Generation 4 is coming to an end, but before making the leap into the
next one, it's time to take a look back at the last four years and how
the world of Pokémon has changed (or not) since then! This column
reviews the recent past of Pokémon game history in 17 points. Why 17?
Because that's how many I could come up with.
As the norm
dictates, columns of mine are very, very long reads. So cancel all your
appointments, grab a drink and sit back!
1. A simple upgrade was the best solution
terms of new game mechanics, generation 4 stood out by introducing the
least of them. Generations 2 and 3 were both a quantum leap ahead,
whereas this one only gave us the long overdue physical/special split
(more on that in the next item). Were they fresh out of ideas? Maybe.
However, all the changes previously introduced, as radical as they were,
didn't make the game detract from that feel the series has had ever
since its creation in 1996, and if they had any ideas that didn't make
the cut here, it may have been because they were too radical, or
bringing about change just for the sake of change. However, I don't
necessarily see it as a bad thing. We have seen some franchises crumble
apart because their designers were too hasty in moving the series
Generation 3 is the black sheep of the series, and while
that reputation may be undeserved to some extent, it is true that there
are some things that needed fixing. Chiefly, the amount of sea routes.
If you ask 100 people what they liked the least about RSE, I guarantee
at least 90 of them will tell you "the sea routes", myself included. 17
of them meant half of all the routes in the game were sea routes, and
DPP brought that total back down to four (219 and 220 south of Sandgem,
223 between Sunyshore and the League, and 230 between the Fighting and
Another common complaint leveled at generation 3
Pokémon was that they were too similar to previous Pokémon. The Wurmple
and Corphish lines immediately spring to mind, for instance. Generation 4
slashed down on Pokémon that might've been considered a copy/paste job,
and introduced more creative designs. Too much for some people to
comprehend, in fact... they claim that they don't look enough like
previous Pokémon. Uh, that was kinda the point? Too similar, people
complain. Not similar enough, people complain. As far as I'm concerned,
it's mission accomplished.
Don't get me wrong, RSE was a very
enjoyable experience, but even I have to admit that they did some things
wrong. So to take a huge leap forward before getting a chance to fix
them would have been a tragic mistake. "Generation 3+", as some people
have taken to calling gen 4, was a necessary step, and it was far more
successful with the fans than its predecessor.
So now that we've
reached that point, Gamefreak has a genuine choice to make for
generation 5, a choice they obviously already made since they're far
into the development process: another upgrade or a small revolution. The
latter wouldn't be without consequence, because the last time they did
that Pokémon was pronounced dead by many. The truth, however, is the
complete opposite: had they not had the balls to revamp everything,
especially at the cost of backwards compatibility, we would've been
subjected to countless GSC rehashes, and Pokémon probably WOULD have
been dead for a long time by now. It's because RSE changed so much that
the series isn't just a dying cash cow that gives out less and less
milk, but a strong, healthy one that happily wags its tail as it chews
on its dinner. And it's also because DPP perfected what RSE brought
about, instead of being as mindlessly hungry for change as Chester A.
Bum, that it hasn't been prematurely barbecued.
2. Split verdict for the split
no doubt that when the physical/special split was first imagined, the
primary reason was logic. There was no reason why a move like Shadow
Ball should've been physical, whereas the very physical Crunch was
special. And let's not forget the elemental punches, which were merely a
solution for the few special attackers who didn't get Flamethrower/Fire
Blast, Thunderbolt or Ice Beam, instead of something Hitmonchan, the
punching wonder, could actually use.
But it was also obvious that
another reason for this split was that it would benefit the Pokémon
with a higher attacking stat that they just couldn't use that much. For
example, Kingler, who had a beastly base attack of 130 but a miserable
special attack of 50, was stuck trying to exploit the former with Flail
or Body Slam. And Sneasel, already a Pokémon with questionable stats,
had two special types that ran off a special attack of THIRTY-FIVE!
it's no surprise that these Pokémon, and many other neglected ones,
improved a lot with the advent of this new split. There were even a few
surprises, since prior to D/P coming out, it was also believed to be the
death warrant of other Pokémon, the most notable being Sceptile. With
Leaf Blade turning physical, to run off its weaker attack stat, the
panic button was mashed and mashed. Only the reassuring presence of
Swords Dance in its movepool didn't make it even worse. But what we
weren't counting on was the addition of 113 new moves, the likes of
Energy Ball, Grass Knot and Leaf Storm among them. So now Sceptile could
be viable on both ends of the damage spectrum, which wasn't really the
case in generation 3. As a result, while Sceptile clearly fell out of
OU, the split at least lessened what would've otherwise been a very
drastic fall. Let this be a lesson to us. No theorymoning until Black
and White come out!
However, what was commonly overlooked was the
fact that while lesser Pokémon would get a sizeable boost, OUs that
were capable in both attack stats would also improve a lot. Case in
point: Tyranitar. Other than its Fighting-type bullseye and its sluggish
speed, one of the few small flaws Tyranitar had was the lack of
physical dual STAB. With Crunch turning physical (and Dark Pulse being
introduced as a special replacement should the need arise, such as on
variants of Boah), this was no longer an issue, and Tyranitar would move
on to become even more of an ubiquitous force than it already was.
Salamence is another notable example, with Dragon Claw as a reliable
physical Dragon move, Draco Meteor for that one-use extra special oomph,
and a titanic movepool to back all that up (and let's not forgot
Platinum's introduction of the Outrage tutor!). The end result:
Salamence became so strong it was difficult to wall, and for most of
2007 it remained the best Dragon in the game, before the potential of
Garchomp was truly understood. And following Latias' re-banning,
Salamence is now the newest suspect to be tested. One can wonder how it
took so long, as Salamence offers an attacking versatility Garchomp
simply cannot bring to the table.
From an overall perspective,
the split was a success, but not a complete one. It did help to make
many more Pokémon viable, but the fact that several of the top forces
also gained a lot from it means it failed to even the playing field.
3. Second time's the charm
Gold and Soul Silver were Gamefreak's second attempt at a remake, and a
second attempt at making GSC in general. When it was first announced, I
was very skeptical as to how it would turn out. After all, both GSC and
FRLG have had their fair share of flaws. The former was plagued by an
incredibly low level curve, which resulted in the difficulty factor
being greatly lowered (and I think we can all agree it didn't need
There are two main culprits to blame: first is the fact
that you could go either west or east of Ecruteak once you beat Morty
and the Kimono Girls, and they couldn't afford to make the Pokémon in
the Mahogany area too high-leveled if the player chose to go east. Which
begs the question: why did the guy in the tollbooth east of Ecruteak
not block you until you'd beaten Jasmine? Make up some reason, even a
stupid one, but doing that would've made it so the Pokémon you fight in
the Rocket hideout would be in the mid-20s instead of the late teens!
And the second culprit is the presence of Kanto in the game... with such
a massive post-game, the result of having the E4 at their regular
levels would've meant the Kanto gym leaders would've been in the 60s and
70s. Not such a good idea... however, most of the gym leaders turned
out to have levels below Lance's, destroying the point of that level
curve in the first place!
And speaking of Kanto, it was
completely crushed compared to RBY. Most of the routes were shortened by
at least half, and depopulated. That means there wasn't much of Kanto
to explore... and let's not forget the really lousy remixes of RBY's
Likewise, FRLG wasn't without its issues. The biggest
one has to be the fact that it's just Red and Blue with a fresh coat of
paint. Revamp the graphics and sound to match RSE, add the game
mechanics from generations 2 and 3, and call it a day. Oh yeah, there's
the Sevii Islands, but is it really a big advance? No, of course not.
And let's not forget the music... they tried to make it sound like a GBA
game, but the end result was just plain terrible, to such an extent
that I liked the original's music better.
