Last one!  Let’s do this!  Booyeah!  Volcanion!


I’ve wanted to see a Water/Fire Pokémon for a long time (and indeed my readers were kind enough to give me one early last year), mostly because I’m interested in the relationship between the two elements.  They’re often considered opposites, and Water is Fire’s greatest and best-known weakness, but the combination of the two produces something that’s incredibly powerful in its own way – steam, which drove many of the machines of the industrial revolution and is still an important component of multiple ways of generating electricity today.  The fact that we even deal with steam on a regular basis is pretty amazing in itself, because there’s actually no other compound besides water that naturally exists on Earth as a solid (ice), a liquid, and a gas, which is one of the many things that make water a bizarre and incredible compound.  Volcanion commands this stuff, the most dynamic and potentially destructive form of the substance all life on Earth depends on – not a bad gig for a legendary Pokémon, if you ask me.

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Skrelp and Dragalge


I’ll be honest here; I’m not wild about these things.  My first impression of Skrelp during my X playthrough was ‘so, it’s a diseased Horsea?’ and I’ve not really moved past that in any major way (the fact that Dragalge is equally, at first glance, ‘a diseased Kingdra’ didn’t exactly help).  Nothing about them really offends me in any sense, but they’re not particularly ones for the ‘favourite’ pile either.  Still, may as well see what we can turn up.  Here we go.

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Binacle and Barbaracle


Well, this one’s just weird.  Don’t get me wrong, though – sometimes weird is really good, and this, I think, is the case with the latest additions to the stable of Rock/Water Pokémon, Binacle and Barbaracle.  I have to admit, when I idly dreamed in the lead-up to X and Y about what kinds of animals or plants I would have liked to see Pokémon based on, barnacles were not exactly top of the list.  But hey, whatever works.

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Clauncher and Clawitzer


I’m not sure what to think of these two.  Clawitzer, beyond a doubt, is an extraordinarily badass name (he has a howitzer claw; what more could you even want?) for an extraordinarily badass creature.  He has a metre-long cannon shaped like a dragon head for an arm, for heaven’s sake, and I suppose for many purposes that should really be more than enough.  The question I’m left asking of Clauncher and Clawitzer, though, is this: what do we do when a Pokémon is based on a real animal so astonishingly badass that even awesome elemental powers fail to make a comparable impact on my jaded psyche?  “Real animal?” you cry.  “What is this sorcery?”  Well, I’m glad I pretended that you asked…

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Froakie, Frogadier and Greninja


My unfathomable whims have decreed that it’s time to wrap up the Kalos starters.  The third and last is the Kalosian Water-type starter Pokémon, Froakie, a little blue frog with a good head for deception and evasion.  His second form, Frogadier, also happens to have one of the most fun English names to say of the entire sixth generation, energetically tripping off the tongue in the same way as Octillery or Galvantula.  As for the fully adult ninja frog… well, at some point, quite early on, I realised that the pink scarf thing around Greninja’s neck is probably his long froggy tongue, and ever since then I’ve been so weirded out by it that I can never quite accept him without doing a nervous double take.  I’m now forced, whenever I see him, to contemplate the mental image of my own tongue stretched out to twenty times its normal length and wrapped a couple of times around my neck.  I can see what it adds to the design; ninja are regularly portrayed with masks or headbands that leave strips of cloth fluttering free, and the tongue allows Greninja to mimic that appearance, while also providing a visually striking colour contrast between its bright pink and the deep blue of his body.  Hell, if my tongue went that well with my outfit, maybe I would wear it as a scarf.  Anyway.  Past Water starters have generally been bulky Pokémon with a ‘tough guy’ aesthetic, so Froakie’s very different take on the type is a welcome bit of diversity, and also establishes him as a very different Pokémon from either Chespin or Fennekin.  Let’s take a closer look.

 The legendary ninja Jiraiya atop his majestic giant frog steed.

These Pokémon are ninja frogs.  Frogs and ninja are connected in a variety of modern fiction, apparently because of one very famous ninja hero from Japanese folktale, Jiraiya, who was the subject of a classic Japanese novel of the 19th century (which, as is the way of such things, was only loosely based on a wide variety of different version of older tales).  Jiraiya seems to have had a thing for frogs and toads; he supposedly had the power to transform into a toad, and is often depicted riding a giant magical toad whom he saved from a marauding serpent.  Snakes as villains seem to be a unifying thread of the Jiraiya tradition.  In fact, one sequence in the 19th century novel even describes a rock-paper-scissors relationship – almost exactly like the one that exists between trios of starter Pokémon – between Jiraiya’s frog powers, the snake powers of the story’s villain Orochimaru (which are apparently strong against frog and toad magic), and the slug and snail powers of Jiraiya’s love interest Tsunate (which can overcome snake magic, for reasons which I imagine made perfect sense at the time).  Or something.  Look, I haven’t actually read it; I just looked for summaries on the internet.  What do you people want from me?  The fact that Froakie, Greninja and Frogadier seem to be referencing Jiraiya makes me wonder whether there’s any significance to the presence, in the previous starter trio, of a snake Pokémon whose powers can defeat theirs – Serperior.  Obviously Serperior wasn’t designed with such a relationship in mind, but maybe Greninja’s creators got a kick out of it – and if they did, they would probably also have noted that there are slug and snail Pokémon in the game as well, and that these Pokémon, although not actually starters, are Fire-types.  Although it’s rather a stretch to think that they planned it this way, Greninja, as well as being a starter, actually completes a weird little cross-generational trio of his own.

Anyway, that’s why ninja frogs are a thing.

