SPECIAL: A Deeply Personal Look Back at my Pokemon Teams

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New Pokemon reviews will be beginning more than likely in a few weeks, whenever "sprites" and high-quality art is available of the remaining Pokemon, but first I need to take a moment to get something off my chest. If extremely subjective, long-winded, self-indulgent venting isn't your thing, you can skip this one, but it's intended to give proper context to why I personally feel the way I do about the latest games; it's pretty much a condensed history of my entire relationship with this series through what I consider its most important aspect.


I've loved "creatures" as long as I can remember. Real creatures, pretend creatures, doesn't matter. You're currently reading an ungainly massive website about my obsession with creatures, and if you can believe it, I was even more emotional about it as a child and teenager. Bugs and cryptids and deep sea fish and kaiju and carnivorous plants, I lived and breathed critters n' varmints every minute of my existence, but had absolutely nobody in my life I could share that interest with on the same level. I didn't even know anyone who had ever heard of some of my favorite plants, animals or fungi back then, and to be fair, few people alive could have probably held interest in my meandering, rapid-fire infodumps on bombardier beetles or pelican eels.




It was video games that actually filled that void for me, because if the rich fauna of these virtual worlds was any indication, here was where all my fellow creature fiends were hiding. Whatever artists had populated Hyrule or Zebes surely appreciated biology both real and speculative on a level that I understood, and felt a sort of camaraderie with even if we would never personally interact, though it was admittedly rare for ambulatory mushrooms or flying eyeballs to be anything other than targets for a more marketable protagonist to massacre.

So, imagine that particular child's excitement when they caught wind of a strange, mysterious new game said to have already taken Japan by storm: a game in which you literally collected the monsters, traded them with other players and evolved them into new forms. Monsters that included literally the very first media representations I had ever even seen of a carnivorous pitcher plant, a corpse flower, an ammonite, a trilobite, a realistic swallowtail caterpillar, even a two-for-one cicada nymph and parasitic fungus...to say nothing of the wackier, more original creatures on offer; a toxic gas-balloon that can sprout a second face. A plant monster whose face has never been seen beneath its squirming vines. A rubber duckie with "Carrie" Telekinesis. And they could be yours. YOURS! You CAUGHT them and you KEPT them and you MADE THEM ---> YOUR!!! <--- MONSTERS!!! I WAS BOUNCING OFF THE GODDAMN WALLS WAITING FOR THIS GAME TO HIT THE STATES.

And then it did, and then...I'm not sure I ever actually 100% calmed down about it. It was as life-changing as a video game can possibly be.


RED & BLUE:

Assembling my first-ever Pokemon team felt weirdly magical. Even the "wonkiness" of the sprites, the fact that I didn't have it in color yet and all the weird glitches you could take advantage of lent a sort of "homemade" feeling to the game, like it truly was some particular creator's labor of pure love.

I lived an isolated, homeschooled existence at the time, but I still managed to find a few tweens in public places to trade with, and I can't even tell you how ecstatic I actually was to finally get that corpse flower and pitcher plant in one place. With no concept of the game's strategy aspects, my team became nothing but a countdown of my first top six pokemon designs, which you see here. The fact that this happened to be an entirely poison type team was not lost on me, and in fact, I kind of thought you were expected to specialize that way like so many of the in-game trainers. I was just a "poison trainer" is all, and this was my poison trainer team. Stinking, noxious plants, a spooky bug and a pile of ooze. The first game to ever put any one of these things on my side, except I guess for that Godzilla game where you could play Mothra or something, but of course, a Pokemon is far more special than just some character you've selected to play as. Here was a game in which the characters were unique, individual virtual beings even when someone else chose the same one in their own play, and they could even be given a life outside of their original cartridge. All of that just blew my mind back then.

Of these six Pokemon, Gloom was "the one" for reasons I've already detailed, and the fact that it had virtually no other fans made it feel even more fun to train. My Pokemon team felt as personal, at the time, as I imagine a tattoo or a really wild hairstyle might be for somebody who's ever been cool. It wasn't just a few electronic sprites I thought were neat, but an exceptionally fun and novel outlet for personal expression! My specific choice in Pokemon was a window to my soul, damn it. GAZE upon my pixelated Nepenthes, and PLEASE ask me why that's something I like enough to have basically twice.


