beam, Psychic and Night Slash for variety.  As a very fast Pokémon, dark Luvdisc could reasonably lay claim to U-Turn (a brilliant tactical asset, since you get to switch out for free after using it), and possibly Acrobatics although that might be pushing it.  I think I would make physical attack the higher of his offensive stats, but also give him access to Nasty Plot for boosting his special attack, as well as Foul Play (a physical Dark-type attack that uses the target’s attack stat, not the user’s, to determine damage).  Finally Destiny Bond, which takes your opponent down with you if you happen to be knocked out on the turn you use it, is well-suited to a very fast Pokémon, and also seems like a good fit for a Pokémon that makes its way by manipulating emotions.

Well, here we are again (it’s always such a pleasure).  There’s only one left on my list.  Who’s guessed what it is?  I have a feeling I know what you’re all thinking… but no; that’s not it.  That Pokémon will face judgement in due course, but it doesn’t belong at the top of this list, or even on the list at all.  There’s another one far, far worse, one that might not even have occurred to you at all…

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever #3: Beautifly, Dustox and Their Associated Spawn

Why?  Just… why?

I understand that they like their Pokémon templates – things like “rodent-based Normal-type trash” and “Grass-Fire-Water starter trio.”  I know I spent most of last year complaining about it non-stop, but I understand.  I do.  It has to be comforting to have something in your game that you know will work the way you expect it to work, so you can go and innovate somewhere else without worrying too much about the basics.  I get it.

To design exactly the same Pokémon and act like no-one was ever going to know, on the other hand; that… just… look, it isn’t even that I don’t understand how they weighed up the pros and cons of what they were doing; it’s that I can’t actually comprehend what the pros were supposed to have been in the first place!

But that isn’t the worst part.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Wurmple, Silcoon, Cascoon, Beautifly and Dustox, a family of Bug-types native to Hoenn.  Wurmple is basically Caterpie and Weedle shoehorned into a single body; every single characteristic of his design is shared by one of the two.  That’s… pretty much all you need to know.  Wurmple evolves into either Silcoon or Cascoon, based on factors which are randomly determined and impossible to predict or influence.  This is sort of a troll way to evolve, if you ask me, but it’s far from the worst (*cough*Vespiquen*cough*).  Silcoon and Cascoon themselves are, likewise, basically Metapod and Kakuna, except round and largely featureless.  There’s a bit in Cascoon’s Diamond version Pokédex entry which I initially thought was interesting, stating that the inside of Cascoon’s shell is very hot because all of its cells are working so feverishly towards its evolution, but then I found out that this same factoid was originally from Kakuna’s Sapphire version entry, so it’s official: the designers are completely shameless.  The one genuinely interesting thing about either of these Pokémon is that Cascoon apparently remembers every opponent it ever faces and every injury it ever suffers while waiting to evolve, so that it can get revenge when it finally does.  This doesn’t really tie in to what Dustox is like at all, though, so… eh, whatever.  Silcoon evolves into Beautifly, who is Butterfree, except that she makes no sense.  I guess I should elaborate.  Apparently Game Freak were, let’s be fair to them, aware of what people would think when they met Beautifly (this is also, I assume, the reason Beautifly’s art is so much more naturalistic than Butterfree’s) and decided to tell us that she actually has a brutal dark side; Beautifly is a savage hunter who will drain her prey’s vital fluids through her proboscis!  However, they spend just as much time talking about how Beautifly is a pollinator, which means, pretty unambiguously, that her main food source is nectar, not the blood of the innocent (exactly the same as Butterfree).  To top it off, the whole “she looks beautiful but actually she’s a vicious blood-sucker” thing was also done in the same set of games by Gorebyss, who pulled it off far more effectively.  Now, Dustox, to his credit, is not Beedrill.  Unfortunately, he is Venomoth.  Everything Dustox does – nocturnal behaviour, attraction to bright lights, scattering toxic powder, radar senses – was attributed to Venonat and Venomoth first, except for his irritating habit of swarming in brightly lit cities and devouring all the foliage he can find.  I admit that this is an interesting ecological detail and just the sort of thing I like, but it’s too little, too late for a Pokémon that is blatantly a cheap rip-off of a far more awesome pre-existing design.

But that isn’t the worst part either.