A Water-type ninja as one of the sixth generation starters is also an interesting choice following the Water-type samurai we got in Unova, Samurott, given that samurai and ninja tend to be set up as opposites in popular culture – samurai are seen as large, powerful warriors, devoted to honour and often more than a little flamboyant, while ninja are depicted as stealthy, agile, deliberately understated, and perhaps more unscrupulous.  Water seems like it should be a natural element for that kind of Pokémon; it’s changeable, being the only substance in nature that exists on Earth as a solid, a liquid, and a gas, it flows around obstacles as easily as smashing through them (as Misty explains at length to a rival Fire trainer in the anime episode Some Like it Hot), and it is regularly associated with subtlety and deception.  The mutable nature of water is particularly evident in Greninja’s signature move, Water Shuriken, which magically compresses water into sharp-edged discs that slice through his enemies’ flesh with pinpoint accuracy.  Bulky, powerful Water Pokémon that draw on the unparalleled fury of a stormy sea are common, but ones focussing on the constantly shifting, intangible nature of water are few and far between; the only ones I can think of are Golduck, Vaporeon and possibly Starmie and Jellicent.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I find it surprising that Water Pokémon like Greninja aren’t more common, and the contrast between Greninja and Samurott almost seems to draw attention to it. 


Chesnaught and Delphox are both perfectly competent, as starters normally are, but Greninja has hit the jackpot.  He seems made to be a mixed attacker, employing both physical and special attacks to confound heavy wall Pokémon who focus on only one side of their defences, although his movepool pushes him much more towards a special focus.  His special attack is great, his attack isn’t far behind, and he’s so fast that he can probably afford not to invest the greatest possible effort in speed, leaving more to divide between his attack stats if you want to pick up one or two of his physical moves.  His need for heavy speed training is further diminished by Water Shuriken, which gives him access to a fairly strong physical priority attack.  Because Water Shuriken is a multi-hit attack, its power fluctuates a great deal; it will sometimes be weaker than Aqua Jet, though not by much, and it will usually be stronger, sometimes by quite a lot.  The truly lovely thing about Greninja isn’t his stats, though; it’s his hidden ability.  Chesnaught and Delphox have pretty neat hidden abilities, but Greninja’s blows both out of the water.  It’s called Protean, an English adjective derived from the name of shapeshifting Greek ocean god Proteus, and it automatically changes his type to match that of any move he’s about to use.  Effectively, Greninja gets STAB (Same-Type Attack Bonus, +50% damage) on everything and, thanks to his excellent speed, can sometimes shift his type to gain resistance or immunity to incoming attacks, hopefully keeping his lacklustre defences from having their full impact – but bear in mind that he’ll always have his native Water/Dark typing when he switches in; Pokémon with actual resistances or immunities are safer.  Basically, it’s like Kecleon’s Colour Change, only it’s actually useful (and, indeed, Kecleon now shares Protean as his Dream World ability and gets to suck a little bit less).  Of course, life’s a bit grim if you want to use the Froakie you got from Professor Sycamore, whose ability will be Torrent, but hey, no-one ever said Pokémon was fair.

Protean Greninja can use both physical and special attacks of any type with roughly equal competence, though his physical movepool leaves much to be desired (maybe future games will change that).  Surf, Hydro Pump, Dark Pulse, Ice Beam and Extrasensory form the core of his offensive capability.  Grass Knot punishes other Water types, provided they belong to high weight classes, although be careful they don’t return fire with Ice Beam after you become a Grass-type.  Hidden Power deserves special mention on Greninja because of the way it can be used to exploit Protean; if you want Greninja to be able to shift his type to resist, say, Dragon attacks, which would otherwise be impossible since he doesn’t learn any Fairy or Steel attacks, you can try to trade or breed for a Greninja with Hidden Power: Fairy and net him a quasi-immunity [EDIT: I HAVE MISLED YOU; Hidden Power cannot take a Fairy type, probably because that would have meant reassigning all the other types to different personality values and therefore screwing up Pokémon with Hidden Power transferred from older games].  Water Shuriken and Power-Up Punch are the high points of his physical movepool – trying to use a pure physical Greninja is a bad idea since his physical moves just aren’t very powerful, but Power-Up Punch will spell doom for any Blissey who thinks she can take you, and again, Water Shuriken is on average pretty powerful for a priority attack.  U-Turn is worth it whether you’re training his attack stat or not, because free switches are always welcome.  Acrobatics is difficult to use at the moment because Flying Gems don’t exist on X and Y and it’s depressingly weak if you can’t reliably use up Greninja’s item, but when Game Freak gets around to introducing gems in the sixth generation, it could be interesting.  Rock Slide and Night Slash are there, but just not powerful enough to be worth it.


Support duty almost seems like a waste of Greninja’s amazing offensive potential, but he has a couple of very helpful support moves – most importantly, Spikes and Toxic Spikes; one or both could find its way onto a moveset to amplify his own and other Pokémon’s offensive potential.  He also gets Taunt and has the speed to use it effectively, anticipating and cancelling support moves coming from defensive Pokémon.  There’s a second signature move that deserves a mention, if only to explain why it shouldn’t be used – Mat Block, which references the ninja technique of blocking a thrown weapon by flipping up one of the woven straw mats used as flooring in traditional Japanese houses.  Mat Block is only useful in double or triple battles, where it acts as a sort of mass Protect attack, guarding all of your active Pokémon from damage… with three important flaws: 1) it doesn’t have priority, so anything that outruns Greninja can bypass it, 2) it doesn’t block status moves, so stuff like Thunder Wave and Will’o’Wisp can bypass it, and most importantly 3) like Fake Out, it can only be used on the first turn after Greninja enters play, something the move’s description conveniently neglects to mention and leaves players to discover for themselves.  Don’t worry, Chesnaught and Delphox – Greninja may have two signature moves to your one, but the second is nothing to be jealous of.

