AS PER LAST TIME, ALL IMAGES ARE OFFICIAL POKEMON COMPANY ARTWORK TAKEN FROM GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH.
Not all pokemon generations are created equal. Like, literally, there are a different number of new pokemon in every individual generation of the games, and some have significantly less than others (and none top the 151 introduced in the first generation). As the number of total pokemon creeps ever closer to 1000 (which is an ludicrous number of unique playable characters, even for a mons game), the pokemon company has actively tried to slow down a bit in how many new pokemon they make in a game, because the higher that number is, the more impossible basic aspects of an RPG (balance between different playable characters, making the different playable characters feel unique by giving them unique movesets and animations, creating new mechanics to keep the franchise from feeling too samey, etc.) become.
So if, say, you’re doing a series where you talk about pokemon you like and organize it by generation, some generations give you less to work with than others – especially if those generations, in addition to having significantly less pokemon than others, also just have proportionally less pokemon that appeal specifically to you.
You read the title, you get where I’m going with this. I’m lumping the Johto, Sinnoh, and Alola pokemon games’ unique mons together in one article for convenience, because I don’t have nearly as much to say about them as I do the other generations, and yet desire a rough symmetry from these articles. So let’s dive into what you could un-charitably call my least favorite pokemon generations – which would be a bit extreme to say, honestly, since these generations still managed to introduce a lot of pokemon I like, including two of my absolute favorites.
Every time a new pokemon game comes out (that is, the ones that aren’t remakes of old games), I try to choose a team made solely of entirely new pokemon, because for me that’s kind of the point of playing a new pokemon game – I love my old pokemon, but if I want to go on an adventure with them, I have the old games to replay. There are so many excellent monsters in this franchise, and even in these smaller generations they introduce a lot of gems, so it only feels fair to start clean each time – plus most pokemon generations don’t actually let you play with most of the older pokemon until the sparse post game, so it’s not like playing with an old team is really viable all that often (if it was we’d all be curbstomping our way through the story with level 99 legendaries).
One of the reasons I lump these three gens together is that their options made picking an entirely new team a bit more… challenging for me than the other generations did. In Kanto and Galar (oh god I can’t wait to get to Galar!), I feel so spoiled for choice that I could easily make TWO teams just out of the pokemon introduced those gens, and while Hoenn, Unova, and Kalos aren’t quite on that level, they still leave me with more than a few understudy options.
I, uh, didn’t really feel that way with these three gens. These teams were very difficult to assemble, because these three gens didn’t have a lot of new options to begin with, and even fewer that personally spoke to me the way a good pokemon partner should. We’re going to go in chronological order here, but it’s also coincidentally the order of most-to-least difficult, because man, Johto made some choices in game design that I don’t think were entirely sound.
The Johto Six… Er, Eight?
My Dancer, My New Best Friend, My Starter: The Totodile Line
Like last time, I’m mostly just going to use pictures of final evolutions to represent whole lines, because I have a cap on how many images I can host here, and like last time my first example will break that rule because look at Totodile. Look at it. It’s the cutest little crocodile monster I’ve ever fucking seen. The anime further cemented Totodile’s status as an utterly adorable little scamp by giving him the habit of dancing whenever he was let out of the pokeball. Little guy was just so damn excited to be out in the world and hanging out with his friends! Every crappy trope portraying crocodiles as inherently wicked and angry monsters is washed away by the sheer vivacious joy that Totodile radiates.
If Totodile had been in the first generation, it might have supplanted Charmander as my nostalgic favorite of the franchise. Objectively, they both appeal equally to my tastes in creature design – it’s the fact that Charmander was my first pokemon EVER that gives him the edge.
And both lines remain equally good all through their evolutions. Charmander evolves from an adorable fire lizard to an awesome lizard dragon, while Totodile evolves from an adorable water crocodile to an awesome crocodile GODZILLA. I was horrified when I learned as a kid that Gold and Silver wouldn’t let you have the original starters unless you traded them in, but once I saw Totodile I knew it’d be ok. The old pokemon weren’t gone forever – the games just wanted me to open my heart to the new ones.
Goddamn what a good pokemon Feraligatr is. It’s got the radness of the Godzilla 2000 suit design, with those bright pink dorsal spikes complementing the blue and sandy yellow scales – just an absolutely excellent crocodilian monster. And I am a connoisseur of crocodilian monsters, as my many bestiaries on here can attest to. Feraligatr is so friggin rad we’ll even forgive the fact that it’s name is missing an “o” because of a programming limitation on how many letters a characters name could have in Gen 2 (later gens would allow them to get longer, but by that point the weird spelling was copywritten, so Feraligatr will forever be missing that “o”).
My Weaver, My Venom Spitter, My Second in Command: The Spinarak Line
Breaking the “only final evos” rule again because Spinarak is too cute not to. I had to trade for one in my first playthrough of the Johto games because I chose Pokemon Silver and Spinarak was exclusive to Pokemon Gold (Silver had the cooler box legendary), but it was worth dealing with the potential unrulyness. I adore spiders, and while the Spinarak line is missing a few limbs, they were the first (and for far too long, only) spiders in Pokemon. Their typing isn’t great (bug type is the arguably the weakest type in the game, and poison was a contender for that crown until Gen 6 gave it some buffs and a new type to be super-effective against) and their stats are a bit on the low side, but dammit, I made them work! Spiders were worth the effort! Especially cute spiders with weird little emojis tatoos on their butts.
