If you’re a long-time follower of Game Freak’s beloved Pokémon franchise, you’ll have noticed one thing about the series: there are a whole holy heck of a lot of Pokémon now, aren’t there?
Imagine traveling back to the days of Pokémon Red and Blue, and telling everyone that, twenty years in the future, there’ll be almost one thousand of the damn things. What would they have said? They’d have laughed in your crazy, gray-whiskered face (because this is what every time traveler looks like, according to the world of sci-fi), and dragged you off to the town square to be burnt at the stake. This being how demented old prophets are treated and all.
The 2017 natives among us know this to be the truth, though. As of Pokémon Sun and Moon, we’ve got mega forms, Alolan forms, Ultra Beasts, umpteen hundred new regular Pokémon… it’s getting batcrap crazy. The good old-fashioned quest to catch ‘em all is becoming harder and harder as the numbers swell.
But let’s not think about the end of the journey for now. Instead, how about the start? At the opening of each new main series title, the player is given a choice from among three ‘starter’ Pokémon. They’re a big deal during the pre-release hype, as we choose favorites in advance, ponder what evolutions will look like, all of that good stuff. Starter Pokémon are not all created equal, though. On that note, settle in as we rank them all from worst to best.
I’m sorry, Turtwig. I really am. You’re my favorite design for a Grass starter in the history of the series. That adorable little sprout on your head is the cutest thing I’ve ever feasted my squishy eyestalks on. With that said, though, I’ve got to be true to the voice in my head, and it’s saying Hey! Hey, you! Turtwig sucks, doesn’t it?
Much as I pride myself on my experimental Pokémon teams and sets, I’ve never quite found a place for the Turtwig line. Defensively and offensively, it’s passable-to-meh, which means that there’s always something that can do its job better. Its Grass/Ground typing is unique, so there’s a cool point right there, but it leaves it vulnerable to too much in the long run.
Tepig is another starter that endeared itself to me from the off. A cute little fire pig? This guy was just begging for a cheap and craptacular bacon-based nickname, not to mention a place in my crusty old heart.
Still, as a couple of failed relationships have taught me, there’s much more to the story than appearances alone. Emboar is one awkward mamma-jamma to use, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it has the kind of pain-in-the-ass speed stat which is a little too fast for Trick Room, and just too slow without it. Its stat distribution, in general, is really odd, too, sporting woeful defenses and high HP. To be used best, it wants to be firing off recoil-causing moves and abusing its hidden ability, Reckless, but that’s darn hard to pull off.
Oh, and here comes another. When it comes to super cute starters who suckered me in and then crushed my dreams into shattered shards of sadness and disappointment, I’m 3 for 3 so far in this countdown.
Chikorita is, for all intents and purposes, the most generic Grass starter Pokémon that Game Freak could possibly have created. It’s like a walking, sucking checklist of everything that makes your average Grass Pokémon. It’s defensively-orientated, it can support the rest of the party by healing their status problems with Aromatherapy, and it can be quite the douche status-spreader itself. All of these traits are common for Grass types, and they make the Chikorita line seem very run-of-the-mill to me as a result. It’s decently tanky in the lower tiers, but that’s about the best you’ll get out of it.
There’s (almost) always one, isn’t there? Usually, with each new Pokémon generation’s starter trio leak, there’ll be a black sheep of the family. A slightly shonkier-looking member of the Fire/Water/Grass group. The underdog. The weird kid in class. For Sun and Moon, there can be no denying that Popplio was that kid.
This odd little clown seal thing became a meme almost immediately upon its reveal. Nobody quite knew what the make of the little guy, but there was a whole lot of contempt flying around. If Litten was the super popular jock of the three, then Rowlet was the hipster choice, and Popplio was the obsessive My Chemical Romance fan. Granted, it evolves into the elegant-looking and not sucky at all Primarina, but it’s a long road to get there.
Chespin is another starter whose concept I really liked. As ideas for rock solid, defensive plant-based Pokémon go, how could you go wrong with a chestnut? Being from Merry Olde England, I’ve played the classic old game of Conkers many times, and know just how hard these things’ shells can be to break through. Damn those spines, they’re like Satan’s own sea urchins.