Before we wrap up today, I promised I’d talk at some point about the starters as a group, and in particular about the warrior/spellcaster/rogue interpretation that has become so popular: the idea that Chesnaught, Delphox and Greninja are based on a trio of common roles or classes from role-playing games.  Chesnaught is the warrior, fighter, knight or whatever; Delphox is the wizard, sorcerer, or black mage, and Greninja is the thief, rogue or assassin.  Strength, magic, and skill, the classic three fantasy RPG archetypes.  You can divide some other starter trios along similar lines – Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise, for example, could be parsed as spellcaster, rogue/scout/fast warrior (remembering that Charizard originally had only average special attack in Red and Blue) and knight/paladin/bulky warrior; Meganium, Typhlosion and Feraligatr work as white mage, black mage and warrior.  For that reason, and also because the Pokémon community is often overeager to construct patterns out of things (says the guy who writes character studies and lengthy speculative discussions of this stuff), I was a little sceptical of the idea at first, though in the end the set of human-influenced designs – knight, witch and ninja – make this way of looking at things particularly appropriate to the sixth generation, and it’s entirely plausible that RPG classes were, if not the creators’ starting point, at least an influence.  To me, all of this is just one example of a general principle of designing starter trios: the starter Pokémon occupies a place of special importance as your partner and as the first point of contact most players have with the game, so it’s vital that everyone (or at least as many people as possible) be able to find one that appeals to them.  To that end, it’s sensible to have starter trios with strongly contrasting aesthetics, fighting styles and personalities.  Sceptile, Infernape and Greninja, for example, would make a poor starter trio because they’re all different takes on the same idea – a fast, active warrior-type.  They continue to be nicely designed Pokémon in themselves, and nothing can diminish their individual appeal, but they don’t provide the same breadth of choice.  Some people would love all three, others wouldn’t like any of them.  A trio of Torterra, Emboar and Swampert would be similarly ill-conceived.  The existence of fighter/magic-user/rogue as a recognisable trope has its roots in the same basic concept; RPG players want to be able to play a hero whose powers have particular appeal to them.  People like choice; it’s really pretty simple.  They also like not to be penalised for their choices, which is where the notion of game balance comes into it, but that’s another topic entirely.

I quite like this Pokémon, in spite of his alarming combined approach to fashion and oral hygiene.  Frogadier makes the cute-to-badass transition remarkably smoothly in comparison to what most starters manage, and the ninja frog thing is a bit weird if you’re not in on the joke, as it were, but was very interesting to learn about.  As for his battle capabilities… well, Protean is a game-changer, there’s no other way to describe it.  Expect Greninja to make a serious impact on any battle he sticks his aqueous ninja stars into.


Official art of Vaporeon, by Ken Sugimori; all hail Nintendo, etc.Eevee’s enigmatic and mesmerising aquatic evolution, Vaporeon is not only the form of choice for players who are fans of elegant, beautiful Pokémon, she’s also one of the most dependable of the seven, with surprisingly good defensive skills and useful support powers.  Personally, I think she’s one of the better-designed Pokémon of the original 150 – kind of a hard act for the other six to follow, but hey, it’s not her fault she comes first in the Pokédex, so let’s see what makes her tick.

Vaporeon is an Eevee who has adapted to life in the water – her fur has been replaced by smooth, shiny skin, her fluffy mane with a webbed frill, and her puffy tail with a long, sleek dolphin-like one.  People who have seen just the tail have apparently been known to mistake Vaporeon for a mermaid.  Vaporeon is more than just an aquatic-adapted Pokémon, though.  She can actually control water to a degree that few other Water-types can match, can predict the approach of rain, and can even dissolve her own body into water in order to move unseen (this ability is represented in-game by the Acid Armour technique, which is not quite a signature move, but is restricted to only a handful of Pokémon who have similar powers, like Muk and Cryogonal).  The official explanation for how Vaporeon does this strikes me as a little bit suspect – apparently her “body’s cellular structure is similar to the molecular composition of water,” which is fundamentally absurd on a number of levels – but I’m willing to chalk this one up to the Pokédex being written by ten-year-olds who don’t know any better.  I’m tempted just to call it “magic” and move on, but then again, I suppose if all living things are mostly made of water anyway, it’s not all that impossible for Vaporeon to be able to flood her system with water in such quantities that she appears to dissolve into the water around her, even while the solid structures of her cells actually remains intact.  At least, it’s no more impossible than any of the other stuff that Pokémon do on a daily basis (actually, I think that in order to do this Vaporeon would need to have rigid-walled cells like a plant’s, in order to stop all her cells from bursting with the osmotic pressure… but let’s face it; now I’m just using fancy words to sound clever). 

 An adorable leaping Vaporeon, by Michelle Simpson (http://michellescribbles.deviantart.com/ - if you like what you see, she does commissions).

Vaporeon succeeds at her design goals in a number of ways.  Her aquatic characteristics are smoothly blended with the basic Eevee shape she evolves from, resulting in something that isn’t just a rehash of a real water animal, the way so many Water Pokémon are, but a new and elegant combination of attributes.  Her unique water powers are also a neat point of difference from the zillions of other Water-types out there, even today with so many more to compete with than when she first took the stage.  She also fits very well with an aspect of Eevee’s design that developed a bit later, something I’m probably going to come back to a few times in this series: the idea that Eevee’s split evolution is all about adapting to the environment.  As far as I can tell, this idea isn’t present in Red, Blue or Yellow version, or the early seasons of the anime for that matter, where the presence of radiation from the elemental stones is all that’s necessary for any change.  Obviously, in the games, the stones prompt the change; there’s no question of evolving your Eevee into a Vaporeon by getting her to spend a lot of time in the swimming pool.  I do like the possibility that Eevee is able to grow in so many different directions because she’s evolved to be adaptable to many different environments, though.  Jolteon and Flareon, notably, aren’t good fits for the idea.  I can’t blame them for that, clearly, since they were designed before anyone ever suggested that adaptation to the environment was key to Eevee’s growth.  It is a nagging little inconsistency, though, which I’ll address as I move on through this project.  For now, it’s just good to note that Vaporeon fits the pattern so nicely, as an aquatic Eevee.  Moving on, then; Vaporeon is a very well-designed Pokémon, but how does she measure up in a fight?

A quick aside on the Eeveelutions’ stat spreads – all seven of them have the same absolute values for their six stats, just rearranged.  They all have three stats that are average to poor, one that’s very good, one that’s excellent, and one that’s amazing.  Vaporeon’s particular specialty is endurance; she has a ridiculous amount of hit points, enough to compensate for her poor physical defence (especially with a bit of focussed training), as well as a good special defence score.  What’s more, Black and White gave her (along with most of the other Water-types in the game) one of the nicest gifts a special tank could ask for – the ability to burn physical attackers with Scald, crippling their offensive capabilities.  Vaporeon’s support movepool is not wide – mostly, she can force switches and occasionally put things to sleep with Yawn, or kill them slowly with Toxic.  If you want to boost her physical defence (or someone else’s, by way of Baton Pass), there’s always Acid Armour, but using defence boosts is generally just begging to take a critical hit in the face.  The real kicker is Wish.  All seven of Eevee’s evolutions get Wish, a healing spell that kicks in one turn after it’s used, potentially allowing other Pokémon on the user’s team to receive the healing in place of the user.  Vaporeon, however, is by far the best at it, because the amount healed by Wish is equal to half of the user’s maximum HP – and Vaporeon’s HP is massive.  She can deliver some of the strongest Wishes in the game – surpassed only by Wigglytuff and Alomomola – making her brilliant for giving a wounded Pokémon a second bite at the apple, or helping a healthy Pokémon to switch in with impunity by healing any damage it takes as it comes in.  The other side to Vaporeon is what makes her so much better than Alomomola; unlike the sunfish Pokémon, she can actually fight.

 A more realistic take on Vaporeon, by Ruth Taylor (http://ruth-tay.deviantart.com/ - she has more Pokémon fanart in the same style, and it is glorious), drawing inspiration from wolves, turtles and otters.

This is where another brief aside on the Eeveelutions in general might be a good idea.  Just about all of them have very poor offensive movepools.  Most of them have a powerful attack from their own types, plus Shadow Ball and Signal Beam, two fairly weak attacks from fairly weak elements.  None of them are suited to all-out assault.  Vaporeon, however, has one major advantage over her brothers and sisters: almost all Water Pokémon have power over ice as well.  What’s more, Water/Ice is actually a fairly strong combination.  Between Scald, Ice Beam, her excellent special attack, and Toxic, Vaporeon is pretty dangerous for a defensive Pokémon.  Most Pokémon with strong special defence that don’t mind Toxic can still ignore her fairly safely, but unlike Alomomola she isn’t just an invitation for a hyper-offensive Pokémon to jump in and start setting up, and if she’s in trouble, she can always drop a Wish and switch out.  The icing on the cake for Vaporeon is her choice of two wonderful abilities.  Her Dream World ability, Hydration, allows her to heal instantly from status problems during rain, which isn’t really as brilliant for her as it is for some of the other Pokémon who like to use it, since its major benefit is one-turn Rests, and Vaporeon relies heavily on Wish for healing anyway.  Water Absorb, on the other hand, is wonderful; by converting incoming Water attacks into a source of healing, it gives Vaporeon opportunities to switch in for free against some of the most common attacks in the game (Surf and Scald) as well as bonus healing, which a defensive Pokémon will always appreciate.  All in all, Vaporeon did very well in the great lottery of Pokémon, with everything she needs to back up her excellent stats.  Ever since Ruby and Sapphire introduced Wish and Water Absorb, she’s had an easy life; before then she was a fairly unspectacular but still above-average Water-type.  Some Eevee forms, despite having equally high stats… did not do so well.

As a matter of personal taste, Vaporeon isn’t actually my favourite Eevee evolution – that honour goes to Espeon – but as an objective assessment of her design and powers, I’m rather tempted to say that she is the ‘best’ of the seven.  Again, a hard act to follow, since it seems that, for some of the others, I’ll be talking partly in terms of how they fail to measure up to Vaporeon.  Still, at least she was a good beginning, her position among the original trio helping to establish Eevee as the universally adored Pokémon she is today.

Piplup, Prinplup and Empoleon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mudkip, Marshtomp and Swampert

Mudkip.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; auctoritas picturae huius Nintendoni est.So i herd u liek Mudkipz?

…eheh.  Sorry.  I couldn’t resist.

caelicolae immortales, I hate that meme…

Today’s cute little bundle of utter nonsense is Mudkip, the… swampy… fishy… thing.  Now, as for me personally, I’m sorry to say that, no, I don’t liek Mudkipz.  His evolutions, Marshtomp and Swampert, belong to an archetype that I’m simply not very fond of.  However, that doesn’t mean this is a bad design.  Maybe Game Freak realised on their own how boring Feraligatr was, or maybe someone pointed out to them, or maybe (far more likely) Mudkip just happened to get lucky, because he is anything but a simple cartoon of an ordinary animal.  He’s probably based on something like an axolotl – a curious species of salamander that, although it does have an ‘adult’ form, never actually metamorphoses under natural conditions, and retains the gills of a larval salamander for its whole life (you can force an axolotl to metamorphose and become a land animal, but the stress will either drastically shorten the poor thing’s lifespan or kill it outright – I’m sure there’s a metaphor in that somewhere…).  Axolotls are fully aquatic, but Mudkip is more an amphibious creature; he has fins to help him move through the water, but his legs can support him on land, and while he still has functioning gills, he seems to have air-breathing lungs as well.  He retains this mixture of traits as he evolves into a veritable ‘creature from the black lagoon.’  Well, eventually.  I’ve always thought Marshtomp looked a little bit gormless, and to be honest Swampert does too, in Sugimori’s art, but most of his sprites are much better, and it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination anyway to picture this froglike behemoth as a pretty terrifying opponent.  As I said, I don’t liek Mudkipz – in general, I’m simply not a fan of brutish, physically imposing Pokémon, which is what he eventually becomes (Mudkip himself, I admit, is pretty cute).  As brutish, physically imposing Pokémon go, however, Swampert is a keeper.  Pure boulder-crushing power isn’t all there is to him; the whole line also has impressive sensory abilities.  Mudkip, Marshtomp and Swampert can use their fins to detect pressure differences and ‘feel’ objects and Pokémon moving around them – most effectively in water, but in air as well – and have extremely good vision, allowing them to see through murky water with ease.  Swampert can even predict storms well in advance by sensing air currents, and will pile up boulders to protect his coastal territory.  I find it odd that they apparently live on beaches, since they seem to be based on a freshwater animal and are linked with swamps and marshes; in particular they like to dig burrows in mud and damp soil, not sand.  I think they must live in estuaries, mangroves and salt marshes, intersections of terrain types, which implies a fair degree of hardiness and adaptability – and, to look at these Pokémon, I can certainly believe that.

 Marshtomp.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Swampert is a great big bulky physical attacker, and in that respect he does a pretty good job of stealing what little of importance Feraligatr ever had to his name.  Like Sceptile, he shows that Game Freak did, in fact, learn from their mistakes with Feraligatr, but unlike Sceptile he takes every possible opportunity to rub Feraligatr’s face in it by being better at everything ever.  Both of them were mainly reliant on Earthquake in Ruby and Sapphire, but Swampert was by choice and Feraligatr by necessity; since Swampert is a Water/Ground dual-type his Earthquakes are significantly stronger than Feraligatr’s and actually make a good primary attack.  Swampert got just about every important attack Feraligatr did except for Swords Dance, and was better at all of them.  In fact, his stat distribution makes him better than Feraligatr at pretty much everything.  He’s slower, but Feraligatr isn’t fast enough for speed to matter a whole lot anyway; all his attacks are more powerful, he’s significantly better at taking special attacks, and thanks to his higher HP they’re actually pretty similar in terms of physical bulk.  To cap it all off, Swampert’s type combination doesn’t just make his Earthquakes stronger; it also grants immunity to Electric attacks, leaving him with only one weakness (Grass – a type not exactly known for its powerful attacks or formidable sweepers).  He also steps on Wooper and Quagsire’s toes a great deal; they have very different design aims, since Quagsire is clearly supposed to be cute, but they’re both big amphibious swamp-dwelling Water/Ground Pokémon that act as physical tanks, which Swampert is much better at doing than poor Quagsire.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that Swampert is effective; it just hammers home how much of a lottery Pokémon’s ‘game balance,’ if you really want to call it that, can be.  The differences between Feraligatr and Swampert appear to suggest that Game Freak knew, by this point, that a Water-type couldn’t be a top-notch physical attacker under the rules of Ruby and Sapphire without some kind of extra sparkle, and the combination of Quagsire’s excellent typing with Feraligatr’s high stats provide Swampert with just that.  Kind of a shame about his predecessors, though.  In general, my stance is that making a new Pokémon that totally supersedes an old one, when you could just make the old one good, is Bad Design.  They did eventually start being nice to the older Pokémon; Feraligatr’s a sweeper now, and Quagsire is potentially useful if oddly specific, though at the time of Swampert’s introduction, Quagsire could practically have evolved into Swampert.  In the end, I want to forgive Game Freak this time – in Feraligatr’s case, anyway – because I think Feraligatr is an unimaginative gob of mindless sputum hocked up by a dying frog, and that Swampert is a far superior design anyway.

Yes.  That entire paragraph was only in there so I could bash Feraligatr some more.

Let us move on.

 Swampert.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

So, like I was saying, Swampert is tough.  Unlike Feraligatr, who by this point had Swords Dance and was pretending to be fast enough to be a sweeper, Swampert’s buff of choice was Curse, which acts to turn him into a slow but powerful behemoth of a Pokémon capable of taking, and dishing out, physical attacks ‘til the Miltank come home.  To back up his terrifying Earthquake attack, Swampert picked up Rock Slide with the release of Leaf Green and Fire Red – not a powerful attack, but good for punishing Flying-types.  Surf and Ice Beam worked off his weaker special attack stat, but he was still better at them than Feraligatr, and didn’t actually have to rely on them, thanks to Earthquake.  If you like paralysis, Body Slam was an option, and he could turn his bulk and lack of weaknesses into formidable weapons with Counter or Mirror Coat.  Roar, finally, is a handy toy for a tough Pokémon to have; Swampert can often afford to wait for his opponent to attack first if it means throwing a spanner in the works by forcing a switch.  In short, Swampert was a highly effective physical tank from the moment of his release, and Diamond and Pearl only made things better – the introduction of physical Water attacks, obviously, being the main benefit.  With them came Hammer Arm, a strong and reliable Fighting attack, and eventually Ice Punch.  His support options also expanded to include the time-delayed sleep attack, Yawn, but for all practical purposes Yawn is mostly for forcing switches, since switching out a drowsy Pokémon will keep it from falling asleep, and Swampert can already force switches very effectively with Roar.  Finally, of course, Diamond and Pearl gave Swampert the oh-so-delightful Stealth Rock, so now he can damage whichever Pokémon comes in to replace one he Roars away.  And that… well, that is pretty much the end of Swampert’s development.  Black and White didn’t really change him at all.  His Dream World ability, Damp, prevents Pokémon from using Explosion or Selfdestruct – amusing, but ultimately very situational, especially since Black and White drastically reduced the effectiveness of both attacks.  Like most Water Pokémon, he can now burn opponents with Scald to weaken their physical attacks, but Scald is a special attack, and Swampert isn’t exactly bad at taking physical attacks anyway, so sticking with Waterfall is fine too.Just a Mudkip sittin' by a pond, bein' adorable, by Frogmastr1 (http://frogmastr1.deviantart.com/).

