If you've read and enjoy my Pokemon Reviews, you may be anticipating my inevitable review of the ninth generation, but that can only begin once the official artwork of each Pokemon - and preferably also their animated models! - is available online.
The Thirteen Most Monstrous Paldean Pokemon
Until then, you can tide yourself over with a classic Halloween-flavored list of this generation's spookiest and weirdest offerings. I still have disappointments with how the games themselves are handled, but I can honestly say Scarlet and Violet actually gave me a lot of new favorite monsters; a significant step up from Sword and Shield!
Obviously this post may qualify as "spoilers" for the full length reviews to come, but I'll be keeping my opinions and the full details of these Pokemon a bit brief!
We obviously have to include this one in a "spooky" list, because it's a rare case of a ghost evolving from a non-ghost; a Pokemon that "dies" to evolve. I must say I wasn't expecting Primeape to get an evolution and it isn't bad for what it is; if you love Primeape and you wanted a meaner, gnarlier version, you probably couldn't ask for a much better design. I do take some issue with the fact that its rage is what has turned it into a ghost, even though Primeape's pokedex says that it dies if it ever completely stops being angry. Shouldn't this look a bit happier?
I'm usually indifferent to the many, many canine Pokemon out there, but Paldea introduces two of the coolest dogs the franchise has possibly ever seen. One of these is the dark type Mabosstiff, an adorably shaggy dog whose huge, droopy face usually looks like it's about to start crying, but hides a big mouth full of nasty teeth. It's actually supposed to be themed around a "mob boss," and its dark typing reflects the level of violence it will resort to in order to protect its loved ones. Funny, and I can definitely see the "mafia don" in its design, but I can't help be reminded of similar dark, hairy, beastly dogs from various folk tales and ghost stories, like Black Shuck.
Pokemon's equivalent to a "mimic" is supposed to be Voltorb, but I guess a true treasure chest Pokemon was an inevitability. It's a kind of cute little ant-like coin creature haunting the chest, a ghost type that feeds on the energy of would-be treasure hunters. It does however have a somewhat controversial evolution, given that it stops being a cute little ant-like guy or even carrying any "ghostly" vibes when it turns into an utterly zany golden coin man known as Gholdengo.
Poison is my favorite Pokemon type, and it encompasses a pretty broad definition of "poisonous" things; venom, acid, smog, sludge, trash, skunk spray, plant pollen, even algae! I have to say spraypaint might be the most novel new addition, and makes perfect sense, but I never would have expected a poison/normal spraypaint pokemon to be an aye-aye, of all things. This likely draws from the fact that its fellow lemur, the Slow Loris, is one of the few mammals that secretes poison. Grafaiai has a very snazzy design, too; its facial markings evoke a gas mask, in particular its huge, pupil-less green eyes. It doesn't quite look "Pokemon style," but I mean that affectionately.
When I heard there was going to be a dragon/water "sushi" themed Pokemon, my first assumption was serpentine or reptilian creature resembling some sort of seaweed-wrapped roll, a cute concept but not "my" kind of concept exactly. I don't think anyone could have predicted that what we'd get instead was a tiny little fish-like creature that evokes some kind of nigiri in order to attract larger prey, practically a living fishing lure, or that it has a special ability allowing it to enter the mouth of a larger fish Pokemon - a catfish called Dondozo - and "command" it from inside. Is this a reference to tongue biters, or other parasites? I don't know for sure, but that does seem to be a popular interpretation of it.
I can't help but be reminded of a concept I once shared here for a fishing lure Pokemon that also allows itself to be swallowed.
By far my favorite idea introduced by Paldea are a couple of "convergently evolved" Pokemon. They look exactly like regional forms of existing Pokemon, but aren't actually related to those Pokemon at all! One is a garden eel that happens to look a lot like Diglett, while the other is a mushroom that looks just like Tentacool, evolving into Toedscruel!
Tentacool and Tentacruel have always been two of the all-time coolest looking Pokemon in my personal opinion, but never fully fit into the inner circle of Pokemon I actually like to use on teams. Recycling the design as a fungus is exactly how you resolve that, and what's more, Toedscruel is modeled to evoke an octopoid "martian" even more than the original Tentacruel!
Pollution themed monsters are one of my biggest aesthetics of all, and we haven't had a new one since Garbodor, so I was delighted to know there'd be a poison/steel Pokemon based on a car engine. I was even more delighted when I saw that it was a funky one-eyed yokai-like monster with a jagged mouth on top of its "head," and I love that according to the Pokedex for its unevolved form, the first of its kind came about by the fusion of a diesel engine with some unidentified poison type. I feel like we can assume it was a grimer or a koffing.
The only thing I don't like? The little car-like body, made of blackish rocky looking material. I think the engine would have looked nicer on its own, especially since, for some inexplicable reason, it doesn't locomote on the wheels anyway. It flies! Why does it fly!? Was that "unknown" poison type ancestor a koffing??
One of my new favorites of all time, this magnificently bizarre lifeform looks a giant, hovering flower or pinwheel with a pair of tiny, glowing eyes in its pitch black center, and when images first leaked, it was difficult to guess what it exactly it was supposed to be. As a poison/rock type, it's actually supposed to be a toxic mineral, and there are in fact plenty of beautiful crystal formations that will have you puking blood if you're foolish enough to ingest them. What I especially love about this Pokemon is that it has no secondary animal-like theme or humanoid features; it's a very alien looking being, truly just a "living mineral!"
