So, you've booted up Pokémon. You've told an elderly person whether you're a boy or a girl. You've left your bedroom and now you've managed to wander into the office of the local professor, a professor who presents you with a few options in the form of Pokéballs sitting on a table. You can only pick one, and when you get done picking, you can't put it back. It's a decision that will probably affect how you play the rest of the game.
Yep, deciding upon your "starter" Pokémon is a big deal, and it's also a classic Pokémon ritual that has been featured in nearly every main series game. But, as much as the games try to present the choice as a rock-paper-scissors, "No monster is actually better than any other monster" thing, it's just not true. Out of all 23 Starter Pokémon, there are definite winners and losers. At least to me there are.
Yes, this list is totally subjective, and yes, you'll probably disagree with, well, a bunch of it. But regardless, here is how all 23 starter Pokémon stack up.
Chespin is the only starter that I've never used, and that's mainly because, with its standard I'm-just-happy-to-be-here expression and its "I can't really tell what animal they're going for here" appearance, I've never felt the need to. It's also the most forgettable starter, especially when compared to the cuter Fennekin and the radder Froakie in its same generation.
I'm so sorry, Eevee fans. I know that you're out there, and I know that you are many. But why would you pick Eevee if there's a Pikachu around? Pikachu IS the most popular Pokémon ever, so maybe you'd do it to buck the trend and stand out from the crowd. But with Eevee, that's like saying "Ugh, too many people are eating delicious steaks. That's so basic. I, on the other hand, will eat a bologna sandwich on white bread. And please, no mayonnaise. I'm not trying to get TOO crazy."
Both of Chikorita's evolutions (Bayleef and Meganium) are awesome. But Chikorita has the worst designed head of any starter. It's just a face slapped on a knob. It's creepy. It's like a nightmare vision of what a Chikorita is supposed to be. Where is its skull? What did you do with its skull?
Popplio is cute, but there already are seal-looking Pokémon, like Seel and Spheal. Did we really need a third seal Pokémon? Again, it's adorable, but it kind of takes the wind out of one's picking-a-starter-Pokémon sails when you're like "Oh, and the same thing I've seen a few times, but with a neck frill."
Tepig is like reverse Chikorita, in that its basic form is lovable (A cute little fire piglet! Give me a dozen of those!), but its evolutions are dreadful. The bipedal "gruff boar bro" forms that Tepig will one day evolve into make me refrain from picking it. They made a nearly perfect starter and then decided "Next, we'll put it on its hind legs and make it look like the dude that won't put his weights back at the gym when he's done with them."
I'm sorry, Chimchar. I love ya, but you're the second fire starter in a row (after Torchic) who follows the pattern of "Becomes a sleek, Fire/Fighting warrior-type upon evolving." It just feels a little lazy. Also, it doesn't help that the changes are very minimal. It begins as a monkey, and ends as a more serious looking monkey.
Snivy is the Starter Pokémon equivalent of a sigh. It lacks the effortless cool of Treecko, and the dorky affability of Turtwig. You know when you go to a restaurant and you ask for Coke, and they're like "Is Pepsi okay?" and even though you KNOW that Coke and Pepsi taste different and you definitely prefer the former to the latter, you just say "Yeah, okay, whatever." That's Snivy. Snivy is that Pepsi.
Bulbasaur is a great Pokémon — it's just not as fun as the remaining Pokémon on this list. That's not really a complaint, it just has something to do with the constant reminders that picking Bulbasaur is the "smart choice" at the beginning of the first games because of how good it is against the first two gyms.
Bulbasaur is the "You should go to Grad school" of the Pokémon world. It's the "Don't quit your day job" of the Pokémon world. If my parents made all of my Pokémon decisions, they'd probably tell me to consider Bulbasaur, because Bulbasaur is such a nice creature and will probably provide a 401k.
Yes, Turtwig ranks above Bulbasaur. Sorry not sorry.
Turtwig is a giant dork. It's a clunky little turtle that grows into a clunky, bigger turtle with a forest on its back. It's also an underdog. Like, who else is gonna pick and love Turtwig? It's up to me to give this dumb, little plant head a good home, where it battles other magical animals for money for the rest of its life.
Litten is neat, if only because we FINALLY got a cat Starter. It's also got a simple, cool design, and is pretty good in battle. I can't really find anything wrong with Litten, to be honest. However, I'm also not really a Litten fanatic. I own no Litten t-shirts. No Litten merchandise. I would not vote for Litten in my local elections.
Froakie is cool. A "ninja frog" is, in general, a killer concept. But it's not that cool. Not cool enough for its later evolution to get a slot in a Super Smash Bros. game when WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR YEARS FOR FERALIGATR TO GET ITS TIME IN THE SPOTLIGHT.
Do I sound bitter? It's because I am.
Ah, Mudkip. Contributor to the most popular Pokémon meme of all time, for better or worse. My opinion on Mudkip has softened over the years. At first, I found it to be off-putting, considering that Treecko and Torchic are so slick and cute, and Mudkip's evolutions look like the Pokémon manifestation of someone slowly saying the word "Moist..." at you and then licking the inside of your ear.