The plus side is that, while their stats are low, they aren’t quite Butterfree/Beedrill low, being more on the Arbok side of things – i.e. “You’ll get your ass stomped in PVP but if you keep them at a high enough level you can use these guys all the way to the end of the story,” which is what matters to me anyway. Each pokemon team I assemble has a tale to experience together, and I want them to see it through to the end.
My Bruiser, My Cow Tipper, My Battling Beetle Brother: Heracross
Heracross was not initially a planned member of my team – I caught him in the bug-catching contest and decided to try him out for shits and giggles. And then I learned he was a BEAST. Just an absolute battle boy, a brawler born and raised. Everyone who played the Johto games (either the originals or the remakes) talks about how tough Whitney’s Miltank is, but I never got to experience the hell that was Miltank’s rollout because Heracross murdered that cow in one fucking punch like goddamn Saitama. Sometimes you pick a pokemon, and sometimes a pokemon picks you, murders a cow, and earns your eternal devotion.
I love that this machine of carnage has such an adorable little face. Heracross doesn’t exactly look weak, but it doesn’t look nearly as strong as it could be either – it’s deceptively cute while still being a bit imposing. That’s a pretty good aesthetic to shoot for when designing a pokemon, I think.
My Late Bloomer, My Hard Won Victory, My King of the Pocket Monsters: The Tyranitar Line
Remember when I said the Johto games made some game design choices I found questionable? Yeah, well, one of those was keeping most of the new pokemon saved until AFTER you beat the Elite Four – granted, the Johto games also have by far the most extensive post-game of any Pokemon gen ever, so this isn’t quite as egregious as it would be in other gens, but FUCK is it frustrating if you want to assemble a team of just the new mons. In poor Tyranitar’s case, this pseudo legendary can only be accessed after you beat the Elite Four TWICE and unlock the super secret final area, in which you’ll find its pre-evolution, Larvitar – at level 19. When your pokemon are, like, level 70. And it doesn’t evolve into Tyranitar until level 55. And because it’s a pseudo-legendary, its stats are low and it takes way more experience than normal pokemon to level up.
The Johto remakes fixed this by allowing you to catch Larvitar (and a few others we’ll mention in a bit) much earlier than you could originally, which is nice. It allowed me to finally go on a journey with the little guy, and see it blossom into the closest homage to Godzilla Pokemon has ever dared to make for fear of lawsuits, Tyranitar.
And Tyranitar is worth the effort. Psuedo-Legendaries have great stats, first of all, so raising one up, while difficullt, has a great payoff. More importantly, though, Tyranitar is a friggin’ Godzilla! Or, rather, as close to Godzilla as Gamefreak could get without getting sued. It’s got that wonderful Godzilla-build, with the pear-shaped body, tiny arms and head, long powerful tail, and those menacing dorsal spikes. Of course I’m gonna raise a friggin’ Godzilla on my team! I don’t care what hoops your game puts me through, I don’t care how frustrating catching a :arvitar in the Safari Zone is, I’m putting a friggin ‘Godzilla on my team!
Pokemon X & Y would later give Tyranitar a mega-evolution that makes it look a bit like SpaceGodzilla, which is pretty fun. It also makes the sort of false-face on Tyranitar’s chest a bit more obvious, which I like a lot – it’s one of the traits that makes Tyranitar more than just a Godzilla homage (and to be clear, being just a Godzilla homage is not a bad thing in my book, but the fact that Tyranitar also has its own identity outside of the obvious homage is icing on the friggin’ Godzilla cake).
My Hellhound, My Cerberus, My Post-Game Pal: The Houndoom Line
So, Houndour/Houndoom, the awesome dark/fire hellhound line introduced in Gold and Silver? Yeah, can’t be caught until after the Elite Four in the original games. ABSOLUTE HORSESHIT SAYS I! Give me that hound of the Baskerville, you stingy bastards!
At least Houndoom is a complete line in the original Johto games, with a cute tiny hell-puppy form in Houndour that eventually evolves into an even more demonic hell-doberman with decent stats. I’m not the biggest fan of dogs in the world (I don’t like being licked without my consent), but the demon and skeleton monster aesthetic of this line wins me over in this case.
My Fractured Friends, My Missing Pieces, My Frustrated Fellows: The Murkrow and Misdreavus Lines
There were two things I really wanted from Pokemon that the Johto games added in, like, a Monkey’s Paw sort of way: 1. a crow and 2. a ghost pokemon that wasn’t also poison type so it could actually fight a psychic type without being insta-killed. We got ’em, technically – we got an awesome crow pokemon AND a cool banshee themed ghost pokemon that was PURE Ghost type, no poison type saddling it down or nothin’!
But, uh, we only got half of each. We got their first forms, with stats of a first form pokemon that should eventually evolve. But we didn’t get their second forms. We didn’t get the evolutions they needed to be playable.
And, like, on just a monster design level, that doesn’t matter much, but a big part of the fun of pokemon to me is going on a journey with these monster pals I made, and that journey doesn’t feel fun if some of my monster pals can never come out and take part in the adventure because every time they try they’re immediately knocked unconscious. Murkrow and Misdreavus were great designs oozing with personality, but I couldn’t use them in Pokemon Silver because they’d spend all their time oozing blood from the grave head injuries that knocked them unconscious. It sucked!