 

If you really want to use Butterfree, you can.  She has poor stats in everything except for special attack and special defence, coupled with one of the most awful type combinations in the entire game (Bug/Flying), but she does get one of the most useful abilities, Compoundeyes – a substantial accuracy boost to all of her attacks, including Sleep Powder.  A 97.5%-accurate sleep attack is nothing to sniff at.  I mean, if that’s really your thing you should probably just use a Pokémon that learns Spore, but if you really want to use Butterfree, you can.  Beautifly, on the other hand, has poor stats in everything except for special attack and attack (which she doesn’t use), coupled with the same awful type combination, and has abilities that are far less helpful in comparison.  Beautifly has a decent special movepool.  Pretty much all of her attacks are resisted by Steel-types, but otherwise she has impressive variety: Bug Buzz, Air Slash, Shadow Ball, Energy Ball and Psychic.  This is what she’s got.  Let her enjoy it.  Dustox has similar options (swapping Air Slash for Sludge Bomb) but minimal firepower; his focus is on defence and special defence.  Unfortunately, with his low hit point total, he fails at this even more comprehensively than Beautifly fails at offense. His support movepool basically consists of Light Screen, Toxic and Whirlwind.  If you’re going to use Dustox, you should probably get one from an older game so he can learn Roost and Giga Drain, because his low stats and unhelpful typing are quite enough for him to worry about without having to rely on weather-dependent healing from Moonlight.  Black and White have been very kind to both Beautifly and Dustox by giving them Quiver Dance (a.k.a. special sweeper in a can), which boosts speed, special attack and special defence all at once.  However, Beautifly is too slow and too delicate to get a chance to use it in the first place, while Dustox is too wimpy to do a respectable amount of damage anyway, and Steel-types in general still laugh at both of them.  The Dream World mocked Beautifly and Dustox mercilessly by giving Beautifly the Rivalry ability (when facing an opponent of the same gender, she does more damage with physical attacks – which she doesn’t really use anyway) and Dustox the Compoundeyes ability (even though he doesn’t learn a single attack that is less than 90% accurate).

But even that isn’t the worst part.

 Beautifly using Silver Wind, by Pearl7 (http://pearlsaurus.fc2web.com).

The worst part is that now I have to save them.  And since it is an iron law of Pokémon design that nothing ever evolves more than twice, further evolution for either of them is out of the question; no ifs, no buts.

Fetch me a case of Bitter Poffins and four bottles of twelve-year-old Max Elixir.  It’s going to be a long night.

The easiest thing to do would have been just to use Butterfree and Beedrill, because even though they’re pretty bad, at least they aren’t rip-offs as well.  That would be a cop-out though.  Leavanny and Scolipede proved that it isn’t impossible to do this concept in a way that’s different and fresh.  I can’t exactly do a complete redesign, though, because that would be missing… whatever vaguely-defined point I’m trying to make here.  I do have… one idea.  It’s a little trippy, but sacrifices must be made; this is Beautifly and Dustox we’re talking about, so here we go.  Butterflies traditionally symbolise the human soul, right?  I can work with that.

 Dustox using Toxic, by the same artist.

Beautifly is now Bug/Psychic and Dustox is now Bug/Ghost (with appropriately adjusted movepools, and matching colour schemes; I wouldn’t change them radically, but give Beautifly a more vibrant and surreal palette and Dustox a darker, more sinister one).  I know I made a bunch of uncomfortable noises about retconning things like this when I was doing Sunflora, but, well, desperate times and all that.  Wurmple are found in all the usual forest-type places where Bug Pokémon like to hang out, but adult Dustox are associated with Mount Pyre and Beautifly with Sootopolis City and the Cave of Origin.  In general, Beautifly are ‘active’ – they’re feisty and can be aggressive if provoked, but are also playful – while Dustox are ‘passive’ – they prefer to avoid fights and spend a lot of their time zoning out.  Their presence stirs up corresponding emotions in people and Pokémon, and they grow healthy and strong by spending time with people whose personalities match their own.  I would fold Silcoon and Cascoon into a single Pokémon, and have them split off at the final stage instead – that way, we can say that the determining factor in the split is the kind of emotions that the Pokémon is surrounded by in its cocoon stage.  Like many real-world moth species, Dustox do not eat after reaching adulthood (the mass defoliation mentioned in the Pokédex is a result of the soporific aura emitted by large groups of Dustox causing trees to prematurely shed their leaves as they do in Autumn).  Beautifly can and do consume sweet liquids for enjoyment or for quick bursts of energy, but both species are believed to live primarily off the psychic emanations of humans and Pokémon.  I could go on, but I need to give them some actual toys.  Quiver Dance is sure nice for Beautifly but she’s still hamstrung by her slowness and frailty.  In keeping with the flavour I have in mind for her, I want to give her an ability that doubles her speed, analogous to Medicham’s Pure Power (call it Blinding Speed or something) and a signature move, Energy Flare (a powerful Psychic attack that often reduces a target’s special defence).  Dustox gets one too, Energy Drain (a Ghost attack that converts damage to health for Dustox, like Giga Drain), as well as access to Reflect, Sleep Powder and Stun Spore.  For an ability… I want to give him Dragonite’s Multiscale (if you’re at full health, attacks that hit you do half damage), because, hey, moths have scales!  Both of them get Aura Sphere too, because it fits and it will help.  That’s… a lot of very cool stuff.  I doubt it’s cool enough to get them into the élite, but at least the other Bug-types will stop laughing at them.

