Pokémon Designs Aren't Getting Worse, They May Be Getting Better

Without fail, a new Pokémon generation will bring with it a wave of criticism — the idea that Game Freak has progressively gotten worse at designing new Pokémon. I've noticed that folks who are critical of new Pokémon will typically point toward the original 151 Pokémon as examples of amazing, if not the best, Pokémon design.

I know this stuff is subjective, but: I'm here to tell you that these people are wrong. I'm here to tell you that thinking Pokémon designs are getting worse is nostalgia talking, and that it doesn't matter how the Pokémon are designed inasmuch as it matters is that these Pokémon are new. Not just new, but sometimes weird, sometimes strange, and unlike the original 151, actually imaginative.

First I'd like to give some props: the original 151 Pokémon, which were designed by Ken Sugimori, are dear to many of us. It's hard to argue against the coolness of Charizard, the elegance of Ninetails, or the endearing dopeyness of Psyduck. You probably have a favourite. Mine is Gengar: he is a mischievous ghost!

Just the same, there are some awful Pokémon in this batch. Voltorb and Electrode are freaking Pokéballs. Exeggcute is broken eggs. Broken eggs! Muk is a blob. And Jynx is a literal blackface Pokemon. Jesus christ.

Am I being nitpicky? Not any more than most people are with newer Pokémon, I don't think — the people who only focus on the inevitable bad ones while ignoring all the good ones. Just like any gen, the original 151 has its share of meh Pokémon, which is partially what makes all the praise for these designs seem baffling.

But most of all, my issue with the original 151 is that they're too analogous to creatures we're well-acquainted with in real life: the pigeon, the snake, the bat, the starfish, the dog, the cat. Just to name a few. There's nothing noteworthy about being safe when it comes to a design, I don't think. Though admittedly, there are some basic concepts that repeat from game to game: every generation will have a creature similar to Pidgey, for example.

Still, newer generations forced Gamefreak to get creative, to create things that made people pause, raise eyebrows, if not laugh at the absurdity of what they came up with. These reactions aren't a bad thing in my books, they're definitely preferable to something boring.

Generation II Pokémon designs were a babystep. There were many Pokémon that existed to complete the evolutions of previous Pokémon — pre-evolutions, most famously — meaning that their design was anchored in what was done before.

Some of these were better than the original: aesthetically speaking, Espeon and Umbreon are cooler than older Eevee forms (elements aren't as good as light and darkness), Steelix > Onyx (steel over rock!), and all the pre-evolutions are more adorable than their more-evolved counterparts. We also got cuteness like Marill, inscrutable Pokémon like the Unown, and the oddness of Shuckle. Elekid in particular is my absolute most favourite Pokemon. He's not Gen I.

Newer generations forced Gamefreak to get creative, to create things that made people pause, raise eyebrows, if not laugh at the absurdity of what they came up with.

Then came gen III, and things started becoming more interesting. Look at Ludicolo, the party Pokemon, look at the regal Gardevoir, look at the WTF-ish Nosepass, look at mysterious Solrock, look at awesome Metagross. All compelling, despite, like in Nosepass's case, possibly being silly. I mean, he's a rock with a giant nose.

What the heck is Ludicolo, exactly, or Metagross for that matter? Certainly more creative than your typical Pokémon, I'd say. What's the worst you can say about the awful designs in gen III? Luvdisc is a heart? I think that's kind of funny. Ultimately I look at the list in Gen III, and there's not nearly as many bad designs in here as there are in previous generations.

Gen IV marks where most people, in my experience, started to really dislike newer Pokémon. I can't help but wonder if this coincides with when people started to get tired of playing Pokémon games — that's another long-standing criticism, that Pokémon games are very samey. In doing so, they've conflated being bored with the game with being unimpressed with the Pokémon designs. Like looking for reasons to justify why you're over something, or looking for excuses to not try newer games.

