Ranking All Pokémon Starters is Hard Work
Arguably the most important decision a player makes in a Pokémon playthrough, selecting a starter defines the journey a player is about to embark on. It comes as no surprise that starters tend to be some of the most popular Pokémon generation to generation as fans become attached to their partner Pokémon. Starters, like cover Pokémon, are also divisive, dissecting the community as the fandom rallies behind their starter of choice only for those allegiances to be shaken up and the community re-divided with the reveal of the starters’ final evolutions. All of this begs the question, though: which starter Pokémon is actually the best?
To celebrate newcomers Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble, I’m ranking all eight generations of starters to decide once and for all which starter is the greatest of all time by systematically ranking them in consideration of stats, design, moveset, typing/ability/general usability, and historical competitive viability by comparison to one another. While this list doesn’t just reflect my personal preferences, my opinions inform it as impressions of aspects like design are, by nature, opinion, and even the most rigorous interpretation of stats still boils down to player preference. These rankings also aren’t exclusively informed by each Pokémon’s competitive viability, though will take that into consideration, as that is an element of overall usability, and will be measured through usage. Further, this list won’t heavily take into consideration Mega Evolutions as not all starters have them and I want to keep the playing field as even as possible, though in instances they do impact competitive usage and, as a consequence, this list. Eevee and Pikachu will also be left off of the list, as even their enhanced stats aren’t comparable as basic Pokémon. With all of that out of the way, here are all twenty-four starter Pokémon ranked from worst to best.
Anyone expecting Chikorita in this position is well aware of the second-generation grass starter’s bad reputation. While you’ll have to wait for that, Oshawott ranked as the worst starter for a number of reasons. It literally has the lowest total stats of any water starter, but the distribution of those stats is the real disappointment here. It has a fairly high Attack and Special Attack stat, and a higher than average HP stat, but with no speed or defense to speak of, those stats won’t be given opportunity to shine if Samurott’s already been blown out of the water.
Everything else about Oshawott is bland. Its pure water typing is dull and the corresponding movepool is perhaps the worst of any starter, drowned in water and normal type attacks. Design wise, Oshawott looks washed out or maybe seasick. While Dewott is a marked improvement, honestly ranking up there with one of the best “teen stages” amongst the starters, Samurott’s design sinks the positive direction Dewott steered this sea otter in. Bearing little resemblance to either of its namesakes, a samurai or an otter, Samurott ends up awkward and just another seal/sea lion amongst many better designed ones.
The wait wasn’t long. Chikorita is all too frequently viewed as the worst starter, but edges out Oshawott if only for Meganium’s charming design, being historically more viable, and the fact that it could handily best Samurott in a fight. Everything else about Chikorita is bland to the point of being bad. Its stats are balanced to a fault, with an uninteresting emphasis placed on its defenses. Its singular grass typing leaves it with an equal number of weaknesses and resistances, but with one of the most lackluster movesets of any starter, Meganium can’t exploit much beyond those Pokémon it resists.
Meganium does have access to some interesting, supportive type attacks, but these moves probably won’t appeal to the more casual player and the competitive player has much better options available, including other starters. It’s not all bad, though. Bayleef and Meganium’s designs are the perfect sequel to Venusaur, resulting in a far more pleasant and flowery design than the toady, monstrous form Bulbasaur takes in the end. Meganium’s appearance matches its character all too well: intriguing, but lacking any edge to speak of.
When Chespin was first revealed, I had high hopes that it would bear resemblance to a grass type Typhlosion or Sandslash. Instead, we got the worst designed starter to date. While Chesnaught is almost passable, I guess, or at least on par with some of the other goofy starter final evolutions, Quilladin might be the most awkward of the “awkward teen stage” Pokémon in the whole national Pokédex. If this were only about design, this would be a no contest, but Chespin does actually have a couple of things going for it. Chesnaught boasts the highest Defense of any starter and, quite suitably considering its distinct grass/fighting typing, also packs a considerable punch.
Chesnaught also has access to a strong lineup of physical attacks to take advantage of its formidable Attack stat with a wide variety of typings. Unfortunately, there are too many holes in Chesnaught’s “spiny armor,” and any Pokémon with a decent Special Attack, including Pokémon Chesnaught should be effective against like Greninja, can easily crack this nut. With a terrible Special Defense, slow Speed, and more weaknesses than any other starter at a whopping six, including a double weakness to flying, the case against Chespin is harder than the Pokémon’s spiky, nut shell.
The weakest fire starter by a wide margin, Tepig has a lot working against it. The most notable thing is that Emboar is the third fire/fighting starter in a row and is horribly outclassed by its predecessors, Blaziken and Infernape, despite having two of the highest stats of any starter, HP and Attack, as well as a strong Special Attack. Tepig’s formidable movepool is as deep as Chesnaught’s, with shocking type variety ranging from poison, to electric, to even water! The only perceivable drawback is that while many of Emboar’s physical attacks are immensely powerful, they harm the user.
This seems like a major drawback at first, however, Emboar seems to have been designed with its hidden ability, Reckless, in mind. Reckless, which boosts the power of moves that have recoil damage by twenty percent, paired with Emboar’s impressive HP stat, makes this boar a devastating tank that can easily absorb the aftershock of the punch it packs. This is all great in theory, however, with truly terrible defenses and speed, Emboar’s bacon will be fried before it can throw its first punch. That, paired with its ridiculous, if kinda funny, design and players are better off with literally any other fire starter.