I warned you it was going to be trippy.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to polish off the last of my Max Elixir and pass out in the bath.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, #4: Kricketune

Well, in any list of the dumbest Pokémon of all time, the bugs were bound to put forward a representative sooner or later.  Today I’ll be looking at the musical cricket Pokémon, Kricketune, and his significantly less irritating younger sibling, Kricketot.  I have always had a soft spot for Kricketot, ever since I caught one shortly after starting Diamond version for the first time.  Kricketot is a tiny, brightly-coloured beetle who communicates by knocking his antennae together to make sounds like the chimes of a xylophone.  His physical appearance is suggestive of a rotund little man in a neat waistcoat and shiny shoes (he’s supposed to remind you of a conductor), while at the same time including no aspects that are actually out-of-place on a beetle Pokémon.  Kricketot isn’t an especially clever design and there’s not much to say about him, but he’s cute and reasonably well done.  He’s also very difficult to train since (on Diamond and Pearl anyway) he knows no attacks other than Growl and Bide, and can only damage other Pokémon by waiting for them to hit him first.  You won’t have to put up with this for long though; like many Bug Pokémon, Kricketot evolves very rapidly… into Kricketune.  I always hoped he would evolve again, but he never did, the little jerk.  I kept him around for a while because I needed a Pokémon who could use Cut, and eventually ditched him for a Parasect when I got far enough in the game to receive Pokémon from Leaf Green.  So… why do I hate Kricketune so much, anyway?

I can think of only one word to describe Kricketune’s artwork: obnoxious.  It’s difficult to articulate why Kricketune’s artwork is so offensive to me; maybe on some level my mind rebels against the idea of an insect with facial hair.  I honestly don’t know how the designers managed to make Kricketune’s moustache look as pasted-on as it does; I would have thought you’d have to try to make something fit the rest of the Pokémon that badly.   The fact that his distended belly reminds me of a starving third-world orphan doesn’t help his case.  I understand that it’s not that easy to convey “this Pokémon is based on a violinist,” and making his body physically resemble a lute wasn’t a bad idea in principle, but I have to wonder about the quality control that was involved in the execution.  His flavour isn’t actually terrible; the idea of a violinist Pokémon isn’t much of a stretch when you start from a cricket, but they’ve chosen to run with it and make Kricketune a musical genius capable of composing new tunes on the fly.  Apparently there’s even a village that holds contests of music for Kricketune, which is actually kind of interesting.  Again, the idea of a violin-like body, complete with internal sounding chambers, isn’t a problem in and of itself; it’s a fun way of expanding on the fact that a cricket’s own body is literally his instrument.  It’s more that I’m just a tiny bit FLABBERGASTED that no-one ever spent a few moments just looking at Kricketune and thinking “…maybe this isn’t working quite how we planned.”

I am prepared to accept that someone at Game Freak once believed Spinda and Delcatty had the potential to be decent Pokémon.  I am prepared to accept that they may have dramatically miscalculated the importance of a Pokémon’s movepool in comparison to its raw stats.  I am prepared to accept, in other words, that the positions they currently hold in the ranks of the most mind-blowingly incompetent Pokémon in the game are the result of a terrible, terrible mistake.

I am prepared to accept no such thing with regards to Kricketune.