To me, Gen IV is actually the highlight of the Pokémon designs. Is there a starter Pokémon that's more awesome, more badass than Infernape or Empoleon? I don't think so. Even the typically not-noteworthy starting area Pokémon are great, like the goofy Bidoof. This generation marked the first time that I sought out Pokémon based solely on how they looked instead of erring toward the statistically superior ones. We're talking like, Spiritomb, Garchomp, Togekiss, and Rotom (based on electrical appliances and amazing for it!) All excellent.

Admittedly, at this point the legendary Pokémon got kind of ridiculous. That's probably an inevitability if Gamefreak includes new legendaries in every game, though you can't help but wonder how legendaries in the future will be better than the ones we've got now. We've got masters of time and space now, holy cow. Guess Gamefreak better get creative in how new legendaries are designed, since compelling designs might be all that's left.

And finally we get to generation V, which includes the most perfect design of any Pokémon ever, Snivy. Look at that smug, smug bastard. I can't even list all the great designs in this gen — there's a knight Pokémon , a brocolli Monkey, a sarcaphogus, a snowflake and so much more. You can see for yourself here.

But being that gen V is the latest generation, it's also the most prone to ridicule. The Pokémon that comes up the most has to be Vanilluxe, the ice cream Pokémon.

As if people don't love ice cream, first off. As if the absurdity of said Pokémon isn't what makes it so remarkable: oh my god, can we....eat Pokémon? What does it mean, evolution-wise, when creatures start resembling man-made objects? It seems like a natural progression, after scientists were able to engineer Pokémon.I think it's fascinating, lore-wise, that this is the case — despite being incredibly silly. Funny how we can retain the nostalgia of childhood but not the sense of wonder or the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy something lighthearted.

There are other Pokémon in this generation that aren't very good, to be sure — like Amoonguss, a mushroom Pokéball Pokemon. But there aren't more awful designs in here than previous generations, and overall I'm glad the designs are getting better, if not stranger, sillier or weirder. It keeps things interesting.

We like to postulate that things are always getting worse, regardless of what it is we're talking about. I think it's more accurate to say that change feels scary to people. It's so much easier to hang on to the things we know, the things that comforted us in the past. I can't help but wonder if kids new to the series feel just as strongly about the new Pokémon as some of us might of the original 151.

There's stuff out there — in real life, I mean — that's completely batshit weird. Stuff that makes even the newer Pokémon look sane. Deep sea creatures are horrifying. What the hell is this alien mole? And lord knows what nature is doing when it comes to insects and arthropods. Frankly, there's too many interesting beasts in real life for an entire Pokedex of boring Pokémon like the original 151 to exist.

That, and, if nothing else, Pokémon designs are much better than Digimon designs. Get it together, people.


Comments

    While I don't disagree with you, I feel like I enjoyed the original 151 because the designs have more of a simply feel to them. Having just finished Black 2, I found a few of the newer ones to be a little bit too extravagant or straight up goofy looking.

    I've always liked the earlier Pokemon because of their simplicity. It's a dragon, it's a ghost, it's a dog that's on fire and a two headed bird. Later Pokemon start getting more complex, obscure and silly. They're coloured blobs based on creatures no one's heard of, they're covered in random knick knacks in order to jazz them up. They're overly complex, they've got too much going on and that detracts from their potential coolness. They're made to look absurd and while that may get a "lol, look how stupid that Pokemon is", they don't stick with you, or at least me. There's a coolness in simplicity and the known, in doing something as simple as creating a horse that's on fire, and that's something a lot of the newer Pokemon lack. It's probably for this reason that the newer Pokemon I do enjoy are throwbacks to the classic Pokemon formula. Like Blitzle and its evolution Zebstrika. They're zebras that shoot lightning and that's just a level of simpleness and cool that you can't beat.

    The problem with all of this is that you say the original 151 are based off animals (which is boring) but everything since then is more original/creative (which is much better) but originality doesn't always equal a good design.
    I've always hated the newer generations not because of nostalgia for the old ones but just because I think they look stupid. There's lots of games out there with original/creative designs that don't look as wierd/stupid as the recent pokemon.

