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
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
10 Years Later: ‘Mass Effect 2’ is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic
Mass Effect 2 didn’t just nail the formula for a successful sequel, it tied together one of the greatest science fiction tales ever.
Mass Effect launched in 2007 as the boldest science fiction project ever conceived for consoles. The complex mythology, history and the many alien races, each with their own political/religious beliefs offered a depth rarely seen in the medium. Only a game as ambitious as Mass Effect 2 could not only match the pedigree of such a massive project but surpass it in every single way imaginable.
Released 3 years after the original, a full decade ago, Mass Effect 2 set the benchmark for not just sequels but for science fiction gaming as well. Few sequels are able to overcome the weaknesses of their predecessors with such perfect accuracy while also doubling down on what made them good in the first place.
The first task that fell to Bioware was to refine the combat. The original game had more of a strategic angle to it but that strategy meant the game was constantly stopping and starting, stuttering the action and ruining the flow of the game. By streamlining the combat into more of an action RPG experience (emphasis on action), Mass Effect 2 created a much better sense of tension in battle sequences. Aiming, using techniques and issuing orders also flowed more smoothly with these changes.
Another major change was the removal of the Mako, an exploratory rover the player drove around alien planets with. While a novel idea, the Mako often lead to aimless wandering as the player sought out resources on the many planets of Mass Effect. Instead of driving to their destination, players were now warped directly to the area they would be exploring. Resource collection was overhauled as a result.
While few players will talk about the thrill of spinning a globe around and aiming a reticle in order to collect resources in Mass Effect 2, the simple speed by which this process was streamlined offered a hefty margin of improvement over the original game. Resources that might have taken a half-hour to collect in the first game could now be found in 1/10 of that time. Resource collection, while a vital part of the game, was never meant to be the time sink it was in the original Mass Effect, and by speeding up this process, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to get back to the meat of the game: doing missions and exploring the galaxy.
Of course, these aren’t necessarily the most significant changes that players will recall from their time with Mass Effect 2. The story and character roster were also expanded considerably from the first game, and these are without a doubt the biggest improvements that this sequel is able to mount.
While Mass Effect had seven playable characters, Mass Effect 2 expanded that to twelve. Not only was the amount of characters an improvement, though, the quality of the characters on offer was also much stronger this time around. A full nine new characters were introduced for players to utilize in combat, strategize with and get to know throughout the game. Among them were badass assassin Thane Krios, dangerous convict Jack, morally dubious Miranda Lawson, and hivemind robot Legion.
In fact, the cast of Mass Effect 2 is so good that it has rightfully become a benchmark for the creation of a compelling cast of characters in RPGs, and video games, in general. The sheer diversity on display in the looks, personalities and movesets allowed for the cast is awe-inspiring, and this is without even considering the trump card that Mass Effect 2 flashed throughout the experience of playing the game.
The monumental suicide mission to raid the Collectors’ base and save humanity is the impetus for the entire plot of Mass Effect 2, and the reason for which the player is recruiting the baddest mother fuckers from all over the galaxy in hopes of success. It isn’t just a suicide mission in name either, many, or even all, of the cast can die during the completion of this mission, adding a layer of suspense and finality to the final stage of Mass Effect 2 that few other games can match.
To this end, players were encouraged to get to know their crew through loyalty missions specific to each cast member. By undertaking these optional missions and completing them in a way that would impress or endear themselves to the character in question, players were able to ascertain the unquestioned respect and loyalty of that character, ensuring they wouldn’t go rogue during the final mission.
Still, even passing these prerequisites with flying colors wasn’t a guarantee for success. Players also had to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters when assigning tasks and making split-second decisions. Who you would leave to recon an area, repair a piece of equipment, or lock down a path, could make the difference as to who was going to survive the mission. Further complicating things, the characters you wanted to take with you to final branches of the mission might be the very people best suited for these earlier tasks.
“Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop”.
Getting everyone out alive is a truly Machiavellian task, requiring either a guide or multiple playthroughs in order to get it precisely right. To that end, my feeling is that it’s better to go at it honestly the first time around, dealing with the requisite losses that this experience entails. After all, it isn’t really a suicide mission without a couple of casualties right? Even with all of my preparations and foresight, I lost Tali and Legion in the final mission, but for the fate of the human race, these losses were an acceptable cost.
Even outside the strength of this fantastic cast and the monumental undertaking of planning and executing this final mission, there were other key characters and elements introduced as well. The Illusive Man, voiced by the great Martin Sheen, emerged as a necessary evil, saving Commander Shepard from death but asking morally complex decisions to be made as the cost of doing business. The relationship with, and the choices the player makes, in regard to The Illusive Man have far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the series, and as he emerged to become a primary antagonist in the final game of the trilogy, the considerations to be made were vast and insidious by their very definition.
With so many factors working in its favor, Mass Effect 2 is the rare game that is so perfectly designed that both its predecessor and sequel suffer by comparison as a result. While the improvements of ME2 make it hard to go back to the original game, the scope and ambition of an entire cast that could be alive or dead at the end of the journey also neutered the third game, causing many of the best characters in the trilogy to be excised from the final leg of the trip.
Truly, Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Mass Effect 2 is the best exemplar of its universe and what makes it compelling and worthwhile in general.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Speaking Simulator,’ ‘Iron Danger,’ and ‘Wildermyth’
PAX South brought an extremely diverse lineup of games to San Antonio, and in this next roundup, it’s time to look at another diverse assortment of titles. These include Speaking Simulator, the surrealist take on the art of speaking, Wildermyth, a beautiful new RPG based on D&D, and Iron Danger, a surprisingly player-friendly take on roleplaying.