The last piece of what’s undoubtedly the worst generation of starters, Snivy might be the best fifth generation starter, but its inadequacies are still pretty on par with its counterparts. Snivy is a compilation of familiar grass starter traits and tropes, but distributed in the most incoherent way imaginable. The fifth fastest starter, its concept and design are immediately reminiscent of Sceptile. Its stat distribution, however, is comparable to Meganium’s, emphasizing its defenses, but leaving both its Attack and Special Attack woefully underpowered, especially with the weight given to speed. Consequently, Serperior’s lightening fast strike has virtually no bite and is anything but superior. Snivy’s one saving grace preventing it from a position lower on this list amidst its peers is an exceptional hidden ability, Contrary, which reverses the effect of stat altering moves used on the Pokémon, including effects of the user’s moves. Paired with Leaf Storm, with what’s usually the drawback of harshly lowering the user’s Special Attack, and Snivy has a devastating attack that simultaneously substantially enhances its lethality.
Any ability that can so effectively turn a gentle gardener snake into a vicious viper deserves recognition, though this strategy isn’t without its faults. Leaf Storm only enhances Snivy’s special attacks, so any physical moves will still be rather timid. It also takes time to maximize special damage this way and won’t be very effective against Pokémon who resist grass, not to mention Serperior’s mediocre movepool limiting the moves that benefit from this effect. This goes without mentioning that any Pokémon faster than Snivy will have no trouble working around its substantial speed. A Contrary Serperior can be an amazing asset in the correct matchup, but only situationally, and a standard Snivy simply has no legs to stand on compared to its competition.
Turtwig is undoubtedly one of the most underrated starters in existence, presumably a consequence of its speed, the lowest of any starter. That, paired with its critical ice weakness courtesy of its unique grass/ground typing, and many are too quick to write this tortoise off. Trained and tech’d properly, however, and Torterra can be a seismic force to reckon with. Its stats are weighted on the physical end of the spectrum (HP, Attack, Defense), and Torterra’s Attack and Defense rank up there with the best of them. Its physical moveset, intrinsically including brutal attacks like Wood Hammer and Earthquake, compliment Torterra’s stats perfectly and offer some truly devastating STAB (same type attack bonus) attacks and weakness coverage.
More intriguingly, Torterra has access to support and sustain type moves including Protect, Substitute, Leech Seed, Rest and Sleep Talk, Synthesis, and more that, paired with its hearty defense and HP, make Torterra an aggressive attritional attacker. Additionally, with easy access to ground and rock type attacks; Torterra can cover many of its own weaknesses. Plus, with a design inspired by the World Turtle myth, the “continent” Pokémon looks incredibly cool. Trained and raised with Speed in mind and Turtwig can be tough to take down. Sometimes, slow and steady truly can win the Pokémon battle.
An unassuming, pale blue, cold-blooded creature that culminates in a thin, darker-colored, remarkably agile attacker, Sobblie is immediately reminiscent of the Froakie line in both appearance and stats. Its speed is second only to Greninja and it boasts the second highest Special Attack of any starter, an aggressive combination not too unlike Greninja. Unfortunately, any semblance between the two starters is a cover put on by the “Secret Agent Pokémon.” Inteleon might have greatness in its sightline, but a mono-water typing and subsequent shallow movepool keep it well out of range of the lizard’s line of fire.
That’s not to say Inteleon doesn’t have potential as a wallbreaker, albeit a severely limited one. Inteleon’s remarkable Speed and Special Attack mean its STAB attacks pack a lightning fast punch, but without a secondary typing, those are limited to water type attacks. A limited arsenal restricts coverage to some variation of a water type attack, Ice Beam, Air Slash, U-turn, and Shadow Ball or Dark Pulse exclusively to make the most of that Special Attack stat. Its hidden ability, Sniper, which increases damage dealt by critical hits from 1.5x to 2.25x damage, likely won’t make much of an impact now that its released as it only reliably increases the power of Inteleon’s Snipe Shot. Inteleon also suffers from an incoherent evolutionary line ending in an awkward, gangly design that hardly conveys its espionage theme. In the end, Inteleon has the heart of a spy, but none of the gadgets.
The antithesis of Chesnaught, the Fennekin line is statistically weighted to favor its special stats (Sp. At, Sp. Def, and Speed) resulting in a much more reliable Pokémon than its grass counterpart. Fennekin is notably the seventh fastest on this list and features the third highest Special Attack of any starter, allowing the fire fox to burn through its opposition. These stats blend perfectly with its somewhat unique fire/psychic typing and allow Delphox to make the most of its strong if somewhat focused specialist moveset. Delphox more than makes up for its limited move types with its fierce Special Defense and seven resistances, enabling Fennekin to take some of the heat this special attacker can dish out.
My primary complaint with the Pokémon is its design and generally how unoriginal it feels. Its classification, “Fox Pokémon,” and fiery fox concept are both shared with Ninetales, while the mystic “kitsune” fox concept is shared with the Alakazam line. Delphox’s witch theme, with its weird fur robe and ridiculous, fiery ear tufts, is somewhat charming, but Fennekin’s features fail to bewitch in the end, especially when compared to other lupine designs including the aforementioned Ninetales, Alakazam, and Lucario (yes, I know Lucario is based on a jackal/Anubis). It’s hard not to feel that Game Freak burnt their better fox design on Zoroark the generation prior. Zorua even has a fiery sort of appearance! In the end, there are statistically and aesthetically better special sweepers (Pokémon who clean up with regular KOs), and while Fennekin is perfectly suitable for a casual playthrough, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the end design, especially if you were expecting something fierce and majestic like Okami and ended up getting Cat Hermione.
At first glance, Treecko is really good. It looks pretty cool if a little cobbled together (Sceptile’s seeds and tail always felt a little forced to me). It’s extremely fast, the second fastest of any starter, and has a strong Special Attack to take advantage of that speed, all the makings of a great
glass grass cannon. While its movepool is restricted by its single-typing, it’s chock-full of powerful attacks. Sceptile’s hidden ability, Unburden, if situational, doubles the Pokémon’s Speed when its held item is consumed, ensuring that Sceptile always hits first. That all sounds sensational, but, unfortunately, there’s a complete disconnect between this moveset, which emphasizes physical type moves, and Sceptile’s stats, which prioritizes Special Attack. Consequently, with only a passable Attack stat, Sceptile can’t take full advantage of the moves it learns, including Leaf Blade, which premiered with Sceptile, and Sceptile’s signature Dual Chop.