And so the Chespin line was born. Characterized by its high physical defense and organic armored body, this thing had all the hallmarks of a great tank on the special side. In practice, though, it’s never quite lived up to that potential for me. It’s tough being a Grass type, with their many weaknesses, and this severely limits Chesnaught’s ability to take hits.
I know, I know. Forget Sophie’s Choice, this is the truly difficult stuff right here. Again, I’m loathed to rank Squirtle, the coolest and funkiest of all badass shade-wearing turtles, so low. The thing about that is, I’m trying my damn hardest to be impartial here.
Times have changed, after all. Our original starter squad from 1998 aren’t the same Pokémon they used to be. We’ve got the fancy-ass new-fangled Mega Venusaur, Mega Charizard, and Mega Blastoise to consider now. In that trio, Blastoise is definitely the weak link. The two Mega Charizards are real monsters, as we’ll see later, and Mega Venusaur is an incredible tank; the damn thing shrugs off bullets like The Terminator.
I have quite mixed feelings about Treecko. On the one hand, it’s a grassy gecko, and that’s something I think we could all use in our lives. I tend to make my starter choices based on the sorts of Pokémon I’d love to have as pets in real life, after all. The more exotic (turtles, lizards) the better in my view. On the other, it’s a little sub-par.
Sceptile is super fast, there’s no taking that away from it. It’s built to be a swift sweeper, but it’s lacking a little in the offense department. I’ve had some success with its mega form, which is a fairly potent (and insanely fast) Grass/Dragon revenge killer, but you can’t expect too much from this thing besides that.
A lot of the time, starter Pokémon get a bad rap. In any given generation, they are never really the best available, competitive wise. Oftentimes, they are strictly all-out bad, they are just not the optimal choice. In a harsh and cutthroat world like competitive Pokémon (yep, really, this is a damn vicious place), if you aren’t the very best like no-one ever was, you’re going to be cast aside. Abandoned and doomed, like Leonardo DiCaprio as the Titanic sank and he wasn’t allowed up on the big door.
Oshawott is one such example. The water type Samurott makes a decent name for itself in the lower tiers, and can be quite a potent and versatile attacker. Physical, special, or mixed, it can get the job done. There’s no way it could compete with the best of the best, however.
As I say, starter Pokémon are always among the first to be thrust into the limelight at the beginning of each new generation. From the moment their designs are revealed, the poor guys are poked, prodded, papped and speculated about, like Tinsel Town celebrities. Are they just putting on weight, or are they pregnant? I’ve no idea, but THE WORLD MUST KNOW.
That’s the problem with all this speculation, when you’ve just got a leaked image to go on. The facts can change, and you can realize you’re entirely wrong. Prior to Pokémon X and Y’s release, Fennekin was a huge fan favorite. In battle, however, it proved to be quite underwhelming. The unusual Fire/Psychic typing is neat, but Delphox didn’t excel in any one area and was a bit of a disappointment.
As we all know, the main series Pokémon titles tend to follow a very specific formula. Part of this sees the player always choosing from among a trio of starter ‘mon to kick off their adventure with. There’s only one exception to this particular rule: 1998’s Pokémon Yellow. In this enhanced edition of the original titles, the player is given a Pikachu at the start of the game, and it will be their companion throughout their journey.
What can I really say about Pikachu? It’s the mascot, the squishy little yellow face of Pokémon. In the game, it’s a little lackluster; it refuses to evolve with a Thunder Stone and so will always be pretty darn weak as a result. On the plus side, it just seemed ‘right’ having a Pikachu right alongside you from the off, and man was it power over Misty.
Now, I don’t need to tell any of you how incredible penguins are. We’ve all seen Happy Feet, we’ve seen these awesome little guys in zoos and on TV. We’ve watched emperor penguin dads carrying the babies on their feet like the amazing, badass hands-on dads they are. All of this is common knowledge, there’s no need for me to try and sell you on penguins.
