What drives someone to use six Magikarp?
There are lots of different trainers to challenge in the Pokémon series. From the infamous Youngster and his love of shorts to Beauties and Blackbelts, different classes of trainers are each associated with their own unique sets of Pokémon. Engineers like Magnemites, Super Nerds like Grimers—you get the gist. But why do these trainers use the Pokémon that they have, though? What psychological impulse drives their selection from the multitude of monsters to be found, caught, and forced to battle for their amusement? Well, I went through all 32 classes in the Generation One games to find out.
Beauties often use Pokémon that would typically be considered adorable. Although there are some exceptions, they’ll often carry at least one Grass or Fairy type. They’re usually not particularly difficult to beat as they go with the cutest Pokémon, not the strongest. Clefairy looks like something you’d definitely hug, but it’s simply not quite as strong as the all-grown-up Clefable. A Beauty’s Pokémon might win a Generation 3 Beauty Contest, but there’s a reason Pokémon Contests were discontinued in the first place—they just don’t have the pull of making monsters hit each for human amusement.
Biker dudes have mohawks and rarely appear as moving sprites. They’re almost always stationary, but oddly most of their battle sprites feature them leaning on a motorbike. Maybe it’s out of gas. . They like Pokémon like Weezing, who literally has a skull and crossbones pattern embedded in its skin, or whatever Weezing’s outer body consists of. It’s all about looking cool with Bikers. They’re rarely a real threat and are often used as filler for typical mid-game level-grinding. There’s a reason their bikes are parked—they’re never really going anywhere.
Fairly self-explanatory, but allow me to point out one of the strangest things in the entire Pokémon series—Bird Keepers have cages in their hands.
Why? Are they too good for Poké Balls? The cages are always open, too. Do they carry them as a sort of prop? Obviously Bird Keepers are avian aficionados, but they don’t seem to have a very good grasp on housing their mons. Also, they’re rubbish at battling. Flying-types have their uses for sure, but an entire team of birds? Indestructible, unless you have, say, Geodude, one of the most common monsters in the game, in which case it’s the old two birds with one stone routine.
In case you didn’t guess, Blackbelts exclusively use Fighting-type Pokémon. Again, not the best type to build a team around. There’s a reason no one has ever lost to Bruno of the Elite Four—I mean, the guy leads with Onix because there weren’t even enough good Fighting types in Generation 1 for him to have an entire team of them. Blackbelts would kick your ass if you were fighting them instead of their Pokémon, but as trainers they’re pretty awful. Back to the dojo, guys.
Can you remember who the one trainer with the title “Boss” is? None other than Team Rocket’s Giovanni himself. Gio is the guy who wears a mafia tux and throws his Poké Balls underarm with his other hand in his pocket. He’s so cool it hurts and his team is actually pretty decent, unlike every other team on this list so far. His Kanghaskan is a force to be reckoned with early on in the Gen 1 games, but when he becomes the eighth Gym Leader near the end of the game—what a plot twist!—his new Ground-type team can be beaten pretty easily. Also, Giovanni literally invented TM Earthquake. Like a Boss.
The subject of too many Pokémon memes. There has never been a good Bug Catcher. Ever. Bugsy in Gen 2 tried his best, and Scizor is a genuinely great Pokémon. Bug Buzz and the buffed Leech Life have made lots of newer Bug types viable, too, especially given Bug’s weird super-effective status over powerful Psychic-types. Maybe it’s just hard to focus on telekinetically throwing your opponent when they’re buzzing all over the place. Bug Catchers, though? Absolutely dire. They’re so, so, so bad.
Burglars are an interesting bunch. They only appear in Cinnabar Island’s derelict Pokémon Mansion and use almost exclusively Fire-type Pokémon. I thought that Burglars would specialize in mischievous mons like Meowth—one Burglar does have a Meowth, so my guess wasn’t entirely wrong—but instead they like Ninetales and Rapidash. A little elegant for someone who plunders rundown research facilities, but hey—at least they carry sacks.
The Champion is the player who defeats the Elite Four. Your rival is a Champion temporarily—before you beat him, that is. This is an interesting class, because it’s the only one that’s officially conferred upon the player in the series. As a Champion, you’ll likely have a pretty diverse team, making you stronger and better than every single-type team ever. That’s not a dig—I love building Water teams, and used to rock edgy Dark-type squads when I was younger. But as our ornithologically-inclined friends taught us, there’s only so far you can get with six birds.
Channelers are great. They’re pretty much batshit insane and they’re like the self-proclaimed astrologers of the Pokémon world. Nothing they say ever makes sense. They use Ghost-type Pokémon who probably only hang around for kicks. There’s not much else to say about them, but they spend all their time in the Pokémon Tower even though it’s haunted by literal ghosts. Is that bravery or foolishness? Either way, Channelers are very, very cool.