This disconnect is the result of a system shift that started with the fourth generation of Pokémon that defines each move as physical or special independently of the elemental damage it deals, whereas damage type, physical or special, used to be defined exclusively by the move’s element. In the end, all of this completely undermines Sceptile. If unable to secure the OHKO, Sceptile’s poor bulk will be more than exposed. It’s worth noting that Sceptile’s Mega Evolution does improve the Pokémon’s overall utility, particularly in a doubles format with its intriguing Lighteningrod ability, but, barring that, Treecko remains perfectly usable if unfortunately outclassed.
With a strong emphasis on physical traits, including the highest Attack of any starter and the second highest HP, Rillaboom looks a lot like the grass reincarnation of Incineroar, favoring Speed over Special Attack in the “Drummer” Pokémon’s case. With access to a similar, albeit shallower movepool and respectable bulk, Grookey has potential as a powerful pivot Pokémon like Incineroar or as a grass type tank very reminiscent of Tapu Bulu. Where Rillaboom still has room to grow is in its lack of viable recovery options without the benefit of moves like Synthesis and Horn Leech. While Protect plus Grassy Terrain or Leech Seed are an option, the combination comes at the cost of Rillaboom’s overall utility explaining Rillaboom’s recent relegation to a Substitute/Bulk Up build.
Thankfully, this issue should be largely circumvented by the release of Rillaboom’s hidden ability, Grassy Surge, which automatically activates Grassy Terrain when Rillaboom enters the battle, allowing the gorilla to be naturally self-sustaining. This should allow Rillaboom to make the most of its Attack stat and utilize devastating STAB attack Wood Hammer without hesitation. Not that its signature Drum Beating, which slows opponents, is a bad option at all for tangling up Pokémon as they switch in. While I’m generally not a fan of Pokémon with props and Rillaboom could certainly stand without, Grookey’s design is consistent and overall pretty good. While not the best Galarian starter, with its new hidden ability, Rillaboom is sure to find its rhythm and rise up the ranks.
Despite being the lowest ranked of the Sun and Moon‘s starters, Popplio is by no means a bad Pokémon and is actually quite viable in both doubles and singles play. Primarina boasts both the highest Special Defense and Special Attack of any starter, the latter of which pairs perfectly with Primarina’s unique water/fairy typing, and turns this disarming mermaid into a tsunami of a special sweeper. Despite a relatively shallow movepool, Primarina has some powerful moves that take full advantage of its stats and typings including Sparkling Aria, Moonblast, Energy Ball, Psychic and Hydro Pump. Or, with Calm Mind and Substitute, Primarina can become a whale of a Pokémon to take down capable of wailing on opponents.
While its secret ability, Liquid Voice, is intriguing at first, turning any sound based attack into a water type move, with the arsenal of powerful water attacks already at the “soloist” Pokémon’s disposal, this ability doesn’t really add too much value. Primarina is also slow, slower even than Chesnaught, and has a low defense, making it easy prey for any Pokémon with a decent attack, like Rowlet. Design was the final determining factor for Primarina’s position on the list, and while I’m not too enthusiastic about its aesthetic, I can now happily ship Primarina and Samurott. In the end, there are plenty more fish in the sea, but not many better water and special attackers than Primarina.
This is the point in the list where the competition gets particularly fierce and any Pokémon from this point on could have conceivably cracked the top ten. Decidueye is no exception and, as the only owl and ghost type on this list, could have been higher on this list where I’m concerned. Statistically, Rowlet looks similar to Oshawott, with Special Defense emphasized instead of health but its most notable stats being its Attack and Special Attack. The big difference is that, thanks to its grass/ghost typing, Decidueye has access to a deep attack pool with wide type variety. While it’s certainly capable of utilizing special attacks, Decidueye’s moveset is brimming with powerful physical attacks perfectly suited to the owl’s strongest stat. Beyond it’s quiver full of aggressive attacks, Decidueye even has access to some substantial strategic or supportive type attacks including Swords Dance, Substitute, Synthesis, Haze, and Baton Pass.
Perhaps more intriguingly, Decidueye has a unique role amidst the other starters as a potential trapper Pokémon ideal for hunting or chaining. Its signature move, Spirit Shackle, tethers Pokémon to the spot so they can’t escape. Its ghost typing grants it immunity to normal and fighting type attacks while its grass typing makes it immune to spore type attacks. It has access to False Swipe to whittle down opponent’s health, while Synthesis and Substitute allow Decidueye to sustain itself. Foresight even allows it to False Swipe fellow ghost types for easier chaining! All of this goes without mentioning Decidueye’s brilliant design and concept. Rowlet is great at getting through the waters of Alola in a casual playthrough but even better for any clever collectors out there.
A fan favorite and the first original starter to make an appearance on this list, I suspect some Squirtle enthusiasts may feel sort of slighted by the “Tiny Turtle’s” position here, to which I would respond: Just. You. Wait. Again, the competition was incredibly fierce and unbelievably close; any Pokémon at this point in the list has more than earned a position in almost any party. In reality, I love Squirtle, and one only has to look at the cover art of Pokémon Blue to see Blastoise’s appeal. Despite the prominent water jets protruding from its shell, Blastoise doesn’t have remarkable Attack or Special attack stats, though both are relatively balanced, so the “Shellfish” Pokémon can make use of both physical and special attacks. Instead, Blastoise obviously emphasizes defense with the third highest Defense and second highest Special Defense of any starter. Blastoise’s utility, however, extends beyond its bulk and its true value is in its versatility.
