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Gen 9 Has Been Nothing But Banger Pokemon Designs So Far

It might not have been the Electric-type Slugma that our Editor-in-Chief was hoping for, but new Gym Leader Iona’s partner Pokemon is perfection. Enter Bellibolt: the tubby frog thing that looks like someone was trying to draw Politoed from memory. With fake eyes and a goofy smile that suggests absolutely no higher thought is going on in that elastic head, and I’d lay my life down for Bellibolt without a second thought.

As someone who rates Pokemon purely on ‘the vibe’ and rolls their eyes at the first mention of Special Attack or STAB moves, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought that. Almost every new trailer has brought with it new Pokemon and it feels as if there hasn’t been a single disappointing ‘mon. Gen 9 is shaping up to be one of the strongest ever for its Pokedex.

We’ll start with the starters, Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly. Though there is a chance that cat might stand up and ruin the whole thing, they’re easily among the cleanest and most consistent designs we’ve had for starters. In previous generations, for every Turtwig, there’s an overdesigned Chimchar, and for every Froakie there’s a bland Chespin sucking up all the air. These three, though? Their slick designs put across their themes and the overall flavour of the Paldea region without ever feeling like too much is going on.

There are a lot of food Pokemon already, thanks to Lechonk, Smoliv, and Fidough. And yet even the most stereotypically Iberian one, Smoliv, doesn’t feel as in-your-face as food Pokemon of generations past. Fidough’s ‘yeast-breath’ does raise a lot of questions about how life in the region works, but they do such a good job of building up Paldea’s culture and overall vibe. At the very least it’s less on the nose than Sinistea, the teacup Pokemon from Not Britain.

Even the Pokemon I’m not quite as wowed by are still great. Pawmi is Paldea’s Pikachu clone, but the chunkier, meaner look, complete with quiff, gives it a solid flair that doesn’t go towards the gimmicky, overbaked looks of Togedemaru or Morpeko. Cyclizar and Cetitan aren’t top of the class, but they’re still competent designs that communicate what they’re about without feeling like Game Freak was throwing ideas at the wall to see what stuck.

I especially love the designs of the two cover legendaries, Koraidon and Miraidon. Based on the past and the future respectively, Koraidon in particular has received a lot of flack for being a motorbike Pokemon that runs around on four legs, while Miraidon looks much less dorky as they float around. Yet just look at only two generations ago, Solgaleo and Lunala were our cover stars. Legendary Pokemon had fallen into this rut of being just illegible messes with little in the way of personality, all too often their only character being “big angry shapes thing wants to ruin the world”, Eternatus being the most recent offender.

On the other hand, Koraidon and Miraidon are oozing with individuality, which is essential if we’re going to be spending so much of the game with them. Koraidon looks like a cocky biker, with that self-assured grin, while Miraidon is sleek, cutting-edge, and has all the smugness of someone showing off their new iPhone. It may look funny to watch Koraidon romp around on all fours, but I’d take that single suggestion of personality over the mishmash of geometric robots we’ve been stuck with.

It isn’t just that these designs are good in a vacuum. While I’d love Bellibolt no matter what region he was in, others like Smoliv and Quaxly probably wouldn’t hit as hard if they weren’t in service of building up Paldea itself. They reflect everything from its culture to its cuisine to its popular modes of transport, fleshing out the world way more than a third regional variant of Meowth ever could. It’s the most holistic approach to Pokemon design we’ve seen in decades, and it’s making it really hard for me to pick a favourite.

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