Ranking All Pokemon Starters is Hard Work
A new generation of Pokémon starters has been revealed with the proper announcement of Pokémon Sword and Shield. 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, and 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 the announcement of Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble, I’m ranking the first seven generations of starters to decide once and for all which starter is the best 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, they 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 it 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-one Pokémon starters 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 even more so, the distribution of those stats is the real disappointment. 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 single, 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 as one of the best “teen stages” of any starter, 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 or 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. Bayleaf 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. 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 is the most awkward of the “awkward teen stage” Pokémon, beyond just the starters. 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 and plenty of coverage (a wide variety of move elements). Unfortunately, there are too many holes in Chesnaught’s “spiny armor,” and any Pokémon with a decent Special Attack stat, 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, nutshell.
The weakest fire starter by a wide margin, Tepig has a lot working against it. The most notable is that Emboar is the third fire/fighting starter in a row and horribly outclassed by its predecessors, Blaziken and Infernape, despite its strong Special Attack and two of the highest stats of any starter, Health and 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 secret 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.
Despite being the weakest of Sun and Moon‘s starters, Popplio is by no means a bad Pokémon. 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 (a Pokémon who reliably gets Knock Outs). Despite a shallow moveset, Primarina learns some powerful moves that take full advantage of its stats and typings including Sparkling Aria, Moonblast, and Hydro Pump. For a casual playthrough, Primarina will perform perfectly.
While its secret ability, Liquid Voice, is intriguing at first, turning any sound based attack into a water type move, with an arsenal of powerful water attacks already at the “soloist” Pokémon’s disposal, this ability doesn’t really add 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 counterpart Rowlet. While I don’t love the design, at least I can ship Primarina and Samurott now. In the end, there are plenty more fish in the sea, and better special sweepers than Primarina.
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 third 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, Sereperior’s lightning fast strike has virtually no bite and’s 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 move 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 his 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 be reckoned with. His 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 moves like Wood Hammer and Earthquake, compliment Torterra’s stats perfectly and offer some truly devastating STAB (same type attack bonus) attacks or cover its weaknesses.
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 weakness. 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.
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 fifth fastest on this list and features the second 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,” is shared with Ninetales on top of its fiery fox concept while the mystic “kitsune” fox concept is shared with the Alakazam line. While Delphox’s witch theme is somewhat charming, with a weird fur robe and ridiculous fiery ear tufts, Fennekin’s features fail to bewitch 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, 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 Lightning Rod ability, but, barring that, Treecko remains perfectly usable if unfortunately outclassed.
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 ghost, grass typing, Decidueye has access to a deep movepool 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 its quiver full of aggressive moves, 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 make it immune to spore type attacks. It has access to False Swipe to whittle down an 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, I suspect some Squirtle enthusiasts may feel sort of slighted by the “Tiny Turtle’s” position on this list, 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 make 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 Blastoise courtesy of TMs, 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 for 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’s 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 a 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 moves. Not that Typhlosion necessarily needs a strong physical arsenal with special attacks Focus Blast, Hidden Power Grass, and even Extrasensory available to it. While situational, if 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 moves 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 absolute top ten starter.
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 can suddenly hit harder than a Hydro Pump but with far more consistency, this gator makes a mean sweeper that can take down some almost any opponent through, well, sheer force.
With exception, ideal starter designs should, in my eyes, start off incredibly cute and end in a fairly fierce 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 had a bad case of the awkward tween levels, it culminated in one of the best designed, most ferocious looking starters. 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 would inevitably make a bigger splash than Feraligatr, the Pokémon has near unrivaled bite and I can only hope the Johto starters eventually get the Mega treatment and a proper place in the spotlight.
Despite being the least popular of the Kanto starters, Bulbasaur has maintained its status as consistently 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 moves 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 sweeper capable of an instant Solar Beam! Set up with a Sunny Day or paired with 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 reaches with what it can do. 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, 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 possible, period. While its base Speed is low, Piplup boasts the third highest Special Attack and Special Defense of any starter while its Hit Points, 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 overcome 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 third 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 intimidate. According to Pikalytics, it was the most used Pokémon for the entirety of VGC 2018 and, for the past four series, Incineroar’s usage hasn’t dipped below sixty percent in VGC 19, decisively making it the most used Pokémon competitively this year. Some might point to the advent of Litten’s hidden ability, Intimidate, 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 understated. 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 Attacks 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 in what seems like an almost calculated move 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 an effort of achieving the most accurate ranking list as possible…but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great to put 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 has some truly amazing moves 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 failing flat on its face. Its 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 a stupid 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, its 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 to each his own.
