The Pokémon franchise is one of Nintendo’s big-ticket items. Back in the late 90s, Pokémania swept the world in a great wave, and… well, the floodwaters are still here in a big way. I have to commute to work in a Venice-style gondola, the world’s still so obsessed with Pokémon.
The secret to Pokémon’s success, I feel, is that it’s such a perfect example of Nintendo’s family-friendly ethos. This is what happens when E for Everybody actually means everybody. Children who are brand new to the games (to games in general, in a lot of cases) can have fun with the basics and the relatively painless introduction to RPGs and their mechanics.
By the same token, though, veteran Poké-players know that there’s a whole heaping heckola of hidden depth to be found here. The mechanics of battles are simple enough to grasp, but there’s a lot of number-crunching going on behind the scenes. The complex world of EVs, IVs and perfectly-bred Pokémon can be a real darn headache at first.
The competitive scene is super-serious, friends. People travel from all over the world to take part in official championships. Most of us aren’t quite at that level yet, but what’s the hurry? You’ve got to start somewhere.
If you’ve ventured onto the online Battle Spot, you’ll probably have noticed where most people start: by simply grabbing six legendary Pokémon and hoping to crush the competition. It’s not nearly that simple, though. Just being legendary doesn’t instantly qualify a Pokémon as great, and there are many ‘regular’ Pokémon that’ll often serve you much better in battle.
30 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Alakazam — No Spoons Are Safe
Some Pokémon are just born to be special sweepers. They’re fast and specially powerful, but about as solid as a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s in the Sahara. Alakazam is the exact embodiment of that concept.
Back in generation one, it was all-powerful. The Psychic-type was just beyond broken back then. There was no Dark-type, Ghost didn’t work against them; they only had to fear the almighty Twin Needle from Beedrill.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Mewtwo was a thing that existed, Alakazam would’ve been the most fearsome thing in the game.
29 BARELY WORTH: Regigigas — JUST WAKE UP ALREADY!
Now, I can appreciate Regigigas. I definitely can. That design’s just completely unique, and it’s super significant lore-wise. Its stats are just absurd, too. This is one huge --albeit derpy-looking-- powerhouse we’ve got on our hands right here.
The only issue is that its ability, Slow Start, neuters it into utter uselessness. On being sent out, Regigigas’s Speed and Attack are halved for five turns. This makes it a colossal pain in the cheeks to use. In Pokémon, efficiency is king, and Regigigas cannot deliver.
28 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Arcanine — Taking Things Literally
Well, I mean, come on. If you haven’t noticed, the internet is completely full to the gills with doggo memes and silly pet videos. The world has spoken: people love dogs.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Arcanine has been a fan favorite since its introduction two decades ago. It’s super solid and flexible in battle, with its great all-round stats and Intimidate ability, and the Pokédex actually characterizes it as the Legendary Pokémon. Clearly, this pupper was destined for greatness right from the start.
27 BARELY WORTH: Phione — How Are Babies Made, Again?
Let’s not misunderstand each other, here. Phione is another Pokémon that I can definitely get on board with. Look at it there, with its adorable little antenna/scarf thing and its happy little smile. You’d need to have a heart of mossy, mossy stone not to want to want to hug this little thing.
Having said that, there’s absolutely zero reason that I can accept for this thing to exist.
Why, why in holy heckola, can Manaphy breed with Ditto and produce one of these Manaphy Jrs?
26 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Ninetales — Tell Me Your Tales
Now, Ninetales have never been the most powerful of Pokémon. Whether in its regular fiery form or its spangly new Ice/Fairy Alolan one, it’s just underwhelming. It can really take a hit, and it’s not very powerful either.
Nevertheless, raw strength isn’t the only measure of a legendary Pokémon. There’s something mystical and magical about Ninetales. Its design is influenced by the fox spirits of Chinese and East Asian mythology (or Dragon Ball Z, if you prefer), which gives it a significant air that could’ve been better implemented.
25 BARELY WORTH: Articuno — Articu-Heck No
Over my long career as a Pokémon fan, this is one of the things I’ve had to come to terms with. Articuno is my very favorite Pokémon of all time, but do you know what else it is? Kind of bad, that’s what.
Statistically, it isn’t bad at all, but it has the problem of being a defensively-oriented Ice-type. That’s super difficult to pull off, because Ice is weak to absolutely darn everything ever. As such, Articuno scrapes a living as a staller or Sheer Cold spammer.