As the years of Generation One ticked by, my team "grew up" a little. I sacrificed the redundant Vileplume and Weepinbell, as much as I loved them, to make room for some of my next favorites down the line, and the result was a team relatively "more competitive" as well as overall more exciting to play with, even if Parasect finally broke my poison-type streak. Sorry Nidoking, Nidoqueen, Golbat, Tentacruel and Gengar, but even for my "theme," you couldn't outclass a giant insect with a disease. Man, that first Parasect sprite sure was ominous though, wasn't it? Gorgeous.

What you see here was the last team I had the very last time I played my copy of Red, but I'd never really stopped tinkering with the team dynamic. At one point, I know I'd even put a Lickitung in there somewhere, and at another point a Tangela.


GOLD & SILVER:

How did I even contain myself when the announcement came of N E W P O K E M O N? I think I might have actually died at some point, reincarnated and lived my life over again, the only difference being that this time a small part of my soul remembered deep down that new pokemon already happened and I didn't need to get excited enough to die again. That's a relief!

Still, while I appreciated many of the new monsters, only two appealed to me quite strongly enough to dethrone any of my personal favorites. Even as excited as I was about that pitcher plant, I ultimately decided on only keeping Gloom as far as grass/poison went, so I could make room for that delightfully muppety magma snail and absurdly volatile bagworm. Looking back, I'm not so sure that was really an ideal decision. In fact, if I'd done it again, I would have kept Victreebel anyway, and actually dropped Weezing or Muk. Believe me however when I say that this final team was the product of hours upon hours of decision-weighing. Ariados, Shuckle, Wobbuffet and even Misdreavus had their stints before I left off with these exact six, still not feeling totally sure if this was really my "perfect" personal team yet. I mean, if they were going to keep coming out with more Pokemon...what if they might someday make a cockroach Pokemon? What about a leech? Or a lamprey? Or barnacles? or mosquitoes!?..........could they?......WOULD they....??!


RUBY & SAPPHIRE:

The gap between Gen II and Gen III felt long. So long, nobody was even quite sure they were really going to keep on adding more Pokemon just yet, and some people preposterously even felt that there shouldn't be more Pokemon. Can you even imagine a series leaving off on a set number of creatures forever? We all should have known they would keep on coming, but when that was finally confirmed for certain...I was still as excited as the first time. I checked every fan site I knew first thing on getting out of bed, every single day from the announcement of the new games to the early Gamefaqs Message Forum leaks of each and every creature, and continued awaiting their English names, types, moves and other data just as eagerly.

It was months before the games would be translated and released in the United States, and by then I'd have my team almost entirely figured out. I must have tinkered with over a hundred possible combinations, positively enthralled by the fact that I could have an even deader cicada, a cyclops ghost, a creepy Halloween moon and an acid-filled "stomach sac" on my team, though once again, this was only the end result of weighing my old and new favorites against one another in a mental battle royale until I learned, through trial and error, that these and precisely these six monsters at that precise moment in my life were FINALLY my team. My life in six Pokemon out of all possible Pokemon.


DIAMOND & PEARL:

This had all become a routine pattern by the fourth generation, but not one I felt any sign of tiring of. Once again, I scoured the internet day after day for any leads on new Pokemon, and evaluated every single one for whether it belonged on MYYY Team. If I'd had a child, I don't think I'd have even chosen their name with half the thought I put into choosing Toxicroak, Gliscor and Tangrowth over Weezing, Swalot and Lunatone, or the almost painful decision to leave Carnivine benched. Perhaps I was a fool not to bring back Victreebel by now so I could use it with Carnivine, but again, this was my Pokemon team we were talking about here. No decision came lightly. When I ended on these six, it was because they covered the broadest possible range of my aesthetic preferences. This gave me not just Gloom and a dead bug ghost, but what I still considered the games spookiest pure ghost type - now capable of wielding eviolite! - along with an incredibly menacing slimy amphibian, a vampiric bat-rachnid and a bigger, tougher version of Tangela, a Pokemon I'd long appreciated without ever fully committing to.

Still...even after this many Pokemon, my team wasn't feeling nearly QUITE "right" to me. Kind of all over the place. Kind of like the series was still missing a few crucial monster tropes, and still forever lacking a long list of specific plants and animals that I hoped might make their debut each and every time a new game rolled out.


