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Hey Pokémon Fans, It's Time to End Our Obsession with the Gen One PokéDex

Are you aghast at modern Pokémon made out of trash bags, ice cream, and keychains? Don't be. Game Freak knows what it's doing.

Op-ed by Nadia Oxford, .

Last week while browsing a game store, I overheard two gentlemen talk about Pokémon Sun and Moon. They both seemed dismayed at the "lame" direction Pokémon designs had taken in recent generations.

"Pokémon used to be cool," one lamented, "but now it's – well, there's a sandcastle! Like, what the hell?" His companion agreed.

I just managed to stop myself from marching over to the detractor and tapping him on the shoulder like some evangelist who'd heard a sinner curse God's name. Yeah, sure, taken at face value, Sandygast and its evolution, Palossand, are weird Pokémon. But consider the lore for Sandygast:

"If you heedlessly grab a Sandygast’s shovel, you’ll fall under the Pokémon’s control. A Sandygast uses its power to manipulate children into gathering sand to increase the size of its body (…) The tunnel-like mouth of a Sandygast can suck the vitality from people and Pokémon."

That's metal. Someone at Game Freak sat down and said to themselves, "How can we turn something as common and innocent as a sand castle into a Pokémon that eats souls?" Think about that. Imagine living in Alola, a region that's surrounded by beaches. Sand castles and lost toys are part and parcel of every beach; here in the real world, we don't give them much thought. Alolans aren't allowed that luxury. They can't simply retrieve an abandoned toy shovel without hesitation because if they do, there's a chance that their soul will be sucked away by a sandcastle from hell.

This is the kind of world-building that's long kept me engaged with Pokémon and its lore. This series, beloved by children and adults alike, strikes a perfect balance between clean sunlit fun and crawling Lovecraftian horror. And in my opinion, Pokémon designs are every bit as engaging and imaginative in Generation Seven as they were in Generation One.

Putting aside the fact the original Kalos PokéDex has its own yawners (including rats, pigeons, caterpillars, and other wildlife any city-dweller can spot while walking through an alley), it takes a certain amount of guts for a character designer to say "Screw you, I'm making a Pokémon that's an ice cream cone." Vanilluxe, Trubbish, Sandygast, Kelfki, et al weren't born because Game Freak is "running out of ideas." These weird and wild designs exist with a clear purpose: To make you double-take.

If every Pokemon was Arcanine, Arcanine would cease to be special.

It's not difficult to smush two or three cool animals together to make an even cooler animal. I'll be the first to admit Arcanine is my favorite Pokémon because it combines the most striking features of a tiger, a lion, and a Tibetan mastiff. It's visually perfect in every way. But you can't populate an entire PokéDex with these kinds of striking chimeras, because the impact lessens very quickly.

I've played innumerable Pokémon imitators on mobile, and few of them take design risks like possessed sandcastles and sentient ice cream cones. Instead, nearly every monster is a take on a dragon, a wolf, a big cat, or something else that's cool on a safe level. That's fine, but when everyone is offering dragon-wolves, there may as well be nobody offering dragon-wolves. I can't remember the name of a single monster from any of the Pokémon imitators I played, but I sure won't ever forget Garbodor.

Game Freak's weirdo Pokémon keep the competitive scene interesting, too. Oftentimes, the simplest-looking and / or stupidest-looking Pokémon boast a hidden power that makes it useful on the battlefield. Simply building a team out of the coolest Pokémon isn't an option because a with the correct strategy, a boring Pachirisu holding a Sitrus berry can fell a mighty Salamance wielding Draco Meteor.

You don't have to like trash bag Pokémon. You don't have fawn over Pokémon made from ice cream or cotton candy. But you owe Game Freak some credit. It has a plan for every ugly, unappealing, and seemingly misbegotten Pokémon it makes.

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #1 Jonnyboy407 A year ago
    Hear hear!

    Plus, we all know that gen 5 was the clear best ;)
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Its always about preference since gen one was when I got into it plus the anime at the time they will always be my favorite.Edited November 2016 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for swamped #3 swamped A year ago
    Oh is this why people don't want to play Pokemon past gen 1? My hangup wasn't that all the legendaries started to look like rock candy dinosaurs, it's the complexity of the game systems. How steep is the learning curve, realistically? Because I'd love to pick the series back up but after revisiting Red on 3DS and having a hard time figuring out how to balance my team and reading up on all these unwritten game mechanics I never knew existed, the idea that there are now 7 generations of improvements on the concept is pretty intimidating.
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  • I understand the complaints about how legendaries and pseudo-legendaries look more like something out of Digimon since at least Gen IV, but lazy designs? On a franchise that began with "it evolves into three of the same, stuck together" and "it evolves into the same thing, but bigger"?

    There have always been lame designs on each generation. That anyone doesn't notice it until a certain point is only because of nostalgia.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #5 Vonlenska A year ago
    Listen, I'm sorry, but Trubbish is the best Pokemon, hands down, no contest. "Literal garbage monster" is a hugely underutilized concept, and the lil guy's crazy adorbs to boot.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #6 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    There has no generation that was bad, but IV was the weakest design-wise and VI the strongest (it contains my favorite one and I started in gen V so ymmv).Edited November 2016 by SatelliteOfLove
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #7 CK20XX A year ago
    This pops up in every new generation, and even in other games. "Sheep Man?! What kind of lame robot master is that? Capcom must be running out of ideas!"

    But I only ever find this to be a problem in fan-made Pokemon games, where all the new pokemon in them look too generic or too similar to each other. Where's something original, like a sand castle that eats you alive?
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  • @swamped If you mean the stuff about EV's and IV's, that's only an issue for the postgame and the metagame.

