A retrospective is defined as “directed to the past; contemplative of past situations, events, etc.” Here at Retbit, we embrace our nostalgia and harbor a passion for reflecting upon gaming experiences and situations which left an indelible mark on our lives. Whether a memorable boss, a catchy soundtrack or an inimitable occurrence, we invite you to slide on your rose-tinted glasses and take part in our Retbit Retrospective.
What was it that first drew you to Pokemon? The allure of catching them all? The prospect of pitting pocket-monsters against each other in brutal battles to unconsciousness? Or something equally as crucial but often overlooked, like the way a particular Pokemon looked which gave it its charm?
Ken Sugimori, renowned illustrator/art director behind the designs of all 151 original Pokemon said it best in an interview with the Official Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon National Dex Guide. “This idea of ‘charm’ is a basic part of every Pokemon’s design. Even if we had Pokemon that had frightening stories behind them or looked unsettling, we give them a sort of charm and depict them in a way that [you felt] you could get close to them.”
Such charm in Sugimori’s designs has allowed them to remain etched into our consciousness nearly 25 years later; from the cool to the cute to the charming to the downright weird, here are our favorite Pokemon designs from Red/Blue and Yellow.
Nidoking is one of the finest examples of the evolutionary journey in the first generation Pokemon games.
You first encounter Nidoking’s initial form, Nidoran, early in the game: a little purple rat-bunny with oversized ears and a needle in the middle of its head. Not bad, but something you wouldn’t be shocked to find as roadkill on some of the busier Routes in Kanto.
By the time Nidoran is fully evolved he’s an armored, purple-spined hulk who has grown into his ears, fully developed his poisonous nose-horn and sprouted a fully-grown lizard tail, which according to the Red/Blue PokeDex they use “to smash, constrict, then break the prey’s bones.” All these facets, combined with his royal purple color scheme make Nidoking one of my favorite Pokemon designs not only in Generation 1, but of all time.
Ninetails looks good. Real good. Almost to the point where you and your Pokemon could get salty over it. What’s up with that smug little grin, Ninetails? You trying to be all snooty and extra around my Magmar and Jinx? Is it because you look like some kind of Fabio fox that just loped out of a shampoo commercial? Or that you’ve never had a bad hair day in your life?
Alright, fine. I’ll stop being a hater. Ninetails, you’re majestic. And the fact that you’re a red fox based on the kitsune from Japanese mythology makes you that much more majestic. Now let us prop you up on a silk pillow, feed you PokeVitamins and run a wide-toothed comb from bottom to top through your luxuriant tails, would ya?
I’d be remiss if I discussed majestic looking Fire Pokemon and didn’t bring Arcanine into the conversation. Just look at that exquisite, tiger-striped orange coat and the thick, cream-colored lion manes adorning its robust frame.
Don’t just take my fawning words for it, though. Look no further than the many Arcanine PokeDex entries touting its magnificence:
Pokemon Red/Blue: “A Pokémon that has been admired since the past for its beauty.”
Pokemon Yellow: “Many people are charmed by its grace and beauty while running.”
Pokemon Stadium: “A Pokémon whose beauty is legendary in China.”
Pokemon Silver: “Its magnificent bark conveys a sense of majesty. Anyone hearing it can’t help but grovel before it.”
Arcanine isn’t all bark and looks, though. It’s also built for speed. From Ruby/Sapphire: “Arcanine is known for its high speed. It is said to be capable of running over 6,200 miles in a single day and night. The fire that blazes wildly within this Pokémon’s body is its source of power.”
To top it off, Arcanine looks like a loyal, proud fire doggo who deserves all the PokeTreats and belly rubs.
Arcanine is majestic, spirited and has a mythic quality about it yet still exudes that wholesome charm Yugimori was talking about. For all these reasons I laud Arcanine as one of the best Pokemon Red and Blue designs.
There’s a reason this guy and Charizard graced the covers of Pokemon Blue and Red respectively. Their designs are awesome.
The sheer concept of an upright turtle with twin hydro cannons emerging from its shell is undeniably awesome but commensurately enigmatic. That is, the cannons are pretty conspicuously inorganic, so what’s their deal? Were they initially made of bone? Did some Pokemon equivalent of Weapon X infuse his bone-cannons with metal like Wolverine? Should Pokemon trainers in Kanto have to register their Blastoise as firearms?