24 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Dragonite — The Original King Of Dragons
Oh, yes indeed, friends. Forget what Yu-Gi-Oh! may have told you about Blue Eyes White Dragon and all those other powerhouses. The only super-strong dragon you need in your life is Dragonite.
Now, granted, back in Pokémon Red and Blue, this thing didn’t have any of the traits that make it great. Multiscale? Dragon Dance? Outrage? None of that existed.
They didn’t need to, though. As soon as Lance busted out his dragons, wearing his cape for no dang reason because he’s just that extra, you knew the foul-smelling brown stuff was about to hit the fan.
23 BARELY WORTH: Raikou — More Style Than Substance
Nobody’s talking any needless snark, here. After all, Raikou’s a Pokémon you’ve just got to respect.
Conceptually, it’s like a cross between a sabretooth tiger and Thor, and does that sound like anyone whose lunch money you’d want to try and take? You’re dang skippy it doesn’t.
The trouble is, I’ve always found it a difficult Pokémon to fit into a team. It’s like a bigger, angrier Jolteon, with a dash more power and much less Speed. It just competes with very similar Pokémon and doesn’t really stand out.
22 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Lapras — The Ocean Giant
I’ve never been quite sure what to make of Lapras. With its great size and happy and friendly design, it’s sort of like Kyogre’s wise old grandma/pa, regaling it with stories of the good old days and trying to convenience it to stop Water Spouting freaking everywhere.
Compared to other Water-types from the first generation (Staryu, Poliwag, Tentacool), there was something intimidating and epic about Lapras. Couple that with its one-of-a-kind rarity in the game, and you can see how I’d think that it might be worthy of legendary status.
21 BARELY WORTH: Celebi — If I Could Turn Back Time…
Well, I’ve successfully gotten Cher stuck in my head all day with that headline, so that’s a success for a Monday morning. Yay me.
Moving right on, it’s a Pokémon tradition that every generation will see a Mythical ‘mon, with base stats that are an even 100 across the board. Of these, I’ve always been least impressed with the time-traveling Celebi. It can utilize a range of sets effectively and get the job done, sure, but there’s often something more specialized that could do it better.
Not to mention its unfortunate Grass and Psychic typing, which is one of the worst in the whole game in terms of weaknesses.
20 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Gyarados — Just LOOK AT IT
That snarky guy in the Pokémon Center might’ve thought he was slick, selling you that Magikarp for a cool 500 Poké-dollars. Little did he know that bad boy would evolve into a 20ft+ Gyarados in a few levels.
Back in the day, the lack of physical/special split rendered Gyarados pretty darn bad. Two decades later, though, it’s still in an excellent spot, a reliable and fearsome physical powerhouse. Like many other players, I’d like it to have been Water/Dragon. Besides which, remember the Lake of Rage?
19 BARELY WORTH: Regirock — Are You Ready To Rock (No, No It Isn’t)
Our big old hulking buddy has a similar problem to Articuno. The issue with Rock-types is that they tend to be slow and defensive, which is hard for them to pull off. Why? Because they’re also weak to every-freaking-thing ever.
The best Rock Pokémon are usually viable despite their Rock typing, not because of it.
Tyranitar, say. The golems have never really been up to much, competitive-wise, and Regirock’s definitely be exception. It can pull off some Weakness Policy/Rock Polish shenanigans, but it’s just not practical to use.
18 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Marowak — Pokémon Tower, AKA Big Mama’s House
As a huge fan of Trick Room teams, I think I’ve used a regular vanilla Marowak more than most. With a Thick Club in hand, it’s a ferociously powerful attacker, but it’s slower than comatose molasses. It’s totally reliant on the item, though, because its stats really are sub-par without it.
Marowak gained a lot of usage when its Ghost/Fire form was released. For me, though, it should’ve had much greater significance way back in generation one. With all the hoopla about it up at the top of Lavender Town’s Pokémon Tower, I was expecting something special.
17 BARELY WORTH: Latias — Second Fiddle
Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen the appeal of Latias while Latios exists. Clearly, they’re not supposed to perform the exact same roles on a team, but I’d plump for the brother of the duo every time.
Traditionally, Dragon-type Pokémon have tended to have a clear focus: their offensive. Dragons are all about charging in, giving the contemptuous finger and then crushing all who oppose you into sad, defeated hunks of Poké-spam. For the more defensively-inclined Latias, the influx of new Fairy-types has made life harder than ever.
