Pokémon Sword and Shield are finally here, and they bring new monsters to the fold. Whether you love or hate what Game Freak did to the Pokédex, one thing is clear: the fifth generation is finally getting some love. Unova's critters have never been fan favorites, with many critics citing questionable design choices. That, frankly, is wrong. The fifth generation has duds just like every other generation, but it also has some series best. Fortunately the artists at Game Freak know this and love their creations enough to give them another shot.
(Spoilers follow for Pokémon who show up later in Sword and Shield.)
Fifth Gen "Worst" Gen
Pokémon obviously began with the first generation, those original 151. Since the second gen games were direct sequels to the first, they're typically looped in when people moan about the "good ol' days" of Pokémon. The third gen, meanwhile, carries a nostalgia of its own. It was released six years after the first, allowing time for a new group of children to take up Game Boys and have Ruby/Sapphire be their first Pokémon games. The fourth gen revolutionized the games by bringing them to the DS. This gave the series access to two screens, online play, and other quality-of-life changes that blew fans' minds.
The fifth generation doesn't have a big claim to fame. Black and White didn't bring the series to a new platform. Game Freak didn't make those games to appeal to a new generation of children. Instead, fifth gen actively focused on story, tried to address more mature themes than the usual friendship tale, and avoided relying on Pikachu to carry the series. These are things longtime fans had been asking for. Sadly, sales and general reaction didn't show thanks for the effort.
Many longtime fans were quick to bash fifth gen's Pokémon. Even though Game Freak (finally) stopped putting Zubat in every cave, people wanted their "classic" designs back. Casual fans who haven't payed attention to the franchise since the PokéRap stopped also bash fifth gen. Despite the fact that awesome designs like Zoroark and Chandelure exist, critics will focus on the one ice cream Pokémon. Similarly, they hold first gen favorites like Eevee and Charizard in their hearts while forgetting the pile of goo and useless cocoon.
The poor sales and general negative reception to fifth gen had an effect on the series as a whole. The following sixth generation games brought the first gen back into the spotlight by giving players a second starter Pokémon from the original trio. It also gave Charizard extra attention with two Mega evolutions. The trend continued in seventh gen with first gen favorites given special Alolan Forms. And with Sword and Shield's marketing, it seemed like the favoritism would continue into eighth gen. Thankfully, that's not the case.
Galarian Forms: Fifth Gen Reborn
Pokémon Sun and Moon started a new type of Pokémon: the regional variant. The idea was that a Pokémon species would change over time to suit an environment different than that of its home. Pokémon Sword and Shield continue this idea with the Galarian Form, named after the game's Galar region. It's through Galarian Forms that certain fifth gen Pokémon are reintroduced to players.
First up is Stunfisk, the image just above. Its original design was based on types of fish that lay flat at the bottom of a body of water. It's actually known as the "trap Pokémon" because, like those fish, it will entrap prey that gets too close to where it lays on the sea floor. Critics didn't get that, or continued to judge it anyway. Its Galarian form takes the trap theme and brings it to ridiculous new heights. It seems to be a land-based trap now, modeled after a bear trap. Why? Who knows, but it's a fun design that should be obvious enough to even the harshest judge.
Another contentious fifth gen Pokémon is Darmanitan. One of TheGamer's own writers cited it as a top ten bad fifth gen design. According to his reasoning, Darmanitan is weird because "when he falls below a certain health percentage he turns into a statue." He seemed to miss the point that Darmanitan is based on a traditional Japanese Daruma doll. "Turning into a statue" is Darmanitan becoming the actual doll. Still, Game Freak took no chances with Darmanitan's Galarian form. Now it looks like a snowman/yeti hybrid. With a more recognizable, cute design, people should have no issue "getting" Darmanitan now.
Yamask is actually one of the more popular fifth gen Pokémon. It's the ghost of a person who died and carries a mask of their face because they can't move on. Yamask then evolves into Cofagrigus, a haunted sarcophagus. The dark backstory and stellar design delight fans of creepy Pokémon. Still, Egyptian-style sarcophagi appearing in multiple areas of the world would be strange. So Game Freak cleverly reimagined Yamask into a Pokémon that haunts ancient ruins and carries a rune stone. This new origin also changes its evolution into Runerigus. Not only is it a cool new design, it also shows the haters that Game Freak still has imagination.
Bigger Is Better
When Game Freak altered some Pokémon in seventh gen to make Alolan forms, one became a huge hit. Alolan Exeggcutor became an instant meme, and a lesson for Game Freak – make a Pokémon bigger in an exaggerated way and fans will love it for how silly it is. So it seems the developers decided to go all-in on a much-hated fifth gen Pokémon redesign for Sword and Shield. They gave Garbodor, the literal trash Pokémon, a giant form.
By the looks of it Garbodor has broken completely out of its trash bag and become an unstoppable landfill. It's so large that it consumes buildings. The best part is that, amidst a lot of the anger over Sword and Shield, many fans agree that this is amazing. Even those who hate the idea of a trash Pokémon enjoy how Game Freak doubled down to an absurd degree.
Pokémon's fifth generation will never be a fan favorite. There are too many nostalgic first gen diehards ensuring the hate will always remain. It's too bad, because fifth gen took the series in a more serious direction that could have led to some compelling places. While we won't see that vision carried out, fifth gen fans can at least delight in knowing Game Freak didn't forget. Pokémon Sword and Shield show that the fifth gen love is alive and well. Just look for the bear trap and garbage dump.