Its natural defenses makes Blastoise a solid tank type Pokémon, while its hidden ability, Rain Dish, gives it some sustain in rainy conditions it wouldn’t otherwise have. Rest and Sleep Talk can get around some of that or Rain Dance and Iron Defense can help Blastoise build up its bulk directly. Blastoise makes a natural fit into the role of a defensive spinner, named for the move Rapid Spin, which clears the field of hazards, an essential element in a lot of competitive play, while its Mega Evolution seamlessly allows it to transition into an offensive spinner or an all out assault tank more effectively than ever before. And with a wide variety of attack types available to it, Blastoise can often drown unsuspecting opponents’ hopes. Not to mention its impeccable design from start to finish. While there are better bulk water types and more efficient all-out attackers; Squirtle is always effective in a Red and Blue playthrough and is, in a phrase, always a sturdy pick.
Cyndaquil fits into my favorite category of Pokémon, fast and furious. Statistically, Cyndaquil’s stats will look a little familiar to anyone who has played with a Charizard as the two Pokémon’s stats are a perfect mirror of one another. While Charizard has the edge over Typhlosion with an extra typing, a wider movepool, and not one but two Mega Evolutions, Typhlosion is still a reliable special attacker elegant in the simplicity of its approach. With reliable Speed and a formidable Special Attack, Typhlosion easily erupts into life with lethal force. Those stats paired with ungodly attacks like Eruption, which hits with excessive force until the user’s HP drops, and Typhlosion makes for a sure-fire sweeper.
While other fire starters offer wider utility for much the same strategy, including the faster, better specialist Delphox, Typhlosion benefits from better balanced stats overall, ensuring the “Volcano Pokémon” can utilize physical attacks too. That tradeoff becomes all the more worth it since Cyndaquil has access to Thunder Punch amongst other strong physical attacks. Not that Typhlosion necessarily needs a strong physical arsenal with special attacks Focus Blast, Hidden Power Grass, and even Extrasensory at its disposal. While situational, if a Typhlosion with its hidden ability, Flash Fire, can lure an opponent into hitting it with a fire type attack, perhaps through a well-timed switch in, not only will Typhlosion not take damage, but its fire type attacks will also deal fifty percent more damage, bringing likely half of Typhlosion’s moveset to blisteringly high power levels. Not to mention that the Cyndaquil line maintains one of the absolute best starter designs throughout all of its evolutions. While Typhlosion could unbelievably benefit from a Mega and an additional typing, it remains a reliable favorite and could-be top ten contender.
Unlike Sceptile that peaked during its premiere generation and quickly declined, Totodile was ahead of its time. Introduced in an era when all water based moves were special attacks, Totodile couldn’t adequately utilize its best stat or make the most of its moveset. Where the physical/special system introduced in Diamond and Pearl thoroughly undermined Sceptile, for Feraligatr it was an absolute game changer. Paired with Feraligatr’s hidden ability, Sheer Force, which boosts the power of moves with a secondary effect by thirty percent at the cost of losing that effect, and Feraligatr’s potential damage output has gone from mediocre to truly monstrous. With a solid arsenal providing decent type coverage to take advantage of this ability, including STAB moves Waterfall and Liquidation that are suddenly hitting harder than a Hydro Pump but with far more consistency, this gator makes a mean sweeper that can take down almost any opponent through, well, sheer force.
With exception, ideal starter designs should, in my eyes, start off incredibly cute and end in a ferocious looking monster, a precedent set by the original starters. Feraligatr and Typhlosion typify this for the Johto region with designs that rival and blend with the Kanto starters perfectly. While Totodile certainly has a bad case of the awkward tween stage, it culminates in one of the best-designed, fiercest looking starters yet. It’s not all smooth sailing with Totodile, though. Feraligatr’s largest liability is its Speed. Luckily, the “Big Jaw Pokémon” can be bred with Dragon Dance, which boosts both its Speed and its Attack stat. Totodile also has access to Aqua Jet, which, while not boosted by Sheer Force, is a physical water attack with turn priority. While later water starters inevitably made a bigger splash than Feraligatr, this Pokémon has a near unrivaled bite and I hope the Johto starters eventually get the Mega treatment and their proper place in the spotlight.
The third fastest starter with the fourth highest Attack, Cinderace is very much the physical counterpart to Inteleon, similarly capable of attacking with blistering speed and phenomenal force. Like Intelleon, Cinderace does suffer from some of the same limitations, namely mono-typing and consequent narrowly focused moveset to highlight its high Attack stat. Cinderace, however, is a versatile team player with the pace and strength to get around defenders and the field awareness and technical skill to play midfield and set its team up for success. This versatility comes courtesy of strong utility moves in addition to a range of standout physical, offensive coverage. Most notably, Cinderace’s signature Court Change, which actually swaps the effects on either end of the field rather than merely removing them, making a type typically susceptible to entry hazards the best defense against them.
Even more substantial, Cinderace’s hidden ability, Libero, is the second coming one of the best offensive abilities in the game, Protean, which changes the users type to that of the move its about to use, turning every attack Cinderace uses into a STAB attack. While its physical attack pool is limited, that does make the arsenal of powerful coverage attacks, including Iron Head, Zen Headbutt and Gunk Shot, even more powerful. Scorbunny isn’t without its weaknesses. Court Change all but necessitates Heavy-Duty Boots, limiting the items the striker can hold, and don’t dare dream of putting this bunny on defense with its poor bulk. Its design, meanwhile, is clever and charming if a little cartoonish. It might be a rookie now, but with a bit more experience and Libero under its belt, Cinderace is sure to be a star player in no time.