Or are Blastoise’s water cannons a remarkable example of biological adaptation? A buildup of excess minerals in its body which evolved to mimic technology?
Or am I once again looking too much into a video game which features animate vanilla ice cream cones? To that I say, don’t judge me: these are ruminations of the utmost importance and you know it.
Pikachu may be the cutest and most beloved Electric-type Pokemon of all time but Jolteon, the Thunder Stone-induced evolution of Eevee is the Gen. 1 Pokemon with the most, ahem, electrifying appearance.
Just look at Jolteon, a case study of elegant simplicity at its finest; like the perfect fusion of a lightning bolt and an Eevee. Doesn’t it look fast as, well, lightning? Can’t you hear and feel the electric energy crackling through its needle-sharp, yellow fur? Ample proof that designer Motofumi Fujiwara (who also designed Eevee and Flareon) did an astonishing job and then some.
A lizard head on top of an enormous praying mantis body with scythes for arms, flitting insect wings and a ninja motif on top of it all? My inner-five-year old and inner thirty-five-year-old both just did backflips.
Scyther is sleek, somewhat nonsensical and looks like it could tear you apart — all hallmarks of great Pokemon design.
If you read my Defining Gaming Moments piece about leveling Magikarp to Level 20 in Pokemon Red and Blue, you know that Magikarp’s miraculous evolution into Gyarados for the first time was an onerous burden, but one that stuck with me for a long time. To this day, Gyarados is still one of my favorite Pokemon.
It’s not hard to see why. Magikarp transforms from a dead weight, derpy koi fish to a kaiju-sized sea serpent. From its cool blue color-scheme to its serpentine body plated with scales “harder than steel” to its fangs “strong enough to crush stones,” Gyarados looks and feels every bit the mythological, force of nature it was intended to be.
Like I could leave this guy off the list. Charizard is one of the most enduring and popular Pokemon of all time and that success is due in large measure to its impeccable design.
Remember what I said about Scyther being a confluence of appealing design to both children and man-children alike? Charizard is that to the nth degree.
“It’s filled with the kind of coolness that boys would adore,” Atsuko Nashida, Charizard’s designer, said of the poster Pokemon of Pokemon Red in an interview with the official Pokemon Company website. As it turns out, Charizard didn’t just appeal to Nashida’s intended demographic but to damn near anyone and everyone who has played Pokemon.
Because of her design, a general notion that seems simplistic in hindsight: a bright orange fire dragon with horned wings and a burning ball of flame for a tail tip, has become one of the most iconic Pokemon (and video game) designs of all time.
Another minimalistic and thoroughly effective Pokemon Generation 1 design is Poliwrath, the fully evolved version of Poliwag. Poliwrath is the rare Water/Fighting dual type, which means he goes from a little tadpole with a swirly design on his underbelly to a big, navy-blue skinned, muscle-armed, bipedal frog with hambones for fists when fully evolved.
In addition to being jacked frogmen, Poliwrath is also the Michael Phelps of Pokemon. According to the Pokemon Red PokeDex entry, “An adept swimmer at both the front crawl and breast stroke. Easily overtakes the best human swimmers.” Well, better than Michael Phelps apparently.
Which is good for the Tadpole Pokemon, because as someone who grew up around plenty of ponds and lakes, let’s just say I know firsthand the barbarity a young, dumb kid can inflict upon a poor, innocent frog. Poliwrath is like the ultimate manifestation of the ass-whipping every one of those kids who caught and bullied frogs back in the day deserves. And who better to deliver it than a swole-up frog man with oversized fists?
“What’s that little, Cletus? You want to try and shove a lit firecracker up my Poly-hole again? Not this time, b—-. You about to catch these big-ass frog hands, more like it!” — Poliwrath, probably.
Followed by the delivery of an absolute amphibious ass-whupping.
Oh, I almost forgot. See what Poliwrath’s wearing on his hands? White gloves. Like it’s some Walt Disney-era cartoon character. Which would make its pugilism all the more darkly comedic if I weren’t so secretly afraid of it hunting me down in some Stephen King-esque nightmare world, ready to batter my face to a bloody pulp as recompense for my past misdeeds against frogs.
Which Pokemon designs from Pokemon Generation 1 were your favorite? Which pivotal Red and Blue Pokemon design did I leave off the list? Let me know in the comments.