I’m overdue for weighing in my thoughts on the designs of the many new Pokemon announced for X and Y, and I figured I’d start with the ones that are known to evolve or be pre-evolved forms. I wrote a while back that I couldn’t necessarily say for absolute certain if the Gen VI starter Pokemon had good designs or not until I’d seen what they evolve into. After all, many Pokemon designs make more sense in the context of their before and after; while non-evolving Pokemon typically have very complete designs, often ones that evolve are much simpler and will evolve into more complex, interesting, and often fierce-looking creatures, so it’s difficult to judge a design all on its own when it’s meant to be complemented by other, related designs.
I’ll review the Gen VI Pokemon that lack confirmed evolutions next week — and that will be a lot more awkward and filled with more complaints, so brace yourself! — but for now I’m going to focus on the ones for which we’ve been given that all-important context!
Pancham & Pangoro
Pancham is a really good example of a Pokemon that needs context, because when I saw this design long before they announced Pangoro, I really didn’t like it. I’ll probably get into this in a Pokemon Designs dedicated to the subject someday, but there are a lot of Pokemon who are very unoriginal, and not because they mimic real-world anatomy exactly (like I’ve discussed before), but because they are based on other stereotypes. The only original touch in Pancham’s design on its own is the attitude and the corresponding cool-grass-in-the-mouth gag. And maybe that’s alright. He can probably get more girls if he’s cute and has a cool-guy attitude, and really, a lot of the more memorable designs from older generations are very simple ones that are carried by fun personalities put on top of them. Geodude’s memorable for being a grumpy rock, while Slowpoke is memorable for being braindead. Maybe Pancham doesn’t differ that much, but I’ve still seen enough funny little round guys inside and outside of Pokemon that it doesn’t stand out to me in any way, and it’s simply not a creative design.
But Pangoro lends some much-needed context, and with this evolution in mind it becomes clear that Pancham isn’t just supposed to be a funny little guy with attitude, but the first step in an entire theme. It wasn’t until I examined Pangoro closely that I really understood the theme; at first I thought his design was just alright, and I hated the weird ruff of fur on his back. But now I realize that ruff of fur is supposed to resemble a coat. This Fighting/Dark Pokemon is supposed to look like a criminal delinquent, very much in the style of the Japanese bancho (even the spelling of its name brings this term to mind). This mob-like look makes this is a really interesting design.
The panda element is almost irrelevant except perhaps the color scheme — although it is nice to see pandas represented as brutal and not cute like they always seem to be in fiction — and instead this is basically a gangster bear Pokemon, with a dual typing to match; its Fighting type goes along with its status as a dangerous fighter while its Dark type fits the criminal aspect. Pangoro comes off as the seasoned and deadly criminal, while Pancham is like the little delinquent kid who will eventually become a mobster.
It’s a really excellently executed theme and as a result, a really awesome design. This is one of the most interesting Pokemon of Gen VI in my eyes.
Fletchling & Talonflame
It’s Pokemon tradition! You gotta have a completely uninspired regular real-world bird as a “Pokemon”! That tradition isn’t being broken here, but it at least looks like they’re starting to break it. Fletchling is totally unremarkable and is exactly what I mean when I refer to designs that are just real-world animals with a little stylization and little to nothing unique about them. It’s not a good design (even in-context) but perhaps excusable if it evolves into a more interesting bird (which it does). It does manage to be cute at least, and that’s probably going to be enough for some people, original or not!
Last Generation’s generic bird Pokemon, Pidove, did seem to eventually evolve into something interesting when it finally became Unfezant, and that seems like it might be continuing here. Fletchling sucks, but it does evolve into the mildly interesting Talonflame. Don’t get me wrong, Talonflame is pretty close to real-world too — it looks just like a falcon — but it has some nice additions. The coloring is awesome and quite striking, the markings and color patterns look really cool, and the typing is interesting. Giving the obligatory generic bird a flashy elemental typing might be the right call here.
What I’m hoping is that Talonflame isn’t the third evolution. It’s possible they’ve announced the first and third forms but not the second, but I doubt that and I hope that’s not the case. Fletchling manages to match Talonflame through the orange coloring, but Talonflame makes a really big leap from its previous form and is a much better design. I home the same goes for Talonflame’s next form. If that’s the case, then this Generation is looking like it might break right out of the bird Pokemon trap.
Skiddo & Gogoat
Bleh. These ones I’m not fond of. I’ll be fair, though: Gogoat has a decent design. A lot like Talonflame, it’s really freaking close to a certain real-world animal (a goat, if you hadn’t guessed) but has enough touches to make it feel at least like they tried. The colors look good, the grass formation is well put-together, the horns look cool, and the patterns on the body look pretty neat. It’s not creative but it’s an effective design. Probably that’s for the best since this Pokemon is the mascot of X and Y’s new Pokemon-riding feature (at least during these promotions) and it should therefore have somewhat of a wide appeal. And certainly Gogoat does. It just doesn’t wow me or intrigue me. Let’s call it a “safe” design.
Skiddo is less interesting though. I hate to say that because by now it probably looks like I’m hating on all of the cute Pokemon, but that’s not quite it. Perhaps it’s part of the difficulty though. Effectively making something cute means to make it round and simply-shaped, and in doing so you’re automatically setting yourself up for a potentially uninspired design. Oh it will succeed at being cute, but all that means is it accomplished an intended aspect of a design, not that the design as a whole is well-made. Skiddo contains most of the features that Gogoat has, but dumbed down and rounded out. Maybe it deserves points for looking much less like a goat, but even if that’s the case, it goes too far in the opposite direction and attains the generic round cute character status that Pancham almost fell into. Next to Gogoat it just seems like a gimped design, and in my opinion it’s actually far less cute than it might have looked if it looked closer to a real baby goat anyway. Baby goats are PRECIOUS.
Whether Skiddo is watered-down or not, though, these two Pokemon clearly do have enough elements in common that they go good together and the evolutionary connection is nice. And neither are terrible designs at all. I just think they could have been a lot more. I’m aware there’s actually a bicycle/motorcycle theme going on with these two with their horn shapes and the mount function, but I guess I just don’t see it as impacting their design much. They have neat-looking horns, but that’s about it. Perhaps after seeing more of them, and seeing them in action, I’ll develop more of an opinion on that.
Scatterbug, Spewpa, and Vivillion
Here’s where I save face, people: I said I wasn’t hating on the cute Pokemon just because they were cute, and this is where I prove it. Of this trio of forms, the first, Scatterbug, is in my opinion the best, and it’s adorable!
Like with Gen V it seems like this time around we’re going to get a number of Pokemon that repeat concepts from previous Generations, but with new designs. For example, as awesome and creative as they are, Pancham and Pangoro essentially continue the basic idea behind Teddiursa and Ursaring. Similarly, these three Pokemon do the same thing with Caterpie, Metapod and Butterfree from way back in Gen I. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, as long as the new designs are good. Thankfully, they are!
These bugs seem to have a pixel theme going on for them visually. It’s most obvious with Vivillion thanks to the square spots in its eyes and wings, and the blocky parts at the tops of its wings, but you can see similar elements on both Scatterbug and Spewpa. It’s a really interesting concept, and just a little mysterious as far as design choices go, since so far this theme isn’t acknowledged in any way. It’s not due to some interesting typing — they’re all Bug-type until Vavillion, which is Bug/Flying — nor is it acknowledged anywhere in the names of any of the three. It’s a curious choice, but it’s really effective on these guys; an awesome touch that gives them all a really distinct flavor on top of their bug designs.