Kricketune has it all.  Lacklustre attacks, mediocre speed, cardboard defences, unhelpful abilities, and a grand total of perhaps nine or ten genuinely useful techniques.  This Pokémon is not here for us to use.  He is here for us to laugh at, poke, step on, and ultimately set on fire.  In theory, Kricketune is a Swords Dancer (that is to say, this is the role at which he fails least horribly), setting him up to be compared with the other Bug-type Swords Dancers who came before him: the infinitely superior Scyther and Scizor.  Kricketune’s physical movepool isn’t actually much worse than Scyther’s; they can both choose from X-Scissor, Brick Break, Night Slash and Aerial Ace, which is pretty solid in terms of type coverage but leaves them relying on some comparatively weak attacks, holding them back from being really effective top-tier Swords Dancers.  The difference between Kricketune and Scyther (well, besides the fact that Scyther is better at everything because of his higher stats) is that Scyther has a bunch of useful support moves and can keep his opponents guessing.  Kricketune… has Taunt, I guess, so he can stop big defensive Pokémon from weakening or disabling him, but that just draws attention to his massive vulnerability to… y’know… attacks.  He can slap away another Pokémon’s item with Knock Off.  Lots of other Pokémon can do that too, but I guess it’s fun.  He can use Perish Song to… fail to achieve anything whatsoever, since he has no way of trapping opponents in play long enough for the song to kill them, and he’ll eventually be forced to switch out too (assuming you don’t want Kricketune to die, which, I will grant you, is something of a stretch).  Finally, he can use Sing to be slightly less ineffective and put things to sleep, or alternatively, to spend a couple of turns failing to put things to sleep because Sing is dreadful.  Finally, to make sure there was absolutely no doubt that Kricketune was an inferior version of Scyther, Game Freak went and gave him exactly the same abilities. Once Kricketune has been badly injured, he will almost certainly die too quickly to notice that his Swarm ability has amped up his Bug attacks, like X-Scissor.  If that doesn’t appeal, Kricketune’s Dream World ability is Technician.  This is actually a really awesome ability and, together with Bullet Punch, is a pretty big contributing factor to the massive popularity of Scizor.  Technician powers up several weak attacks, which are often the ones with the best secondary effects (like Bullet Punch, which always hits first).  Kricketune has precisely two moves worth using that benefit from Technician: Bug Bite (this basically becomes a slightly better replacement for X-Scissor) and Aerial Ace (which does help Kricketune with his type coverage… I guess).

An exhaustive list of the reasons Kricketune sucks would fill an entire entry on its own, but those are the highlights.  Now, as usual, it’s time for me to prove my worth and explain what I would do with him if I ever had the chance.  Besides brutally murder him and decorate my home with his entrails.

I’ve had trouble coming up with a good way to improve on Kricketune’s flavour, because most of my hatred against him is directed at his art and I find myself having to admit I probably couldn’t do better.  Getting rid of the moustache, or at the very least making it more wiry to better suit an insect body, seems like a no-brainer.  I’m tempted to suggest exaggerating the violin shape of his body and making the whole thing more stylistic, because the attempt to compromise between a naturalistic design and the instrument concept is what’s created this unearthly teardrop-shaped body, which just doesn’t work at all.  Also, change the eyes.  Kricketot’s eyes have black irises and white pupils.  Kricketune’s eyes have black irises and blacker pupils.  Kricketot’s look bright and Kricketune’s look dead.  I know it’s small, but it bothers me.

There is astonishingly little fanart of Kricketune on the internet, which I am tentatively taking as evidence that I'm not the only one who thinks he looks unbelievably stupid.  Instead, here's Naoyo Kimura's illustration of Kricketune from the Next Destinies expansion of the Pokémon TCG.

One of the odd little things that bug me about Kricketune (no pun intended) is that his evolution from Kricketot involves a shift in inspiration from a xylophone (a percussion instrument) to a violin (a string instrument).  As I tend to do when I run into something about a design that I don’t quite get, I’m just going to go with it.  Kricketune needs to evolve, as everyone in the Top Ten does, but why stop at one evolution?  Let’s split his evolutionary path into an entire damn orchestra!  I want a huge grasshopper with a wooden exoskeleton.  He makes his music when wind blows through a long hollow tube that passes into his thorax and out through his abdomen.  His wooden body is filled with holes like a flute or clarinet, and he uses his six legs to ‘play’ himself like one while he uses his wings to keep aloft.  This one is a Bug/Grass-type, but can also use wind attacks like Air Slash, Hurricane and Whirlwind, as well as Earth Power (I’m tempted to let him have Quiver Dance as well to make up for Bug/Grass sucking so badly).  I want a big, bulky goliath beetle-type thing, who can rear up on his hind legs and beat his carapace like a drum with his front legs; I think Bug/Ground would work with this one, with lots of powerful physical attacks like Earthquake, as well as – of course – Belly Drum.  As long as I have the opportunity to play around with type combinations, I want a Bug/Water type, since that’s unique (well, unless you count Surskit) – a swimming beetle, with long oar-like arms like a water-boatman’s, the pipes of a water organ lying flat along his back (these double as water-cannons, of course), and a manic grin on his face.  I’m thinking of him as a mixed attacker, with powerful physical and special options (Bug Buzz, X-Scissor, Surf and Waterfall, of course; then maybe Ice Beam and Cross Chop), plus possibly Agility.  Finally, I want a conductor for the orchestra; a Bug/Psychic-type similar in appearance to Kricketune (bearing in mind the changes I wanted to make earlier), but with brightly-coloured butterfly or moth wings, and maybe hands positioned part-way down his scythes (a little like Gallade’s).  He is the rarest of the group, and although he still has Kricketune’s violin-type music, his main role is to direct communities of the others in battle, performance, and day-to-day life, focussing on support techniques like Reflect, Baton Pass, Wish and Encore.
 