So as you can see, I
had every right to be skeptical. Would HGSS merge both the flaws of GSC
and [FRLG] into one big black hole of fail, or would they learn from their
lessons to make a Platinum-killer? Nowadays I'm kicking myself for
doubting Gamefreak, as it turned out to be the latter. Except for the
Platinum-killer part. But it's close! Yeah, THIS close. The one thing
that wasn't fixed was the level curve in Johto, because they still had
to include Kanto. But they still managed to increase the difficulty
throughout the game without needing to crank up the levels too much. I
remember when we found out about the first two gyms' rosters, which had
significantly increased levels since GSC, everyone was rejoicing because
they'd fixed the level curve. And then Whitney's roster came out: down
by one level from GSC. Oops.
And what about Kanto, the most
disappointing part of the original? Much to my amazement, it was blown
back up to its regular size, areas that didn't make it in GSC (Viridian
Forest, Cerulean Cave, etc.) were brought back, there were many more
trainers to fight, the music in Kanto was greatly improved... Overall,
the game felt like anything BUT GSC with a fresh coat of paint. It did
away with all the issues that made GSC fall way short of its true
potential, and added new stuff like the Battle Frontier, gym leader and
E4 rematches, the best Game Corner game in history (at the expense of
being able to buy coins, what were they thinking?), the best Safari Zone
in history, and so on and so forth.
For effort, I give an A+.
They put everything they had into this game, and it really showed. Will
they be able to keep up the pace? Only time will tell.
4. I'm a PC, and I invented censorship
it's PC as in politically correct.
Now that this is out of the
way... in today's lawsuit-happy world, you do not want to offend or
wrongly influence anyone, unless you want to be separated from a good
chunk of your wallet. And with such a high-profile series as Pokémon,
one that reaches out to tens of millions of people, you have to tread
even more lightly. The odd thing is that back in the days when Pokémon
was THE big thing (1998-2001), there was no censorship going on
whatsoever. You had gamblers, firebreathers, Hell's Angels, casinos that
ate more coins than you could make, everything. And I don't think
anyone sued back then.
So what happened? It's with FRLG that the
alarm first rang. For the international releases, Gamblers were no
longer Gamblers, they were Gamers. And just to get across the point that
gambling addiction is bad, they became hobos. The line "I'm a rambling,
gaming dude!" was especially bad, as the loss of the "-ambling" rhyme
completely destroyed the phrase's point to begin with. Did they Ctrl+H
the string "gambl" and replaced it with "gam" at the last second before
the game was sent to be mass produced? Who knows?
But it got a
whole lot worse in generation 4. In DPP's English releases, Gamblers
were now known as PIs, even though their lines have nothing to do with
private-investigating and a whole lot more to do with luck and gambling.
Their battle sprite even flipped a coin! Now that was a half-assed
attempt at censorship if I ever saw one. As a side note, the slots in
DPP were far more generous than their previous iterations: instead of
being coin guzzlers you could never really win at, they introduced that
Clefairy mini-game that gave you an avalanche of free coins if you
didn't completely suck at it. And I don't think it's physically possible
to suck at it.
It's with Platinum that things really took a turn
for the worse, as Nintendo decided to remove the slot machines from the
European version! This marked the first time that censorship actually
affected gameplay. Such a shame too, just as the slots were becoming a
viable way to obtain coins. The question I had in mind back then and
still have now, though, is why Europe only and not anywhere else?
course, HGSS would push the envelope even further by removing the slots
from every version outside of Japan. The plus side is that in return,
we ended up with a mini-game that's way better than the slots, namely
Voltorb Flip. No more need to rely on dumb luck all the time! Now we
only need to rely on it sometimes, and there are ways to make guesswork
easier too. Unfortunately, this improvement came at a price - we were no
longer able to buy coins! Naturally, this was most people's favored way
of obtaining them from day one, so it annoyed a lot of people enough to
claim Voltorb Flip was a bad game. Naturally, they're conveniently
forgetting that the mini-game itself has nothing to do with the lack of
buyable coins. Then again, maybe it's not 100% true... I believe the
fact that you can't lose coins at Voltorb Flip means Gamefreak thought
the ability to buy them became redundant. So as odd as it may seem, in a
way people are hating on Voltorb Flip because you can't lose coins in
And with all those examples, it's reasonable to expect
that we're not done with stupid censorship yet... hopefully from now on
it'll be handled in a way that can make all parties satisfied. By the
way, don't you just love the irony of a game based around animal cruelty
falling to censorship for every reason BUT animal cruelty?
5. But no one gets offended anymore
the sad thing is, all this may be to shut up people who don't care
anymore. The aforementioned animal cruelty? No one gives a hoot anymore.
Is it because the whiners became jaded? It's a possibility, but I think
the cause lies elsewhere. Back in the aforementioned 1998-2001 period,
Pokémon was hot stuff. And as such, it drew a lot of attention from all
kinds of groups. And not just gamers and anime lovers, either. Everyone
had a look at the franchise. And that includes the perennial whiners who
are never happy about anything, and either belong to, actively or
passively support activist groups like PETA, who claim to act for a good
cause but ultimately have views so extreme that they end up having all
the credibility of Sarah Palin talking foreign affairs.
then, they meant business. The obvious animal cruelty aspect was
covered, but that's not what people remember most from that era. No, it
was the outrageously ridiculous religious baloney. Remember how
Alakazam's psychic powers were... heck, I don't even know what the
problem was with that, because I'm not clinically insane. But apparently
it insulted Bible-thumpers greatly. Oh, and of course we can't forget
the concept of evolution. Despite Pokémon evolution being closer to
metamorphosis than actual evolution, which is a phenomenon that occurs
over centuries, if not millenia. I could write an essay on how much I
have trouble grasping the concept of creationism considering the
constant advance of science, but I'm not here to talk about that, right?
Oh yeah, and the fun didn't stop with generation 2 either. The shape of
Heracross' horn sent the same nutjobs into an absolute frenzy, as did
Ho-Oh's ability to revive dead Pokémon.
But soon Pokémon fell out
of the public eye, and then... nothing. It's not like generations 3 and
4 were devoid of content that would offend activists. Most notably,
they started introducing actual deities, culminating with Arceus,
allegedly the creator of all Pokémon. And who cared? Nobody. The masks
were off: all those critics that jumped on every opportunity to bash
Pokémon were only in it for the sacrosanct dollar sign. With Pokémon no
longer the titanic fad it once was, there was no attention to gain
anymore, no money to snag.
And this is why I think the fear of
controversy over Black and White's titles is somewhat unjustified. Had
Black and White been announced sequels to GSC, then maybe, but two
generations and 9 years have passed since then.
6. Spin-offs became more than just a cash cow
Pokémon's early days, spin-offs were merely meant to milk the
phenomenon for all it was worth. Junk like Pinball, Puzzle Challenge,
Puzzle League and Channel was the norm, though there were also a few
good ones, like the Stadiums, which were more meant as expansion packs
for RBY and GSC rather than their own games. But you don't need me to
tell you that, because the rentals were absolute junk. Psychic Abra or
Confusion Alakazam? Pssh, give me my own Psychic Alakazam. Nonetheless,
for those who could get the most out of them, the Stadiums were pretty
nice game, at least compared to the other spin-offs. I'm not mentioning
Snap because while I hated it enough to lump it with the likes of
Pinball and Puzzle League, it does have enough of a cult following to
tell me it's not THAT bad.