If you have to say you’re cool, you probably aren’t I have never once looked at a Cooltrainer and though, “wow, they’re cool”—heir tracksuits are pretty wack, actually. They generally have pretty well-rounded teams of upper echelon and emphatically cool mons, but claiming coolness through the transitive property is a reach. That’s like saying your cool dog makes you cool. Your dog is definitely cool, but you can’t steal its thunder for your own personal gain. That is UNcool. And that’s my hot take on Cooltrainers.
They’re like Bikers, but bigger. They eschew mohawks for a shaved head and wear sleeveless shirts that definitely weren’t bought as sleeveless shirts. Kinda dismantles the whole “Biker” aesthetic when you imagine them at home with an arts and crafts kit cutting their lovely jumper into a “badass” shirt. Anyway, Cue Balls are definitely softies deep down. Hard exterior and all that.
One tier below the Champion, the Elite Four have fixed positions. They can be beaten a million times over but they’ll still hold their job. Bureaucracy, says I! Anyway, the Elite Four are pretty cool—especially Lorelei—and aside from the fact that Lance the Dragon Trainer only has two dragons, they’re a genuinely interesting bunch. Also, Agatha is a Poison-type trainer, not a Ghost-type trainer. Nothing you say or do will ever change my mind on that. She leads with an Arbok, which is not a ghost. It is a poisonous Poison-type snake filled with poison.
Like I said above, hey like Electric and Steel Pokémon—especially the Magnemite family. This makes sense because they use electricity to do their job, which involves making things out of steel. I’m convinced that the role of the engineer is redundant in the post-scarcity world of Pokémon, though. They just dress up like Engineers and lose loads of battles to kids while their Pokémon do all the real work. It’s like Machokes and moving house—the guys who show up just sit down for a cup of tea while their benevolent Pokémon do the work. Sounds like exploitation to me.
Fishermen use Pokémon that can be caught by fishing. Obviously. Although some Fishermen have half-decent Pokémon, most just brag about how much their prize Magikarp weighs. It doesn’t matter how heavy they are, though, because even the biggest Splash does a total of zero damage. Come back to me when you have a Gyarados, Fishing Guru.
Gamblers use all sorts of Pokémon, as opposed to being tied to one type. However, they wouldn’t be Gamblers if they didn’t gamble—they pretty much always use Pokémon that carry OHKO moves. I recently played Let’s Go and died to four Fissures in a row. FOUR. The Gambler’s gambling paid off for a while, but the fifth Fissure missed and I emerged victorious. Remember, kids, that even when you’re up, you’ll always fall back down. The bookies always win! You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, and so on.
Gentlemen are way, way cooler than Cooltrainers. They wear dapper suits and always have the kind of Pokémon you wish you had—Growlithe, Vaporeon, Pikachu—you know what I mean. They’re also part of the 1%, but they’re not stuck up. If you beat them, you’ll earn a small fortune. Watch out for item-spamming, though—these former CEOs have millions of Full Restores hidden in their hats.
Hikers are a jolly bunch. They always have way too much confidence. Geodude is 4x weak to two of the three starter Pokémon, yet every Hiker in history has at least three. They are so easy to beat that if I ever lost to one I’d probably never play Pokémon again. Aside from being terrible trainers—almost as pathetic as Bug Catchers—they usually have pretty great dialogue and their sprites make me happy.
Jr. Trainers later became known as Campers and Picnickers, but I know my Pokémon roots. Interestingly, Campers have loads of Pokémon you’d typically associate with Team Rocket. Ekans, Sandshrew, Rattata—is Game Freak trying to imply that the innocent youth of today are falling for Team Rocket’s ploys of world domination? You’d better beat some sense into the Campers’ teams, lest they join Bossman Gio on his quest to enslave every Pokémon in the world except for his beloved Persian.
These guys use spherical Pokémon like Voltorb and Electrode—who are definitely too heavy to juggle, but I admire their ambition—and Psychic-type Pokémon that are capable of actually performing the tricks we call “magic.” They wear cool capes and juggle their Poké Balls all the time in a way that’s impressive at first but becomes obnoxious after a while. Those are the homes of your Pokémon, Dalton. That’s not nice at all.
Lasses use similar Pokémon to Beauties, except they’re cute in a different way. As opposed to your pink plushlike Clefairys, Lasses use Pokémon like Pidgey, Oddish, and Paras. In other words, they use cute Pokémon that are cute in the way that babies are cute. Also like babies, they’re not very strong.
Of course, they all use monotype teams, which is not the sign of a good trainer. Every Gym Leader is way confident, but the confidence is mostly based on the level advantage the game affords them. If you know your type effectiveness, Gym Leaders aren’t all that hard to beat. If anything, they’re lining themselves up for a fall. Koga, you do realize that my Steel-types literally cannot be touched by your exclusively Poison-type team, right? That’s just poor planning. I’d like to file a complaint for Koga’s gross negligence in running a gym.