    I still like the original 151 though (or most of them) and a few of the more recent ones (especially some of Gen II), I just feel the designs have become worse (even if they are more original)

    I disagree with pretty much this entire article. (cept the digimon comment i agree with that)
    Im one that believes the original 151 = the best, based on the fact that they were believable, for the most part they looked like real animals, they gave a feeling of connection to reality, you could believe that this world of collecting and fighting animals existed.

    I still play all the pokemon games, but come on, a sarcophagus? a candle/chandelier? an icecream? one that looks like a foetus? nosepass? and i like Rotom as his default form, but as a fridge WTF?

    Mind u i always disliked Jynx and MR Mime.

    NONE of the starter pokemon have been anywhere near as good as the originals, i still start every game with a squirtle or pikechu. (Blastoise and Raichu cannot be beaten for looks)

    I stopped trying to collect them all a few games back, based purely on the fact that for the most part the new ones looked like crap, didn’t want to waste my time, so these days i finish the story and move on, its not even worth going for the legendaries these days because there are too many of them.

    so far im enjoying Black 2, and i enjoyed Black 1, but more for the world and the story than the pokemon, it used to be all about the monsters, now its not, its more about collecting the 6 i like and getting them through the challenging content.

      The appeal of the original 151 isn't nastolgia it's the fact that being so close to real animals we were able to relate to the Pokemon which lead us to actually care about them.

      Nastolgia is simply a side affect of this good character design.

      I play all the games and I have found that the further they stray from reality in their Pokemon designs the less I care about them. No matter how cool they look.

    I hated this article.
    I LOVE gen 1-4. Not because of nostalgia, gen 3 & 4 came out too late for that. I love them because they're good. But 5 is terrible. The designs are clutching at straws and making things more complicated for the sake of "originality" but it just looks ridiculous. It's like if I made a game that had the most unique HUD ever with multicolored rainbow writing. Sure it's original but it looks ridiculous and just stupid.

    Not to mention that the art is poorly done, regardless of the ideas for the Pokémon. i.e. the proportions are whacked.

    I dislike the way Hernandez told me why I don't like gen 5 and told me I was wrong, full stop.

    I dunno im 50/50 on this topic. I do agree I prefered the original pokemon the best, but there are a lot of cool looking ones added in each gen which do look better than the originals.

    Unfortunately they are still adding some horrid/futuristic designs into the game which can be hard to get your head around, but then I don't think people put a lot of stock into the really cool looking pokemon that have been added that do eclipse the originals.

    Please! No more FREAKING ICE CREAMS or stupid pokemon like that! First true 3 tier ice pokemon and its a freaking snow cone?? WTF! I would like to see a few more pokemon based on real animal designs - but im all for the creative flair of unique designs too.

    At least we can all agree that Generation 2 had the most boring additions ever.

      No, we can't, sorry. I reserve that title for Gen 3 (with Gen 5 close behind).

      Well I liked gen 2 for the most part so I can't agree with you there

    gen 3 was the last good gen 4 was ok and 5 is terrible there is a fucking trash bag pokemon also if people wanted realistick monsters or really weird ones they have always had yugi oh and didgimon

      I know! Trubbish and Garbodor aren't even based on real animals, like Grimer and Muk! I mean, it doesn't even make sense that it's a kind of natural camouflage to able to blend into busy metropolis city environments.

      Game Freak are just churning out casual-ified games now. Next thing you know they'll be making a mouse that generates it's own electricity - I mean how is that related? At least they'll never make anything as far stretched as a duck that fights with a stick!

        Mouse that generates its own electricity? "Pika?"

      Generation V is actually pretty good. Generation IV was terrible.

    There are some stupid designs, but some of the new Pokemon are really cool! I'm 50/50. Some are seriously awful, some really cool!

    The original Pokémon were better looking. That's not nostalgia talking, either. The newer Pokémon are worse, and if you disagree you're doing so just to be different. Yeah, opinions and all that come in to play, but honestly saying that Generation IV, which is probably the worst generation of Pokémon so far, is better than Gen I, II or III... no. NO.

      First up, you shouldn't really assume motivations for what other people are saying which aren't based upon only what they said.

