There are a lot of Pokémon these days—with the recent addition of Meltan and Melmetal, and not counting alternate forms, Mega transformations, or regional variations, there are now 809 of the little bastards running around. With that many monsters, there are bound to be some whose designs stand out as being a little weak among the crowd.
As I recall, the first major wave of antipathy towards bad designs came with Generation Five back in 2010. These titles marked the first time a Westerner—James Turner—designed Pokémon for the series, and fans’ ire was directed towards two of his creations in particular: Vanillite, a monster that is quite simply a soft serve ice cream, and Vullaby, the officially-titled “Diapered Pokémon.”
While Turner would go on to create compelling designs like the spooky Trevanant and the gigantic Guzzlord, the damage was done. Was the series out of steam? Were the designers running out of ideas? Later concepts, such as Klefki—a ring of keys—only introduced more worries. Fans pined for the early days of Pokémon, when the design space was wide open and each creature was unique and charming.
But this attitude may be more shaped by the lens of nostalgia than fans are willing to admit. Because if we take a hard, unflinching look back at Pokémon Red and Blue, we find some monsters that make Vanillite look positively inspired.
This tweet did not age well pic.twitter.com/EnoyTXwQhG
— PeterNorway (@classiclib3ral) May 21, 2017
The product of Ken Sugimori’s exhausted and feverish mind working long into the night cranking out monsters, Voltorb is obviously just a Pokéball with angry eyes. You thought the trash bag Pokémon was lazy? Voltorb is a ball. It’s a ball that blows itself up upon command, which raises some troubling questions about what happens to them after they detonate. But these existential thoughts are inevitably silenced by the fact that it’s a ball, and is nobody’s favorite Pokémon. Sorry, Voltorb—maybe if you were a little more interesting, trainers would feel bad about making you explode to win battles.
"Anime is real," Barack Obama said in his inauguration speech earlier. "Pokémon are real. Geodude is real, and strong, and he's my friend."
— drewtoothpaste (@drewtoothpaste) January 21, 2013
He may be real, and strong, and former president Barack Obama’s friend, but when you get down to brass tacks, Geodude is just a rock with arms and a face. He’s a pet rock that you scribbled on with a Sharpie and glued some branches to. And just like pet rocks in the 1970s, Geodude is inexplicably everywhere. Why isn’t there a Chia pet Pokémon?
Hey, remember Diglett? That little man who pops his head up in every cave you have the misfortune of having to trek through on your journey to become a Pokémon master? You loved him and the uncomfortable questions he raised about what lies beneath the earth, forever waiting, right? Well what if there were three of them. Three dark hearts, beating as one. Three subterranean bodies, biding their time, slumbering until the stars are right and they emerge to reveal their true, horrible form. Three little men for you to capture. Wonderful.
Hey baby I hear the blues a-callin’, tossed salads and sentient, menacing eggs. We’ve got another gestalt entity on our hands, but this time it’s just a pile of eggs, one of which is cracked to reveal the pulsating yolk beneath. Egg.
IT’S A SNAKE. IT’S JUST A SNAKE. EKANS IS SNAKE BACKWARDS, WAKE UP.
I don’t know what this is, and I’m not alone—scientists just aren’t sure either. It evolves into the even more inscrutable Fearow, a creature evidently cobbled together from the nightmares of character designers, whose dark reveries conjured up a beast which does not walk upon the land or swim in the sea, but openly mocks God by hovering menacingly in the skies. Just awful.
Have you ever played Mortal Kombat? A game which—I might add—was released six years prior to Pokémon Red and Blue? Perhaps you can name a certain boss character, who in the film adaptation is best remembered for breaking Johnny Cage’s $500 sunglasses and getting punched in the dick for his trouble. Goro is a big monster fighter with four arms. Machamp is a big monster fighter with four arms. Goro doesn’t wear anything but a belt and loincloth. Machamp doesn’t wear anything but a belt and briefs. Machamp is Goro—I rest my case.
Raticate can be a real menace late in your Pokémon adventure, with its trademark Hyper Fang move and little tail it loves to whip around everywhere. But what the hell is it supposed to be? I live in New York, home of roaches and raccoons and sundry other creatures that crawl in the night, but I’ve never seen anything like this thing.
Is it some kind of superlethal, odd-looking cat like all those horrible animals that live in the wilds of Australia? Is it the exhaustion-induced vision of an overworked artist? Was it designed by a time-traveling James Turner to make his later creations look better in comparison? Whatever it is, I’ll take the diaper vulture baby over it any day—at least when you turn it upside down, it looks like a spooky skull.