BLACK & WHITE:

Five generations and over ten years in, the demons responsible for Pokemon's success apparently heard my many prayers at last. A lamprey had probably been in my top five most hoped-for Pokemon since day one, but wasn't something I honestly thought would ever happen. It's not like I saw a lot of lampreys in any other video games or anime, you know? Even the first gen's addition of a corpse flower wasn't that surprising once I'd come to understand how famous the plant was in Japan...but still, there it was. One of the Petromyzontiformes, one of my all-time favorite living things that NOBODY else seemed to care about, dumped straight into my favorite video game with a positively killer design and even a pretty novel, unexpected typing! Pure electric!? Not even electric/water!? Wild! Inspired!!! And at long last the series had an *aquatic* creature that was perfectly my jam.

Most shockingly of all however was the fact that a giant, monstrous lamprey wouldn't even be my MOST favorite addition, because I'd also been so long enamored by monsters such as Digimon's Raremon, Earthbound's Forlorn Junk Heap and even Kaiju Big Battel's "Gomi-Man" - monsters made of garbage and filth who looked as misshapen, broken and wrong as that ought to imply. Like the lamprey, a living heap of decaying waste was something ultra specific that I wished Pokemon had, but never expected them to do, believing that Muk and Weeing might forever be the closest we would ever come. It really was the only thing the franchise could have possibly thrown at me, at least at that particular moment, that ever could have thrilled me more than a slimy, sucker-faced parasite, and it was the first Pokemon to ever get any kind of edge over my love of even Gloom.



But there was one catch...


...Which Was...



...I Had No Money.

Pokemon: Black and White wound up being the first generation I actually skipped purchasing, because I already paid for an apartment by the skin of my teeth. The first time I wrote this I thought my problem was not being able to afford a DS, but I already said I had Diamond and Pearl. No, I couldn't even afford one video game. Thirty to forty dollars?! You mean more than a month's worth of noodles?!

Of COURSE that didn't stop me from spending as much, if not more time than ever plotting and re-plotting how these new Pocket Monsters would integrate into T_H_E T_E_A_M, which also wound up incorporating the very weird, very interesting Reuniclus and the charmingly silly Scrafty. These two in retrospect didn't really, truly represent me quite as elegantly as a number of older Pokemon, but I guess I felt that a gelatinous, telekinetic fetus was something I was almost obligated to use and that the punk lizard had a "Halloween" vibe that also jived well as an aesthetic counterbalance to the other five creatures. I was even still able to play with them for free against other people thanks to Pokemon Showdown, though for "serious" battles I begrudgingly switched Gloom out for a number of past favorites, never quite settling on the perfect one.

Still not a "flawless" personal team, but after all this time it was really, really getting somewhere.




X & Y:

Pokemon: X and Y finally roll around, and this time I do have money, the games are being released simultaneously around the world, there are new wi-fi features, and 3-d graphics even allow you to pet and play with your Pokemon via the touch screen. The games themselves feel short, and kind of railroaded, and a lot less challenging than I remember Diamond and Pearl being...but I'm finally united with a Garbodor and an Eelektross for real, and several new additions are just sublime. This time, the "made just for me" Pokemon is a collection of goose barnacles, another of those favorite animals I didn't think enough people liked to make it into such an esteemed series, and I make the almost blasphemous decision to finally place Garbodor in what was once Gloom's seat.

This was the generation that simultaneously introduced two spooky, Halloweeny grass/ghost types, but what ultimately tugged harder on my heart for the remaining spots was a ballroom-masked pink gremlin, a slug I refused to evolve and the grand return of Weezing, because my first real, actual team with Garbodor felt like it needed at least one of the other two pollution mutants, and Weezing is so much grislier and more complex of a design than Muk that I felt it had a better synergy with the big dust bunny. I was also aware of the fact that most of my Pokemon at this point were widely considered the "ugliest," which I didn't do on purpose, but I didn't mind.

Me trekking around the Pokemon World with heinous monsters that smell bad and leave slime on everything: almost the platonic ideal.