      Second of all, why are the original ones better looking? How do you know it's not nostalgia talking? Explain yourself a bit more, and your comments will be better. Also, I'm genuinely curious as to why you said that.

    Now, my definition of a pokemon design is a concept, be it animal or inanimate object, but changed in subtle ways to suit a particular theme. Digimon is the complete opposite, making a animal or a concept completely.. er... radicalized. That's the best I got. Anyway. I got some opinions about this, and they're kinda separate things, so just roll with what I gotta say.

    I am of the opinion that the newer pokeymans ain't as great as the older, but in no damn way am I a purist. In fact, the only generation I'm not a fan of is generation 4.

    1) To be honest, I'm not sure if people should justify hating on inanimate objects as pokeymans. We had inanimate objects back in Gen 1, right? Of course, there are a significantly higher amount of inanimates in the newer gens, but.. the concept itself shouldn't be mocked- it's the execution, how the pokemon look themselves that should be mocked. But no, screw that ice cream pokemon, that one's horrible and we all know it.

    2) One thing that particularly pisses me off (and it's a very personal opinion unlike number 1 which I feel is a legit point to apply to everyone's views) is when people start hating pokemon simply because it doesn't look or feel like a pokemon.. but it is still pretty damn cool nonetheless. Rotom is a drastic example, with it's basic form being boring to look at and it's alternates to be straight up household items like fridges. yeah, you can argue the point it is a far departure from past generations. However, it can take the form of a fridge. or a fan. And it manages to work since rotom is kind of an electric poltergeist, that's it's in-universe lore. And it's design, well, it's alternate form designs, works quite well from a design standpoint; just don't comapre it to earlier generations. Same applies to the chandelier pokemon in gen 5. Far departure, but it's still good looking and can fit in well enough with the image of pokemon. So keep complaining, and I don't care, I GOT A MOTHERFUCKING LAWNMOWER AND A CHANDELIER AS A POKEMON.

    3) Shit, when I'm typing this out, point two looks quite lengthy. Anyway. My last point is if you know the thought processes behind designing these concepts, you can easily change your views towards certain pokemon. Hit up bulbapedia and check out a pokemon's trivia page- always interesting stuff. I'm not sure if it's %100 true, but it still gives that particular pokemon some credibility instead of a phantom image of a pokemon designer saying "hey guise u no wat wuld be kool is __________." For instance, the 3.. deer like legendaries in gen 5, which I never really cared about until I learned that they were based off the three musketeers. Hey. that's.. pretty cool.

    ... Ok, I obviously feel too strongly about this.

    I love the way the vast majority of comments on this article do exactly what the article says people do, which is ignore all the good Pokemon and list the ridiculous ones:
    gen 3 was the last good gen 4 was ok and 5 is terrible there is a fucking trash bag pokemon
    No more FREAKING ICE CREAMS or stupid pokemon like that!
    I still play all the pokemon games, but come on, a sarcophagus? a candle/chandelier? an icecream? one that looks like a foetus? nosepass? and i like Rotom as his default form, but as a fridge WTF?
    For instance.

      yes there are good ones in later gens but the majority are bullshit

        You say the majority but I only ever see two being complained about, constantly repeated, the garbage one and the icecream one. For some reason people ignore the likes of Zebstrika, Oshawott, Munna, Gigalith, Sandile, Carracosta, Swanna, Sawsbuck, Emolga, Galvantula, Haxorus, Beartic, Vulcarona... to name a few.

    I really like a lot of the new ones in Gen V. I can even list the ones I like, and give short reasons why!