Luckily, the Gen 4 games would give both of these pokemon their long overdue evolutions – a mobster themed big boss cross for Murkrow, and an even witcher-looking ghost for Misdreavus. Both designs kept most of what I liked about their first stage forms (I kinda miss Murkrow’s lumpy beak, though), and both likewise made these guys finally hold their own! The Johto remakes that came out in Gen 4 even allowed you to get both of these guys before the Elite 4 AND allowed you to get their evolutionary stones once you beat said Elite 4 – which still meant a few more pummelings for these two than I’d have liked, but I finally got to play with my good crow and ghost friends. It was worth it.
My Savior, My Sea Monster, My Legendary: Lugia
So, as you’ve probably gleaned from my grumbling, the original Johto games made it very hard for me to assemble a team capable of surviving what the game threw at it. How did I manage to beat them then?
Well, I did what I’ve never done before or since: I used a Legendary.
In the Kanto games, Legendary Pokemon were kinda hard to find – almost all of them were off the beaten path, with Articuno and Zapdos being easily missed entirely as the areas they resided in were completely optional. The Johto games, however, make meeting at least one legendary a crucial part of the plot – you HAVE to encounter them before you fight the Elite Four. In Silver, the Legendary you were forced to meet was Lugia, a flying sea monster who lives in a sunken cave system beneath four islands that are surrounded by nigh-impassable whirlpools. That’s the kind of thing that earns the title “legendary” – Lugia lives like Charybdis and Scylla.
There’s a delicate balance of familiar and bizarre design elements in Lugia – you might think “dragon” and you might think “bird” when you look at it, but it’s simultaneously both of those things and neither. It’s got a viper-like neck, a lizardy tail, a beaked mouth, and wings – but those wings are shaped like a giant pair of hands, and its feet are more mammalian than anything else, and its got stegosaurus spikes on its back and tail. What is this chimera, and why do all these weird elements blend so well together?
Lugia is an immensely cool design, quite possibly my favorite Legendary even without nostalgia. So, like Heracross, I put it on my team and took it out for a spin without necessarily intending to keep it there – and like Heracross, Lugia proved too excellent an ally to resist. It felt like cheating to bring a Legendary to normal pokemon battles – one of the reasons I haven’t done it since playing Silver as a kid – but if I was going to cheat, I’m glad it was with this sea monster of myth. And honestly, in the original Johto games, cheating really was kind of necessary.
Honorable Johto Mentions:
Dunsparce is a super rare Johto Pokemon based on the Tsuchinoko, a Japanese cryptid that could be summed up as a short and chubby snake with alcoholism. It’s also an utterly adorable pokemon, with its tender smile, sleepy eyes, vestigial wings, and tiny little drill-shaped rattle. Sadly, like Murkrow and Misdreavus, Dunsparce has the appearance and stats of a first-form pokemon, but unlike them, it never received an evolution, so the poor little guy is doomed to get its ass handed to it in pretty much every fight. Maybe someday it’ll get a regional evolution to make up for that – I’d love to have a dunsparce pal in a future pokemon game.
Gligar, an awesome little bat-scorpion hybrid, also had the “first form without an evolution” problem that plagued so many good Johto pokemon, though thankfully it got that evolution it needed in the 4th generation. I didn’t use one on my playthrough of Heart Gold, but I DID use one in my playthrough of Pokemon Black 2, because and Gliscor proved to be an excellent team-mate.
I’ve never used Donphan in a playthrough, but I still think it’s a neat design. It’s an elephant that is also a tire, and that’s just a fun, wacky idea. I’m glad the Pokemon series has continued to do weird shit with elephants since, too. There’s a whole trio of bizarre pokemon elephants as of this writing, and none of them are what people would expect an elephant to be.
Our last Johto pokemon will be darling Togepi, who I feel the creators REALLY wanted to make into a new mascot. Not only did this cute little egg have a starring role in the anime for a good long time, but it’s given to you early in the Johto games in a very special story moment AND used to show off the new evolution mechanic introduced in second Gen, friendship evolution, which is triggered not by reaching a certain level, but by making the pokemon like you a whole bunch (which you do by taking it into battle, keeping it in your party, and not letting it faint – later games would give you more engaging ways to raise friendship than that, but y’know, baby steps).
Sadly, Togepi is very fragile, and its first evolution isn’t particularly stellar stat-wise, so while I felt a story urge to keep the little guy around, it started to feel mean to see the sweet little thing get beat up a bunch, and so eventually Togepi went into the box for safe keeping.
…However, the Gen 4 games, Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum ALSO give you a Togepi early on in a unique story moment, and that gen ALSO introduces a new third form for the little egg, one with much better stats – one that can SURVIVE what the world throws at it. So, in my playthrough of Pokemon Platinum, Togekiss became one of my six party members, an adorable and sweet little tank who may have had trouble aiming, but nonetheless knew how to put up a fight. Which is why this line makes such a perfect bridge to…
The Sinnoh Six, Err, Five
In addition to My Baby Boy, My Sweetheart, My Egg Friend: Togekiss, who I allowed myself to use on the team since its final form technically was a new pokemon originating in Generation 4 (loopholes), I had to pick five other pokemon to fill out my Sinnoh team. This wasn’t quite as hard as making my Johto team, but was still challenging.
Sinnoh has one reptilian starter. Just the one. It’s a real good starter, too – a turtle that evolves into a sort of turtle/ankylosaur hybrid with a whole bonsai garden on its back. Torterra is an excellent pokemon to have on a team, and if I had to replay the Sinnoh games it would be my choice.
I didn’t play Pokemon Platinum when it came out. I played it after I played Pokemon Emerald and Pokemon Black, and in both of those I picked the grass type starters (a gecko and snake, respectively). And I’ve always struggled to use grass type effectively – it’s vulnerable to a lot of types and not particularly strong to enough of the ones I encounter. So the prospect of using a grass type AGAIN after struggling twice just, uh, wasn’t appealing to me. So, bucking my usual trend, I DIDN’T choose the reptile offered to me, for the first and only time in my pokemon training career. Instead, I chose…
My Arsonist, My Martial Artist, My Sun Wukong: The Infernape Line
My Platinum playthrough was weird. I made a lot of choices I normally wouldn’t make in a Pokemon game, and I struggled to beat it more than any other pokemon game I played post-adolescence. There were parts of it that were legitimately frustrating – but it’s also one of the games where I felt the most invested in my team, for exactly those reasons. While I feel choice is an important part of a mons game’s appeal, there’s something to be said about being forced to overcome obstacles with a limited set of options – I imagine that’s one of the appeals of doing a Nuzlocke.
All of this pre-amble is to say that while the Infernape line may not rank high on my ever changing list of favorite pokemon, my playthrough of Platinum nonetheless left me incredibly endeared to the specific Infernape I raised. He was a powerhouse and a friend, and, like, those little ornate armor elements on his final form are pretty damn rad. As far as monkey monsters go, this design does a lot of cool stuff, and while he may not be a lizard, I’m proud to have trained my Infernape. We went through the frost-bitten hellscape that is Platinum’s back to back late-game hail-infested mountains and emerged as champions.
My Rarity, My Royalty, My Dauntless Defender: Vespiquen
I wasn’t sure if I was making a good choice picking Vespiquen. Design wise she’s amazing – a regal wasp woman whose “dress” is actually a beehive filled with minions she can send out into battle and whose horns resemble a crown, utterly bonkers and awesome in a way that only pokemon can be – but would she survive? She’s bug type (which, as mentioned earlier, means she’s got a ridiculous amount of common weaknesses and very few strengths), and worse, she’s also flying type, which isn’t bad on its own but only MAGNIFIES the weaknesses of bug type when they’re combined while adding no great strategic advantage in the process (oh, cool, you’re immune to ground type, shame almost every ground type pokemon also knows a rock type attack that will be 4X as effective because both bug and flying are weak to rock). Stat wise, she’s in that arbok tier of “PVP’s a no-go but you can probably tough it out through the Elite Four.” She has very few good offensive moves, oh, and hey, catching one’s a pain in the ass because only female combees can evolve into Vespiquens, and the species is predominately male! And you can’t just wander in the grass looking for them – you have to put honey on a tree and wait a while for one to maybe show up!
It’s like they don’t WANT me to use this pokemon!
But I did, and, against the odds, my Vespiquen survived. I worked my butt off for her, and she worked just as hard to make that effort pay off. The amount of shit Platinum threw at my team cannot be overstated – it was one challenging fight after another, but through them all Vespiquen stood firm. She may have had the body of a weak and fragile bug type, but she had the heart of a Legendary.
In the final battle against the Pokemon League Champion, Cynthia, my team was ragged. I had only three party members still standing – my Infernape and Garchomp, both of whom were down quite a bit of HP, and my up to then un-used Vespiquen. Cynthia was down to her Roserade – a grass/poison type, which meant that while Vespiquen had a super-effective attack to use, so did Roserade. It was a tense fight – after the first round, both pokemon took heavy hits. Roserade had less HP left, but it was faster and hit hard – I didn’t know if Vespiquen would make it. Roserade let loose its attack, and I watched Vespiquen’s HP dwindle down… to 1.
She got in the final attack of the fight. Roserade went down, and Vespiquen, on the very precipice of fainting, stood the victor.
That moment is what took Vespiquen from a really good wasp monster design to one of my all time favorite pokemon. That moment is when she made the top ten. That moment is the second most emotionally intense time I’ve ever had in a Pokemon game.
Sometimes being forced to make a choice you wouldn’t normally make pays off BIG TIME.
(Also it’s a weird coincidence that my top two favorite monsters of the pokemon presented here are both the ones whose names were too long to be correctly spelled under the character limitations of their games. Someday, Feraligatr and Vespiquen, we shall find your missing vowels.)
My Rockstar, My Thunder, My Sweet Kitty Cat: The Luxray Line
I like cats. I’ve had pet cats since I was born, and while I’m not as obsessed with them as I am with, say, reptiles and spiders and corvids and sharks, I’m still pretty damn fond of cats. So while I passed up on a bunch of cat monsters in previous generations (because I was offered a lot of lizards at the same time), I always kinda felt bad about it. That made choosing Luxray in my Platinum run kind of a given – finally, I could use a cat (because there weren’t any lizards to distract me this time).
And Luxray’s a wonderful pokemon, with the build of a housecat but the mane and tail of a fantastical lion, all with a cool black and blue color scheme that sports some tasteful yellow trimmings. It’s the kind of cat that reminds me of 80’s rock and roll for some reason (I named all my Platinum team members after musicians – Luxray was “Jett,” as in Joan Jett).
My Landshark, My Murder Machine, My Chompy Buddy: Garchomp
Before I focus on the final stage, can we take a moment to appreicate how cute and ridiculous Gibble is? It’s just a ball of teeth with stubby limbs and a bigass headfin. I love it.
Garchomp is one of those pokemon who’s so goddamn cool and so goddamn useful stat-wise that it’s gained a sizable anti-following for being “overused.” While it’s incredibly popular in the PVP scene because it’s a versatile powerhouse, my reasons for picking it were much more superficial: it’s a big lizard that is also a shark, and I wanted it. Of course, being a powerhouse was also beneficial, and my Garchomp had the best battle track record of any of my Platinum team members – this fucker never lost a fight. With a rad as hell design to match its supreme strength, Garchomp was vital to my team both for keeping it alive AND for keeping it feeling like a group that still personally appealed to me – there may have been less lizards here than I would have liked, but the lizard I had made her efforts known.
My Yeti, My Latecomer, My Fifth One: Abomasnow
I was actually pretty excited to get Abomasnow – there’s a category of pokemon in my brain that can be summarized as “Ultraman-style monsters I’d love to use if but probably won’t when I have other options” – your Golems, your Loudreds, etc. Well, I had no other options this time, so it felt overdue the same way having a cat on the team felt overdue. Abomasnow would shine where others were boxed.
Except, well… you can’t get one until pretty late in Platinum, and the one I got… well, Ice/Grass type has some significant weaknesses, and my poor Abomasnow just never seemed to overcome them. Despite a good offensive moveset and decent HP, the big lug got his butt kicked so often that I probably should have named him “Worf.” I still love him as a monster design – he’s got a marvelous bugbear sort of look about him, the kind of big furry monster that a four year old would come up with, and I mean that in the best way – and I was as endeared to him as I was to the rest of my long-suffering Platinum team, but it was sad that, unlike the others, he never quite managed to find his time to shine.
Honorable Sinnoh Mentions:
Sinnoh’s fossil pokemon were the first fossil pokemon to be based on dinosaurs rather than other extinct fauna, which was pretty exciting, and of the two I really loved the design of Rampardos, the pachycephalosaurus pokemon. …sadly, the only way to GET Rampardos involved an online feature that was no longer usable by the time I played Platinum, because by that point no one else was using it. So this wonderful thunder lizard never graced my team – if it had, it would have easily been one of my favorites.
Likewise, Spiritomb, an awesome ghost pokemon made of “108 evil spirits” and sporting a rad Jack-o-lantern smile, was unavailable because I was literally late to the game. This was incredibly frustrating, but it did make me choose Vespiquen, so, y’know, in the longrun it all worked out.
I can’t actually remember why I didn’t choose Drapion in my Platinum playthrough – maybe I thought it was a Gen 3 pokemon and thus off limits, I’ve made that mistake before – but it’s a rad looking scorpion-snake monster with some really bonkers anatomy. Look at those accordion arms! It’s an excellent pokemon.
Case in point, I also thought Carnivine was a Gen 3 pokemon, but nope, it’s Gen 4 apparently. It took us this long to get a venus flytrap pokemon? Goddamn. At least it’s an excellent one, with a lovable grin and a distinctly unique body – no shameless Audrey II ripoffs here!
Finally, Gen 4 gave us an evolution of Magenton that’s also a flying saucer, which is a kickass idea. While Magnezone never made one of my team lineups, it will always have my respect, and I imagine it’s a pretty solid choice given its stats and typing.
One Gen to go! Let’s travel to sunny Fantasy Hawaii, shalll we?
The Alolan Six
My Little Lad, My Marshmallow, My Robin Hood: The Rowlett Line
I could summarize my problem with Gen 2 as “there’s a lot of good first form pokemon here who were screwed over by not having evolutions.” I could similarly summarize Gen 7 as “there’s a lot of good pokemon here whose final form evolutions lost a significant part of their appeal to me, though they’re still very good.” And that’s the case with our starter here – Rowlett is such an adorable little barn owl, with his cute bowtie and fresh “first day at school” face. This little buddy’s ready for picture day!
Decidueye dumps pretty much all of that personality in favor of a sort of medieval archer/D&D thief look, and has a more traditional owl face in place of the barn owl look. It’s not bad! I love this design on its own, and if its previous forms had a similar vibe I’d have no problems with it as all. A badass archer owl is an awesome monster design – but I miss my fresh faced little friend, my sweet dweeby little barn owl buddy. I love Decidueye, but unlike a lot of other pokemon, I feel a disconnect between it and its starting stage – less and evolution and more a switch to something very different. Charizard and Feraligatr feel like what Charmander and Totodile grow up into – Deciduey feels like Rowlett’s fifth cousin who’s super into renaissance fairs and doesn’t understand the mathematical theorems Rowlett chirps about at family reunions. It’s not bad, but it’s bittersweet.
My Werewolf, My Streetpunk, My Water in the Desert: Lycanroc Midnight Form
Remember how earlier I said I’m not a big fan of dogs? Ok, so, I couldn’t really be made to give a shit about rockruff on its own – it’s one of the many, many, MANY dog pokemon we can choose from, and doesn’t have an obvious gimmick like Houndoom did to make me take notice. Great for the vast majority of the population that loves dogs more than anything, but ho-hum for me. Rockruff’s evolution, though…
Lycanroc has two forms: the “day” form, which is a sort of wolfy dog (I’d say wolf flat out but it’s a bit slim for that – given how many weird dogs there are in Pokemon, you’d think a wolf would be given the bulk its real life counterparts have in comparison to their canine counterparts to help them stand out), and its midnight form, which is a FUCKING PUNK ROCK WEREWOLF! I mean, it’s right in the name – lycanroc, lycanthropy, werewolf! This same Gen would give us a Frankenstein monster as well, meaning we just need a proper Dracula to finish the holy trinity of classic monsters!
As far as I’m concerned, every other dog pokemon is just a rough draft that led us to this point. This is the APEX of dog pokemon, the Omega Dog. The Goodest of Boys.
Lycanroc was doubly special to me because its arrival on my team (as a rockruff) meant I was finally done with the extremely tedious tutorial portion of Pokemon Moon. If you haven’t played the games, know that most Pokemon games have, oh, maybe ten to thirty minutes of handholding where you don’t have a lot of pokemon to catch and the plot struggles to begin. Sun and Moon, by contrast, have what feels like seven years of hand holding – it’s more like three or four hours, but that’s still ungodly long. It fucking draaaaaaaaaags, and you feel like you’re stuck in an area with nothing but pidgeys and rattatas and the regional equivalents of those for entire geologic eras – the dinosaurs evolved and died out before you escape the tutorial segment of the game.
But finally, when it’s all done, when you’re allowed to actually begin the fucking story, rockruff is made available. There’s a werewolf at the end of the tunnel, waiting to take you to the promised land.
My Snappy Pal, My Firestarter, My Figurative Teenage Daughter: The Salandit Line
When I heard the 7th generation Pokemon region was going to be based on Hawaii, I was nervous. Hawaii is famous for a lot of things, and one of those things is having very few reptiles. No snakes, no crocodiles – paradise for the reptile-phobic, I suppose, but not good news for me. It does have a lot of geckos, though, and it’s not like other Pokemon regions have been beholden to their real life inspiration’s wildlife (The United States is not famous for its population of free-roaming mummies), so, y’know, there was chance I might get some good lizardy fellows.
When Salandit was revealed, with its slinky lizard body and cute baby crocodile-head, I was ecstatic. We were getting at least one rad reptile in the generation! I could survive with that! And god, what an awesome personality Salandit has, with its frills that make it look like it’s wearing a thief’s mask as the markings on its back that make it look like it was caught red-handed – there’s a lovable rascal if I ever saw one, a cheeky little thief ready to pull some amazing pranks!
And then Salandit evolves into… a lizard with womanly hips and belly markings that look like lingerie. Ah… hmm.
Salazzle, like Decidueye, is not a bad design, but it is a design that feels somewhat unconnected to where its first form was going. I didn’t get “sexy lizard lady” from Salandit. And the explicit sexuality of Salazzle – only females can evolve into it, its pokedex entries mention it using pheromones to attract other pokemon AND humans, it’s belly makes it look like it’s wearing sexy lingerie – is, uh…
Well, it makes me feel like an overprotective dad on a formulaic sitcom. My salandit was a sweet kid, but she’s grown into a young woman now, and she’s got a right to go on dates and wear revealing clothing, but it’s weird because when I look at her I see that cute baby lizard I raised, and I don’t know how to process this.
So uh… Salazzle’s not a bad design. It’s a really cool lizard monster on its own, and it’s one of the very few we got in Gen 7, so I appreciate her presence by default. But if I had designed her, I probably would have gone with more of a thief theme than a, uh, mind controlling lizard fetish queen.
My Lovable Coward, My Sweet Child, My Boisterous Bruiser: The Wimpod Line
When Wimpod was revealed, I knew I had to raise it. The comically exaggerated fearful expression on its face, and the knowledge that it gets to evolve, made me excited to see it on my team – this was pokemon with an inbuilt character arc! And while Golisopod, like Salazzle and Decidueye, jettisons many of the personality elements that made its first form win me over in the first place, in this particular case it feels like that’s done for a point. Wimpod was a nervous wreck, but now he’s faced his fears and is ready to beat them into submission! Heck yeah, Wimpod, reclaim your life!
My Cosplayer, My Boogeyman, My Only Good Pikaclone: Mimikyu
Every Pokemon generation has a “pikaclone” – an electric type pokemon that looks super similar to Pikachu, the series mascot, and is meant to sell a bunch of plush toys. Pikaclones have stats on par with a Pikachu, which is to say “first form pokemon stats,” which is to say, bad stats. They also tend to be kind of forgettable because they don’t really have identities of their own – they’re knockoffs of the mascot of the franchise, a trick to make you buy more pikachu plushes except this one has a different tail or different ears or a different color scheme.