SUN & MOON:

A surprisingly short while later, another generation was already announced, and early into its hype we learn of enigmatic new beings called "Ultra Beasts." Two of the first Ultra Beasts ever revealed are a cockroach and a mosquito as version counterparts, and that kid who put Gloom, Vileplume, Weepinbell and Victreebel on the same team 20 years prior is consequently now doing this in my brain and is not stopping:


So, this is it, after a journey of two entire decades, this is THE generation that I feel "completes" my team "perfectly" enough for the first time ever. Picking only either Buzzwole or Pheromosa is a little tough, and so is leaving Alolan Muk and eventually Blacephalon boxed, but with the addition of a pugnacious echinoderm and the souls of dead algae, I feel at last like I have a Pokemon team I wouldn't mind being permanently "stuck with." It has everything. It has garbage creatures more than once, if you count Dhelmise which you absolutely should. It has bloodsucking parasites more than once. It has monstrous marine invertebrates more than once. It has three of my favorite unpopular animals and at least one thing that is "undead."

I notice that most of this team is tied to the ocean, and the new Garbodor I train for this one gets named Globster. My shiny Eelektross is a present from my long-time internet friend Rad-roach and its name is Rodger, because it evolved from a flying rod and has Jolly nature! I name Dhelmise Hodgson, after the horror author who penned a lot of weird seafaring tales, Barbaracle is named after the parasitic Sacculina, Toxapex after the gorgon Euryale, and Buzzwole is just Beelzebuzz, the only one breaking the sea-horror pattern, but not too severely; there are, in fact, mosquitoes that specialize in using stagnant saltwater as a breeding ground. I started as a "poison trainer," but it turns out marine biology is more important to me than I even thought it was, and now it seems like my team communicates some kind of scummy, polluted shoreline; the Pokemon my character gets from cleaning garbage off a beach that always smells a little like rotting fish. It's an accidental "hook" or "twist" that fits so well with some of my favorite subjects and even some of my deepest concerns for the world, but it never would have been as possible until what the Alola region brought to the game, and could never feel so comfortable without these exact six species available together. My Ultimate Formula forged piece by piece over the course of two decades.

But even now, even as satisfied as this team made me feel...the prospect of even more choices? EVEN MORE new creatures I might want to swap at least one or two of these out with?! It's as stupidly exciting a prospect as ever, and of all these, I admittedly do feel like I could bear to switch out at least Toxapex, who is admittedly also cheesy as hell to use in actual battle, and either Dhelmise or Buzzwole could mmmmmmmaaaaaaaaybeeee go home if something speaks to me strongly enough, but definitely never, never, ever my trash bag or my lamprey. If for whatever reason I couldn't use either one of those, I could only possibly find solace in some of my very next favorites down the list - which would in this case be Pheromosa, Blacephalon or Alolan-Muk.


Fortunately, that's the great thing if not the single greatest thing about Pokemon, the thing I could always depend upon as the most precious, most definitive core tenant of the series and very pillar upon which my enjoyment of it has been founded for now most of my life on this Earth: that the choices you can pick from only and forever expand, leaving not a single Pokemon behind for long. It's not as if there's any conceivable reason that would ever change, either: there's always a way to keep reusing models, animations and any other assets you've already created, the world's single most profitable media franchise can always afford to hire all the additional help it could ever conceivably need for any unexpected hiccups in that process, and data compression has improved so exponentially that you couldn't run out of actual disk space for new Pokemon species if you tried!

Indeed, no matter what, we all know that the core Pokemon series will always, hell or high water, allow its players build and play with any team of any six pokemon from all those that have ever been made, because that is by far what I've always understood as the entire ultimate goal of playing the games and 90% of their fun, isn't it? Don't most people play the way I'd been playing, eagerly waiting years at a time to see if a new favorite would appeal to them enough to augment their own "signature six??" The core games and their storylines CAN be fun, sure, but at the end of the day, they're all just interactive tools for gathering together and endlessly personalizing your TEAM. Your perfect squad of six no matter what combination of old and new monsters that could possibly ever be! It's who you ARE! THE ULTIMATE. EXPRESSION. OF YOUR SOUL.

So, at the time of this writing, yet another generation has dropped, and now that I've seen all of its new Pokemon, there's certainly nothing that can ever replace all of my prior six favorites, but at least a couple that would fit beautifully into that toxic, mutant sea-creature pattern I'd settled into, and I'm as excited as ever by the prospect of how I might swap them into ~*~*~MY TEAM~*~*~!!!!! no matter what old favorites I ultimately decide they might best compleme-











             Oh.





   Haha!







                         Okay I guess!


















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