I believe Scatterbug is the best design for a few reasons. First off I don’t think Spewpa’s design is particularly good. It’s got Scatterbug’s head and it’s starting to have the bright colors of Vivillion, but it doesn’t feel different enough from Scatterbug and to me just looks kind of like a white and brown… lump. It’s not too offensive though. Vivillion has an awesome design, but I think it’s just a little busy. If they dialed back some of the pattern and color shifting in its wings and body I wouldn’t have this reservation about its design. It’s still an awesome design, but it loses a few points for that. Whereas Scatterbug, in my opinion, is a flawless meshing of the straight-up and identifiable caterpillar look, the pixel visual theme, and a couple of other unique design choices. It looks cute as hell with its little buck tooth, frowny face, odd eyes, stubby worm body and little white collar, and it’s the cleanest and most well-executed design of the three. I love this little guy!
Inkay & Malamar
Last but not least, we have Inkay and Malamar. I love Malamar and I will get to that momentarily, but I think Inkay has some issues. On its own Inkay is definitely passable. It’s a simple little squid, but the design is warped and stylized enough that it feels like its own creature. It does definitely fall into the trap of “generic adorable round thing”, but not as far as some other designs in my view, although perhaps I’m making a completely arbitrary distinction. I think what prevents it from going too far in either direction is that it’s going in both directions. It’s a squid and very identifiable as that, but it’s warped into something round and cute too, so it’s from both worlds. It’s nothing remarkable and I’m not that fond of it, but it’s not a completely awful design either. Where its real problem lies is the fact that it evolves into Malamar, and that’s a problem that Malamar is equally the cause of.
Inkay looks adorable, happy, innocent, and loving life. Malamar looks completely malicious, sadistic, and ready to hurt someone. Where exactly is the transition here?
The squid connection between these guys is fine. In fact that’s probably another aspect that saves Inkay’s design: The transition from round ball of adorable squid to adult stretched out awesome squid. But it doesn’t make sense that its personality makes such a 180. Pancham had a visibly bad attitude before it became a mafia hitman, but these two are complete opposites. Giving the Pokemon personalities and attitudes can save designs, but in this case it’s a detriment. Unless Malamar is the third form and there’s an intermediary form that is between these two — perhaps a disillusioned but still wryly smiling squid; an idea I find hilarious — then they are bad designs in relation to one another.
Now regarding Malamar on his own… He’s awesome.
A large part of that is because of my own personal tastes. I love deep-sea creatures, and I love creepy things, so a mean-looking Dark/Psychic squid is one of my favorite premises for a Pokemon right off the bat. Malamar’s design beyond that isn’t actually that stupendous, and there almost seems to be a disconnect between his mean and vicious appearance and his wiggly wobbly body and little flipper feet (although perhaps that’s the intended link to Inkay?), but there’s enough succeeding with its design that those things can be overlooked. The squid and deep-sea inspiration is definitely there — I especially love the bio-luminescent torso — but the design isn’t tied down to look exactly like a real animal and has some nice original touches. I especially love the possibly unintentional effect of it looking like an owl. Squids have beaks too so it probably is completely unintentional, but the body proportions, the shape and design of its head (especially its beak) bring to mind an owl to me, so it has an awesome double-resemblance that makes it feel really cool.
Not a masterful design but a great concept and it’s pretty well-executed effect nonetheless. If only Inkay and Malamar connected better.
So how is this Generation looking so far? Well, from what I’ve noticed out of the designs we’ve seen, I’d say it looks like the majority of the pre-evolved Pokemon are a little underwhelming. They’ve fallen back a bit to simply having adorable, roundish, watered-down versions of the eventual core design and concept of the evolution tree. I wish there was some more variance there, and that the ones that are like that were a bit less generic, but since most of them evolve in good ways and the themes are generally present across all their forms, it’s still passable; the context saves the designs. All in all it seems that it’s the Pokemon who evolve that give me hope for the quality of this Generation’s Pokemon designs, though as I will get into next week, some of the solo Pokemon are neat as well. But you’ll have to wait until then to hear about that.
For now, tell me what you think about all of these Pokemon! Do you like the bancho/mob theme going on with Pangoro? Do you think Talonflame looks to be making a good change to the boring bird tradition? Do you think Skiddo is lame? Is Scatterbug totally awesome? And does Inkay/Malamar suffer from multiple personality disorder? Or do you completely disagree with my assessments? Tell me in the comments!