Before we begin, I feel that I should preface this with a short disclaimer. As someone who doesn’t have a shred of artistic ability, I don’t usually like to criticize anyone or anything over their artistic design or capabilities. In fact, I’m certain that there are amoeba at the depths of the ocean who could draw a more convincing stick man than I ever could. However, the designs of the new starter Pokémon for Pokémon Sun and Moon feel to me more like an obligation than inspired creations.
Nintendo has recently revealed the three flagship Pokémon for its seventh (yes, seventh) generation games, and the general reaction has been tepid at best. For those who haven’t seen them yet, allow me to introduce them one-by-one:
“Rowlet can attack without making a sound! It flies silently through the skies, drawing near to its opponent without being noticed, and then lashing out with powerful kicks. It can also attack from a distance using the razor-sharp leaves that form part of its feathers.”
Starting with Rowlet, who is probably the most inspired choice due to his typing. Rowlet doubles as a Grass/Flying type, which has some interesting connotations, making him similar to Tropius from Ruby and Sapphire in that regard. His typing suggests that he’ll be immune to Ground, ¼ resistant to Grass, but 4x weak to Ice. This might make him the pick of the bunch in the early game, but if the Water starter can learn Ice moves, your rival might become a pain in the proverbials later on.
In terms of his design, Rowlet is simple and charming, making him my personal favourite. However, it’s not as if we haven’t had owl Pokémon before, with Hoothoot and Noctowl being available in the early game in Pokémon Gold and Silver. Given that we know Pokémon Sun and Moon are set in the tropical region of Aloha, it feels as if they’ve missed a trick here. Sticking to the theme, they could have introduced a tropical bird of some kind, such as a toucan, parrot or a bird of paradise. Owls aren’t exactly synonymous with exotic beaches, but it’s hardly the worst design in Pokémon history.
“Logical but also passionate, Litten always remains coolheaded and doesn’t show its emotions on the surface.”
Litten is a straight up Fire type, making this a slight departure from the Fire/Fighting types we’ve almost come to expect. Judging by the design, it isn’t much of a leap to assume that the evolved forms of Litten might be Fire/Dark type. If that proves to be the case, Litten is quite literally the cat version of Houndour, which is a disappointment. Perhaps he’s meant to be a counter for Delphox from Pokémon X and Y (Fire/Psychic), but with literally hundreds of alternatives out there, that doesn’t exactly hold true.
Also, how many times have we seen cat Pokémon? I understand that our Japanese cousins really love their feline companions (to the point where they fill cafés full of them), but do we really need any more? We already have Meowth, Persian, Skitty, Delcatty, Mew, Mewtwo, Glameow, Purugly, Purrloin, Liepard, Espurr and Mewostic, and that’s just the ones that spring to mind. At least Litten has the potential to evolve into something pretty spectacular, but as far as Pokémon designs go, this one seems like a bit of a misstep.
“Popplio’s swimming speed is known to exceed 25 mph. It’s better at moving in the water than on land. Still, when it’s on land, it takes advantage of the elasticity of its balloons to perform acrobatic stunts and jumps.”
Being a standard Water type, I can’t see the advantage of using Popplio over any previous generation starter. If you like Water types, then he’s a nailed-on choice, but the only other perceivable type he could gain through evolution is Ice. This would essentially make him Seel/Dewgong, in more ways than one.
Honestly, seal and sea lion types are already overdone in the Pokémon universe with Seel, Dewgong, Spheal, Sealeo and Walrein, but this one looks worse than any of the others in terms of its design. The developers are obviously going for a circus performer look with the red nose and comedic ruff around its neck, but Popplio is simply not as appealing as his pinniped colleagues. This feels like a repeat Pokémon in almost every respect, and you just know that it will turn into a tusked monstrosity by its final evolution, making it another Walrein. The only other way it could go is to turn into a circus clown, making it something akin to Mr Mime. Either of these scenarios would essentially render Popplio irrelevant.
As the first Pokémon to be revealed, and the first ones that players will encounter when the games are released later this year, you would expect these Pokémon to be some of the most appealing characters to appear in either game. These are your mascots for the game, and it would be much more interesting if they represented the design aesthetic of Pokémon Sun and Moon more directly. As previously stated, this generation takes place in the tropical climate of a region called Aloha, which is obviously inspired by Hawaii. It seems fairly similar to Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire’s Hoenn region, which was a warm, volcanic archipelago, although Aloha looks set to be a much calmer, tropical island retreat. Game Freak had the opportunity to come up with some truly interesting, colourful designs here. They could have had a region filled with vibrant lizards, exotic birds, and specialized primates, and yet they seem to have fallen back on rehashes of old designs.
With the total number of Pokémon reaching 720 before Sun and Moon are even released, it’s understandable that there will be some repetition here and there. It’s also obvious that they have struggled to invent new Pokémon for a while, with recent generations taking inspiration from electrical appliances and sets of keys instead of the animal kingdom. However, Game Freak set themselves up to create some truly unique Pokémon this time around, and this feels like a missed opportunity. Here’s hoping that the rest of the new Pokémon cast can fill this niche better than these early attempts.