    I love Gigalith (beats Golem any day),
    Exadrill (because evolving metal parts is always rad),
    Whimsicott (Cute cotton monster! Innovative way to make a textile into a creature),
    Maractus (Sentient cacti are terrifying and apparently somewhat adorable with those huge flowers... and those spines!),
    Crustle (because a creature hauling around a geological sample is fascinating),
    Yamask & Cofagrigus (which are both fairly terrifying, though evolving into a sarcophagus might be improbable it's clearly that human sarcophagi were inspired by Cofagrigus' shell :P),
    Carracosta (it's an awesome turtle living inside stones instead of mere shell. It's like a fossil come to life, which is -exactly- what it is),
    Archeops (for being a colourful flying dinosaur :D),
    Minccino and Cinccino (for being cute/fashionable rodents with a clean aesthetic and neutral colours used well),
    Reunicus' whole line (just works so well; themed around mitosis and telepathy; go play Splice by Cipher Prime),
    Deerling & Sawsbuck (colour changing with the season is awesome),
    Emolga (Cute, awesome type combo, simple design, fun twist on an existing animal),
    Escavalier (badass insect knight is badass. New meaning for 'exoskeleton'),
    Galvantula (the electric tarantula! Hair being full of static is nothing new, either),
    Ferrothorn (locomotion issues aside (h-how does it move), it's just a great design: armoured plants w/ spikes),
    Litwik Lampent and Chandelure (all three are based on ghostly lights, which plays on existing mythology of faerie fires with an aesthetically pleasing progression as they evolve),
    Cryogonal (excellent camoflage in its natural environment),
    Braviary (Majestic eagle, pokemon-ified),
    Heatmor (ant-eater w/ a volcanic twist),
    Hydregion (because mouths-for-hands is terrifying, and the colour scheme is awesome),
    Volcarona (fantastic angelic/insectoid design).

    Just to name a few, and not even counting the starters...

    No love for Luxray? It's a total boss! It never left my team in Pokemon Diamond.

    http://img.pokemondb.net/artwork/luxray.jpg

    Guys, you know the point of pokemon is to have a team that you like, yeah? If you don't like vanilice, don't use it. Either love your 'mons or go back to work at the pokemart, because you're doing it wrong.

    My favourite pokemon are from the first two generations but my favourite games and a couple of my favourite pokemon are from gen 3, after that i didnt really enjoy the games and i dont like many of the pokemon. Even the latest gen had terrible starters, if you can't get the starters right then something is wrong.

    If I ignore the nostalgia of earlier series.... I have a mixture of favourites. A lot from Gen 4 & 2...

    Personal opinion - if you split each generation's Pokémon into "the good ones" and "the bad ones", the good ones keep getting better and the bad ones keep getting worse. I loved both Black and Black 2, along with its awesome "good" designs - Zebstrika, Serperior, Samurott, Victini (probably my favourite legendary now because it's different but also simple as heck) etc. At the same time, Trubbish, Vanillish and Stunfisk were all absolutely horrendous. From what I've seen of X and Y this pattern will only keep going - that fennec fox fire starter is so bloody adorable.

    What about Bisharp from Gen V? That is some serious badassery right there.

    The way I prefer to judge this issue (not having even played the games since gen 3) is by the starter pokemon

    After the original three, we got virtual copycats with less memorable names - while i admit Totodile was pretty cool looking, how are Chikorita and Cyndaquil any sort of improvement on the original fire and grass types? It was just a rehash

    Same with gen 3, lazy rehashes, and I still don't even know what Mudkip was meant to be.

    Looking at IV I can see a bit of an improvement - a fire monkey? Now that's cool, and Gen V looks pretty good with some actual interesting looking specimens.

    Ultimately this issue is subjective, in my view yes, there was some filler in the original, but a lot of newer ones are just do-overs, or plain whacky nonsense, there are a handful of awesome new ones but I'd say the ratio of good:bad has gone down over time (based mainly on the first 3 gens)

    Personally there are much more pokemon I like and much, much less I dislike in the first 2 then the rest. HOWEVER, there are more then a few I really like out of the later generations and I'm glad those particular pokemon exist.

    To me it seems which pokemon are good/bad varies radically depending on the person. There are many I'd have disagreed with or at least been surprised at they were liked/disliked by someone else. But hey, when there are so many pokemon, all it really means is there's plenty of chances to find something you like.

    Last edited 18/06/13 6:37 pm

    A sarcophagus makes sense as a ghost Pokemon, especially since its ability is Mummy. And I'm pretty sure Nosepass is based off the famous Easter Island statues.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now