Generation 3 attempted to do something
new: actual Pokémon RPGs on a home console. And two failed attempts,
the second of which was touted as fixing what was wrong with the first
one, but instead perpetuated it, convinced Nintendo not to try this
again. However, it was two other games that came around relatively late
in the generation that would end up paving the road for spin-offs having
actual quality rather than being just there for the quick buck: Ranger
and Mystery Dungeon. Both of them were enjoyable experiences that
offered something no previous Pokémon title could offer (an interesting
storyline anyone?), although they were both plagued with issues that
prevented them from reaching their full potential. Mystery Dungeon in
particular had the aggravating Friend Area system, and the inability to
send a newly recruited Pokémon to those places, massively slowing down
the recruitment process. But in both cases, if those flaws could just be
ironed out, we could end up with potential masterpieces.
generation 4, and with it, Ranger 2 and 3, but most importantly, Mystery
Dungeon 2. You can tell HAL and Chunsoft, who were in charge of
developing those series, really took good note of the original Ranger
and MD's shortcomings, and did away with them without changing the
fundamentals of the game. In Ranger 2 you could take any Pokémon out of
their natural habitat at any time, which really came in handy when
exploring new areas, so it wasn't just you and your partner.
was also made a lot friendlier in MD2, with no limit to who you can
recruit and when, and how many Pokémon you could recruit in all (if
there's a limit, it'S MASSIVE). Your backpack started out at about the
size of the one in MD1, but kept growing larger as you progressed
through the game, at the cost of Kangaskhan's storage being restricted.
And the game was much, much more difficult. Oh boy it was. Hardest
Pokémon game ever, without a shadow of a doubt.
But that's not to
say the game was imbalanced - it actually did as good a job as the
battle system and damage formula allowed for. The original was a broken
mess utterly dominated by multi-hit moves and a select few Pokémon, most
of them starters. The sequel rebalanced the whole thing by destroying
the multi-hit moves' accuracy, and yet they still remained among the
best killing moves in the game. Starters no longer had higher stats than
nearly everyone else, with everything having fairly similar stats
(there were some differences, of course), and legendaries were brought
out of their MD1 suckitude by having higher stats, especially the large
ones that prevented you from having four party members in your team,
such as Rayquaza. Of course, there was a moment of panic when Serebii
mistranslated the effect of one of Togekiss' special items as
effectively granting infinite PP to one of the best movepools out there,
but then it turned out it only prevented moves from using up PP every
once in a while instead of always. Oops.
But the exceptional
gameplay experience wasn't all, either: MD2 is arguably the best game in
the franchise in terms of both soundtrack and story. It also adopted
the "deluxe version" format Crystal, Emerald and Platinum followed
before it with Explorers of the Sky, which added new dungeons, new
items, Giratina-O, both of Shaymin's forms, special episodes giving
background on some of the game's characters and bringing closure to the
story of Grovyle and Dusknoir.
Pre-conceived opinions be damned,
Pokémon's spin-off lineup, while still featuring duds like Poképark Wii
and Mystery Dungeon WiiWare, has improved tremendously since the old
days. Now try telling THAT to IGN. 4.9 for the Vast Ice Mountain Peak
7. The era of
fodder is over
I already mentioned the Pokémon of
generation 4 as an advance from a design perspective, but it's also very
clearly a massive step up in terms of usability. All the previous
generations had a bunch of Pokémon that couldn't be described as
anything else than jokes. Generation 4 introduced a few very weak
Pokémon, such as Kricketune, Pachirisu and Lumineon, but none of them
are nearly as miserable as the Dittos, Magcargos, Spindas and Luvdiscs
of this world. And further up the pecking order, Gamefreak's increased
focus on Pokémon viability shows as well. And nixing the new evolutions
to old Pokémon for a moment, the likes of Lucario, Infernape, and Rotom
are now well etched into our habits, and lots of others are viable
choices as well, even if they're not full-fledged OUs.
I kid you
not, the first 15 minutes of DPP represent really well what's in store
for you. Staraptor is a great improvement over all of its predecessors,
to such an extent that you're pretty much crazy if you use the likes of
Pidgeot, Fearow or Dodrio. Despite what VGCats may think, Bidoof doesn't
exactly fill the "vendor trash" niche, as it evolves into something
that actually has the potential to put the hurt on the unprepared,
thanks to the addition of Curse in Platinum. Gluttony improved Linoone
by a lot, but until further notice Bibarel remains king of the
ultra-common Normal-types. And of course, generation 4 easily features
the best starter lineup in the series. Infernape is one of the two
Fire-type OUs, and a very well ranked one at that, as it fixes
absolutely everything that was wrong with Blaziken, and then some.
Empoleon's unique typing and surprising versatility means it's well
deserving of its OU status. The weak link is Torterra... while not a bad
Pokémon by any means, it suffers from being about #50 among 4x Ice-weak
Pokémon (there really are too many of these), so no one ever uses it.
But it's really a lot better than its ranking indicates.
of the most welcome additions to generation 4 is the introduction of no
less than 22 evolutions to already existing Pokémon. Most of them were
really screaming for one, such as Lickitung or Nosepass. Some of them
left us scratching our heads, though. Dusclops, and before Banette at
that? Magneton, especially since it was already so good at dealing with
the game's ultimate physical wall? And Rhydon, with the addition of an
ability that increased its survivability by a lot? Turns out, all three
were justified. With Skarmory no longer being the be-all-end-all
physical wall (a title usurped in part by Gliscor), Magneton needed to
reinvent itself, and a massive stat boost provided just that. Even after
evolving, Dusknoir is always in constant danger of being booted out of
OU, and most unbelievable of all, Rhyperior's been booted out a long
time ago. So in retrospect, those three really weren't bad moves. But
everyone can agree they could've evolved other Pokémon. Like, you know,
All in all, with Diamond and Pearl Gamefreak really
pulled out all the stops in order to diversify the game across the
board. And even though the complaint that we're seeing the same stuff is
still going strong, remember, we still have between 45 and 50 OUs at
any given time, whereas we only had 35 in generation 3.
8. The innocence is gone
is, if there was any left in the first place. The statement "Pokémon is
for kids" is still thrown around as much as it used to, but it seems to
get more and more wrong as time passes. Generation 4 will probably be
remembered as the one where Pokémon stopped being for kids and started
being for nerds. For one, the top level of the metagame keeps getting
more and more impressive, and as such mastering the game becomes harder
and harder to achieve. Pokémon has truly become the digital equivalent
of chess. And one could say it's an even deeper and more complicated
game, with the most crucial decisions (pertaining to team building)
being made before Stealth Rock is even laid down.
But perhaps the
thing that made the game evolve past its mere child-like image the most
in the last few years was the addition of increasingly detailed
statistics on all aspects of the metagame. It used to be only how many
times each Pokémon was used on each ladder, before eventually adding how
common each move, nature, ability, EV spread, etc. was. Then teammate
stats were added, and eventually people calculated how much damage each
type/category could inflict on the entire metagame. Various mathematical
concepts, while still not household names, popped up to describe the
game in any given period.
This turned out to give players a big
hand when it came to building teams. Which Pokémon and sets showed up
the most wasn't left to gut instinct anymore, now we have cold, hard
numbers to back those guesses up. This, in turn, accelerated the
development of the metagame: as counters to common threats became
dominant, those former threats disappeared and made room for counters to
the counters, and so on and so forth. And that's without mentioning the
rise of very creative gimmicks of variable effectiveness, such as FEAR
(though Cleffa's the best at that gig now, so the name isn't quite
accurate any more) and Stallrein.
So next time some 8-year old
tells you Garchomp isn't uber because their Blastoise (no doubt with
Surf, Hydro Pump, Water Gun and Ice Beam) can kill it in one shot,
you're free to point and laugh.
Big Brother is watching: Platinum
Whether it was
voluntary or not, generation 4 marked a major change in Gamefreak's
treatment of competitive battling. I already covered the
physical/special split, which was meant to salvage formerly useless
Pokémon, the reduced amount of fodder Pokémon, as well as all those
evolutions to old Pokémon. What's most notable about that last one is
that 17 out of the 22 weren't in the original Sinnoh Dex at all, which
meant their purpose was NOT for in-game, but for competitive battling.