Gen 7, however, shook things up. It has one normal Pikaclone, and then it has Mimikyu.
Mimikyu is a creepy little monster, said to be unspeakably horrifying in appearance, that has made a crude disguise to hide its real form: a pikachu disguise. It wants to be loved, you see, so it imitates the form of the most beloved and popular pokemon of all time. And, sadly, it doesn’t imitate it well – no one is fool by that horrifying pikachu sheet ghost costume it made. That’s so sad and sweet – I feel obligated to love it just for the sheer effort. You don’t need to be Pikachu, Mimikyu – you’re lovable for being you.
Mimikyu also has decent stats, unlike the other pikaclones, which makes using it on your team a pretty viable option. I was surprised to learn that, and it’s lucky I kept one on my team while waiting for the other pokemon I had planned to add to it – Mimikyu would have been boxed before I could learn its power otherwise.
My Samurai, My Dragon, My Final Team Member: The Komo-O Line
Gen 7’s pseudo-legendary, you can’t find members of the Jangmo-O until very late in the game, though thankfully it’s fairly high level when you do – and there’s a rare chance you can find its final form, Komo-O, in the wild, so you don’t even necessarily have to spend time with it in its weaker earlier forms! The first form in this line has a wonderful agamid lizard vibe to it, while the second and final forms answer the question of what a dragon would look like if it was also a samurai. All in all, a fairly awesome dragon pokemon, and a good member to roundout my Alolan Team!
Honorable Alolan Mentions:
The story of Pokemon Sun/Moon takes 4.3 billion years to start, approximately, but once it starts, it is easily the second best story of any pokemon game ever made. The only one that might beat it is Pokemon Black and White, and to be honest I’m not sure who I’d call the winner of that bout. They’re both on an entirely different level than any of the other Pokemon games.
In Sun/Moon‘s case, everything hinges on an NPC you meet after the Hundred-Year-Tutorial, a young girl named Lily. Unlike the other plucky pre-teens you meet in these games, Lily isn’t having a fun globe-trotting adventure – she is on the run from her abusive mother. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also hiding an extremely rare and vulnerable young pokemon with her – its species name is Cosmog, but she calls it Nebby.
Like Lily, Nebby begins as a fragile, timid little thing that you can’t help but want to protect – a nebulous little cloud of smoke with a sweet face and a big heart. Also like Lily, Cosmog hides a secret but VAST strength. As you go through your adventure, Lily is inspired by your example to become braver, to rely on her own strength, to take charge of her life – and as she does this, Cosmog is inspired to grow strong too, until it evolves into its final form: A LEGENDARY POKEMON! This was a first for this franchise – up until now, Legendary pokemon were all single form creatures – no evolutions. The twist that sweet little Cosmog would BECOME the mascot legendaries of this generation was a pretty huge one, and an intensely meaningful one in respect to Lily’s character arc.
Cosmog has two final forms, and which one you get depends on which version of the game you’re playing: Sun gets the day-themed lion pokemon Solgaleo, while Moon gets the night-themed bat Lunala. Since Lunala was the more goth-y option, I chose Moon (which also meant I got the werewolf version of Lycanroc – worth it!), and Lunala is so rad – with its skeletal body and pendulum-blade wing claws – that I considered putting it on my team. The game even gives you a Lunala – no catching required – before the Elite Four. Kinda hard to resist, right?
Except… it gives you Nebby. It gives you Lily’s Lunala. See, when confronting her mother for the final time, you helped Lunala fight the madwoman off, as Lily doesn’t have experience in Pokemon battling yet. So Lily decides to let you, the experienced trainer, take care of her Legendary Pokemon friend, while she goes off to begin her own career as a trainer.
And it just doesn’t feel right, y’know? Nebby is Lily‘s partner. Nebby belongs with her. The game doesn’t give you an option to refuse, but if I did I absolutely would choose it. Lily and Nebby belong together, as much as I belong with my pokemon. Had I come by Lunala any other way, I would have made it part of my core six like Lugia before it. But Nebby belongs to Lily, now and always.
Remember how I said this generation had the Pokemon equivalent of the Frankenstein monster? Yeah, this is that: Type Null and Silvally, a hodgepodge of different pokemon species made in mimicry of Arceus, the Pokemon world’s creator god, and designed to imitate said god pokemon’s ability to change to any and EVERY one of the the elemental types in the game – water, fire, flying, bug, dragon, you name it. Type Null wears a helmet that both keeps its awesome power in check AND mimics the weird armor pieces on Arceus, while Silvally sheds the armor to reveal its full strength when you raise its friendship high enough. Like Froderick Fronkenstein, you too can succeed at playing God so long as you love your patchwork abomination enough!
This guy absolutely would have made my team if you were able to get it before the post game. Alas, sadly you could not.
Seventh Gen has two more non-Legendary dragons in it – the Moon exclusive old-man dragon Drampa, and the Sun exclusive matamata turtle dragon Turtonator. Both are excellent designs – you can tell at a glance that Drampa’s got some wicked good Grampa candy cluched in those furry mits of his, while Turtonator takes one of the weirdest turtles in the world into an even weirder fantasy monster with a volcano/landmine motif. I might have chosen Turtonator if I played Sun, but alas, I chose Moon, and while Drampa has an excellent design, its Dragon/Normal typing just wasn’t as much of a lure as the equally cool looking but more useful Komo-O. Still, both are excellent additions to Pokemon’s roster, and in Drampa’s case it’s great to finally have a dragon pokemon that is explicitly a lung/ryu, rather than a Western dragon with some Lung/Ryu traits thrown on.