But now, Mudkip is pretty rad. Carry on Mudkip, you beautiful collection of fins and not much else.
As cool as it was that we got a cat Starter with Litten, Fennekin, the fox Starter, is cooler. There's not a lot going on with Fennekin. It's just got these big ol' ears and a pleasant color scheme. So you're not being risky by picking Fennekin. Instead, you're going with the comfortable choice. Fennekin is like sipping hot chocolate in your bathrobe. Yeah, you're probably not going anywhere wild this evening, but it just feels right, ya know?
During my first two Generation 4 playthroughs, I picked Turtwig (because I'd feel bad if I didn't) and Chimchar (because I'm a rational human being.) But those playthroughs were ten years ago, and when I dived back into Platinum earlier this year, I decided to go with Piplup.
As poet Robert Frost said "I picked the road less traveled. And that has made all the difference." And guys, I think he might've been talking about Piplup.
The first time I ever played Pokémon Gold, I picked Cyndaquil. I didn't have the game yet, but my friend did, and when I woke up before he did after a sleepover, I asked him if I could restart his game. He sleepily grumbled something, and I took that as a yes. And so I dove into the world of Johto, with Cyndaquil as my adorable companion. I think Cyndaquil might be, hands down, the cutest starter, and that's why it earns such a top spot.
Oh, and that friend? Yeah, he didn't want me to restart his game. He'd already collected six badges and had made a ton of progress. Sorry, bro!
Oshawott is like Chespin, if Chespin's design worked. The mixed arrangement of "Beaver + Otter = Eh, It'll Do" seems like a bad idea on paper, but for some reason, Oshawott is endearing. You can't help but want to watch it swim around and eat fish. Perhaps that's a sign of a good Pokémon: ff you'd be content with just looking at it at the zoo.
A lot of Grass-type Starters feel unfinished. Not unfinished in a biologically premature sense, like they're missing feet and eyes and stuff (except Chikorita. WHERE IS ITS SKULL?) but unfinished like the designers couldn't be bothered to try a second draft. Meanwhile, Treecko is so streamlined. There's not a single wasted body part or questionable addition.
Also, it seems like it would be pretty cool to hang out with. I'd be like "Treecko, you want to go clubbing on Friday," and Treecko would be like "Maybe later, dude. I'll hit you up when I'm free," and then I'd wait around forever, because Treecko is way too cool to be seen with me.
Everyone remembers where they were when they first saw the Squirtle Squad. Suddenly, this innocent looking turtle monster from the games was given an attitude. You don't want to mess with the Squirtle Squad, dude. They don't want your nonsense. They ain't about that life.
Torchic's main selling point is its hustle. It's a little chicken. To most other Pokémon, it's probably food. So it has to work hard just to survive and not become a Seviper's Thanksgiving dinner. And when it evolves into a karate chicken monster, it's a true Cinderella story.
I can't say much about Pikachu that hasn't been said before. It's the classic, the Pokémon spokesman, the brand mascot. Imagine if Nintendo had said "And, for our first round of advertising, we'll put Exeggcute in all the commercials." It wouldn't have worked. Not because eggs aren't delicious, but because Pikachu is almost transcendently cuddly. When you see a Pikachu, you want one in the real world.
Totodile has a zest for life. No TV shows are a "guilty pleasure" for Totodile. If Totodile is watching a marathon of Teen Mom and Keeping Up With Kardashians, Totodile tells you that it's watching a marathon of Teen Mom and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Whe Totodile is talking about its nerdiest interests, it doesn't lower its voice when other people walk by. It isn't afraid to let everyone know that it's playing as a Ranger in its latest D&D game.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that we should all aspire to be Totodile. For being Totodile is finding true inner peace.
Common knowledge says that the longer a pop culture thing lasts, the more it sucks. At this point, Starter Pokémon should just be odd jumbles of squiggles and flippers, because Game Freak would've OBVIOUSLY run out of ideas by now.
But here comes Rowlet, feeling just as iconic as any of the earlier starters, despite the fact that it graced us with its presence almost twenty years into Pokémon's life span. I love you, Professor Bird.
Some of you are probably thinking "This is just a nostalgia pick." And yeah, it partially is. Charmander was the first Starter Pokémon that I ever chose, and despite the fact that I was still very new to video games at the time and accidentally named mine "Fzzzz," it didn't lessen my admiration for this flame-tailed lizard beast.
But even still, Charmander has always felt like the Pokémon Second in Command. Heck, it was given an actual character arc in the anime, whereas most of Ash's Pokémon existed to simply get along with the kid and suffer through his dumb decisions. And while Charmander (Charmeleon, technically) could be a moody jerk, it was a necessary kind of moody jerk. It made the anime more interesting, which, in turn, made the entire Pokémon franchise more interesting for me as a kid.
Charmander's one of the reasons that I still play Pokémon to this day. So thanks, Fzzzz. I'll never forget ya.