Despite being the least popular of the Kanto starters, Bulbasaur has consistently maintained its status as the most competitively viable original starter and the best early starter for a Kanto playthrough. Anyone who remembers the broken Toxic/Leech Seed combo immediately recognizes the utility of the “Seed Pokémon,” and while Venusaur still makes an excellent defensive, attritional attacker, its utility extends far beyond that. Bulbasaur is beautifully balanced, maintaining respectable bulk and sustain with its high Special Defense, decent HP and Defense, and access to restorative attacks including Leech Seed, Giga Drain, and Synthesis while still making for a strong attacker with its high Special Attack. In fact, with hidden ability Chlorophyll, which doubles Venusaur’s speed in strong sunlight, Venusaur becomes a sensational special attacker capable of an instant Solar Beam! Set up with a Sunny Day or paired with previously popular competitive picks with the Drought ability like Groudon and Mega Charizard Y and even the most passive Venusaur easily becomes the aggressor.
Alternatively, Venusaur can persist in the passive approach with the ever-venomous Leech Seed, Toxic build, which has only been enhanced by Venusaur’s bulky, easily sustainable Mega Evolution. While Venusaur offers a lot of versatility, it has a fairly limited range of attack coverage, not that it makes much difference with the level of efficiency Venusaur achieves with what it has. Aesthetically, Venusaur also leaves something to be desired, especially with how attractive Bulbasaur and Ivysaur both look, but that’s easily overlooked for such a classic monster. The last grass Pokémon on this list, its too often grass starters get the short end of the stick. Bulbasaur is the exception. Fans may have flocked to this flower’s counterparts early on, but with time Bulbasaur has blossomed into one tough toad that should never be overlooked.
Some see Empoleon’s slow speed, ground weakness, or limited move coverage and incorrectly assume it’s not a good Pokémon, when, in reality, Empoleon is perhaps the single most versatile Pokémon on this list. Empoleon has an exclusive water/steel typing, eliminating its grass weakness and providing it with an insane ten resistances and one full on immunity. That’s the second most resistances possible—period. While its base Speed is low, Piplup boasts the fourth highest Special Attack and third highest Special Defense of any starter while its HP, Attack, and Defense are all respectable in their own right. With its unique, defensive typing, substantial bulk, intimidating Special Attack, reliable physical attack, and specific moveset, Empoleon can conceivably fit into the roles of special wall, support, staller, pivot, special sweeper, physical sweeper, or an uncanny hybrid of any of these.
While type coverage is limited, Empoleon has access to everything it needs to fulfill these diverse roles beautifully. With Scald, Defog, Stealth Rock, Toxic, Yawn, Knock Off, and Roar, Piplup can play a special support with a nasty punch all its own. With Protect and Aqua Ring on top of those, Empoleon plays a mean stall game. With access to Agility or built into a Trick Room team, it can also easily over come its weak Speed and transition into a daunting special sweeper packed with Surf, Ice Beam, Grass Knot, and Flash Cannon. Or, with Swords Dance on top of the hidden ability Defiant, raising its attack two stages when its stats are lowered, Empoleon can make an unexpected physical sweeper. Empoleon can also play the pivotal pivot position, utilizing its defensive disposition to absorb hits, retaliate, and transition into teammates while providing checks and counters across the board. Minding the Earthquakes, Empoleon can be an enormous asset or even core of a team. Plus, aesthetically, they don’t come much cuter and then cooler than the “Emperor Pokémon,” with its bladed wings and trident crown. Vive l’empereur.
The most divisive starter in recent memory, Incineroar is wildly popular with some audiences and laughed off by others. Initially, with its low Speed stat matching Empoleon’s and only one base stat breaching 100 (never mind that it’s the fifth highest attack stat of any starter), Litten was written off as bad. Context, it seems, is everything. Incineroar began gaining traction in the VGC (Video Game Championships or competitive Pokémon play) at the end of the 2017 season prior to the release of its hidden ability, Intimidate. According to Pikalytics, it was the most used Pokémon for the entirety of VGC 2018 and 2019, where Incineroar’s usage didn’t dip below seventy percent, decisively making it the most competitively used Pokémon both of those years. Some might point to the advent of Litten’s hidden ability to explain the change. In reality, little actually changed beyond knowledgeable players seeing the insane utility of a written off Pokémon in a doubles format.
That utility can’t be overstated. Incineroar’s fire/dark typing offers a lot of offensive and defensive benefits, including immunity to popular psychic picks, an incredibly deep movepool with immense coverage, and strong supportive moves. Though frequently supportive, Incineroar is far from passive, supplying brutal but beneficial blows with Fake Out and Knock Off or outright incinerating opposition with Flare Blitz. Intimidate, which lowers both opponent Pokémon’s Attack upon entry, paired with generous bulk, ensures Incineroar will last in a fight and can provide a perfect pivot. Not only does Incineroar have access to Fake Out, it supplied perhaps the best fake out in Pokémon history when it was first leaked and later revealed with its suggestive, fighter-like appearance only to end up dark type in what reads like a calculated troll from The Pokémon Company. Admittedly over the top, Incineroar’s appearance has really grown on me since then and this cat’s inclusion in Smash Bros. is a welcome one. Like Empoleon before it, popularity, or lack thereof, doesn’t define a Pokémon’s potential.
Here we are, the top five, and probably the most controversial position on this whole list. I’ve approached this list as objectively as possible, taking as wide a perspective as I’m able to supply, all in the effort of achieving the most accurate ranking list possible…but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great putting Blaziken in its proper place. Uber tier or not, Blaziken is not the best starter, despite frequent fan perspective and historical usage. Blaziken does supply a consistent sweeping strategy with its god-tier hidden ability, Speed Boost, which boosts Blaziken’s Speed one stage per turn. By using Protect turn one, Blaziken can safely receive a boost to its Speed at which point it’s likely to be faster than it’s opponent and can exploit its exceptional Attack and Special Attack stats with a strong set of typically fire and fighting moves.