17 Pokémon just for us! Of course, Platinum expanded the Sinnoh Dex to
include them when Gamefreak realized 150 Pokémon in a regional Dex just
doesn't cut it in a post-generation 1 world, but for the first two years
of their existences, the likes of Electivire, Togekiss, Yanmega and
Gliscor only existed to give competitive players more options.
came Platinum, and with it the expected slew of move tutors. Of course,
tutor compatibility is mostly determined by logic, so the balancing
factor isn't that big since everyone benefits from it. Case in point,
after six years of waiting Salamence finally got its hands on Outrage,
and it, coupled with the very recent ban of Garchomp (more on that
later), propelled it near the top of the OU leaderboard.
the already excellent Lucario grabbed Ice Punch to downgrade Gliscor
from surefire counter to surefire counter of sets that don't have Ice
Punch. But it wasn't all OUs improving, as Kingdra, a respectable
Pokémon that wasn't quite cut out for OU, obtained Outrage as well. As a
result, it finally had a deadly physical dual STAB to use Dragon Dance
with, and immediately broke into OU. Likewise, most Flying-types learned
Heat Wave for some reason, giving them an amazing tool for extra type
coverage and making the move itself something else than an attack that
was completely obsoleted by Flamethrower and Fire Blast.
wasn't all... Gamefreak also specifically targeted lower-tiered Pokémon
with new level-up moves. Very few Pokémon that were OU prior to
Platinum actually obtained moves that way, most notably Vaporeon,
Jolteon, Skarmory and Azelf, but obviously they gave them completely
useless moves, with only Jolteon getting a move it might've gotten some
use out of (Discharge), but didn't. In fact, most new level-up moves
across the board were timid, with a lot of Bug Bite and Feint. But there
were a few that really fit their users well, with Curse Bibarel, Curse
Steelix, Leaf Blade Victreebel, Leaf Blade Bellossom and, in ubers,
Nasty Plot Darkrai among the notables. Other than the last one, all of
these Pokémon were desperate for a hand, and really enjoyed the help.
Then there was the beast known as Bullet Punch Scizor... but I'll get to
Platinum also gave three Pokémon a golden
opportunity to atone for their past failures by giving them alternate
forms. Rotom, who had an interesting typing combined with Levitate, but
no stats to use them with, gained 80 stat points through five alternate
forms, each retaining the same typing but adding a signature move to the
mix. The Heat form featuring Overheat was by far the most popular for
brutalizing those accursed Steels, among others, though the Wash form
with Hydro Pump and the Cut form with Leaf Storm enjoyed a certain
degree of popularity.
As for Shaymin, it was given a new form,
the Sky form, which attempted to make up for the horridness of the Land
form circa D/P. A lack of moves combined with a stat spread that
prevented it from specializing into any one of its very few options
immediately made it the weakest legendary ever - except maybe for the
doomed failure that is Regigigas. Even Seed Flare, arguably as broken as
Sacred Fire, with its 120 power, 85 accuracy and 40% chance to lower
special defense TWO STAGES, wasn't enough to break the Regigigas
comparisons. So Gamefreak's answer was... excessive, to say the least.
Crank up special attack and speed. Give it Serene Grace, upgrading Seed
Flare from disgustingly broken to "is this guy uber yet?". Add Air
Slash, with the same awesome flinch slot machine as Togekiss (and
Jirachi's brand new Iron Head). Add Earth Power for type coverage, and
you got a monstrosity that had no business in OU. The community reacted
accordingly, and after a few months Shaymin-S was booted out of OU. As
for Shaymin-L, all those new moves, including the Air Slash hand-me-down
gave it a certain degree of respectability.
Did it improve as much as the other two, with its new Origin form? Hell
no. But that's not to say it didn't improve. Which, in retrospect,
shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did. Originally (no pun
intended), I considered Giratina-O a failed experiment, for one reason:
it was stuck with only one possible held item, the Griseous Orb. But I
was overlooking the fact that Giratina-A, despite having the best
defensive stats in the entire game, had problems actually walling,
because of Ghost/Dragon's several weaknesses. The Origin form swapped
the attack stats with the defense stats, which had the effect of giving
Giratina a stat spread that was more appropriate for what its typing
allowed it to do: attack. This, compounded with the addition of Outrage
(Levitate sez: hey i'm here too), would make Giratina-O into a potent
sweeper, stallbreaker, spinblocker, and so on. And even if it's stuck
with the Griseous Orb, it's easy to forget it has another effect besides
the form change: boost STABbed attacks by 20% at no cost whatsoever. A
godsend for someone who loves punishing opponents with STABbed moves as
much as Giratina-O does.
Oh, and let's not forget Platinum marked
the first time a move's stats were changed in the middle of a
generation. Diamond and Pearl had pumped Hypnosis' accuracy to 70, and
the results were immediate: the move was literally stapled on everything
that could learn it, from Gengar to Bronzong to Yanmega to everything
else. There was Stealth Rock, but Hypnosis was the other OMGBOOM move.
Sure, its accuracy still wasn't up to Sleep Powder's standards (which
was probably what prompted the change), but Hypnosis' learnbase is a lot
larger... and better. The game designers eventually realized their
blunder and brought it right back down to 60, effectively crippling it
and making it "just another move". Most of its major users lost some
usage as a result, though in most of those cases other factors also
contributed. (And we're still waiting for that Stealth Rock nerf, by the
Love or hate the changes Platinum brought about, it did
have the benefit of refreshing the metagame, and bringing new faces into
the spotlight... and Gamefreak was just getting started.
10. Big Brother is watching: HGSS
I split this one in two because I was starting to drag on, even by my
standards. But nonetheless, HGSS dropped perhaps the clearest hint that
Gamefreak is indeed keeping a very close watch on us. Why? Look no
further than the Super Fang tutor. And yes, for those who overlooked it
(I know some people did), they made a Super Fang tutor. It had long been
touted as one of the best moves in the game, one that should never,
EVER be given to any Pokémon with anything resembling power. And why
wouldn't we think that? Without it, Raticate and Pachirisu would have
been considered as fodder on the level of Luvdisc or Magcargo. However,
Bibarel should've given us a little hint that it wasn't that good. Even
in the pre-Curse days, Bibarel could be a fairly interesting Pokémon,
and while it DID use Super Fang a lot, it didn't hang on to it like a
lifesaver in the way the other two did.
But the point is that
Super Fang was believed to be overpowered at the time. And this led to
Gamefreak being supremely careful in picking the Pokémon that should get
it. Remember how I said before that logic, for the most part, dictated
what obtained tutor moves? They made a very convenient exception when it
came to Super Fang. Of course, a lot of Pokémon with the ability to
bite obtained the move... but another criteria, a lot more implicit, was
taken into account. Tiering. Between OUs and ubers (Smeargle
notwithstanding, of course), only ONE Pokémon obtained Super Fang, and
that was the obvious Mew. (For the record, I have yet to see a Super
Fang Mew.) Yes, while it will never be confirmed, I'm positive Gamefreak
actually took a look at the tier list and decided not to give a move
that was believed to be overpowered to OUs and ubers. Else why didn't
the likes of Tyranitar and Salamence get it?
But Super Fang
turned out to be a flash in the pan. By far the best Pokémon that
obtained it was Crobat, who was a heartbeat away from OU at the time.
And after getting it... it's still a heartbeat away from OU. It was put
forward by some as a revolution for Stallrein... it ended up doing very
little (though Walrein is the best user of the Super Fang + Brine combo,
however trivial it may be compared to Stallrein). As it turns out,
Super Fang is a valuable asset for the underpowered, but to anything
with enough tools to put up a fight it's just sort of there.
and Gravity were other tutor moves that were expected to bring about
some change to the metagame, but in the end they flopped even harder
than Super Fang, as not a single Pokémon uses them enough to show up in
the monthly stats. The latter in particular was definitely exposed as
the gimmick it was, as tantalizing as those huge accuracy boosts were.