I may have gone slightly overboard there.  The multiple evolutions were probably not, strictly speaking, necessary and getting them to make sense was, I admit, something of a stretch.  I think it’s best that we all agree to blame Kricketune and move on together.  I’ve only got three entries left now, and the end – my horrible, gibbering end – is in sight.

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-
 
Wait.
 
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, #6: Plusle, Minun and Pachirisu

This isn’t fair.
 
I already did these ones.  I did them while I was talking about Emolga.  It isn’t FAIR, damnit!
 
…ladies and gentlemen; Plusle, Minun and Pachirisu.
 
Just for clarification, these three aren’t part of an evolutionary family.  Plusle and Minun seem to be different forms of one species, and Pachirisu is completely separate and wasn’t even introduced in the same game.  Plusle and Minun probably deserve to be a bit lower on the list and Pachirisu probably deserves to be a bit higher, but I’ve lumped them together because I hate all of them for the same reasons, namely: a) they’re increasingly annoying rehashes of Pikachu, and b) they suck.
 
What, you need more?
 
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Pikachu’s pudgy yellow face is the emblem of the absurdly successful Pokémon franchise and is widely recognised even by people who barely know what a Pokémon is.  He has almost certainly made Nintendo more money than any other single Pokémon, and he can be summed up as “cute rodent with electrical cheek pouches,” so the obvious thing to do was make more cute rodents with electrical cheek pouches, right?  So obvious, in fact, that Plusle and Minun barely seem to be a different species from Pikachu at all.  I think they’re supposed to be based on rabbits, while Pikachu is traditionally described as a mouse, but all three are depicted so stylistically that that they ‘meet in the middle,’ so to speak.  Plusle and Minun are distinct from Pikachu in that they are frightfully unsuited to combat; instead they dedicate themselves to encouraging their partners (Plusle and Minun were released in Ruby and Sapphire, the generation that introduced the concept of double battles, and are shamelessly dedicated to promoting the new battle format).  There’s no word on how this would work outside of the context of a team of Pokémon under the command of a trainer – what do Plusle and Minun do in the wild when they’re attacked?  Pair up and cheer for each other?  In fact this is exactly what happens when you face pairs of trainers with Plusle and Minun in Ruby and Sapphire – they stand there and cast Helping Hand on each other, but neither of them actually does anything.  As for Pachirisu… her squirrel design, I think, represents at least an effort to distance her from the older Pokémon, and her habit of gathering loose fur into electrically-charged balls and keeping them amongst the berries she stores in her nest (presumably as a deterrent to thieves like Rattata) is, admittedly, a clever way of linking the squirrel concept to her Electric element.  As admirable as the attempt is, though, it’s missing the point; Pachirisu still isn’t a new idea, but an old one that they’ve dressed up.
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As far as battle goes, Plusle and Minun can be treated as exactly the same Pokémon.  Minun is slightly tougher and Plusle slightly more powerful, but the differences are small and their movepools are almost identical.  You can actually attack with Plusle and Minun, using the decent coverage provided by Electric attacks alongside Grass Knot and the power boost offered by Nasty Plot, but they’re so comprehensively outclassed by Raichu, who has Focus Blast and superior stats in every area, that it just stops being funny.  What Raichu can’t do is use Baton Pass.  Plusle and Minun can’t make very effective use of Nasty Plot (or, for that matter, Agility) but I’m sure there’s another Pokémon on your team that would love to have one of those effects passed to it.  Again, if you really want to set up another Pokémon in this way, it’s hard to understand why you wouldn’t use a Pokémon that’s independently competent, like Ambipom or Mr. Mime (yes, I just called Mr. Mime “competent;” that’s what happens when you spend a couple of weeks thinking about the worst Pokémon in the game).  Their passive abilities, Plus and Minus, are just painful.  Pokémon with Plus and Minus give each other special attack bonuses in double battles, which was incredibly awkward when Plusle and Minun were the only Pokémon who had them.  In Black and White, many additional Pokémon gain these abilities through the Dream World and you can get the bonuses by using two Pokémon with the same ability; it no longer has to be one of each.  However, all of them are weak to Earthquake, which is popular in double battles because it can hit both opponents at once.  Any doubles strategy that relies on using two Pokémon together who are both weak to Ground attacks is… inadvisable.
 