16 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Golduck — What’s That Forehead-Crystal Even For?
Okay, friends, I need a little reassurance here. I really hope I’m not alone in this. By a quick show of hands, who thinks that Psyduck and Golduck should be part Psychic-types?
Just for my ego’s sake, I’m going to imagine a whole lot of raised hands there. So, thanks for that, all. The thing is, in the show and elsewhere, a lot is made of Psyduck’s propensity for ‘psychic headaches,’ and the design of Golduck clearly suggests that it’s got some intense brain-age behind that goofy face. As with Marowak, why wasn’t it seen as more important?
15 BARELY WORTH: Entei — That Whole Volcano Thing? Really?
As we’ve already seen with Arcanine, there’s only space for one Super Fiery Doggo around here. Even in formats where both are permitted, Arcanine is a much more common choice.
The two Pokémon are very similar, in terms of stats, but Arcanine has more utility.
Intimidate is just too darn useful, even if Entei has recently had the powerful Sacred Fire added to its repertoire.
The poor legendary dog/beast/gerbil (whichever term you prefer) just doesn’t stand out in the same way, and doesn’t have the power to set itself apart.
14 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Clefable —The Mystical Moon ‘Mon
Now, I don’t know about you, but I used to dread going into Mt. Moon back in generation one. That meant tedious trawls through a cave, and that meant that there’d be dang Zubats up in your grill every eighth of a nanosecond.
With our Repels sprayed over every inch of our bodies, though, it’s safe to explore for a bit. If you were lucky enough, you’d come across a Clefairy.
Because it was the first rare stone evolution I found, I used to think that the mystical Clefable was a one-of-a-kind, too.
13 BARELY WORTH: Registeel — Not-So-Heavy Metal
I like the golem trio, I really do. As a concept, they’re a little different, and they were fun to hunt down back in the day. Their designs were cleverly done too, in my eyes, similar yet distinctive enough to have been cut from the same cloth.
The trouble with the trio is that they’re very slow and defensive. They can perform a support role decently enough, but they have no real recovery outside of Rest. Registeel, in particular, likes to wear opponents down rather than unleash powerful attacks, so it would have appreciated that the most.
12 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Kingdra — The Ocean King
Now we’re talking, friends. I’m also a huge fan of the rain archetype, and Kingdra is my favorite of the rain sweepers for sure. I’ve been a fan ever since I saw its sprite back in Pokémon Gold and Silver. Its fin-wings are the cutest things in the known universe, and don’t even try to @ me on that.
I found this thing a bit of a revelation back then. Water and Dragon? Before the limelight-hogging Palkia showed up later, this was unique and powerful indeed.
11 BARELY WORTH: Jirachi — I Hope Your Mama’s Proud Of You, Flinchy McFlinchface
Dang it, Jirachi. You know what you’re doing is totally uncool, don’t you? I see you there, spamming your Iron Heads, with a 60% chance to flinch, and I am not amused.
Like Celebi, Manaphy, Mew and so on, Jirachi is another of the base 100 club. This allows it to run everything from Choiced sets to more defensive ones, which can be a real asset. The trouble is that you’re often losing some potential with it, whatever you do.
Choice Scarf Iron Head, meanwhile, can disappear back down Beelzebub’s underworld u-bend from whence it came.
10 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Mamoswine — Ice, Ice, Baby
As we saw earlier, the most competitively-useful Rock Pokémon have extra traits that make up for their unfortunate Rock-ness. This is also true of Ice. Both of these types are excellent offensively, and are excellent choices for coverage, but are terrible defensively.
What you want to do, generally, is use Ice moves, not Ice Pokémon. One of the few exceptions is Mamoswine, which is very powerful and has great coverage (being Ground and Ice). Its design is great, too, and it definitely looks legendary-worthy to me.
9 BARELY WORTH: Mesprit — The Also-Ran
Of the Sinnoh lake trio (Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit), it’s the latter that I’ve never quite been able to figure out. You can see the idea behind them: Azelf is the frail, speedy heavy-hitter, Uxie is the less offensive, bulky one and Mesprit is the middle ground between the two.
It boasts excellent mixed stats and is a very popular pick in lower-tier play. It’s that same old issue, though: it doesn’t specialize in any one area, leaving it to be another niche pick. I’d tend to opt for one of the other ‘pixies,’ depending on what I need it to do.
8 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Tyranitar — What Do You Mean, Pseudo?