This Pokemon is based on a hake fish, and in-game it can appear to be fairly straightforward; just a simple, semi-realistic shiny fish, cool but nothing outrageous. That is until, as you can see, it explodes its own flesh off. This water/psychic "jettison Pokemon" literally "fillets" itself with telekinesis, peeling away its skin and meat into four delicious looking slabs of sashimi to leave only a thin spinal column and fins trailing behind its head. An absolutely killer concept, though I do wish the spine looked more obviously like bone...and where are the little spiky ribs that we're supposed to see on any proper cartoon fish skeleton?!
Funny thing: around the same time Pokemon Red and Blue first came out, I actually happened to have a strange little fixation on "brambles." I just thought tangling, thorny plants were really cool, I loved the feel of the word itself, I kept designing "bramble" based monsters, and yes, I hoped there'd ever be a bramble themed Pokemon. That the one we finally get is even a grass/ghost, based on a withered-up dead shrub and a tumbleweed, could not have possibly been any more thrilling to whatever's left of that 1997 kid. Naturally I adore that its only "anthropomorphism" is that there's a grinning toothy smile in the negative space of the thorny branches, and that it only has two dangling seeds for "eyes."
The only tragedy is that my tastes have evolved and changed so much, Brambleghast would now be out-competed for a spot on my "main teams" by a lot of other Pokemon, including its fellow abstract grass/ghost weirdo, Dhelmise.
It was about damn time we had a dung beetle Pokemon, even if the dex says the ball is only made of sand and dirt. It sure doesn't look like sand and dirt in this final evolutionary stage, but it doesn't look like dung, either; the eerie, metallic scarab holds up a ball of what really resembles some sort of pinkish purple flesh, with a matching pinkish sphere visible floating behind a transparent membrane. We all know a dung beetle's dung ball is used to incubate its young, and the pokedex explicitly says there is an "infant" inside Rabsca's sphere...so are we looking at a Pokemon deliberately evocative of a womb? It's at least an embryo or egg cell, that's for sure.
Another dex entry states that the beetle is no longer the creature's true body, so there's basically a "reincarnation" going on here, a reference to the nature of scarabs in Egyptian myth. Appropriately, it's one of the first Pokemon to ever learn a move that can revive a fainted team member!
This is Brambleghast all over again: a Pokemon that would have rocketed straight to my #1 of all time when I was younger, but now has to share space with so many, many other favorites. Still, this grass/dark legendary is literally a giant, slithering heap of dead, rotten leaves in the shape of a demonic snail, possessed by the ancient grudge of a dead guy housed in a collection of old wooden tablets. I've seen this Pokemon likened quite fairly to something you might encounter in a Fromsoft game like Dark Souls or Elden Ring. You could also argue that, being a bunch of rotten compost held together by ancient artifacts, it would sort of fit in to the teams I make of trash and pollution. Maybe?
Finally, we come to that other interesting dog Pokemon I mentioned, and not just my pick for the Halloweenliest pocket monster in Paldea, but easily in the top five ghastliest Pokemon of the whole franchise. This ghost type is said to be the most loyal of all dog Pokemon and "spends most of its time sleeping in graveyards," which kind of implies that it just keeps watching over the grave of a dead master. Its other dex, however, calls it the ghost of a "lovingly mourned" Pokemon. Its unevolved form, meanwhile, is described as the ghost of a dog Pokemon that died without a human master, and other text states that this lonely spirit unknowingly drains the life from those is bonds with. All these feel appropriately like the conflicting claims that might surround an actual ghostly mongrel, and they also remind me a lot of the legendary church grims, spectral hounds that existed to protect cemetaries.
What's really fantastic here of course is the design. Though we can only see the blocky jaws and clawed feet, this is at long last a skeletal ghost Pokemon. We've seen a few Pokemon with skulls in their designs, yes, but never one that's just a bony carcass! Its eyes and most of its body are, however, draped in dangling white fur, which makes it look even more like a rotten corpse, and it gets a little tombstone directly on top of its head for good measure.
Topping it all off is this Pokemon's signature move, "Last Respects," which multiplies in power for every fainted teammate. It's unfortunately a move that makes this Pokemon "broken," since you only need to make sure it's the last one on your team to absolutely decimate a majority of foes.
I can honestly say, in terms of designs and concepts, the ninth generation of Pokemon may be tied with the seventh as my favorite; so many of them are exactly what I would have asked for and how I'd have had the idea executed, it's almost uncanny. It's bittersweet, then, that they've stuck with their decision to limit the selection of Pokemon you can import into new games, as my top favorites are most especially top favorites because of how well they work with existing favorites. The entire appeal of Pokemon, to me, is how its ever expanding pool of monsters can compliment your personal aesthetic and tastes.
I mentioned how some of the above match up with my own sensibilities, but I know I'm not unusual in viewing the games this way. If you're really into amphibians, for instance, there are now enough fully evolved amphibian Pokemon to build an entire team of frogs and salamanders! That's a possibility over 20 years in the making!...except, no, because there isn't any game in existence now where all of those frog and salamander Pokemon can be played with together. Likewise if cool, menacing fish are your favorite thing ever; wouldn't it rule to have a team of Veluza, Eelektross, Wishiwashi, Dracovish, Basculegion and Sharpedo? Too bad, half of those are locked in Pokemon Home until further notice.
There are even some Pokemon as classic and beloved as Victeebel whose last compatible games were Sun and Moon back in 2016. That is now over half a decade since a Pokemon game has been released that allows you to move one measly Bellsprout over from your collection.
I'm excited to give the new designs their fully detailed reviews in the coming months, but for the past few years, the spookiest ghoul in Pokemon is simply the rush for a holiday release.
MORE HALLOWEEN FEATURES: