Pokémon Gold and Silver Review: Part 1

What’s this?  Activity?  From my blog?  Impossible!


Anyway, jokes aside, I’ve been encountering a lot of real life lately, and haven’t had much of a chance to update.  I aim to change that today with an early break from the anime to discuss a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: perfect sequels.


Is a perfect sequel possible?  On one hand, you can’t depart too far from the original, or you’ll piss off its fans, who will claim that what you’ve created relies on name brand recognition to sell itself, rather than its own merits (or just claim that it sucks.)  On the other hand, you can’t just retread the original, because people will call you out on your laziness (or just claim that it sucks.)  It’s a balance between the two that’s important, and it’s rarely reached (example: we shall never discuss Highlander 2, except to say that it’s a travesty, and then move on.)


And here’s where I segue into the review by saying this: if a sequel has ever hit that balance, it’s Pokémon Gold and Silver.


How was Gen I?  In case you don’t want to do an archive search, I gave it a 6 out of 10 due to fun gameplay and good aesthetics, but poor balance and stability.  The Psychic type were gods, Speed and Special were the only stats that mattered, and glitches were all too easy to run into.  Obviously, it passed based on fun value, but by the skin of its teeth.  In order to be truly great, Pokémon needed something else…


Part I:  Something is Stirring…


So, Gen I released in the US in 1998, to much rejoicing and purchasing of Game Boy Pockets (and later Colors,) trading cards, mangas, and VHSes.  But right from the start, they made something very clear: the 150 Pokémon they advertised were not the only ones in existence.  This was reflected as early as the first episode of the anime, which featured the legendary Pokémon Ho-oh, although in a ten-second cameo that didn’t mention it by name.


The references hardly stopped there.  Mid-Indigo League, Misty ends up with Togepi, a demonic egg thing that proceeds to kill her characterization for all five seasons she has it.  The first Pokémon film features an unknown Pokémon that movie novelizations name-drop as Donphan.  The Orange Islands arc replaces Brock with Tracey, a trainer who uses a strange Pokémon called Marill (who, incidentally, shows up alongside Snubbull in the Pikachu short shown alongside Mewtwo Strikes Back.)


And yet, incredibly, these major reveals weren’t even The Big One.  Something was going to happen in the summer of 2000 that would shake the fandom to its core; to cause a collective fangasm so great, its effects were still being felt in 2010.  This single event would bring the Gen II hype to a head, and make Silver and SoulSilver both outsell Gold and HeartGold.


I am, of course, talking about the reveal of Lugia in Pokémon 2000: The Power of One.


Now, that’s not to say that P2K didn’t have other major reveals- a Slowking features as a major character.  Furthermore, the Pikachu short, “Pikachu’s Rescue Adventure” featured a metric ton of new Pokémon- Ledyba, Bellossom, Elekid, and Hoothoot all make their first appearances here.


Generation II could not afford to disappoint.  With all this hype behind them, Gen II exploded when it was released, kicking off a new season of the anime, a new design for the trading cards, and of course, Gold and Silver.


It was actually a very long time before I got to play them seriously, but my first concrete play session was at a family Christmas party.  One of my relatives got Gold for Christmas, and let me play on the condition that I didn’t save over his game.  My starter of choice ended up being Totodile, the Pokémon that anyone who knows me from any other site will recognize as my favorite Pokémon.

Personal anecdotes aside for now, how did the games stack up?  Gen I had humongous shoes to fill, given that Gen I’s shoes hadn’t been filled, worn out, and replaced enough to warrant the 6 out of 10 I gave it.  So, the sequel was out- how’d it fare?


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Pokémon Anime Review: Episode 1

Well, here we are at last, Internet.  This is going to be one of the big ones.  This here is what many people immediately think of when they hear the phrase “Pokémon.”  This is what got many of us into the franchise.  This is one of the longest-running anime series in existence.


It’s time to talk about the Pokémon anime.


Now, I’m going to be up-front about this fact- while most people were watching this anime, I was forbidden by parental mandate from watching this show.  I didn’t see a single episode until I was seven.  I didn’t give it a real effort until I was fourteen.  I have not watched more than forty consecutive episodes of the show before starting this project.


I do not harbor any deep nostalgic feelings for this show.


However, I recognize its significance, and do enjoy watching it on occasion.  If I see a blatant plot hole or objectively stupid moment, I will point it out.  However, don’t think for a minute that I’m trying to be unfair.  This show is one of my favorites, and I’m doing everything in my power to keep the reviews balanced.