You could call it an example of Bibarel vs. Snorlax syndrome: something
that starts off worse but becomes better after setting up is outright
worse, because you don't always have a chance to set up.
the end, Gamefreak was rather cautious with tutor moves this time around
- after going a bit overboard with Outrage and elemental punches and
Heat Wave and Superpower and all that jazz, they decided to be more tame
this time around. But like they did with Platinum, they targeted
specific Pokémon for improvement, this time with egg moves for
non-legendaries and level-up moves for the unbreedable legendaries. The
one people immediately noticed was Brave Bird Ho-Oh, and for good
reason. For the longest time Ho-Oh was left with no real STABbed option
outside of Sacred Fire... problem solved. Ho-Oh's usage skyrocketed in
the months following HGSS' release, before petering out a bit
afterwards. No surprise there... while Ho-Oh is definitely a better
Pokémon with Brave Bird than without it, it's still fundamentally flawed
in design and unable to deal with the massive power of the more
high-end ubers, even with Sacred Fire in its corner.
notable was Extremespeed Dragonite making a return from Crystal, and the
effect was immediate, as no longer was Dragonite near the OU cut-off
line. However, no other OU received that kind of help. Sure, some of
them DID get new moves... but they all invariably sucked. Power Trick
Gliscor is my personal favorite (in a bad way), as it boosts its attack
at the expense of its defense... whereas a single Swords Dance boosts
its attack much, MUCH more without touching defense at all. Oops.
of OU, there were a few Pokémon that were the subject of wild
speculation because of their new toys. Would they break into OU? By how
much? Brave Bird Honchkrow, Nasty Plot Mismagius and especially Head
Smash Aggron were the primary suspects (no, not in the Smogon sense of
the term). Ultimately, though, the first two's rankings barely changed,
as Brave Bird failed to obsolete the recoil-free (and somehow still very
rare after 14 years) Drill Peck, and Calm Mind's special defense boost
still is of some value to lots of Mismagiuses compared to the extra
firepower Nasty Plot provides. As for Aggron, even comparing the
pre-HGSS era to today, it DID make massive gains... but they looked even
more impressive last fall, when it threatened to break into OU.
Nowadays it sits near the bottom of the top 100, but compared to where
it was before...
In the end, from an overall perspective, the
announced revolution didn't happen, with the HGSS metagame merely being a
slight evolution of Platinum's rather than the huge overhaul the latter
was. But we don't need such massive shake-ups every year, either...
11. Screw the rules, I
But despite Gamefreak shows every sign of
paying attention, Nintendo... doesn't. A popular subject of ridicule
among the competitive community is the ridiculous rulesets for official
tournaments that only Nintendo seems to have the secret of. I mean, I
know we shouldn't expect them to use the standard Smogon ruleset,
especially the bans on non-legendaries Wobbuffet and Garchomp, but some
of that stuff they came up with was flat-out ridiculous.
the best example of this is the ban on Tyranitar and Dragonite. If you
remember, despite the presence of a level equalizer in PvP games, its
use was banned for the longest time in official Nintendo tournaments.
And the maximum level allowed in these was 50. That meant that since
Pupitar and Dragonair evolved at level 55, their final forms couldn't be
achieved by level 50, hence the ban on these two. The issue, of course,
isn't with the ban of these two Pokémon, but the ban on the level
equalizer. It's there for a reason, use it! Idiots.
they released a level 50 Dragonite via event, and the sole purpose of
this move was to allow it into tournaments. It had no special moves,
though it did carry moves it could only learn after level 50, like
Dragon Dance and Outrage, and the TM move Thunderbolt. And let's not
forget that since it can't level up once else it'd lose its eligibility,
the only way to make it gain EVs is through vitamins. Brilliant. So
let's sum it up, okay? Salamence is allowed with nary a single
restriction, is all-around superior to Dragonite, and can be EV trained
just the way the player likes it. So would anyone seriously use that
Dragonite? Of course not. Tyranitar would've been a much better target,
since it's not utterly obsoleted by anything, and since Garchomp was
allowed as well without restriction... do I need to elaborate?
if only it stopped there. If only. The Pokémon VGC tournament ruleset
has this beat by a country mile. The idea behind this tournament is one
that is popular in some circles... but scorned by high-level players,
and for good reason. The only Pokémon banned here are "event" Pokémon,
including Manaphy and (lol) Phione, and the Soul Dew is off-limits as
well. Other Pokémon deemed "uber" by the tournament rules are allowed,
but with some restrictions (maximum of four in a six-Pokémon team,
maximum of two among the four chosen for any single battle). Those
Pokémon are Mewtwo, Lugia, Ho-Oh, and the RSE and DPP uber trios.
Everything else is fair game, including Wobbuffet, Garchomp, Latias and
Of course, there's a reason why ubers are kept to their
own metagame and go unallowed to seep into standard: even with the
restrictions, every match will be centered around the ubers. From what
I've been told, the Kyogre/Palkia tandem is absolutely devastating in
the actual tournaments. Is that no surprise? The entire uber metagame
revolves around Kyogre's and Groudon's perma-weather conditions, and
this anything-goes balance, while a fun diversion from standard matches,
is just that, a diversion.
And let's not forget about Item
Clause, which is still a mainstay of most, if not all, official
tournaments, despite this not being 2001 anymore. Item Clause was
implemented in generation 2 because a trio of held items (Leftovers,
Chesto Berry, Lum Berry) dominated all others, and we needed a bit more
variety than four Leftovers and two Chestos on every team. But now? We
got the Choice items, the Life Orb, loads of useful berries, and so on
and so forth. So what's the point? There isn't a really dominant item
anymore, so Item Clause has gone the way of the dodo a long time ago.
Except in official tournaments.
However, I have to give credit
where credit is due. Nintendo of Greece hosted a few Wi-Fi tournaments,
and they arguably havethe best ruleset an official tournament has ever
had. The ban list was exceptionally close to Smogon's, with Wobbuffet
considered uber (something you wouldn't expect from any official
rulemaker). There were a few differences, though, most notably Shaymin-L
as uber. Latias and Latios were allowed, but the Soul Dew wasn't, and
you couldn't use both in the same team (not that you'd ever want to).
And perhaps as a nod to the Pokémon battling community, Garchomp had
restrictions slapped on it that made it near unusable: it wasn't allowed
on teams featuring Tyranitar or Hippowdon, and most importantly, it was
barred from using held items. Brilliant, as held items are, perhaps
more than anything else, the difference maker in what makes Garchomp
broken. So let's give Nintendo of Greece a nod for actually paying
attention to what the community does.
12. One-trick pony for a one-'mon army
full conclusion for a single Pokémon is rather unconventional in an
article that's meant to look at generation 4 as a whole, but it's a
Pokémon that was under the radar when it started, then suddenly made the
metagame into a smoldering crater halfway through. As I mentioned
before, Platinum and HGSS targeted specific Pokémon for improvements in a
variety of ways, some of them successes, some of them failures.
such Pokémon that needed an extra oomph was targeted - a certain Bug
Pokémon that struggled to find a niche for itself in generations 2 and
3, but with the addition of new tools in its arsenal, it arose as an
interesting alternative to the likes of Heracross and Forretress, but
still remained within their shadow, just on the outskirts of OU. So
Gamefreak decided to give it a move that exploited both Technician and
STAB, while covering the low speed. And thus Bullet Punch Scizor was
born. Now it had just the thing to break into OU, but would it be able
to leapfrog Heracross? Yours truly actually wondered that out loud in
his first month of LPing. Well, any doubters were promptly shut up - it
not only sped past Heracross, but past every single Pokémon in the OU
tier! It only failed to nab the #1 spot in the very first full month of
the Platinum metagame (October 2008), and that was because of a massive
Heatran spike that only served to attempt to counter the fiend. But it
nabbed the #1 spot afterwards, and never, EVER relinquished it.
worse, Scizor's advantage over the others began to rise and rise and
rise, and the peak occured in October 2009, where Scizor made 57% more
appearances than #2 Salamence. That's not a typo, for every Salamence
you could find there were 1.57 Scizors. This advantage fell a bit since
then, but it still has a massive lead on everything else to this day,
which makes it somewhat odd to the untrained eye that Salamence is
getting a suspect test but not Scizor.
So one can only ponder,
what was Gamefreak thinking? I'll tell you what they were thinking.
Bullet Punch has 40 power, with a typing one can only describe as bad.
So it was up to STAB and Technician to try and make up for it. And I
can't blame the game designers one bit for thinking they'd be enough to
make Scizor punch through that last hurdle that separated it from OU,
but not enough to lay waste to everything. So please be somewhat
indulgent on the guys, even if Bullet Punch Scizor sometimes might seem
to be better off as a "what if?" that would remain without an answer
13. More legendaries:
both blessing and curse
One of the most common complaints
about generation 4 is that it introduced too many legendaries, and I
don't know anyone who disagrees with that. After the five originals and
the six GSC alumni, RSE added ten of them, which was already borderline
to begin with. But DPP outdid that by introducing no less than 13 new
legendaries. That... is a lot. The most common complaint is that the
more legendaries there are, the less special they are. And when
legendaries make up over 10% of all the new Pokémon introduced, that's a
claim I can get behind.
In my opinion, there should be no more
than 10 - generation 3, for one, did it perfectly. There's the legendary
trio and the uber trio, and there's no way we'll avoid these six in any
future generation. Then two post-game legendaries, two events, and
that's it. Where DPP went overboard was in that department. With three
post-game legendaries (Heatran, Regigigas, Cresselia) and no less than
FOUR event Pokémon (though Manaphy's status is questionable, since it
can be accessed easily enough through special missions in the Ranger
trilogy), the legendary total starts to bloat. What's especially sad is
that Cresselia and Darkrai had the potential to make great version
mascots for a future generation, thanks to their lore. What a waste.
of lore, at least Gamefreak is trying to give each legendary somewhat
of a point. In the first three generations, several of the legendaries
were just... there. The game was just, here, there's this powerful
Pokémon, try and catch it. However, generation 4 succeeded in making
them more interesting, with only Heatran more or less not having a
point. I've seen people who dared claim that this was actually a step
BACK, for reasons I can't really cite because they make no sense
whatsoever from a logical standpoint. Yeah, probably the nostalgia nuts
who only swear by the early generations because they're older, and not
for any logical reason. And of course, those are the same ones who want
more story in future games, and when Gamefreak actually tries to give
backstories for individual Pokémon, they're all THIS SUCKS NUH. Hurray
Another effect the increased number of legendaries
has is on the actual competitive game. Say what you will about there
being too many legendaries, but it actually made the uber metagame a lot
more compelling. Back in RBY, there were only two ubers, so any uber
metagame it may have tried was simply OU with Mewtwo and Mew tacked on.
Not fun. GSC introduced Lugia, Ho-Oh and Celebi (for those who weren't
aware, yes, Celebi was uber in GSC), but only five ubers still made
ubers a lackluster experience. However, the last two generations brought
forward a lot of uber Pokémon, making the metagame a fun diversion (as I
pointed out in #11), instead of a boring diversion. Of course, whether
Kyogre's and Groudon's excessive influence over the metagame is good or
not is debatable, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.
course, several legendaries don't have what it takes to be considered
uber, and their influence on the OU metagame is just as clear. Heatran,
for example, is notable for being the only viable defensive Fire-type in
the entire game. Azelf provided a needed upgrade to the faltering
Alakazam, and the likes of Jirachi and Celebi are also mainstays. And
with the dominance of pseudo-legendaries, a topic that gained a lot of
attention this generation, it's good to see that there are Pokémon that
can keep up with them.
The downside, however, is that too many
OUs with a BST of 580 or 600 will eventually create a power creep
effect, where it becomes harder and harder to compete if you don't have
that kind of stats. And while there are a lot of Pokémon that can, in
fact, compete, nearly all of them are in the 500+ range. Remember
Dusclops in RSE? It had a BST of 455 back then (14 less than perennial
unintentional joke Pokémon Pidgeot!), and still was OU. Well, it
wouldn't have been able to keep up that kind of pace. It evolving into
Dusknoir allowed it to catch up in terms of stats, and still it's rather
close to the bottom of OU month after month. The fundamental issue is
that the more and more Pokémon there are, the higher the requirements
will be in order to be viable, and the inception of too many
legendaries, while adding more Pokémon that can meet these requirements,
raises the bar for the other Pokémon a lot faster.
there's no reason to keep our fingers close to the panic button. Even
with so many new legendaries and other really powerful Pokémon, there
are still a dozen more OUs in gen 4 than in gen 3. So the next time you
see another godforsaken Gyarados, you can tell yourself that the game's
still more varied than it used to be, even if it doesn't always look
14. Tiering got messy:
Uber vs. OU
It was only a matter of time before the line
between uber and OU stopped being clear-cut, and if you ask me it's a
small miracle that it took until this generation. But is it such a
surprise? In generation 1, Mewtwo and Mew (in that order) were so far
above the rest it was ridiculous, so a ban was clearly in order. Then
Lugia and Ho-Oh came around, and while neither them nor the newly nerfed
Mewtwo were as broken as Mewtwo's RBY iteration they were still far
above the rest. Celebi was a little less clear-cut, though, but its vast
movepool was enough for most to consider it uber.
But as more
and more legendaries came raining down, doubts started to arise about
the status of some of them. Throughout generation 3, Latias and Latios
without the Soul Dew were the subject of much debate, but ultimately
they were kept (with good reason, as generation 4 would end up proving)
within the confines of the uber tier. And while all Deoxys forms were
considered uber at the time, the Leaf Green and Emerald forms raised an
eyebrow or two. But it seemed the mentality at the time was, when in
doubt, stick it into ubers. There wasn't enough doubt, however, to keep
Celebi there, and from that point on it was considered as a very
competent OU, but nothing more.
But it was generation 4 that will
forever be remembered as the one that changed the way Pokémon are
tiered. The biggest reason for that is because there turned out to be
even more apples of discord, and as a reaction the community gave itself
the tools for determining whether a Pokémon was too good to be OU in
the form of suspect ladders, which were a new added functionality of the
Shoddy Battle simulator. But it was before Shoddy was even created that
the arguments started, and they were rather heated, since they were
entirely based on theorymon. Remember, at the time Diamond and Pearl
weren't even out yet in North America, so most of us didn't even play
And the very first Pokémon that was under scrutiny was
yours truly's favorite, Tyranitar. In March of 2007, it was discovered
that Rock-types' special defense was boosted by 50% in a sandstorm, a
new effect for this weather condition. And many players were on
DEFCON-1, on the basis that Tyranitar's effective BST now fell just a
few points short of Kyogre's and Groudon's. That boost would also
provide amazing synergy with the likes of Regirock, Rhyperior and
Cradily. Not only that, but as I mentioned earlier, Tyranitar just loved
the physical/special split, so now it didn't have a bunch of good
physicals and a bunch of good specials, but a neverending list of both.
Obviously, as anyone who's played the game for the last three years will
tell you, a horrid defensive typing and low speed kept Tyranitar in OU
(but couldn't prevent it from being an everlasting force there). Add the
fact that it's usually not a good idea to double up on types, even with
a defensive boost, and the end result was that not once was Tyranitar
ever examined after the theorymon was disproven. And as a bit of trivia,
to this day Tyranitar is one of only two Rock-types in the OU tier, the
other being Aerodactyl.