Although Black and White seem to have largely forgotten about him, Swampert is still a perfectly solid Pokémon with a small but useful support movepool and wonderful all-around endurance.  Be careful of Black and White’s sleep mechanics if you want to use him – switching a Pokémon out now resets the number of turns it will take to wake up, which means that Rest is no longer a reliable form of healing, and Swampert doesn’t have anything else.  Don’t expect him to take too many hits… and, as always, avoid Grass attacks like the plague.  If you can find it in your heart to love a monstrous swamp-thing, though, you could do far worse than Swampert.

Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr

These Pokémon bore me.

 Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; blah blah copyright, blah blah fair u-CRIKEY, ME ARM!

I’m sorry, but it’s true.  Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr bore me.  I honestly think they’re the most boring starter Pokémon in the history of ever.  Why would I think that?  They’re crocodiles; crocodiles are awesome, aren’t they?  What with the biting, and the ripping, and the tearing, and the biting, and the shredding, and the biting, and the…

…and the…

…what… what else do these Pokémon do, exactly?  Game Freak, help me out here.

I’m dead serious; they bite stuff and that’s pretty much it.  I’ve looked through all the Pokédex entries for all the games, and every single one of Totodile’s entries, every single one of Croconaw’s, and about half of Feraligatr’s are about how awesome they are at biting things.  It’s like that was all they could think of.  The other traits of Feraligatr’s that the Pokédex describes are his ability to move around easily even out of water thanks to his strong legs, and the fact that he normally moves slowly but can strike with incredible speed.  So… he’s exactly like a crocodile.  I don’t know why they even bothered to design a Pokémon; you totally could have just put an ordinary real-world crocodile in Gold and Silver as the Water starter and it would have worked just as well.  I mean, yes, it would be a bit strange, but it could also be interesting; like, you could explore the position of being the only ‘trainer’ in the world who doesn’t use Pokémon at all but just sics wild animals on people, and the ethical issues of what happens when your random pet crocodile eats some poor kid’s adorable fluffy Pokémon, and I’m pretty sure I’m taking the piss now but sometimes even I can’t tell.  Remember how, when I did Blastoise, I complained about Game Freak designing Pokémon that are basically just a water animal that’s been given a Water Gun attack?  Well, this is it.  I mean, they’ve been done up in anime style and painted in bright contrasting colours, and I have to admit the art isn’t bad, but other than making them really spiky and standing them up on two legs, there’s not a whole lot of evidence for actual creative thought here.  If you check out the Bulbapedia article, they point out that Croconaw looks a little bit like a stereotypical caveman, and yeah, now that they put it like that, the pattern of spots on his body does remind me of Fred Flintstone’s spotted animal skin, but that just invites the question… why?  There’s a comment on the discussion page from this one dude who thought it might be because of the similarities between the words “caveman” and “caiman” but… what?  I’m not sure whether I’d rather believe that the caveman thing is just an accident, or that the only original creative insight put into this design is a relatively obscure pun that has a small but bizarre effect on the visual aesthetic of the Pokémon’s intermediate form and is then never referenced again.

You know how I said that I thought Johto had the worst starters?  Yeah.  This guy.  Blame him.

 A less stylised, more realistic interpretation of Croconaw, by Camus Altamirano (http://camusaltamirano.deviantart.com/).

I wouldn’t even mind if they had done a caveman thing with Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr.  It’d be a very odd choice, and it would probably wind up perpetuating some unfortunate stereotypes about prehistoric humans, but heck, it would still be better than “this Pokémon is a crocodile and does crocodile things.”  Alternatively, if they’d decided on reflection that the caveman thing was dumb, maybe a mystic, ancient Egyptian-style aesthetic, lots of gold, drawing on the cult of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of the Nile?  If that doesn’t appeal, what about just pushing the boat out and turning him into a full-fledged death-dealing aquatic horror with webbed feet, spines and blades, a long body tapering to a whiplike tail, and heck, making him a Poison-type with vicious, dripping fangs… or going in completely the opposite direction and making him into the Barney the friggin’ Dinosaur of crocodiles?  Seriously, any of that would be fine by me, as long as the result isn’t just a crocodile.

 …okay, I think I’ve made my point now.

Breathe, Chris.  Breathe.