While Blaziken’s movepool features some truly amazing attacks including Flare Blitz, Blaze Kick, Sky Uppercut, High Jump Kick, and Brave Bird, it lacks coverage depth, and failing to supply the proper coverage or an answer to Trick Room can result in this build falling flat on its face. It’s also predictable, and all too easily checked post X and Y, especially with Blaziken, and even Mega Blaziken’s, poor bulk. Failing to net the OHKO means this chicken is fried. Speed Boost is too good to overlook, but, without it, Blaziken might pack a mean hook, but not much else. All of that had minimal impact on Blaziken’s rank; it’s an admittedly top tier Pokémon. Why Blaziken is only rank five, and not two or three, is its aesthetic. Blaziken is an awkward-looking man-chicken, and not in a cool way like Hawlucha (who’s actually a hawk guy). Flaming bellbottoms, blonde, winged hair running into chest hair, maybe Blaziken is a 70s martial arts movie citation I don’t get, but I can’t dig this Digimon looking mother clucker. Conceptually cool and on the verge of greatness, it’s ultimately just too humanoid. Its Mega is a bit better with the Tekken hair, but not much. Not the best in Ruby and Sapphire, and not a bad starter by any means, but too each their own.
The follow up to Blaziken and the second fire/fighting starter in a row, its easy to understand why the Hoenn and Sinnoh fire starters are compared so often. With better Speed, more reliable move coverage, a stronger moveset, and less reliance on the one or two strategies Blaziken implements, Infernape makes for a stronger, more versatile pick nearly every time, even without Speed Boost. Actually, with access to priority moves like Fake Out and Acrobatics, Infernape can reliably counter Mega Blaziken, even securing an OHKO after one Swords Dance, after Blaziken has received entry damage or inflicted self-damage having missed an attack, or by simply holding a Flying Gem. Barring Brave Bird, which Infernape can use Protect against; Mega Blaziken has nothing in its arsenal to do the same.
While it doesn’t have Speed Boost, Chimchar is in a reliable speed tier and the fourth fastest starter. What it does have is hidden ability Iron Fist that boosts the power of punches by twenty percent. That includes Fire Punch, Thunder Punch, priority move Mach Punch, and stat boosting Power-Up Punch. Securing a hidden ability Infernape isn’t overly necessary though as even standard Blaze Infernape has access to some stellar moves including Focus Blast, Vacuum Wave, Grass Knot, U-Turn, and Gunk Shot. Plus, with a design based on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from classic Chinese epic Journey to the West and inspiration for Dragon Ball’s Goku, you really can’t go wrong, especially with flaming hair that may be a very direct Super Saiyan citation. Now if we could only get a Mega Evolution for the “Flame Pokémon,” maybe one that turns its hair blue or silvery white with a new signature ability called “Super Blue” or “Ultra Instinct,” or something along those lines, that would be super.
Hoenn counterpart Blaziken may benefit from one of the best hidden abilities in the game, but since its debut Swampert has boasted one of the best typings of any starter. Not only does Mudkip’s water/ground typing nullify its weakness to electric types, it leaves Swampert with only one weakness. Statistically, Swampert is very comparable to Incineroar, but with a bit more bulk and a slightly less powerful Attack stat, still leaving it with the sixth best Attack of any starter and just shy of even Blaziken’s. Paired with decent move type coverage and exceptional STAB moves including Waterfall and Earthquake, Mudkip makes for a powerful pivot and defensive core, endlessly enduring hits with its stellar bulk and capable of hitting back even harder.
While its hidden ability, Damp, is only situationally helpful, negating suicide strategies involving self-destructive moves, Mudkip is one of the rare examples that can make exceptional use of its standard ability, Torrent, courtesy of its bountiful bulk. Consequently, bringing Swampert below one-third its HP can be a costly mistake as suddenly its water based attacks are doing fifty percent more damage. More often than not now, Swampert is used as a sweeper thanks to its Mega Evolution, which greatly enhances its attack and bulk while giving it access to the ability Swift Swim, which doubles its speed in rain. Paired with Kyogre or rain dance, this “Mud Fish” is sure to rain on your parade. Plus, based on a necturus (mudpuppy) or axolotl, Mudkip remains one of the most unique and creative designs in all of Pokémon. This “Mud Fish” might know how to get down and dirty, but make no mistake, competitively and casually, Swampert consistently clean ups.
One of the most recognized Pokémon in the world and one of the most popular Pokémon in franchise history; Charizard ranks in at number two. To veteran players, that position might seem a little inflated for what Charizard offers, but despite the blasé reception the original fire starter instills in many long-term fans these days, carefully examining everything from design to utility, Charizard is genuinely an exceptionally well-designed, versatile Pokémon. Rank undoubtedly boosted by its design, Charizard boasts one of the best, if not the very best (like no one ever was!), designs of any starter. Don’t even get me started on its charcoal colored shiny variant! Not that its stats are anything to scoff at, with an impressive Speed and strong Special Attack, making Charizard an ideal special sweeper. With Dragon Dance to enhance Speed and Attack and its hidden ability, Solar Power, to boost its special attack in sunlight at the cost of some of its HP, the “Flame Pokémon” is an excellent play on a warm, sunny day!