Plusle and Minun are bad, but Pachirisu is a whole new level of stupidity.  She’s quite fast and has decent special defence, but the good news ends there.  Although Pachirisu does, strictly speaking, learn attacks, you are likely to do more damage by simply picking her up and throwing her, so I would not advise actually using them, with two exceptions.  The first is Super Fang, which slices a Pokémon’s remaining HP in half, no questions asked, and was once exclusive to Raticate, Pachirisu and Bibarel.  Watching Pachirisu go for an unsuspecting Pokémon’s throat with Super Fang was amusing until Heart Gold and Soul Silver handed out the attack to all and sundry via a move tutor.  Now it’s just sad, but she should keep using it anyway because it’s the best she’s got.  The other exception is Volt Switch, and you should use that not because Pachirisu is likely to hurt anything with it but because it will let her switch out after doing damage.  With careful use of this technique, you may be able to get through a match without Pachirisu suffering a horrendously painful death, and that, let’s be fair here, is the best you can hope for.  The other moves Pachirisu should use are Thunder Wave and Light Screen.  These moves are not particularly useful to her, but they are comparatively unlikely to get her killed.

Avanii's (http://avanii.deviantart.com/) less stylistic depiction of Plusle and Minun looked odd to me at first - they're almost catlike, don't you think? - but I'm beginning to like it more and more.


The main problem I face in trying to ‘fix’ these three Pokémon is that I don’t honestly believe they should be fixed.  Their entire concepts are flawed from the ground up and making them worthwhile seems an insurmountable task.
 
Challenge accepted.
 
To start with, I’m declaring that Plusle and Minun survive in the wild by forming symbiotic relationships with larger, tougher Pokémon.  They typically pair up with Pokémon that are strong physically but cannot jump or climb, often ones with poor eyesight, and use their agility and keener senses to help the larger Pokémon find food and avoid danger.  In fights, they cast showers of sparks at enemies to slow them down, disrupt their attacks and make them easier to target.  Plusle seek out slow, bulky partners like Sudowoodo or Donphan and use their superior senses and quick, accurate Thunderbolts to thin out groups of small predators, while Minun prefer more aggressive partners such as Breloom or Absol and focus on creating electric fields to protect them from strong attacks.  When a Plusle and a Minun meet in the wild, they often encourage their partners to become friends as well, which can lead to some… unusual groups of companions.  Older Plusle and Minun whose partners have no offspring often ‘adopt’ young, weak Pokémon of other species, so that they will one day grow into strong partners for their own offspring.  I bring this up out of a vague terror that I have no choice to evolve these two, and in my desperation for an idea that will avoid turning them into Raichu 2.0, I am tempted to ditch the electric mouse thing (or rabbit, or whatever generic rodent they’re supposed to be) and evolve them into electric kangaroos with a nurturing, maternal streak; as long as we keep our focus on the partnership theme and make sure they stay light and agile, we should be able to avoid stepping on Kangaskhan’s toes too much.  They probably need a few extra goodies in their movepools… let’s see, Minun deserves Reflect and maybe Amnesia so he can buff your defences more effectively; Plusle can have Work Up so she can help your mixed attackers shine and… let’s say Taunt so she can lock down support Pokémon.  To finish off, Plus and Minus need to be… y’know, useful.  In a double battle, Plus adds about 10% of Plusle’s special attack and speed to her partner’s, while Minus does the same for Minun’s defence and special defence (note to self: make sure Minun’s evolution has a physical defence score that doesn’t suck).  What’s more, those same bonuses are added to any Pokémon Plusle or Minun Baton Passes to, absolutely free!  They can buff their allies with Baton Pass even if they don’t have a spare turn to use Nasty Plot or something, and your team will love them for it.
 
There!  I did it!  I-
 
…oh, gods, Pachirisu’s still there, isn’t she?
 
Hmm.

Okay, even I have to admit that Fusiana's (http://fusiana.deviantart.com/) Pachirisu is pretty badass.We know she’s a hoarder; that normally implies a good memory and possibly intelligence (likewise my theory that those balls of charged fur are a trap for Pokémon trying to nick her stuff).  Going with that idea, I think I want Pachirisu to evolve into a kleptomaniac squirrel, maybe an Electric/Dark dual-type: change her colour scheme, but maybe keep the general ‘cute’ aesthetic because I imagine her gazing up at you adorably when you catch her stealing things.  These Pokémon have lived around humans for centuries, and although they are notorious as spies and pickpockets their presence is tolerated because they make useful errand-runners, and are highly proficient cleaners thanks to their bushy tails (historically they were best-known as chimneysweeps – I’m looking for an “1800’s English street urchin” feel, but trying to avoid being too blatant about it).  They mainly steal food but have also developed a liking in modern times for portable electronics and batteries, which they hide in nests scattered all around their territory.  It’s normally impossible to find all of one’s hiding places without capturing her and getting her to lead you to them.  Super Fang already makes Pachirisu a nightmare for defensive Pokémon, so we may as well play to that and give her Taunt.  How useful Torment, Snatch and Switcheroo would be for her is debateable, but let’s toss them in anyway (and, of course, she’ll need Thief for thematic reasons).  Also, for some reason Pachirisu doesn’t get Wish; she’s heavily defence-oriented and needs to be able to heal herself, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t have it, so let’s add that.  Lastly, her current abilities, Run Away and Pickup, actually have no in-battle effects at all.  I can’t think of anything to do with Pickup at the moment, but it makes sense that Run Away should allow Pachirisu (and the other Pokémon that have it) to escape from trapping techniques like Mean Look or Fire Spin, instead of only allowing them to escape from wild Pokémon without fail.