Okay.  Sadly the problems don’t stop there because Feraligatr, as he was originally implemented, had some serious flaws in his skill set.  Feraligatr is primarily a physical attacker, but he’s also a Water Pokémon, and the problem with Water attacks is that, until Diamond and Pearl anyway, all of them were energy-based.  As of Gold and Silver, Feraligatr was pretty bad at using Water attacks.  In fact, since Dark attacks (like Bite and Crunch) were all considered energy attacks as well for some bizarre reason, he was actually really bad at biting things too, which makes all those Pokédex entries terribly ironic, when you think about it (the same thing happened to Granbull).  Anyway, Feraligatr can dish out a pretty nasty Earthquake, he can get Rock Slide, and… you might as well throw in a Normal attack like Return?  Or I guess Surf, since it’ll still be useful against Pokémon with awful special defence?  Screech might be fun to soften up targets for his physical attacks, and I suppose there’s Curse, since Feraligatr’s not a particularly fast Pokémon anyway and he’s got worse options than trying to play tank.  Really, though, original Gold and Silver Feraligatr is a pretty mediocre Pokémon.  Emerald made him much less mediocre by giving him Swords Dance for pretending to be a sweeper; he’s not fast enough to be really good at that, but he is generally tough enough to set up Swords Dance without being killed right away, so there’s that.

 Just because Feraligatr isn't that *good* at using Surf doesn't mean he can't look badass while he does it... art by Matsuyama Takeshi (http://matsuyama-takeshi.deviantart.com/).

Diamond and Pearl were what fixed Feraligatr’s real problem, by reclassifying all attacks into physical and special based on individual characteristics rather than element.  All of a sudden, Waterfall, Crunch and Ice Punch are physical attacks, Feraligatr learns Superpower as a devastating (if somewhat inconsistent) Fighting attack, someone decided he should get Dragon Dance and Agility so now he can be fast if he wants to, and the icing on the cake is that, if you really want to stick with Swords Dance for the power, Heart Gold and Soul Silver added Aqua Jet to his list of egg moves, so he can even beat faster opponents if he’s had time to dance first.  A lot of Pokémon benefited from the transition to Diamond and Pearl and the way so many attacks suddenly started making sense, but Feraligatr got a better deal than most.  Like Typhlosion, Feraligatr hasn’t got much out of Black and White yet, but he’s awaiting the release of his Dream World ability the most eagerly of all three Johto starters because his is Sheer Force.  Sheer Force trades away the side effects of attacks that have them (like the rather insignificant 10% freeze chance on Ice Punch) for a 33% power boost, and incidentally also allows you to use a Life Orb for even more power without paying the item’s normal cost of 10% of your health for each attack (only attacks that work with Sheer Force get this last benefit; you still lose health when using attacks without side effects, like Earthquake).  Quite a few of Feraligatr’s core attacks are compatible with Sheer Force – Waterfall, Ice Punch, Crunch, and Rock Slide – so this may well be what he needs to finally get out from under the shadow of the other monstrous Water-type physical sweeper, Gyarados.

I suppose in some ways Feraligatr is a success story, in that he shows just how much more powerful you can make a Pokémon even after it’s been released and all the details of type and stats are set in stone.  True, he’s largely a beneficiary of a major change that needed to happen anyway, but Agility, Dragon Dance, Aqua Jet and Sheer Force are all sensible and thematically appropriate additions that give Feraligatr the kind of power a starter really deserves, so I have to admit that his development through the games has been fairly well handled.  I mean, it would’ve been better if they’d gotten that right from the beginning (I would have thought that making him good at biting things was a no-brainer since that’s his whole schtick), but we can’t have everything.  This design really is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, though.  Why go to the effort of designing a Pokémon if you aren’t going to… y’know… design a Pokémon?  Several Water-types are like this, which is one reason I’m so annoyed that it’s the most common element – so many of those hundred-odd Pokémon are distressingly half-assed – but from a starter I really do expect more of an effort.

Squirtle, Wartortle and Blastoise

Squirtle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; do unto Nintendo as you would have Nintendo do unto you.It’s funny, but I’ve never been a big fan of the Water-type starters.  Funny, because some of my favourite Pokémon are Water-types.  Maybe it’s because they’re always juxtaposed with the Grass-type starters, which for me is no contest.  If that’s the case, then perhaps examining them in isolation will make the truth come out.  Let’s give it a try…

Squirtle is adorable.  As far as cuteness goes, amongst the first-generation starters Squirtle’s nailed it.  Of course, I think turtles are just adorable animals by nature, but it’s hard not to go all warm and gooey inside when you see him staring up at you in Sugimori’s art over there.  However, this does bring up my problem with Squirtle, since, sadly, I do have one; he’s… well, just a turtle.  Apart from the squirrel-like tail (which does, I must concede, further multiply his cuteness factor) the designers haven’t really done much with him, which I think is typical of the flaws in many of the less creative Water-types and symptomatic of a problem in the way Water Pokémon are designed: Water, compared to Fire and Grass, is an element with requirements that are relatively mundane and easy to meet.  All you need is for your Pokémon to live in the water.  This is part of the reason there are so damn many of them; more than 1/6 of all Pokémon are Water-types, which makes it the most common element by a comfortable margin, and a lot of them are just ‘this Pokémon is an animal that lives in the water!’  Not all Water Pokémon fall into this trap, of course (like I said, some of my favourites are Water-types), nor is Squirtle without merits, but I can’t help but feel that he is, overall, a less creative concept than Charmander or Bulbasaur.  Evolution to Wartortle makes him a bit more elaborate; the rudder-like ears and luxuriantly furry wave-crest tail are nice touches, and although his cultural association with longevity is a bit predictable for a turtle Pokémon, it’s still good background detail.  If Squirtle is too little changed from a standard turtle, I think Wartortle is just right; the development of the tail into an actual eye-catching feature that’s evocative of his element was exactly what that design needed.  Finally we have Blastoise, who feels a little odd to me.  Venusaur and Charizard both feel as though they continue the same changes that we see in Ivysaur and Charmeleon; the flower bursting into bloom on Ivysaur’s back as he slowly takes on a primeval appearance, the horns growing on Charmeleon’s head as he begins to leave behind his lizard form and become something more.  Blastoise, with his stubby tail and understated ears, reverses the changes we see as Squirtle evolves into Wartortle, in particular losing the physical aspects that are responsible for Wartortle’s connotations of age and experience, almost as though he’s just decided to go in a different direction entirely.  He suddenly begins to look a lot more like a real-world turtle again… except of course that Blastoise has high-powered water cannons, for no other reason than because they’re awesome.  What’s the deal with these, anyway?  Are they made of bone?  Metal?  Either raises odd questions, so again, it’s best to go with the awesome and not try to explain it.  The fun thing about Blastoise is that his cannons aren’t just for direct attacks; he can also use them as boosters to increase the speed and power of his tackles (so presumably he can rotate them backwards?), which makes him sound even more badass.