Now, the Piplup line is horribly underappreciated. It won’t win any awards for power, speed, or any of those flashy traits. But it doesn’t need to. Empoleon is just all-round solid. The only Water/Steel Pokémon to hit the series so far, it has an excellent move pool and solid stats across the board. It can be a bulky Stealth Rock setter, an Agility sweeper, a neat check to all of those Fairy types that are lurking around now. Can’t stop Empoleon.
Typhlosion is the kind of guy/gal who knows what s/he likes. S/he knows what s/he dislikes, s/he knows his/her limitations, and he/she doesn’t have any fancy notions. In today’s competitive, petty and judgmental world, this are admirable traits. We could all stand to be a little more like Typhlosion, in my eyes. I wouldn’t go so far as to transform myself into a fiery porcupine thing, but you know what I mean. A little more like Typhlosion.
This is a Pokémon that knows its place, has one job, and does it darn well. Typhlosion is an Eruption machine, generally with a Choice Scarf equipped to get the best bang for its buck from the move. If it’s canny enough to switch in on a Fire-type attack and get the boost from its Flash Fire ability, it’s going to bring the pain in the lower tiers.
Rowlet arrived with the seventh generation games, Sun and Moon. More than any other starter Pokémon, this little thing really grew on me over time. On first setting eyes on the leaks, I wasn’t remotely impressed. The little guy looked a bit pitiful, and it got a reasonable amount of slack from other fans. Not to the extent that Popplio did, obviously, but the animosity was there.
Over the following days and weeks, my love for owls (yep, add them to the list too) won the day, and I eventually decided on Rowlet as my starter in Sun. I don’t regret the choice at all, as it was completely validated by the raw badassery that is Decidueye’s signature Z-move. I just wish Decidueye was as fast as its ninja-ish appearance would suggest.
Litten, on the other hand, didn’t have to insidiously grow on anybody. Right from the off, the kitten ‘mon established itself as a fan favorite. #TeamLitten was created about 0.29 nanoseconds after the starters were first shown off to the world, and as everybody picked sides, there was a clear winner.
Incineroar itself is a bit more of a mixed bag. It was sure as hell relieving that Game Freak didn’t inflict yet another Fire/Fighting starter on us, going Fire/Dark this time. Incineroar has, however, struggled to find a place for itself in the metagame just yet. It has that common Alola Starter issue of lacking speed and offenses, meaning it is usually cast aside in favour of the true powerhouses of the ‘dex. Still, that’s the way of the game.
Now, there are ‘better’ choices than Totodile (and obviously, by extension, Feraligatr). There are stronger Pokémon, faster Pokémon, those with better coverage, those who find setting up easier. The thing about all of those Pokémon is… well, screw them. We’re ranking starters only here, and when it comes to starters, there’s no more fearsome boosting sweeper than Feraligatr.
Like a few others we’ll encounter on the course of this list, it’s this gator’s hidden ability that truly makes it shine. Starters only have the usual Torrent/Overgrow/Blaze abilities by default, and they’re kind of an ass. Swap Torrent out for Sheer Force, and Feraligatr has a super useful boost to a lot of its attacks. If this guy gets itself a Dragon Dance (attack and speed increase in one) or two against you, you’re going to have a bad time. As the South Park meme will tell you.
Oh, Bulbasaur. The original Grass type starter. The OG of all OGs, #1 in the Pokédex. You’re not just rating this high because we all love you, friend. We do, obviously but that’s not the reason you’re here. Not the only reason, at any rate.
After twenty years, you could forgive the original line-up of 151 Pokémon to be done with this sort of thing. To fancy a good long retirement on an Alolan beach somewhere. Bulbasaur’s mama didn’t raise her no quitter, though, and the iconic Grass/Poison type is as relevant today as it ever was. Not only is Mega Venusaur an incredible tank (access to a great healing move, Thick Fat to negate its two major weaknesses to Fire and Ice), but standard Venusaur can be a terrifying sun sweeper with Chlorophyll doubling its speed.