Charizard also offers pretty insane coverage with access to flying, fire, fighting, grass, ground, rock, dark, and dragon moves, plus an electric move in Thunder Punch! While a secondary flying type has a lot of the same effectiveness as fire, it eliminates and ground weakness Charizard might otherwise have and gains it access to Roost for solid health regeneration. That does leave Charizard even more susceptible to rock type attacks, but with a potential Solar Beam and Focus Blast under its wing, rock Pokémon should be weary facing off against this fiery fiend. Its difficult to distinguish base Charizard from its two Mega Evolutions, Mega Charizard X and Y, which give immense utility as a sweeper and wallbreaker with new abilities (Tough Claws and Drought), a new typing for X (fire/dragon), and stellar stat boosts for both, which have made Charizard a staple in the metagame since X and Y. Maybe not the strongest candidate on the list, Charizard is a fan favorite for a reason and more than deserving of its high position.
Greninja is emphatically the greatest starter of all time. Well designed if unassuming at first, no one could’ve anticipated that Froakie, the “Bubble Frog,” would transform into the absolutely lethal ninja that Greninja is known as today. In an obscene Speed tier amidst Megas and legendaries, Greninja boasts the fastest Speed of any starter. That Speed, paired with a menacing Attack and Special Attack, makes the “Ninja Pokémon” the biggest offensive threat on this list. With a truly expansive movepool courtesy of a strong water/dark typing, Froakie can strike down almost any opposition before they have time to react.
Equipped with its ungodly hidden ability, Protean, which alters its typing to purely match the move its about to use, Greninja can pick apart entire teams with exclusively STAB attacks while circumventing common checks and counters simultaneously. A fighting Pokémon, for instance, that should normally be super effective against Greninja’s dark typing, might suddenly find itself resisted or entirely ineffective if Greninja is about to use a psychic or ghost type move depending on the coverage Greninja runs, all that assuming the fighting Pokémon is faster than Greninja in the first place. Alternatively, Battle Bond ability Greninja sees frequent use thanks to its Mega Evolution alternative, Ash form, which enhances its Speed and both of its attacks while boosting the power of Greninja’s signature move, Water Shuriken, making it a devastating priority move. Able to overcome its lack of bulk with insane Speed, Greninja’s greatest weakness is perhaps its “four-move syndrome” and limitations to the maximum coverage it can run at a given time. On top of all of that, the list of Pokémon with better designs than Greninja in the entire franchise is incredibly short, its tongue-scarf an impeccable touch. The list of cooler shiny variants, compared to Greninja’s ninja black variant, is even shorter. Greninja’s caliber not only makes it the number one best starter, but also proves it’s a top tier Pokémon in general.
PAX Online: ‘Inkulinati’ and ‘Pumpkin Jack’
The PAX Online celebrations continue with the strategy game, Inkulinati, and spooky Halloween themed Pumpkin Jack.
The PAX Online celebrations continue with a strategy game whose tales are writ in ink and a game sure to put you in an early Halloween mood.
Platforms: Switch and Steam
Competitive strategy games stress me out. Chess? Stresses me out. Checkers? Stresses me out. Star Craft? Stresses me out. Managing that stress as a form of stimulation is what makes the best strategy games shine, though, and Inkulinati is so far demonstrating all the facets of such a game.
The titular Inkulinati are masters of a craft that brings their inked creatures to life on parchment, including a caricature of themselves. The two Inkulinati do written battle with each other until only one is left standing. The battles are carried out in a charming medieval art style that looks like it was taken straight out of a manuscript you’d find carefully stored in a library. These aren’t the masterpieces of Da Vinci or Van Gogh, but the kinds of scribbles you’d find the layman making on the edges of pages either out of boredom or mischievousness. The playful art makes for a playful tone and jolly times.
The core thrust of the gameplay is that each Inkulinati utilizes ink points to conjure units, or “creatures”, onto the parchment in a turn-based manner and sends them into the fray. There were a fair amount of creatures available in the demo — ranging from a simple swordsdog with well-rounded stats to a donkey capable of stunning foes with its trusty butt trumpet. Many many more creature types are promised in the full game, but I found even with the limited selection of the demo the gameplay was still able to be showcased well.
Your primary Inkulinati also has some tricks up its depending on the type you’ve chosen to take into battle. Instant damage to or healing a unit were the two shown off in the demo, as well as being able to shove units. Shoving is particularly useful as you can push enemies into the hellfires that encroach the battlefield as the battle wages on, instantly defeating them.
Doing battle with an opponent it all well and good, but what’s the point if it’s not immortalized for generations to experience down the line? Inkulimati understands this need and will record every single action of the battlefield in written word. It’s infinitely charming, and the amount of variations in how to say what amounts to just “X unit attacked Y enemy” is astonishing. How can you not chuckle at, “Powerful Morpheus killed the enemy and may those who failed to witness this live in constant pain and regret”?
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: Q4 2020
Halloween may be a little over a month away but that didn’t stop the 3D action platformer Pumpkin Jack getting me in the spookyween mood. The human realm is suffering from the Devil’s curse and have elected the aid of a wizarding champion to save them from it. Not to be outdone, the Devil also chooses his own champion to stop the wizard, choosing the despicable spirit Jack. With the tasty reward of being able to pass on from hell, Jack dons his pumpkin head and a wooden & straw body on his quest to keep the world ruined. The premise sounds slightly grim but make no mistake that this is a goofy game through and through, a fact only emphasized by a brilliant opening narration dripping with sarcasm and morbid glee.
The demo took us through Pumpkin Jack‘s first stage, a dilapidated farmland full of ambient lanterns abandoned storehouses. The visuals are compliments by a wonderfully corny soundtrack full of all the tubas, xylophones, and ghost whistles one would expect a title that is eternally in the Halloween mood.
We got the basics of traversal, like dodge rolling and double jumps, before coming upon a terrified murder of crows. Turns out their favorite field has been occupied by a dastardly living scarecrow and they want Jack to take care of it. One crow joins Jack on his quest, taking the form of a projectile attack that he can sic on enemies. Jack also obtains a shovel he can use to whack on the animated skeletons with a simple three-hit combo. There’s nothing particularly standout about the combat, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be this early on. More weapons such as a rifle and scythe are promised in the full game and should go a way towards developing the combat along with more enemy variety.
Collectible crow skulls also dot the map and seem to be cleverly hidden as even when I felt like I was carefully searching the whole stage I had only found 12 out of 20 by the end. Their purpose is unknown in the demo, so here’s hopping they amount to something making me want to find those last eight in the full version.
After accidentally lighting a barn ablaze and escaping in a dramatic sequence we came across the scarecrow in question. Defeating it was a rather simple affair that was just a matter of shooting it out of the air with the crow then wailing on it with Jack’s shovel. We were awarded a new glaive-type weapon as a reward but unable to give it a whirl in the demo, unfortunately. All-in-all, Pumpkin Jack shows promise as a follow-up to action 3D platformers of yore like Jak & Daxter, so here’s hoping to a solid haunting when it releases later this year.
‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic
“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.
These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;
“The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”
Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether.
“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.”
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer
Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties.
Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy.
Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas.
Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.
There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.
With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG.
Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.
So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account.
The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library.
Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games.
The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.
Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.
The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.
In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum.
There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player.
All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda.
Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result.
Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all.
If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda.
Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense.
It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games.
In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand.
An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.
PAX Online: ’30XX’ and ‘Cris Tales’
Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.
Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
I’ve already given some of my thoughts on 30XX back when I took it for a spin at PAX East. To catch those who didn’t see that report up to speed, 30XX is a 2D side-scrolling roguelike with a hi-bit art style and gameplay reminiscent of many Mega Man games. It’s generally more forgiving than Mega Man in the sense that there’s a distinct lack of instant-death spikes and pits, but the tradeoff is that when you do die that’s the end and you have to start the whole game over from the start. Classic roguelike rules for ya.
This PAX Online demo was very similar to the one I played at East. I chose between the blaster Nina or swordsman Ace then I went on my merry way throughout the two levels. One key difference is that I did not start out with any specials this time around and my maximum health was much lower. This is probably in-line with what it would be like to start a new game completely fresh as opposed to some upgrades as the East demo had. As a result, I actually failed my first attempt at this demo.
That’s where the first additional aspect of this build came into play, though, in the form of global character progression. Beating bosses in 30XX not only grants you a new weapon ability but also a currency called Memoria. Memoria can be spent at a shop in-between playthroughs to obtain permanent upgrades for Nina and Ace for every subsequent attempt. The pickings were rather slim for the demo, such as increased health and energy, but a wider variety is promised for the full release, and if anything it’s exceptionally clear how useful they’ll be to fully clear the game’s ten planned stages in one go. I also await the inevitable “no upgrade” runs that will assuredly come out of this, though.
The other neat addition to this demo is Entropy conditions, which are essentially modifiers. You can make it to where shop items cost more Nut currency to purchase per run, impose a time limit, and/or increase the amount of HP enemies have. Enabling these options also increases rewards gained from runs, adding a nice risk vs. reward factor that will probably keep things engaging even after you master the game’s earlier stages. More Entropy conditions are promised to be added into the full game that will allow you to fine-tune your experience even further.
The one concern I have for 30XX at this point is the number of dead ends I encountered with no reward to show for it. This is probably a result of the procedurally generated nature of the game, but the number of times I thought I was so clever for platforming up to a hard-to-reach area only to be greeted by a wall was more than I cared for. This is the “30XX Very Pre-Alpha Demo”, though, so it’s a flaw that can still be fixed in future development and with everything else that is being done right so far — the tight platforming, varied progression, and delightful aesthetics — it’s not hard to be hopeful for 30XX‘s future.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, and Stadia
Release: Nov 17th, 2020
I went into the Cris Tales demo after hearing nothing but its name in passing here and there. After finishing the demo, I’d recommend you do the same. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPG’s just download the demo and see it for yourself.
Cris Tales managed to constantly surprise and delight me throughout the entirety of its 45-minute long demo, firstly being the visuals. Playing through the game is like watching stained-glass art come to life with its hyper-stylized character designs that emphasize general shapes rather than specific details and environments chock-full of geometrical sharp edges. I was in awe from the word “Go”.
The story follows Crisbell, a chipper young orphan girl who spends her time happily doing chores for the orphanage and her dearest Mother Superior. After chasing a dapper young frog to a church, Crisbell inadvertently awakens the powers of Time Crystals hosed there and gains the power to see both the past and future at the same time. This manifests as the screen fractures into thirds with the left side showing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future at all times.
It was a trick that took a minute or two to register with me, but once it did I immediately set about traipsing all about the town I had just chased the frog through in order to see how it has and will change. It was a positively fascinating experience that put a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.
Crisbell can use this knowledge of that past and future to make decisions in the present such as locating a missing potion label or creating a concoction that will prevent wood from rotting and leading to dilapidated houses. Choosing which house to restore is also an irreversible choice that will lead to different outcomes depending.
Time manipulation also plays a major part in Cris Tales‘ turn-based combat in extremely novel and creative ways. Enemies attack Crisbell and co from both the left and the right, and you can attack them with your standard RPG basic attacks and skills. Enemies on the left side, however, can be forcibly sent to the past while enemies on the right to the future by expending Crystal Points. This means reverting a big brawny goblin into a harmless little child or aging it into an elder that can barely move.
That’s not all, though. Douse an armored enemy in water then send them to the future to cause it to rust and shatter their defense. Poison an enemy that has already been sent to the past then brings them back to the present to force them to take all that poison damage at once. Plant a damaging mandragora that would normally take a few turns to sprout then send it to the future to cause it to sprout instantly. These are the examples demonstrated in the demo but it’s abundantly clear that this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. It’s genuinely thrilling to imagine all the possibilities such a system is capable of. The best part is that we won’t have to wait long to find out as Cris Tales launches on all major platforms in just two months.
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