 
There; victory is mine!
 
I am never looking at any of these Pokémon again.
 
EDIT: I must have forgotten when I wrote this that Black and White did actually add an in-battle effect to the Pickup ability: if Pachirisu’s opponent uses a consumable item like a berry, she’ll run and snatch it (or a copy of it, or something)  for herself, assuming she isn’t holding an item already.  Can you say “absurdly situational”?

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 Pokémon Ever, #8: Sunflora

I’ve searched long and hard to bring you the worst Grass Pokémon of all time, and I reckon I’ve found it.  Yes, I sincerely think that even Maractus is… um, that is to say… on balance, I really think that Maractus…
 
…look, I don’t want to say it.  I can’t actually go on the record as saying that Maractus might be… y’know… better than something.  I just couldn’t take it.  Haven’t I been through enough?
 
Okay, today’s Pokémon is Sunflora, who really is the worst Grass Pokémon ever, with the most boring design and arguably with the weakest powers as well.  Sunflora, the sunflower Pokémon, was released way back in Gold and Silver and is the evolved form of Sunkern, a tiny seed Pokémon whose unfortunate claim to fame is that she has the worst stats of any Pokémon in the entire game (yes, worse than Magikarp and Caterpie).  Sunkern is… bizarre.  The reason this entry is titled “Sunflora” and not “Sunkern and Sunflora” is that I honestly think Sunkern is an absolutely fascinating Pokémon.  Like Metapod, Sunkern spends her entire life preparing for evolution.  She eats nothing, rarely moves, drinks only morning dew, and can defend herself only by vigorously shaking her leaves in the general direction of her attackers.  She also, and I quote, “suddenly falls out of the sky in the morning.”  This… is probably the weirdest non sequitur the Pokédex has ever spat at me, which is saying something, and it keeps doing it; variations of the same line reoccur in game after game, like it’s the most important aspect of the design, but there’s never been any explanation of where they fall from or how they get there.  For all I know, Sunkern inflate themselves with helium while they sleep and gently drift into the sky each night before expelling the gas with a massive belch in the morning and plummeting back to earth.  That’s why I find myself unable to dislike Sunkern; I can’t muster any emotion towards her at all other than abject bewilderment.  Sunflora, on the other hand, I am capable of disliking with immense vigour.  The entire point of Sunflora’s design was that she gains nutrition and energy from sunlight and is extremely active during the day, but becomes inactive after sunset.  The first problem is that this is a baseline characteristic of all Grass Pokémon.  They’re plants, they all draw energy from the sun; even Gloom and Vileplume, who are based on one of the few plants in the world that doesn’t photosynthesise, learn Solarbeam and were eventually given the Chlorophyll ability in Ruby and Sapphire.  The second and much thornier problem (if I may be excused the pun) is that Sunflora wasn’t even the only Grass Pokémon introduced in Gold and Silver who was associated particularly closely with the sun.  The other was Bellossom, whose ritualistic dances to summon the sun are a far more interesting way of emphasising the solar connection than Sunflora’s frightfully generic characteristics.  There’s nothing to justify Sunflora’s existence.  I mean it.  I’ve checked.