Amid all this talk about legendary Pokémon, we’ve got to remember those pseudo-legendaries as well. This a fan term for those Pokémon that are as good as, boasting a base stat total of 600 and a three-stage evolution. The exact definition varies.
The thing they all have in common is that… well, they’re as almost legendary Pokémon, and much stronger than some of them. Granite Godzilla here certainly lives up to the name, a Rock- and Dark-type Pokémon that’s well-known for setting that darn sandstorm when it’s sent in. If you don’t have a Fighting-type, you might be in for a bad time.
7 BARELY WORTH: Regice — Frozen Out
On their debut in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, I spent a whole heckola of a lot of time trying to catch the golem trio. They’d deftly avoid my Poké Balls with all seven of their freakish eye-things, and it sure did take a long time. Once I finally had all three, I regretted every life decision I’d made to date.
Into the box they went, never to be used. They’re just... so difficult to use, even with their super-high stats (in some areas).
Regice functions similarly to Regirock (but is specially defensive instead of physically), and shares all the same issues.
6 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Slaking — The Curse Of The Cruddy Ability Claims Another Victim
So, Regigigas. You thought you were hard done by, with your Slow Start ability? Well, you are, because it sucks with all the combined force of a Dyson showroom, but here’s the good news: Slaking’s is arguably even worse.
Slaking has excellent stats, which would be beyond unbalanced if not for one thing: Truant, which prevents it from acting on consecutive turns. Hit and run is the only way to make this thing work.
Despite that, it’s a special and intimidating Pokémon, which I’d love to have seen as legendary with an alternative ability.
5 BARELY WORTH: Dialga — Steel Yourself, People
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Dialgia is not a Pokémon to mess with, there’s no doubt about that. Its stats are the same as its fellow Pokémon Diamond and Pearl boxart mascot, Palkia, only swapped around a little.
There’s no doubt that it’s strong, but its additional Steel typing is a real double-edged sword. Before the advent of the Fairy-type, all it really gained was a neutrality to other Dragons, in exchange for weaknesses to the ever-common Ground and Fighting types (and loss of that Fire resistance). I’d say that Palkia’s typing was more useful.
4 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Shedinja — It Really Bugs You
I’m not sure what to make of Shedinja. As with Ditto, it’s about when and how you use it. It can be incredibly effective in battle, or it can instantly keel over into a little ball of shame and embarrassment. You’ve got to be strategic with Shedinja, that’s for sure.
Why? Because it has a grand total of 1hp. To balance this, it also has the ability Wonder Guard, which completely negates all direct attacks that aren’t super effective on it.
It’s probably the most unique Pokémon of all, and the way you obtain it gives it an air of mystery and uniqueness that I always associate with legendaries.
3 BARELY WORTH: Cresselia — The Cosmic Punching Bag
If you’ve had much experience with competitive Pokémon play over the years, there’s no doubt that you’ve encountered the menace that is Cresselia many times.
The super-cute lunar Pokémon is one of the most effective supporters in the game, setting up screens, Trick Room, Helping Hand, all sorts of shenanigans.
All while shrugging off hits like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator movies.
The flipside of this is what happens when you take out Cresselia’s allies. It’s very passive by itself, really not much of threat at all (unless it’s getting its Calm Mind on).
2 SHOULD’VE BEEN: Lunatone And Solrock — Don’t They LOOK Important?
For most of us, Lunatone and Solrock are the kinds of Pokémon that get lost in the crowd. They’re the equivalent of those perfectly nice yet tedious Big Brother contestants, who make it all the way to the final weeks because nobody nominated them, because they all entirely forgot that they existed.
It shouldn’t be that way, though, it really shouldn’t. There was speculation that both of these ‘mon would be significant somehow in the story of Pokémon Sun and Moon, but Game Freak didn’t take that opportunity. There was potential here, though, for sure.
1 BARELY WORTH: Shaymin — What A Shame(in)
We’re going to close things out with another entry from the drawer marked Yep, These Have All Got Base 100 In Every Stat. Our last subject is the adorable little hedgehog/plant thing, Shaymin.
Shaymin shares its Grass typing (and so all of those unfortunate weaknesses) with Celebi. It’s much stronger in its Flying/Grass Sky form, which is currently rated Uber by competitive community Smogon. Standard Shaymin, however, is really only notable for Seed Flare, which isn’t enough to distinguish it from more specialized Pokemon in a lot of cases.