When asked why he was inspired to develop Speaking Simulator, the developer promptly responded, “I don’t know!” That was exactly what I felt while playing its demo at PAX. It left me mystified, amazed that it exists, overwhelmed by its complexity, and delighted with its absurdity. Speaking Simulator follows a highly advanced android tasked with assimilating into human society in order to gain world domination – and to do that, he’ll need to learn how to speak first. Players are thus tasked with controlling every aspect of this android’s face and guiding it through increasingly difficult social situations.
Speaking is an awkward art for many people (including myself), and Speaking Simulator is just that: awkward. You can control nearly every aspect of the android’s face. You can move its tongue with the left stick and its jaw with the right, while manipulating its facial expression, eyebrows, and more with other buttons. This leads to a delicate balancing act where complete control feels just barely out of reach so that you must always be alert and able to sufficiently direct your mechanical face.
During each conversation, you’ll have so many different moving parts to consider. You’ll have to follow prompts about where to move your tongue, how to adjust your mouth, how your face should look, and so on. The more complex the conversation, the trickier it is to speak. Scenarios during my demo included a date, a job interview, and the most normal social situation of all, speaking to a man while he’s using the toilet. And of course, if you don’t perform adequately in these conversations, then your face will start to explode – which is only natural for awkward conversations, after all.
Speaking Simulator is the definition of controlled chaos. It shows just how difficult it really is to be a human – controlling the face alone was far more than I could handle, as my frequent face explosions during my demo showed me. Playing Speaking Simulator was an equally hilarious and surreal experience, one that I can’t wait to experience in full when it releases on Switch and PC at the end of January.
Iron Danger was one of my biggest surprises at PAX South. When I arrived at the Daedalic Entertainment booth for my appointment with Iron Danger, I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did. As a western-styled, point and click RPG, Iron Danger was outside my comfort zone. Yet the game is explicitly designed for players like me, who can feel intimidated by the immense amount of strategies and decisions that the genre requires. This is thanks to its core mechanic: time reversal. Perhaps this mechanic isn’t entirely unheard of in RPGs (Fire Emblem: Three Houses comes to mind as a recent example), but the way it’s implemented in Iron Danger makes all the difference.
It begins simply enough for an RPG. Your village is under attack, and as you attempt to escape to safety, you have the misfortune of dying. But death is only the beginning: just as you fall, a mysterious being blesses you with the ability to rewind time at any moment you’d like. That means that if you ever make a wrong move during combat, then you can reverse that decision and try something else. Time is divided up into “heartbeats,” which are measured in a bar at the bottom of the screen. If you want to go back in time, simply click on a previous heartbeat. There’s no limit on how often you can use this ability: battles become a process of trial and error, of slowly rewinding and progressing as you discover what works. If you end up walking into an enemy trap, simply click back to the heartbeat before the ambush, and try a different strategy.
Iron Danger takes the stress out of roleplaying. RPGs are all about making decisions, and typically, making the wrong decision comes at a high price. But thanks to the time-reversal mechanic, Iron Dungeon gives you the room to experiment without consequence. As the developers at the booth explained to me, the ability to undo your actions turns Iron Danger into more of a puzzle game than an RPG. It’s all about evaluating your situation, the abilities at your disposal, the locations and actions of different enemies, and so on. And if everything goes wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.
That doesn’t mean that Iron Danger will be too easy, however. Current indications point to the opposite. After I played through the tutorial, the developers took over and showed me an advanced, extremely complex level from later in the game, filled with deadly enemies and dynamic environments to consider, with fields that can catch on fire and explosive barrels to throw at enemies. You’ll have to constantly skip forward and backward in time only to survive. This combination of player-friendly mechanics and hardcore roleplaying combat is an exciting mix, extremely appealing for someone like myself who loves RPGs but doesn’t enjoy the stress that often comes with them.
In addition to video games, PAX South also had a substantial portion of the exhibit hall devoted to tabletop games – including, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. But if you wanted to experience D&D-style action without leaving the video game section of the expo, then Wildermyth perfectly fits the bill.
This new RPG is a hybrid between DnD storytelling and worldbuilding with XCOM-esque combat. Like D&D, it allows players to forge their own adventures and stories. Decisions during story events can impact everything from the way the larger story plays out to the weapons your character can use in each battle. Story sequences play out randomly, with events occurring differently depending on which enemies you’ve faced, which characters are in your party, which regions you’ve explored, and so on. It’s an extremely variable story, but with such adaptable writing, each story sequence feels natural, despite its apparent randomness. Instead, it should encourage replayability, to experience every possible story beat there is.
Combat plays out in a grid-based strategy style, similar to games like XCOM. Each character is decked out with unique abilities of their own, and can interact with their environment dynamically. My favorite ability to experiment with was with the mage character, who can imbue environmental objects with magical abilities, such as attacking enemies who get close or inhibiting nearby enemies with status debuffs. I loved exploiting my surroundings and constructing the best strategies during my demo, and cleverly using special abilities like these will likely be key to strategically mastering combat later in the full game.
Like so many other games at PAX, Wildermyth also boasts of a visually distinct art style. The entire game is framed as a storybook; narrative sequences play out in comic book-like illustrations, and environments and characters consist of flat paper cut-outs in 3D surroundings. Pair this with a muted color palette and a simple, hand-drawn style, and Wildermyth has a quaint, comfortable art style that really supports the fairytale feel of the whole game. Currently available on Steam Early Access, the full game is set to release later this year.
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