The follow up to Blaziken and the second fire/fighting starter in a row, it is 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 his hair blue or white and 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 typing of any starter. Not only does Mudkip’s water/ground typing nullify its weakness to electric types, but it also 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 fourth 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 can consistently clean up.
One of the most recognized Pokémon in the world and potentially 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 weaker against rock type moves, 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 a high position on this list.
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 effectiveness 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 in the first place. Alternatively, Battle Bond ability Greninja see frequent use thanks to its Ash Form, Mega Evolution alternative 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 proves it’s a top tier Pokémon in general.
Not all starters are created equal, and that’s a shame. Some have inescapable weaknesses; others have been granted god tier abilities so phenomenal they’ve historically earned those Pokémon bans. Despite that, each starter has fans rallying behind it, using them and enjoying them in spite of their flaws and status. Who’s your favorite, and, if I got it wrong, who’s the best starter (just be ready to support your claim!)? One thing’s for certain, Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble have some mighty big shoes to fill, though, if you ask me, they seem more than up to the task. Where they’ll rank amongst the previous generations, well, that’ll be exciting to see in time to come.
Final Fun Facts:
Pokemon Generations Ranked by Starter Average
- Generation One- Kanto (Red, Blue, Yellow)
- Generation Three- Hoenn (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald)
- Generation Four- Sinnoh (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum)
- Generation Seven- Alola (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
- Generation Six- Kalos (X, Y)
- Generation Two- Johto (Gold, Silver, Crystal)
- Generation Five- Unova (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Pokemon Starter Types Ranked by Starter Average
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
An In-Depth Analysis of FIFA’s Career Mode
It’s a well-known fact that career mode on FIFA has been a long-neglected element of the best selling sports games series of all time. But for soccer fans who want to pretend to be a football manager, but also want to personally play the game, FIFA is currently the main option.
The problem is: for a 60 dollar game, almost nothing about FIFA career mode works properly.
Two of the most game-breaking bugs in FIFA career mode are so bad that it fundamentally makes the game unplayable for those who want to feel any sort of immersion.
The first is a bug that makes it so that top teams will sign many more players for a position than they could possibly need.
For example, Bayern might end up signing 6 or 7 great center backs, and then only play three or four of them, while what they really need to sign might be a winger or a fullback.
This leads into the second huge issue: even when a team like Bayern HAS 6 or 7 great center-backs, they will STILL often choose to start second or third-string center backs! This often leads to top teams languishing at 12th or 13th in the tables by the end of the season, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Everything about this image is wrong. Everything. The top three teams in this table shouldn’t finish higher than 7th more than once every ten seasons between them, and teams that should finish first and second aren’t even in the top eight. 64 points near the end of the season for first place is also a very low number.
There’s been plenty of other issues as well. Even on the highest difficulties, AI on both defense and ESPECIALLY offense ranges from poor to horrible, with the AI on offense rarely actually running at the defense (making defending boring and unrewarding), leaving players like Messi or Hazard to not even try to use their incredible dribbling ability and speed and instead pass away the ball as soon as they get it.
Instead, the most common way the AI scores are by performing a janky, unrealistic and clearly scripted pinball, with impossibly precise passes between 4 or 5 players before the ball ends up in the back of the net.
Another major problem with the game (though some might call it simply a feature in presenting a more arcade-like, less realistic take on soccer) is your ability (if you’re a big club) to buy multiple huge players and bring them to your club easily in your first season, making the game an absolute cakewalk.
After years of incompetence and the ignoring of career mode’s many issues, however, EA finally faced serious backlash with the release of FIFA 20–the most broken iteration in the series yet.
For a while, #fixcareermode was trending on twitter, and reviews blasted FIFA for its litany of issues, like players going on precipitous declines in stats right when they reach the age of 30.