A few months after the NA release of
Diamond and Pearl, the uber vs. OU topic came up again, and this time
the subject was Manaphy, a Pokémon that was widely considered at the
time as a potent force in OU, but not really gamebreaking due to the
lack of Kyogre in that metagame to support it. At least whenever I saw
the subject being discussed, that was what just about everyone said...
and then one day, everyone woke up to Smogon's official uber list, and
Manaphy, much to my amazement (and a lot of others', I'm sure), was
listed as a definite uber! Not even on the bubble or anything, it was
uber. Just like that.
And despite the doubt I and others had, it
wasn't even looked at on suspect ladders until stage 3 came around.
Early on it looked like Manaphy would indeed end up in OU, but as the
more powerful suspects were banned for good (more on that later),
Manaphy became more and more potent, and as a result it remained uber.
The good news, though, was that this time there was actual battle
experience to prove Manaphy's tiering. Will it be the new Celebi, barely
uber in its debut generation, but a solid OU afterwards? Only time will
As far as suspect tests go, the first one was conducted in
August 2008, and the subject was Garchomp, which was tearing everything
apart in OU at the time. It had a surprisingly quiet 2007, where
Salamence's ability to hit solidly on both sides of the spectrum kept it
on top of the Dragon food chain, but as people slowly began to realize
how to play with Garchomp so that one could get the maximum output out
of it, it grabbed the #1 spot from Blissey and never looked back. After a
while, it was becoming obvious that something needed to be done, as no
single Pokémon had been as dominant as this before in OU. And thus the
concept of suspect testing was born - and the very first one made
history, as for the first time, a non-legendary was banned to ubers on
the grounds of being simply too powerful (as opposed to being a broken
gimmick like Wobbuffet). Later on, its status was reviewed in stage 3 of
suspect testing, and despite the post-Platinum metagame being less kind
to it, it still managed to hold on to its uber status.
were several other suspect tests afterwards, a rather short-lived one
being Wobbuffet. After a few weeks in OU, it was swiftly booted back to
ubers, to no one's surprise. An unbanning that lasted longer and
happened around the same time, though, was Deoxys-E. At the time, it was
thought of as the worst Deoxys form, since it was relatively fragile
and didn't hit that hard, with its only asset being its speed. But as it
turns out, speed can be just as valuable, if not more, than defense
when it comes to playing a support role - something Deoxys-E could
provide in spades. Spikes, Stealth Rock, Taunt, Trick, Reflect, Light
Screen, Knock Off... However, it did take some time for people to
realize its potential. It started off as a good OU, but not anything
that was gamebreaking or something. Then people got creative and tried
having it play a support role that could milk its massive speed for all
it was worth... and it eventually became obvious it WAS too good for OU,
though not for the reasons that were initially imagined. More
interesting is the fact that this little OU stint taught players how to
use it in ubers, and as a result the Emerald form became the most
popular of Deoxys' forms in ubers.
In the meantime, Shaymin-S was
booted to ubers fairly quickly after Platinum's release, without any
need for a suspect test. I already covered that in point 9, so I'm not
going to repeat myself here.
One thing I already mentioned
previously was the argument over Latias and Latios belonging or not in
OU when not using the Soul Dew. After a test, Latias was deemed able to
compete in OU without breaking it, and it stayed there for quite a
while, until the tail end of stage 3. Speaking of which, it was one of
the five Pokémon being tested there (and I already covered the other
four), and a vast majority of people were in favor of keeping it in OU
in the first few rounds. However, the same phenomenon that happened with
Deoxys-E and Garchomp occurred here as well: people started tapping
into its full potential, and it went from an excellent defensive OU
Pokémon to simply too good for that metagame. And as a result, the
near-unanimous consensus that had formed during the early rounds
shattered, and Latias was sent back to ubers.
Even now, as
generation 4 is coming to an end, we're having one last test, this time
involving Salamence. The departure of Latias, one of Salamence's
greatest nemesises, allowed it to perform a lot better, and with the
gifts it obtained since Platinum, it moved on to become the trickiest
foe to take down in OU (even though it's still less common than Scizor).
How will that one turn out? I'm betting on a ban... Salamence has
qualities Garchomp only wished it had, after all.
15. Tiering got messy: OU vs. UU
the amount of controversy sparked by the re-tiering of several Pokémon
in uber and OU, it was far from being the only area where discord
struck. The definition of "underused" changed vastly since this
generation began, and while I was highly skeptical at first, to say the
least, it turns out the change was actually a great idea.
problem with tiers other than OU and uber, before the UU revamp, was
that they were entirely based on theorymon. There was no real battle
experience to back the reasoning behind any given Pokémon being BL, UU
or NU. And at one point, it came back to haunt everyone. The end result
was that some Pokémon that should've been allowed in UU were BL, and
some that had no business there were UU nonetheless.
So in the
end, UU was dominated by the latter category, which included the likes
of Clefable, Claydol and Swellow. In response to this, Steelix was
demoted to UU in order to deal with those top threats... ultimately
becoming the top threat itself. This resulted in a vicious cycle of
demotions that were intended to fix the metagame, but broke it even
more. It eventually got so bad that the UU metagame was eventually
completely reset. What this meant was that the new metagame would start
off including every single Pokémon that wasn't uber or OU, and the top
threats that broke the metagame would be voted on and banned. These
Pokémon would then form the BL tier, which would become more of a UU ban
list than the actual tier it used to be.
However, compared to
the relative stability of the OU metagame, where anything that wants to
come in and out has to go through a very rigorous process, UU is very
dynamic... too much so for my tastes, actually. The reason for that is
because any Pokémon that drops out of OU is sent not to BL, but straight
to UU, and those who turn out to be too good for UU are then sent over
to BL (recent examples of this include PorygonZ and Cresselia).
Likewise, UU Pokémon can experience a surge of usage in OU, and
successfully breaking in that tier disqualifies them from UU by
definition (one notable occurence was Roserade).
For that reason,
and because I don't care much for UU, I'm not going to cover every case
in-depth, because I want to be done with this column before generation
12 comes out. Suffice to say that these changes to UU were absolutely
necessary, and generation 4 will be remembered as the one where we
accepted to get dirty enough to implement these changes.
16. Type balance... going... going... gone!
one of the best things generation 2 brought to the game was the huge
improvement in balance between types. Of course, there have always been
those types that were just bad, like Poison and Normal. However, there
was no longer a single type that monopolized the spotlight the way
Psychic did in RBY. Generation 3 was pretty much the same, despite
bringing so many changes they had to drop backwards compatibility.
the more offensive generation 4 brought about loads of high-powered
drawback moves. Perhaps because of the unimpressive competition in the
drawback-free department, the likes of Flare Blitz, Brave Bird, Close
Combat, Superpower and Leaf Storm immediately became wildly popular.
However, all those moves, as useful and powerful as they were, all
shared something in common: they could be resisted fairly easily,
leaving the user in a state of vulnerability that varies depending on
the drawback inflicted.
Enter the Dragon type. In generation 3,
all of its moves were special, and the strongest one was Outrage, and at
90 power, it wasn't exactly worth being locked into. This left 80-power
Dragon Claw as the better alternative. However, the improvement
generation 4 brought the type was, to put it bluntly, excessive. Dragon
Claw turned physical, and was replaced by the 90-power Dragon Pulse. But
it's the drawback moves that really brought the Dragon type into a
class of its own. Outrage's power was cranked up to 120 (while Petal
Dance and Thrash, who needed it a lot more, were left to rot), and a new
Overheat clone, Draco Meteor, was created.
I don't know if
Gamefreak was thinking that the lack of super-effectives would balance
out the lack of NVEs, and that's the only reason I can think of as to
why they didn't think of it as a bad idea. But that balance never came
to pass. Instead, these two moves were used as weapons of mass
destruction through some of the strongest neutral hits the game had to
offer, especially STABbed. Did I mention that ever since Platinum came
out, the only Dragon that failed to be OU or uber in any single month
was the obvious Altaria? On top of the ubiquitousness of the Dragon
type, that meant the added bonus of Dragons chewing through each other
with Dragon moves as well.