    Of course, the whole Type weaknesses/strengths are also technically an unwritten game mechanic, in that the games only vaguely mention what's weak to what outside of the "super effective"/"not very effective" messages. At least Sun/Moon lets you know ahead of time if a move you plan to make has a type advantage on its targets.

    Honestly, as a lapsed fan who got back in the franchise with Gen V, the improvements between generations are generally for the sake of balance and user friendliness.
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  • Avatar for TernBird #9 TernBird A year ago
    This is kinda the problem I have with most "angry" Pokémon fans--the kind that hate Vanilluxe and wish that there was a Pokémon MMO, or a buggy open-world Skyrim-mon.

    These people would have Pokédexes of nothing but Dragons and Dark-types because they recoil at the thought that Pokémon is anything but a mature video game series for mature adults maturity. This is also why I turn my nose up at Pokémon fangames--they all miss the point and make some ugly, ugly Pokémon.

    Game Freak dares to have outlandish ideas, because kids are far too pragmatic to care about how "realistic" something is in favor of having fun. That's why Pokémon is still kicking today.

    This is me raising a glass to ya, Nadia.
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  • Avatar for swamped #10 swamped A year ago
    @franciscovillarrealh Interesting, that's helpful. True about type weaknesses, guess I must have picked up on that from friends or Nintendo Power. Things that were new to me since I last played the game (at age 8 or 9) were things like, I never knew Bug types were totally useless in Red/Blue or that Psychic type was OP. Did not understand I needed to catch and train Pokemon with the best stats or that stats were variable. And of course that some Pokemon just aren't worth training up at all. Things like that are just so obscure in Gen I so if latter generations have improved on that aspect, all the better.
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  • Avatar for jihon83 #11 jihon83 A year ago
    Hmm, I can't help but think that with a lot of these designs, it feels like good BS propping up bad art. Having a crazy design is good, but if your evolution is from one, to two, to three scoops, of Pokecream, it is hard not to think the design was thrown at the wall.

    That said, I hope the regional variants take off. I may not buy into the world-building of ghostly sandcastles (especially as child-predating Ghost-types seem like a trope) and living mascot keychains, but seeing how different Pokemon act and have an effect on new places is interesting, and ties into neat narratives about the environment and development.
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  • Avatar for EdgeTheLucas #12 EdgeTheLucas A year ago
    @Vonlenska and while it and Vanillite are usually lambasted, I think they're both some of the cutest monsters in the series. I raised a Vanilluxe on my team solely to beat one of my friends who hated it. Imagine the look on his face when I told him it was as strong as Lapras.

    To this day I'm hoping the Vanillite family gets a Mega Evolution (or a regional variant like the Alolan forms) where Vanilluxe is covered in chocolate and cherries (which the PokéDex will call "power cores"), becoming an Ice / Ground type and REALLY showing how much stronger it is. But I'll still take the double vanilla swirl that took down a Tyranitar even if that never happens.
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #13 Jeremiah-Jones A year ago
    "If you heedlessly grab a Sandygast’s shovel, you’ll fall under the Pokémon’s control. A Sandygast uses its power to manipulate children into gathering sand to increase the size of its body (…) The tunnel-like mouth of a Sandygast can suck the vitality from people and Pokémon."

    It is almost like the "egg" storyline in Saga Frontier II, but it is totally awesome, instead of incredibly stupid. I want this Pokemon in my team now. Imagine a Pokemon like this in a pageant.
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #14 StrwbrryJams A year ago
    @Nadia listening to you and Kat talk about these creatures has easily pumped me up of that old-time Poké-religion.
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  • Avatar for jayzii #15 jayzii A year ago
    There are good and bad every generation, but you're right, the key is that they take risks with their designs and still make them work within the series' aesthetic. It's also very subjective, and one persons trash is another's treasure. I think their biggest flubs come with ugly or awkward legendaries like that newish Volcanian guy. People who feel the need to compare pokemon to digimon, or yearn for the good old days of design genius like voltorb/electrode every new generation are tiresome.

    Mobile pokeclones are a perfect example of people designing boring, safe, "cool" designs that people think that they want. But the problem is that they are generic and obvious. Eyes glaze over and they slip right out of the brain once you turn the game off.

    Also, Trubbish is adorable.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #16 secularsage A year ago
    My kids are really into the XY and XYZ cartoons, and they've gotten me into the X/Y games, which feature a good mix of old and new. And honestly, many of the newer Pokemon (especially the Gen 6 ones) are really strong; my kids love Pancham, Dedenne, Froakie, Fennekin, Riolu, Chespin and Noibat (and the evolutions) as much as they love the classics, and in their minds, there's no division between the generations because they're just getting into Pokemon now, and the games and cartoons make use of Pokemon from every generation. Every generation brings about some mascot-style characters and some really weird ones, and it's always interesting to see how old cult favorites get retooled in newer play systems.

    I'd argue it's all ultimately a function of age. I remember when Ruby and Sapphire came out how fans of the GB era complained that the new Pokemon were too weird or different, and I pointed out then that the reality was that they'd probably just outgrown Pokemon. They weren't watching the anime/movies anymore or talking with schoolyard friends about the games; they were college students or adults who were judging the new Pokemon based on their in-game utility. They were missing some of the key elements that made Pokemon so much fun, and I'd suggest that it's one reason why Pokemon Go (which brought as many adult fans together as it did children) got so popular over the summer and helped make the series publicly notable again.
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  • Avatar for reptilio #17 reptilio 10 months ago
    Never! I love gen 1
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