Yet these bugs were treated by some in the media as a first time thing, issues that had only appeared in the latest iteration. They weren’t.
As one Reddit user noted to Eurogamer: “In the last few years, every FIFA game released has had bugs that ruin the immersion. Teams not starting their strongest lineups and unrealistic tables have been an issue not just for FIFA 20 but earlier editions. Our cries for patches and change have fallen on deaf ears. The community has been grossly neglected.”
The linked article by the Independent above wasn’t accurate in other ways, either. It claims that only simulated matches suffered from the bug of teams not playing their best players, and other articles have claimed that this bug only occurs when a big team plays against a small team.
But neither of these claims is accurate.
You could play against a top team like Barcelona, and you could also be a top team like Real Madrid, and Barcelona would still consistently field third or fourth-string players over the likes of Messi against your team.
This wasn’t an occasional thing, either. At least three or four top players were benched for players 20 or more points below them every game. Every. Single. Game.
I haven’t even mentioned the commentary in FIFA, which is so buggy and so immersion-breaking in its disconnection from reality that it’s more immersive to just turn it off entirely.
What is so infuriating is that that many of the bugs seem like fairly minor fixes (commentary issues aside), something that seems like it would take no more than a few hours of rooting around in the code to figure out whatever misplaced number value was causing the issue.
The fact that these major issues have existed for at least no less than SIX years (FIFA 14 was the first game I played) indicates definitively how little EA cares about its products, and how little the designers care about actual football or delivering an enjoyable experience out of Ultimate Team.
Of course, Ultimate Team alone in 2017 accounted for almost a third of all of EA’s revenue from sports titles, so it’s somewhat understandable why Ea focuses most of its attention on that element of FIFA.
But with the amount of effort put into the new “futsal” mode in FIFA 2020, or the three campaign-like “Journey” modes from FIFA 17 to FIFA 19, one wonders why the developers couldn’t have spent just a little more effort to fix a mode that was in many ways fundamentally broken.
FIFA have made certain changes to career mode over this period, so it’s not like they’ve ignored it entirely. But the changes made to career mode in the six years I’ve played it have all either made the game much worse, slightly worse or had no great effect.
The major changes over this period have included:
A slightly updated youth system, which has suffered from its own serious bugs over the years, such as youth prospects never gaining stats in sprint speed or acceleration so that you end up getting stuck with players with 50 to 70 speed for eternity; a widely disliked training system for players that is utterly broken and unfair, allowing you to train players to abilities well beyond what is even vaguely realistic within a matter of a year or two; a new display screen for your team; the removal of form; the slight modification of morale; adding the ability to talk with your players; and, last but not least, transfer cut scenes which are the most incredibly pointless wastes of time in any sports game, both for the player and for the developers–at least they’re skippable. There is the ability to customize your manager–perhaps the most positive change made in this six-year period. But that’s still stunningly sad given that you will very rarely actually see your manager at all.
None of these modifications, you may have noticed, go any way towards fixing the fundamental issues with the game, issues which have been pointed out to EA year after year.
It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons that FIFA got away with what it did for so long was not thanks to the players, but the media.
Year after year, reviews for FIFA received solid scores (hovering around the low to mid 80’s), whereas user reviews were usually much lower. It was only this year that media reviews seriously pointed out issues with the career mode.
The fact that FIFA received so much better reviews from reviewers as compared to players is easily explained away by the fact that the former usually play the game for comparatively shorter times, and therefore tends to miss a lot of the details.
In response to the recent outrage which had finally reached a degree of publicity that EA could no longer ignore, EA finally patched some of FIFA’s issues, like the problem of teams not fielding their strongest lineups at least semi-frequently. This was a huge step towards making career mode not fundamentally broken, but whether or not the other most glaring issue of teams like Juventus signing 9 80+rated strikers (yes, that happened in my game once) has been solved remains to be seen. Given that I mostly gave up on the series after FIFA19 continued the same problems of its predecessors, I don’t think it’ll be me that finds out.
- Evan Lindeman
‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season
Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.
The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.
Like a Warm Blanket
Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.
The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.
The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.
An Intimate Take on Storytelling
Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.
It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.
Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.
The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.
Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.
Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.
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