That, then, is why I think Sunflora deserves everything she suffers; now to look at what exactly constitutes that suffering.  Sunflora is, in many ways, the epitome of “Grass-types don’t get nice things.”  Like many Grass Pokémon, she enjoys an excellent special attack stat.  Sadly, that’s all she has to offer; she’s delicate and one of the slowest Pokémon in the game, so many opponents can simply outrun her and stomp her into the dirt.  Sunflora’s passive abilities are the key to her survival; Chlorophyll doubles her speed in bright sunlight, while Solar Power boosts her special attack in bright sunlight by burning up a bit of her health each turn.  Clearly, as her design would lead us to expect, Sunflora needs Sunny Day to operate effectively (she can either set it up herself or have another Pokémon that’s actually competent do it for her).  Solar Power is great for offense and will allow Sunflora to rip through her enemies like tissue paper with Solarbeam or Leaf Storm, but it exacerbates her frailty and, unlike Chlorophyll, doesn’t address her biggest problem – her lack of speed.  Chlorophyll, on the other hand, doesn’t give Sunflora the power she needs to muscle through strong opponents before they murder her; moreover, Sunflora is so slow to begin with that many Pokémon still outrun her at twice her normal speed, and a lot of them can one-shot her without difficulty.  As a Grass-type, Sunflora’s offensive movepool is very limited outside of Grass attacks; the only bright spot is Earth Power, which allows her to take revenge upon Fire- and Poison-types, but you have to jump through hoops to get it; she learns it from a move tutor on Heart Gold and Soul Silver.  Sunkern from the Dream World may have Earth Power, but they’ll also have Sunflora’s Dream World ability, Early Bird (and if you thought Sunflora was useless when she had to choose between Chlorophyll and Solar Power, wait until you see what she’s like with neither).  Even with Earth Power, her only option against most Bug- and Flying-types is Sludge Bomb (heaven help her if she comes up against a Crobat or something).  She has some of the support moves you’d expect from a Grass-type, but she’s too slow and too fragile for them to save her; even Leech Seed, Ingrain and sun-boosted Synthesis can’t help her if she’s going to drop after one hit anyway, and many physical attacks will drop her.  Light Screen keeps her safe from special attacks, at least, if she can get it up fast enough (which she can’t).

Not quite what I had in mind, but you get the general idea.  This Grass/Fire evolution of Sunflora is the work of Ryknow, whose Pokémon fanart can be found at http://www.smogon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=64295

Sunflora practically embodies everything that has ever gone wrong with the Grass type… and now, heaven help me, I have to try to fix her.  The major difficulty is that I don’t think I’m allowed to evolve Sunflora.  Sunkern evolves through use of a Sun Stone, and long-established convention dictates that once a Pokémon uses an evolutionary stone, it’s the end of the line – so we have to change something else.  Chlorophyll and Solar Power are already really good abilities.  That’s not to say we can’t write a better one, but it would have to be pretty obscene; it might be fun to try a kind of über-Chlorophyll that grants priority (like Quick Attack) to all attacks of the user’s own type.  What I want to do is retcon her into a Grass/Fire dual-type (giving her very strong coverage to use with the ability I’m suddenly going to call Solar Vigour) and liberally splash her artwork with reds, oranges and some flame imagery.  According to this version of Sunflora, Sunkern are born when the rays of the morning sun strike seeds blowing on the wind, which is why they mysteriously drop out of the sky every morning.  They carry a glowing spark of sunfire inside their bodies, but because of their weakness it quickly goes out and they have to store and conserve their energy to reignite it when they evolve into Sunflora.  Sunflora collect and amplify solar energy to fuel their fire, but they cannot store that energy, so they become dormant at night to keep their fire from burning out.  During the day, their flowers shine like tiny suns and encourage other plants to grow rapidly.  Sunflora have to live near water, because their ability to amplify sunlight sometimes causes soil to become parched in summer (one of the few salient points of Sunflora’s original ‘dex entries is that she needs a lot of water to be healthy – which, again, is fairly standard for a plant, but I’m going to run with it).  Unfortunately for me, I don’t think it’s technically ‘allowed’ to retcon a Pokémon’s type (it happened with Magneton in Gold and Silver, but only because the Steel type didn’t exist before then), which means that I can only have my Fire-typed Sunflora either by breaking the evolution rule or by retconning the way Sunkern evolves, which is likewise unprecedented (Feebas gained a new path to evolution in Black and White, the Prism Scale, but technically the old way still works too – it’s just that the mechanic supporting it has dropped into obscurity).  I think my rewrite is still better than what Sunflora’s got at the moment even without Grass/Fire typing, and would just about fit if she gained Weather Ball or Heat Wave, either of which would dramatically improve her coverage. I’m also tempted to give her Agility, since Sunflora is characterised by frenetic activity during the daylight hours and honestly shouldn’t be slower than a tortoise in a sack race; provided she had someone else to set up Sunny Day for her, Agility might make Sunflora fast enough for Solar Power to be a realistic option.
 
Honestly, I think we’ve been written into a corner with Sunflora.  Except for giving her Weather Ball and Agility, which I don’t think would be enough on their own (they’ll help, but Sunflora needs something that will fundamentally change her fighting style), every suggestion I can think of is forbidden by an unwritten law of Pokémon design.  I advocate writing down these laws, and then burning them because they are dumb.  For now, though, I have to move on to my next unmitigated disaster…

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.