One of Garchomp's greatest assets
prior to its ban, without a doubt, was the ability to use Swords Dance
in tandem with Outrage, a base 102 speed that allowed it to barely
outspeed several threats and a Yache Berry to get a near-guaranteed
kill, which led to it being the second non-legendary sent to ubers, and
the first on the basis of something else than an overpowered gimmick.
The ban was controversial back then, but time proved that it was the
right thing to do. Even today, several "Garchomp's not cheap, he's just
fast" proponents exist, and they fall into two categories: those who
think Garchomp's loss of effectiveness is significant enough to unban it
(a statement I disagree with), and those who simply don't fight at a
high enough level to realize Garchomp's immense potential.
Garchomp was banned, Salamence was free to rule over the land of Dragons
once again. And in a matter of mere days - not weeks, DAYS - Platinum
came out, bringing with it the Outrage tutor. Remember that Salamence
didn't have access to this move before then, and had to make due with
the Dragon Dance + Dragon Claw tandem. This improvement allowed
Salamence to make an immediate impact (though tempered at the start by
Scizor and Heatran, two Dragon resists, dominating the ladder), on top
of allowing Kingdra to make its long overdue entrance into OU. Later on,
Latias was unbanned, and it and Salamence kept each other in check for a
long time, preventing either of them from really breaking the game as
they had the potential to do.
However, as I mentioned earlier,
Latias eventually became too tough to handle regardless, and was banned,
with the immediate result that Salamence is currently getting its own
suspect test. Is it a coincidence that all three of the most
controversial Pokémon, tiering-wise, are Dragons? I don't think so. Had
it not been for Outrage's improvement and the inception of Draco Meteor,
all three of them may have been OU, and Latios may even have had a
suspect test (though that's just pure theorymon talking).
major consequence of Dragons taking over the metagame was that using
Pokémon that could resist their powerful onslaughts was urgently needed.
However, only one type could do so without requiring astronomical
defenses - Steel. As a result, as much as you needed lots of Dragons to
fire off devastating attacks, you needed lots of Steels to resist your
opponent's. Indeed, looking at the ladder's top slots shows Steel has
become more common than Dragon itself, with the likes of Scizor,
Heatran, Metagross, Jirachi, Lucario, Skarmory and Magnezone all highly
likely to show up and ruin your fun.
If anything, I wonder how
Steel took so long before rising to the top like that. With an unrivaled
11 resistances and one immunity (to what else but Poison), it was
already designed from the start as the ultimate in defense. Perhaps the
type's miserable offense (which was improved this cycle with Iron Head,
Flash Cannon and Bullet Punch) was a turn-off... then again, only Mawile
and Registeel don't have access to secondary STAB of any sort, though
Metagross' and Jirachi's, for instance, are fairly unappealing. And you
also had defensive typing disasters such as Rock/Steel... nonetheless,
it's only logical that Steel eventually came to reign supreme. It just
so happens that the unique Dragon resistance became more valuable than
all the others.
I did mention earlier that Gamefreak seems to be
paying attention to the metagame... if so, we can probably expect nerfs
of some sort. The ball is in their court, it's time for them to make
important decisions. But if nothing is done, we could expect more of the
same for four more years...
Shoddy Battle: from shoddy to success story
It would be
unfair to wrap this column up without mentioning the rise of Shoddy
Battle as the number one Pokémon battling medium, a scenario that ended
up proving all my predictions wrong. With the advent of Wi-Fi battling
on cartridges, I believed the need for a simulator would fade away, as
the DS provided the means to battle anyone in the world. Boy, was I
wrong! The primary issue was that to battle using a DS, you still needed
to breed Pokémon with the right natures, IVs and egg moves, and EV
train them properly. You needed to do it six times, and once again every
time you wanted to change a team member, something that occurs very
often in a metagame that mutates constantly as much as it does. And as I
mentioned before, attention to detail became more critical than ever
before, since players became more and more skilled and the game
developed into the digital equivalent of chess.
Battle. When it was first made public, it was sorely lacking in many
aspects. Several Pokémon, moves and abilities were missing, most notably
Adaptability, which meant PorygonZ, one of the most anticipated new
Pokémon, had to make due with the less reliable Download. Furthermore,
several glitches hampered gameplay significantly, the most notable being
one that doubled Close Combat's power to a ridiculous 240. This made
most Pokémon that obtained it into terrifying forces, and Primeape among
others became much more of a powerhouse than it ever should've been.
The fact that its fifteen minutes of fame occurred because of a glitch
says a lot about how underwhelming it is.
And despite all these
shortcomings, people still played it a lot. That's right, the ease of
team-making that simulators typically provide managed to compensate for
Shoddy being nowhere near finished. I thought Shoddy wouldn't be long
for this world, especially with Smogon working on their own project,
Competitor. But in the meantime, Shoddy filled a niche that desperately
needed to be occupied.
It was eventually completed, the bugs were
ironed out, and the real fun could begin - in more ways than one. Not
only was a generation 4 simulator complete, but new features were soon
added, including a ladder and monthly rankings for Pokémon on each
ladder. The final product turned out to be so good that Smogon
eventually dropped Competitor altogether and became affiliated with
Shoddy. The wildly popular monthly stats were expanded to include moves,
EVs, natures and abilities for each Pokémon, as well as teammate stats.
a new version, Shoddy 2, was announced. The improvements announced
included a better interface, as well as the ability to not only partake
in double battles, but also triples, and so on. That's right, both
complete teams could be on the field at once! In addition, it was meant
to support a few things the original couldn't, most notably the EV
restrictions on Arceus. Some people believe to this day that Arceus
can't be used on Shoddy because it's simply too good for ubers, which
isn't true. The actual reason is because the only way to get a legit
Arceus was through a level 100 event, that couldn't be EV trained
through anything but vitamins. And it just so happened that Shoddy
couldn't support a maximum of 100 EVs in a given stat for one Pokémon,
so Shoddy 2 was also meant to finally bring Arceus, even with its
current restrictions, in ubers.
Another promised addition that
was much more controversial was the weather glitch that was introduced
in Platinum, and returned in HGSS. For those not familiar with this
glitch, it occurs whenever Pursuit KOs a Pokémon while a permanent
weather condition is in effect. As a result, the weather goes completely
haywire in ways that are difficult to explain - a YouTube search would
be your best bet. The addition of this glitch to Shoddy wouldn't have
been such an issue but for the simple notions that both Pursuit and
permanent weather effects are wildly popular, with Tyranitar and
Hippowdon both OU and Abomasnow lurking not too far behind. Tyranitar is
especially problematic, as Pursuit is a very common move for it.
the crux of the argument was, should Shoddy be the way the game was
intended to be, or the way it actually is? I personally believe the
former is the way to go, on the principle that a medium that doesn't
have a certain bug is, by default, better than one that does. However,
the developers thought the opposite, and planned to add the glitch in
However, this debate ended up being for naught, as a
variety of issues prevented Shoddy 2 from being completed, at least for
the time being. But given that we're only a few months away from the
launch of generation 5, it's highly unlikely that it will ever be done.
Instead, I assume that all efforts will go toward building a generation 5
simulator when the time comes. And hopefully neither will feature the
But in the end, Shoddy 2 becoming vaporware
shouldn't overshadow the unexpected, meteoric rise of the original. It
rapidly became THE way to do Pokémon battles, not only because of
convenience, but because nearly all the good players tossed cartridges
aside to play on Shoddy, requiring one to fight there if they wanted to
improve past a certain point.
And thus ends this
lengthy review of generation 4 (my longest column yet!). What do the
next four years have in store for us? We all have different expectations
when it comes to more specific aspects, but I believe all of us are
hoping for a fun experience that will build upon what the last 14 years
brought us. Here's to the fifth chapter of one of gaming's greatest