One more thing to keep in mind is that I now own the DVD box sets for the Indigo League arc, and this means two things.  First is that I no longer have any excuses for delays.  The second is that I can break up this long, long, LONG series of reviews with other content, like Pokémon Special, or one of the CDs (or if I feel like it, something non-Pokémon.)


So, without further ado, let’s open up the DVD case, and get viewing!


Episode 001: Pokémon, I Choose You!


And we’re opening up with a tangent.  Guys, if you plan on watching this show, buy the DVDs instead of relying on Pokémon.com’s video streaming.  You get a more reliable selection of episodes, you get the ability to marathon the show, and most importantly, you actually get the Pokémon Theme attached to the beginning.  Snazzy!


So, Episode 1.  If you see any single episode of Pokémon, it has to be this one.  We get a lot here- exposition, action, and the introduction of the immortal we’re all going to follow for the next seventeen plus years.  It’s a huge first episode, and it’s certainly a textbook case on how to start your series.


After we finish with one of the best dubbed anime themes of all time, we’re shown an animated simulation of the opening to Red and Green.  I’m going to be totally honest with you here- this is pretty much the perfect opening for this show.  Yeah, I have problems with it- the somewhat jerky animation here manages to look marginally worse than the black-and-white display it’s trying to imitate, but this goes straight out the window the second the transition from game to cartoon happens, and the chiptunes blossom into a full orchestra.


This right here is amazing.  It’s an amazing concept- here’s what’s going on inside your Game Boy, kids!  It’s executed very well, and does an amazing job of getting me excited for what’s about to happen.


Then, the hammy announcer starts talking, and you remember that this is a dub of an anime from the 1990s.


While this jarring shift in tone happens, we watch a Nidorino put up absolutely zero fight against a Gengar before being recalled by his trainer (and as a note to anyone who played the games- yeah, it’s ridiculous that Bruno is using a Nidorino.  They could have used any random trainer here, but they decided that a member of the Elite Four either has no access to Moon Stones, or simply refuses to use them.)  The trainer then throws in an Onix.  Note the Green Poké Ball- it’ll never show up again.


We pull out past the TV screen, and meet our protagonist- the perpetually ten-year-old Ash Ketchum.  We’re given a brief exposition about the series that manages to pack more information into sixty seconds than most political ads, basically telling us about how ten-year-olds are allowed to go off by themselves to capture Pokémon, and compete in the Indigo League.  Ash gets really involved in a monologue about this, and ends up tossing his alarm clock at his mother when she surprises him.


So, yeah.  This guy’s our hero.  What’s the first thing he does in this role?  Fall asleep far too late, display just a bit of somnambulism, and oversleep the next day because he threw his alarm clock again, this time in his sleep and at a wall.


I’ll let that sink in for a second.  This guy tossed his alarm clock at a wall hard enough to break it apart.  In his sleep.  And didn’t wake up the second it happened.


Possible?  Doubtful.  Plausible?  Not even!  Forgivable, considering the payoff?  Very.


The next morning, Ash wakes up to discover that he’s overslept.  He rushes off to Professor Oak’s lab in his pajamas, where he just so happens to run into the one, the only, Gary Motherfucking Oak.


The two talk back and forth, and Gary acts like a jerk on the way out.  Big surprise, given that this guy is Ash’s equivalent of Blue from the games (except the bit where you destroy him at Indigo Plateau, but that’s a story for a much later episode.)


While Ash is busy frothing over Gary’s rudeness, Professor Oak sneaks up on him, and calls Ash out on his lateness and manner of dress.  This really doesn’t act as a deterrent for Ash, so Oak brings him inside to screw with his head.  Oh, you think I’m exaggerating?  Let’s take a look at the scene in question.  Ash comes into the lab, and grabs Squirtle’s Ball, only to discover that it’s empty.  Ditto for Bulbasaur and Charmander’s.  Oak lets Ash go through all of these, knowing full well in advance that all the Balls are empty, supplying an incredible poker face throughout a subtle verbal beatdown about the importance of punctuality.


Professor Oak is a troll, plain and simple.


Anyway, Oak reveals that he has one more Pokémon- that adorable rodent with the lightning-shooting powers that you’d have to be blind not to recognize on sight, Pikachu.  The only thing is, something that people who haven’t watched this episode in a while seem to forget is that early on, Pikachu is disobedient, a bit trigger-happy, and just a touch sociopathic.  Pikachu spends his first couple of minutes onscreen electrocuting people, apparently not caring if bystanders are in the way.


After Ash finally gets moving, he changes back into his one day outfit that he’ll spend the next two hundred and fifty-some-odd episodes wearing.  Meanwhile, he also dons a pair of rubber gloves, and drags Pikachu along on a rope.


Allow me to reiterate this: Ash is our hero.  Admittedly, Pikachu is making their relationship difficult, but Ash doesn’t make a real attempt to bond with it prior to dragging it a few miles down the road.  Before this, he runs over and picks it up before trying to see if Pikachu is okay with being touched, which conventional logic tells you that you should do when approaching any strange animals.  Furthermore, he spends the next few scenes acting all smug, talking about winning the League with Pikachu’s help, something that Pikachu hasn’t even agreed with.  By the time they’re down the road, no wonder they’re having issues bonding with each other.


So, Ash finally figures out that Pikachu doesn’t like this arrangement, and unties him.  Pikachu still won’t recognize Ash as his trainer, but it’s not electrocuting him, so that’s a step up.


Ash catches sight of a Pidgey, and we cut to commercial.  Now, as long as we’re here, let’s discuss the eyecatches.  Whenever the show cut to commercial, there was a segment called “Who’s That Pokémon?”  This was a bit where they showed a blue silhouette of a Pokémon that was (sometimes) related to the plot of the episode.  Yeah, it’s a neat little thing for the kids, but why keep them on the DVDs?  On TV, they served as a sort of guessing game to keep the kids watching.  Here, it’s just filler.


Anyway, it’s Pikachu, in case it wasn’t glaringly obvious.  Honestly, rather than guess, I usually just make jokes about how it’s Ditto.  I can never be wrong with this.


The show comes back, and Ash is about to make a serious effort at capturing a Pidgey.  By himself, it seems, because Pikachu isn’t interested in helping Ash out.  His first attempt is laughable- it easily breaks out of the Ball.  Attempt #2 is even worse- he tries capturing it in his jacket.  What was that supposed to do, exactly?  Capturing Pokémon doesn’t work like that, and he should know this.  Then again, he didn’t know the Poké Balls aren’t nearly as effective on Pokémon that are at full health…


Anyway, the attempt fails, Ash gets his food stolen by a Rattata, and he starts throwing rocks.  Any Pidgeys in the area skedaddle pretty quickly at this point, so he chucks one at the first bird-shaped thing he can see.








So, it turns out that tossing rocks at birds is a bad idea when the docile ones hang out in the same general area as ones that will gladly tear your eyes out at the first opportunity.  Ash only hits one target- a Spearow.  The second he figures out his mistake, the thing starts attacking him.


…And then focuses on Pikachu.  Um, what?


Ash’s PokéDex fills him in on the fact that wild Pokémon are often jealous of trained ones.  Oh, yeah.  Because they’ll behave this way on more than just this occasion, and this isn’t just an excuse to have Pikachu toast the bastard.


That’s what ends up happening, but instead of fixing the problem, it just makes it worse.  We discover that in Pokémon, Spearows are the zerglings of the sky.  They’re never alone, and they’ll mess you up in groups.  The downed Spearow calls his allies, and an entire flock takes to the air to pursue the Ash and Pikachu.


So, after a few somewhat out-of-place shots showing off Pokémon that are definitely not on Route 1, Pikachu is injured, and Ash jumps off a waterfall to prevent further injury to Pikachu.  They’re pulled downriver by a fast-moving current, and are accidentally rescued by Misty, who gets them out of the lake using a fishing pole and a poor understanding of physics.  She berates Ash for Pikachu being injured by the Spearows.


Who, by the way, are still following them.  How the hell do these birds know where they are?  The waterfall isn’t in the shot, and there’s no way they could have followed him at the speed he was moving.  Unless they’re psychic, there’s no way they could have known that Ash would be rescued.


…Moving right along, Ash commits a felony by stealing Misty’s bike.  Pikachu’s too injured to move, and Ash can’t run especially fast while holding him, so the thought process is correct.  However, instead of asking for it with some quick explanations, Ash just grabs it and bikes off, slinging a half-hearted promise to return a bike to a girl he’s never met before “someday.”


I reiterate- this is our protagonist.  The guy we’re supposed to be rooting for.  This is the guy we’ll be following for over 750 episodes, more than sixteen movies, and numerous manga.  He just steals the bike.  He never stops to think about it, and after a certain event later on, he completely forgets about it until it gets brought up again.


This is our hero, ladies and gentlemen.


Moving right along, a thunderstorm starts as the Spearows catch up to him, and take his attention away enough so that he pilots the bike right off a small cliff.  Pikachu is tossed off the bike about fifteen feet.  Ash crawls over to Pikachu, and urges him to get inside the Poké Ball before stading up, and giving the Spearows a speech about how he’s going to become a Pokémon Master.  What sucks about watching this scene is I know it’s cheesy.  I know he burns 30 seconds saying a bunch of words that add up to nothing.  I know that it makes no sense from a logical standpoint.


But god damn, is it cool.


At this point, Pikachu decides that he’s had enough (wouldn’t you after a day like that?)  He climbs up on Ash’s back, jumps into a lightning bolt (I’ve decided to stop questioning it,) and Thundershocks the living hell out of everything that’s given him even an ounce of crap that day.  That’s every Spearow in the flock, Ash, and the bike.


We cut to much later, after the storm.  Ash and Pikachu return to consciousness at exactly the same moment (You know what?  I give up.)  Ash sees Ho-oh flying across the sky, and his apparently-waterproof PokéDex tells him that he doesn’t know what it is.  Ash picks up Pikachu, and begins the long walk to Viridian City as the narrator gives us a stock “begining of adventure” speech.


And that there’ the first episode.


Where do I start with this thing?  There’s no doubt that there are a number of inconsistencies and violations of basic logic that occur throughout, but it’s overall a good episode.  It manages to press all the right buttons emotionally, and delivers a decent enough first episode to warrant a pass.


Oh, yeah, and I’m not afraid to admit it- on at least one occasion, I’ve bawled my eyes out at this episode.


Next time, we’ll have a look at the introduction of our main recurring villains.  Except considering what happens to them rapidly over the course of this show, we’re going to get a very different product than what we bargained for.


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Hey, guys.  I’ve been working on the review of the Base Set for the past few months, but to be honest, I haven’t really been feeling it.  I think I’d probably be much more cut out for plot summaries.  After this, I won’t be covering other TCG sets.


However, this leaves me in a weird position.  I’m not sure how you guys have been reacting to these reviews, so I want your honest opinions here.  Should I continue the one I’m currently writing?


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Hidden Projects Slog #1: Apologies All Around

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June 9, 2013 · 6:59 pm

Base Set: Water

Side note: I am aware that rotation on the anime has started.  I have begun writing episode reviews, and those will start going up when the Base Set Review finishes.


Water Types:  In general, Water-types fall into two categories- attackers with scaling damage based on the number of energies attached, or glass cannons with questionable usability.  The former can often be very powerful, while the latter…  not so much.


The majority of Water-types are weak to Electric-types, something that is not helped by Electric’s higher versatility and generally high damage.  However, a few eschew this route, and are instead hampered by a Grass-type weakness, something that can be devastating to them.


Overall, Water can be very useful for damage, and can become incredibly powerful late-game due to Blastoise’s Pokémon Power, but caution should be exercised when using them.


023: Base Set Squirtle


Alright, so here we have a prime example of a card type that shows up way too often in the early days- the one-trick pony masquerading as a versatile ‘mon.  40 HP means that durability is shot straight to hell, and the electric-type weakness is a major hurdle.  Its single damaging attack, Bubble, makes it seem like a slightly better Caterpie, what with the identical effect and Energy cost (one Energy matching the card’s type.)  However, its second attack is Withdraw.  One Water and one Colorless feature an effect identical to Metapod’s Stiffen- a fifty-fifty shot at taking no damage.  If Squirtle were tankier, I may have considered this worthwhile, but it didn’t work on Metapod.  Metapod, who has 30 more HP than the tiny turtle.


Start with it if you must, but only if you feel that you can’t pull off any other start.


024: Base Set Wartortle


Remember how I indicated that Squirtle is like a Caterpie pretending it’s versatile?  Wartortle is still hiding under that disguise, but it’s grown out of it, and is starting to show that it’s a whole different animal underneath.


Hopefully, that metaphor didn’t fall apart near the end there.


Anyway, Wartortle’s stell got Withdraw.  It hasn’t improved.  What has are it HP and damage output.  For a shockingly good one Water and two Colorless, this powerhouse can drop 40 damage with no additional effects.  Now, that entails letting it live long enough to deal it, and 70 HP has the potential to let it get at least one good hit in.  However, the Electric weakness is back to ruin your day, and that adds the final ingredient to the mixed bag that is Wartortle.


025: Base Set Blastoise


I think I hear a Latin choir chanting in the background.


So, rounding out our Starter trio, we have Blastoise.  Is he worth the hell his pre-evolutions put you through?


Yes.  A thousand times yes.


100 HP means that this guy is a powerhouse, and he’s finally managed to become worth the weakness.  His Pokémon Power, Rain Dance, has become legendarily associated with brokenness in this game.  As many times as you like, you can stack Water Energies from your hand onto any of your Water-type Pokémon.


Allow me to reiterate this.  Any.  Time.  You.  Like.


Now, obviously, you can only do this on your turn.  But what does this mean for, say, Blastoise’s own Hydro Pump?  Three Water Energies does 40 damage.  Alright, nothing to write home about- until you discover that this attack increases in power for every additional Water Energy attached to Blastoise.


Getting the picture yet?


Obviously, this guy’s a beast, and is totally worth slogging through the previous two stages.  This is a final evolution.  This is a starter at its most powerful.  High power, low cost…  It’s everything you could ask for in this game.


And yet, this is not the most horribly borked card in the set.  No word yet on that one, but you’ll know it when you hear of it.


026: Base Set Poliwag


So, right away, you’ve probably noticed the one glaring feature of this card- its Grass-type weakness.  No card so far has been this dead on arrival, but let’s look a bit at the card before tossing it into the fire.


40 HP- still not good.  Its attack is decent- one Water deals 10 damage, and the damage increases for every extra Water Energy attached, but capping at 30 damage.


So what’s wrong with this card?  It folds like tissue paper fighting Grass-types.  Hypothetical game- 50% chance of doing any damage to Caterpie at all.  At its best, it could only almost KO Weedle.  Against Bulbasaur, it might get 30 damage in before being one-shotted.  Koffing it could probably kill, but only if it got really lucky.


Are you seeing the problem here?


An Electric weakness on other Water-types is mitigated somewhat by the nigh-ubiquitous Fighting-type weakness on Electric-types.  A Grass-type weakness means that to be functional, you need to prepare for one or both potential weaknesses that Grass-types can have, or just be very tanky.  Poliwag is not the former, and spanning three types is just too much of a risk.


027: Base Set Poliwhirl


60 HP, and the Grass weakness is still a problem.  Right off the bat, this thing needs to perform well in order to survive.  Move-wise, it has a two-Water disabling attack (potential for fighting Stage 2s with Pokémon Powers, but not much.)  Its second is a 30x coin flipping move for two Water and one Colorless.


Basically, this thing fares no better than its pre-evolution- most Grass-types at Stage 1 or higher can take it on with zero issue, and anyone who whips Fire out at it can still take it down with a bit of luck.


028: Base Set Poliwrath


Finally, something we can kind-of-sort-of-maybe call useful.


90 HP and a Grass-type weakness don’t exactly scream usability, but its attacks are worth a look.  Water Gun deals 30 for two Water and one Colorless, and increases in damage for every extra Water, up to a cap of 50.  Whirlpool, however, is slightly more devastating, especially for Fire-types.  Two water and Two colorless deal a flat 40 damage, and you get a free Energy Removal.  Now, Energy Removal is a very, very powerful card effect.  The trainer card that used to allow it has not been reprinted since the Base Set 2, and this card lets you attach damage to it.


So, a glass cannon.  Can it dish out pain?  Yeah.  Is it worth its pre-evolutions?  No.


029: Base Set Seel


And here we have it- the most boring card in the set.


Seel has 60 HP, which is really good for a Basic.  It has one attack- for one Water, 10 damage.  No effect.  Nothing else.  Weakness to Electric, but that was obvious.




030: Base Set Dewgong


Now, you’re talking.


So, Seel has one huge advantage- its chunky HP means that you probably got more than one Energy attached to it.  If so, Dewgong rewards you with Aurora Beam, a two-Water-one-Colorless 50-damage NUKE TO THE FACE.  Or, if that’s overkill, it also has Ice Beam, which for two Water and two Colorless deals 30, and has a chance of paralyzing your foe.


Incredible, even with 80 HP and an Electric weakness. A prime candidate for Rain Dance.


031: Base Set Staryu


You remember how I said that Poliwrath was a glass cannon?  Well, Staryu’s even more so.  40 HP and an Electric-type weakness don’t scream “Use me!”  However, one Water for 20 damage does, and this card can take down a good number of Electric Basics in two hits.  In other words, if it goes first, it can turn the tables on its weakness.  Can you do that, Poliwrath?


032: Base Set Starmie


So, Staryu was a dream come true for a first-turn card.  Its evo?  Not so much.


Starmie continues the awful trend of the useless first attack with Recover, a move that might have utility if it didn’t eat your Energies.  Oh, and if the card didn’t have 60 HP and an Electric weakness.


Its other attack, Star Freeze, is basically its pre-evolution’s 20-damage attack, except with two Colorless and the potential for Paralysis tacked on.  Not stellar, but not enough to kill the card.


033: Base Set Magikarp


I think we all know what to expect here.


30 HP, and two attacks.  A Colorless deals 10, and a Water deals 10x the number of damage counters on Magikarp (so, up to 20 damage.)


It’s Magikarp.  Do I really need to say anything else?


034: Base Set Gyarados


Okay, so let’s talk a minute, here.  We have Magikarp, which the game makers obviously didn’t expect to last more than a turn or two.  Next, we have Gyarados, which has lastability in mind, but at a price.


Gyarados probably depends on Rain Dance more than any card in the set.  It uses all Water Energy cards on its attacks, but deals incredibly heavy damage.  Three buys you 50, and four buys you 40 plus possible paralysis.  This, plus a resistance to the incredibly powerful Fighting type make this a card worth using.


100 HP is also nice, and this card pretty much laughs in the face of its sudden Grass-type weakness.  This thing basically embodies Awesome But Impractical for its reliance on Rain Dance, but it is beyond worth it.

A Potter’s Seal of Approval card.

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Bizarre Pokémon Yellow Glitch

Behold my stammer.

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April 22, 2013 · 11:12 pm

Base Set: Fire

Fire Types: Damage is the name of the game.  Fire-types are very good at dealing massive amounts of damage to their foes, almost certainly oneshotting type-disadvantaged ‘mons at the same levels, and crippling others.

However, all power comes at a price- in this case, Energy.  Fire-type attacks generally have a high Energy cost, and many discard their own Energy as part of their effect.  This often drains Energy cards when they could be going to a worthier cause.

Fire-types have a weakness to Water, which is not a strong type on its own.  They have an advantage over some Grass-types, making it tougher for an opponent to inflict special conditions.

014: Base Set Charmander

Okay, so here we have the first Fire-type of this set, and it’s not terrible.  One Colorless deals ten damage, and a combination of one Fire and one Colorless deals thirty.  Okay, no issue there, but using the second attack forces you to discard a Fire energy.  This is a recurring feature of Fire-types- attacks that deal a decent amount of damage, but force you to discard Energy.  It actually decreases some of their usability, but can be a real help in a pinch.

Otherwise, it’s got a low retreat cost and 50 HP.  A decent starter overall.

015: Base Set Charmeleon

Yet another example of a not-terrible card.  80 HP is excellent for a Stage 1, and it’s got a three-colorless 30-damage attack.  The jump from one to three energy for the lower-energy attack is a small red flag, but it’s nothing compared to Flamethrower, which is an incredible mixed bag.  Two Fire and one Colorless deal fifty damage, but require a discard.  As before, it’s great in a pinch, but dries up your resources quickly.

016: Base Set Charizard

Well, here it is.  The big one.  I say Base Set, you say Charizard.  This was by far the most desirable card in the entire game for years.  I didn’t realize it when the game was new, but…

Huh.  I guess it’s anecdote time.

Anyway, for years, I was in love with starter decks.  60 cards, useable out of the pack…  They were basically a gold mine.  I only opened one Base Set booster in my entire life, and guess which card happened to be my Rare?

Of course, I didn’t realize the treasure I’d chanced upon, and leant it to a friend next door when he asked to borrow it (Hey, I was six.  Give me a break.)  A month later, I asked for it back, and he claimed that he had in turn leant it to a friend of his.  A week after that, he moved out of state.  I never saw the card again.

Anyway, Charizard.  This card has received a lot of backlash in recent years, mainly because its usefulness is supposed to be far less than its rarity and value would suggest.  It seems that a lot of people think it’s like paying a years’ paycheck for a car that’s missing an engine, but that’s not technically correct.  Charizard’s a Hummer- a massive cost, but perfectly capable of setting your enemies on fire on your whim.

Come to think of it, that analogy broke down a little in the middle there.

Anyway, 120 HP is huge in this game, so it gets a lot of points there.  It’s Pokémon Power, Energy Burn, turns all of your energies into Fire.  All of them.  Your Water, your Grass, your Double Colorless, all of them.  This in turn is useful for the mother of all attacks, Fire Spin.  100 damage is incredible- even if anything resisted Fire in this game, it’d still take 70 damage from this attack.  It’s drawback, however, is the reason it’s so maligned- you have to discard two Fire Energy.  Now, Energy Burn makes all Energy Fire, but this still means that a minimally-kept Charizard can still only attack once every two turns.

This is why Charizard is a Hummer- you get a lot more out of it if you sink your costly resources into it.  Because of Energy Burn and its pre-evolutions’ ability to attack with any Energy, Charizard can essentially work in any deck, but the second it’s on the field, you have to sink every Energy you can onto it.

So, overall, impractical, but awesome enough to earn it the first instance of a Potter’s Seal of Approval.

017: Base Set Vulpix

Now, let’s take a break from GAME WRECKING DRAGONS to discuss alternate options.  Vulpix is less than good as a starter- two Fire for a ten-damage attack.  It has a chance to inflict Confusion, but Confusion is not broken the way Paralysis and Poison are- the first two can be crippling, but Confusion is merely annoying.  The 50 HP is nice, but not enough to save the card.

018: Base Set Ninetales

You know, the funny thing is that I hear that this is supposed to be an acceptable Charizard substitute.  Have these people even looked at the card?  I mean, yes, it’s less of an Energy black hole because its 80-damage attack requires only a single discard, but the cost is identical, and Ninetales lacks Energy Burn.  In its place, we’re given an attack form of Gust of Wind.  While Gust of Wind is a decent effect, without damage, it turns an already tough-to-set-up card into a less versatile, softer-hitting, less dragony waste of space.

019: Base Set Growlithe

Now, here’s an unusual card.  It’s a 60-HP Basic, which is something we haven’t seen before.  It only has a single attack, but for 1 Fire and one Colorless, it deals 20 damage with no special effect.

Right off the bat, two Energies on a Basic should raise red flags, but the 60 HP allows for a bit of a cushion for setup.  The 20 damage one-shots Bulbasaur, and deals surprisingly hefty damage to anything that doesn’t resist fire (read: everything.)

So, here we have a decent Basic Fire-type.  Are there any real drawbacks?

020: Base Set Arcanine

Of course there are, but they’re not as bad as they look at first.

Arcanine has a nice 100 HP, continuing the tankiness of its pre-evolution.  It has two attacks, one of which is Charmeleon’s Flamethrower.  In Charmeleon’s case, it was a risky attack to use, given that it ate Energy up like candy.  Here, not much changes, but it’s easier to set up, given Growlithe’s two-energy attack.

The second attack, Take Down, does 80 damage.  No discard, but it deals 30 damage to itself.  In theory, this could be used to sweep a good number of higher-level Stage 1s and mid-range Stage 2s, but the recoil is a concern- any Pokémon with the ability to deal more than 40 damage is going to lock Arcanine into being an Energy drain.

Arcanine doesn’t have much to offer at first, but has potential as a late-game contender- strange when you consider that his pre-evolution is so very suited to early-game play.

021: Base Set Ponyta

Oh, boy.

So, here’s this 40-HP Basic that requires 2 Energy to attack.  Two Colorless deals 20 with no effect, two Fire deals 30 with no effect.  These are very high numbers for damage, but the HP stands in the way of their being truly useful.  Ponyta may function better as a mid-to-late game ace because of this.

022: Base Set Magmar

And speaking of decent cards with too much setup to be worth it, here we have Magmar.  Charmeleon’s Flamethrower, plus a differently-named Tail Flame.  Magmar differs from Ponyta in that it has 50 HP and a lot more damage output.  In a pinch, this thing can be even more of a monster than its equine cousin, but it suffers the exact same setup problems.


Next time, I’ll be looking at Water-types, and how a single ability can break an entire metagame.

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