 Wartortle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

You might have guessed I’m a bit conflicted about Blastoise.  It’s impossible to deny that he’s a brutally awesome Pokémon.  However, I’m bothered by a lot of the details, particularly the way the whole evolutionary line fits together.  I do like Squirtle, Wartortle and Blastoise, particularly Wartortle, but I don’t think this design is as carefully thought-out or coordinated as those of the other two starters – and I think I know why.  This is the list of hexadecimal index numbers used by the game engine of Red and Blue to identify all of the first-generation Pokémon.  This list has prompted a lot of fascinating discussions I don’t really have time to get into, but what matters today is that many people believe it represents the order in which the first-generation Pokémon were designed and programmed into the game (mainly because Rhydon, who is independently known to have been the first Pokémon ever created, is at the top, and there’s no other ordering principle to the list).  What’s interesting is the position of the starters.  Ivysaur is one of the oldest designs, while Bulbasaur and Venusaur come in together at a much later point, suggesting that they were designed around Ivysaur, giving the whole line cohesion.  Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard seem to have been thrown in almost at the last minute, all together (so they’re essentially a single design), at the same time as Squirtle and Wartortle – I’m guessing this represents the moment the Grass/Fire/Water starter paradigm was created – but Blastoise is much older.  You can construct a number of other interesting patterns from this list.  Dragonite predates Dratini and Dragonair just as Blastoise predates Squirtle and Wartortle.  Psyduck and Golduck were not created together.  Gastly, Haunter and Gengar were all designed at different times, and Haunter came last.  Assuming that the index numbers do indeed represent what they are often taken to represent, this might explain my frustrating little details; Blastoise was originally a stand-alone design, and Squirtle and Wartortle were much newer pre-evolutions that fit with each other, but don’t quite match the original idea.

 Wartortle being awesome but somehow also adorable, by Salanchu (http://salanchu.deviantart.com/).

That’s quite enough of my baseless speculation, though; if you’re reading this you probably want to know what I think of Blastoise’s capabilities.  Blastoise kind of fell flat in Red and Blue because he didn’t really do anything that other Water-types didn’t; all of them could learn Water and Ice attacks, most of them were tanks, and (unlike Charizard) Blastoise wasn’t unique in his ability to learn Earthquake.  Gold and Silver gave Blastoise the tools that have been his mainstay ever since: superior special defence, from the splitting of the special stat, and Rapid Spin.  Rapid Spin is one of the vital necessities of competitive Pokémon, since it’s the only way to get rid of ‘entry hazards,’ traps that damage your Pokémon every time you switch; relatively few Pokémon can actually learn it, so those that do are almost guaranteed a niche (except for Delibird, because he is silly), as Blastoise has been for all these years.  He also picked up a couple of amusing tricks like Curse, Roar and Mirror Coat, followed by Yawn and Iron Defence in Ruby and Sapphire, adding to his talents as a defensive utility Pokémon.  Most of the fourth generation’s presents for Blastoise were diversifications of his offensive movepool – Focus Blast, Flash Cannon, Zen Headbutt, Aqua Jet, Signal Beam and, in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, the coveted Water Spout – but he’s not fast enough or powerful enough for aggressive strategies to make sense for him, and he didn’t really gain anything that added to his specialist role.  Blastoise still is, and probably always will be, a support Pokémon first and foremost; in addition to all the utility powers he had before, he’s picked up Dragon Tail, so he can smack Pokémon around while forcing them out of play, and like most of the Water-type crowd, he now has access to Scald, a less powerful trade-in for Surf that can cause burns, crippling physical attackers.  What Blastoise lacks in Black and White is a conspicuously game-changing Dream World ability (also Shell Smash, which would let him do something with that aforementioned offensive movepool, but I guess Carracosta would still be better at that anyway).  Chlorophyll and Solar Power fundamentally alter Venusaur and Charizard’s capabilities, while Blastoise’s Rain Dish… well, if you were planning on building a rain team anyway, the extra trickle of healing will certainly help Blastoise to do his job better, but it’s no substitute for an actual healing technique, the absence of which is one of the main things holding Blastoise back.  It’s not a bad ability, especially not for a defensive Pokémon, but Venusaur and Charizard’s new toys kinda leave Blastoise in the dust on this one.

 Blastoise.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I really wish I could think of something as nice to say about Squirtle and his evolutions as I did about Bulbasaur and Charmander, because I don’t think they’re bad Pokémon by any measure.  I’m just… sort of ambivalent.  They’re… y’know.  They’re okay.  They don’t make me want to rave about how wonderfully designed they are, or how versatile and powerful they are; nor have they committed any real sins, and if I had been looking over Red and Blue prior to their original release, I probably would have passed over them without comment.  Whoo.

That is all.

You may go.