Sun and Moon also introduced some really marvelous bug-type pokemon, both of which I was tempted to use. The Vikavolt line goes from two adorable grubs to a rad hercules beetle that’s also maybe a railgun?, while the too-adorable-for-words Cutiefly evoles into the impossibly-just-as-cute Ribombee. In the former’s case, I didn’t use Vikavolt because it can only evolve in one specific location, and finding it was kind of a pain in the ass so I didn’t bother. In Ribombee’s case, well… I was worried it might not survive. Perhaps I should have learned from Vespiquen, but then again, there were just enough lizards this time for me not to have to take the risk.
Still, look at that little scarf. Isn’t it just precious?
Lurantis is another pokemon I considered using – I love mantises, and this is a pastel pink orchid mantis wearing a zoot suit. That’s rad as hell! However, Lurantis is also pure grass type – which is really cool since it implies this is an orchid imitating a mantis, rather than a mantis imitating an orchid, but also really bad because, as I said before, I’ve struggled to make effective use of grass types in the past. Plus I already had one wiht Decidueye, so, y’know, redundancies and all that.
A lot of people were pissed when Oranguru was revealed, because they felt Pokemon has more than enough monkeys/apes. Personally, as a fan of orangutans in particular, I was pretty happy to see it – it keeps all the traits that make Orangutans especially strange and uncanny apes while adding some nice pokemon flair to it. I originally planned to use one on my team, but Mimikyu took its spot in the end.
The pre-release for Gen 7 really hyped up the Ultra Beasts, a special kind of Legendary Pokemon who come from ANOTHER UNIVERSE and are meant to be weird even by Pokemon standards. Sadly, while the portals to their world play a big role in the game’s narrative, the Ultra Beasts themselves don’t encounter the player until the post-game, which is a bit of a let-down – it would have made the “catch all these new legendaries!” trope feel fresh if I had to do it not as a point of pride, but to, like, save the world from them or something.
Still, the beasts themselves live up to their concepts – they look like what pokemon would be in a world that’s more alien than the one the games are already set in, each in their own unique. My favortie of the lot is Guzzlord up there, with his two heads and giant cave mouth. In the anime he screams to rival Tom from Tom and Jerry – seriously, look up “Guzzlord anime sounds” and treat yourself to a truly bizarre but hilarious sound design choice.
Of the original set of Ultra Beasts, I also have a soft spot for Pherosma, a pokemon who answers the question of “What if a roach was also a fashion model?” Now I know what you’re thinking – “Wait a minute, isn’t that a monster that’s a sexy lady? Isn’t this the same thing as Salazzle? Why doesn’t this weird you out like Salazzle?”
To which I’d blurt out, “It’s not weird when they have a mostly human head!” only to realize I may have implicitly revealed more about myself than I should have, and then I’d hastily move onto the next monster on our list.
Sun and Moon was followed by Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, which were halfway between an expanded version of the original game ala Pokemon Emerald/Pokemon Platinum and a straight up remake ala Fire Red/Leaf Green/Heart Gold/Soul Silver/Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. It sounded like they changed some critical aspects of the game’s plot (Lily’s mom isn’t the bad guy anymore apparently?) in ways I don’t think I’d approve of, and the prospect of sitting through another ten lifetimes worth of tutorials before getting to the story was not one I savored, so I haven’t played US/UM yet.
But it did add a few new Ultra Beasts, including Poiple and Naganadel, who follow in Cosmog’s footsteps by being a Legendary pokemon that evolves! Poiple is a cute little lizard baby with a needle for a head, while Naganadel is a dragon with a needle for an ass. Both are marvelous – Naganadel is one of my favorite dragon-legendary designs, and Poiple is just adorable.
Another US/UM Ultra Beast is the clown monster Blacephalon, which is far cuter than previous clown pokemon AND proves my rule of clown design: the less human a clown is, the less terrifying it is.
The big Legendary of US/UM is Necrozma, who’s not technically an Ultra Beast but somehow vaguely associated with them anyway. Necrozma appears in the normal versions of Sun and Moon too, but as one of those “bragging points” Legendaries, whereas in US/UM it actually has stuff to do. It even gets spiffy form changes: normal Necrozma basically looks like a vaguely humanoid figure made out of the chopped up pieces of a black dragon, but in US/UM it can transform by fusing with either Solgaleo or Lunala, as well as having an ultimate transformation into a four-winged dragon of light. You know my tastes, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I like the dragon form best, though the “man cobbled out of dragon parts” form is also really rad.
Our final pokemon for this batch doesn’t quite belong to either Gen 7 or Gen 8, having debuted in the Pokemon Go app of all things. Meltan is another Legendary capable of evolving, beginning as an adorable glop of grey goo with a lugnut for a face. If you collect a bunch of them and trade them into Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu, you can evolve them into a big hulking humanoid of grey goo with a lugnut for a face. The strange nature of its debut means this guy will probably fall into obscurity, but I love the adorable little scamp.