My personal favorite of the tedious Fire/Fighting starter brigade, and the second best in terms of this countdown. I probably don’t need to tell you that I’m a huge fan of monkeys, too, but that really wasn’t —much of— a factor in this decision at all.
Infernape is, as you can probably tell from its appearance, a nimble and tricksy sort of battler. It’s very fast (trying for speed with the legendary Swords of Justice, Terrakion, Cobalion, Virizion, and Keldeo), is equally powerful specially and physically, and gets a huge array of nice support moves. These include Fake Out, Feint, Stealth Rock and other such gems. There’s often a place for Infernape on a team, and it’s been a fairly popular pick since its introduction as a result.
Snivy, much like Cyndaquil, has a specific job to do. It’s been bred for that job, born into it (literally), and it’s damn well not going to let anybody down now.
What is that job, you ask? Serperior’s objective is simple. It has a tried and tested two-step guide to success: 1) wait until everything that can’t be Leaf Storm-ed to death is gone 2) Leaf Storm everything to death. All of this fun-time action is made possible by Serperior’s hidden ability, Contrary, which transforms every stat debuff it gets into a buff. For any other Pokémon, firing off a Leaf Storm will reduce their special attack stat by two stages, but Serperior gains two stages instead.
Ah, Mudkip. I heard you like them, so I saved your Mudkip until Mudkip so you could Mudkip while you Mudkipped.
Dumbass memes aside, there’s a whole lot to love about our old buddy Mudkip. Not only does it look adorable, yet again, but its big daddy Swampert is the proud possessor of one of the best typings in Pokémon: Water/Ground. This gives it a sole weakness to Grass, and it’s a quad weakness, but Swampert can handle it (figuratively —keep it the hell away from Grass).
Not only is it an effective tank, but it recently gained a mega evolution with coveted ability Swift Swim. I don’t need to remind you of Mega Swampert’s humongous guns, either, because: hot damn. I’ve no idea where this dude is on leg day.
Torchic is the final member of the Fire/Fighting tedious starter trio, and I’ve saved the best until last for sure. Competitive community Smogon have banned this belligerent bird from standard play, and rightly so. You’d never think it to look at this cute little chick, but it’s a real monster.
Blaziken can be terrifying for one main reason: its ability. Speed Boost gives it a plus one increase in speed at the end of every turn, and you can couple that with Protect to ensure that it’ll soon be out speeding everything. Combine that with potent dual STAB moves in Flare Blitz and High Jump Kick, and you’ve got an opponent that’s near impossible to stop once it gets momentum going. All Pokémon players have fallen victim to Blaziken at some time or another.
Good job, Froakie. You’re the living embodiment of the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Like a lot of the starter Pokémon we’ve encountered here, Froakie doesn’t look like much at all. Certainly nothing terrifying. Who would have thought that just two evolutions later, this thing would be one of the greatest assassins the Pokémon world has ever seen?
Much like Popplio, Froakie was seen as a bit of a joke when it was first revealed. The fearsome Greninja, however, is a threat you’ll want to take seriously. Its hidden ability, Protean, makes it change typing to match the type of whatever move it’s using, as it uses it. This gives it STAB on every move, and makes it much more powerful than its stats alone would suggest.
I know. I totally hear you. This one might be a little controversial, but it’s just my opinion after all. My own personal fanboyism for Charmander is pretty well irrelevant here, when you look at the history of the Charmander line.
For several generations, Charizard hasn’t been much of a factor competitively. It’s had its uses, and pulled off some incredible Belly Drum sweeps, but it was definitely tough to use. That freaking Stealth Rock has seen to that; nobody wants to have half their HP stripped away just for switching in.
With the advent of Pokémon X and Y, everything changed. Charizard was the only Pokémon (bar Mewtwo) that was given two separate version-specific mega forms. Mega Charizard Y is a hugely powerful sun sweeper, and Mega Charizard X can be an unstoppable Fire/Dragon physical force. I guess, technically, these things could make Charizard the strongest starter ever.
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