Avid cosplayers who tend to use Pokémon from what is commonly known as the “Monster Egg Group,” PokéManiacs seem to prefer Pokémon that resemble dinosaurs and reptiles. Loads of Charmanders, Rhyhorns, and Kanghaskans. Also, lots of Lickitungs, which don’t quite fit, in this specific scenario or anywhere on God’s earth. These trainers also wear costume pants that look like Charizard’s legs and try to intimidate you by holding their hands up like a T-Rex’s. Because as we all know, the scariest thing about a tyrannosaurus rex is its spindly, ineffectual arms.
I wonder what kind of Pokémon Psychics use. Fire? Grass? Flying? Psychic, obviously. Psychics look really cool and I’m pretty sure they curse you after you beat them, but their teams are really frail. Mons from the Abra family can annihilate your team if you’re not careful, but if you have any Bug-, Dark-, or Ghost-types, you’ll win pretty easily, especially given the fact that Dark-types are immune to Psychic moves, which I still think is weird but okay Nintendo. The Dark type is actually the “Evil” type in Japan, which seems like an unfair characterization of dozens of species, but maybe their brains are just too creepy for psychics to mess around with.
Similar to the Champion class, and basically the same team but much weaker. Also, Raticate disappears mysteriously after the S.S. Anne, which has led to one of the most infamous—and rubbish—creepypastas ever. Maybe they just stopped using Raticate because they realized how utterly useless it is. Oh, and remember how you can name this guy? Most of us probably went with Gary, but some little scamps out there surely tricked old Professor Oak into calling him NERD, POO, or GREGOR.
Rockers are weird. They hold wires that are apparently live due to the fact that they’re literally emitting sparks. Also, they don’t have instruments. Maybe they’re rockers in the fan sense, but why the wires then? What is going on? They use Electric-types who maybe increase the voltage running through their guitar amps, but the amps aren’t included in the sprite, nor are any instruments at all. I repeat: why the wires? It’s just plain reckless endangerment.
Team Rocket members are usually pretty pathetic. They mostly use Normal- and Poison-types with a few Ground-types thrown in, so they’re not particularly diverse. I think they just use Pokémon that they think look menacing and mean, but everybody knows that Koffing is a total sweetheart. I love their outfits, though. The white boots with the black Rocket suit is a serious power move. It’s too bad you can’t actually join up with them to get that sweet look.
Like Fishermen, but better. As well as Water-types, Sailors use Fighting-types, which is easily explained via their Popeye power poses. Sailors are actually half-decent trainers who add a lot to the game’s battle progression during the S.S. Anne expedition before taking on Lt. Surge, but are ultimately pretty minor in the game at large. They use rehashed cliches for their dialogue and are really friendly towards the player in an “Ah, you beat me, I haven’t lost in 1,000 years” sort of way. I think they’re pretty cool.
Scientists use science-y Pokémon like Porygon, as well as the Magnemite family, the Voltorb family, and the Grimer family. It’s all artifice, metal—or Steel, I suppose—and chemical sludge. These are the horrors that science has wrought. How does Porygon manifest in the physical world, anyway? And where did Magnemites even come from? It’s just an orb with some screws and magnets thrown on!
Super Nerds, like their close relatives the Scientists, use Magnemites, Voltorbs, and Grimers but they don’t use Porygon—likely because they’re hobbyists without access to a lab. This speaks to the young state of the internet back when the original games were released, because you know these boys would have been extremely online if it were a thing back then.
Swimmers obviously use Water-type Pokémon. Did we really need three aquatic-themed trainers? At least these ones bring in a little variety—most of them are swimming, but some can be found taking a break on the beach. The beach swimmers are still wearing Speedos, though, which is a bit weird considering they never get back into the water. Get back in or get dressed! The ones actually swimming seem to spend all their time going back and forth or just spinning wildly, patiently treading water until some hapless young trainer comes surfing by. Don’t they get tired? Or attacked by one of the many dangerous Water-type Pokémon? Their lives remain a mystery.
These folks have whips, which is really weird. It’s like the bird cages—monsters canonically obey trainers, for the most part. You don’t have to whip an Arcanine to get it to jump through a flaming hoop, and anyway, what are you doing making an animal jump through a flaming hoop? Tamers also have an odd affinity for version-exclusive Pokémon. Most of them have either an Arbok or Sandslash, which is pretty meta if you imagine that their goal is to tame a Pokémon that’s actually unobtainable in the game that they’re in. Still no excuse for whips, though.
Finally we come to the infamous Youngster, and what a note to go out on. Youngsters wear shorts, which are “comfy and easy to wear!” This has become their defining feature, even being referenced in later games. They also never have good Pokémon, but they’re only kids after all. But wait, isn’t your character technically a Youngster, too? Who ends up becoming the Pokémon League Champion? Maybe as one of them, you’re doing the Youngsters proud by defeating the Elite Four. Even the last Champion was your Rival—another Youngster. Is there an argument to be made for Youngsters being the most powerful trainers in the history of Pokémon? I think there is. Like the humble Nidorans which they employ in battle, they each contain within them the power to evolve into a mighty Nidoking. An inspiring message, and perhaps one that indeed embodies the spirit of Pokémon as a whole.