Thursday, February 16, 2012

51. Dugtrio

When you have created a pokemon design like Diglett—simple, efficient, modernist—and are asked to create the evolved form for that pokemon, what do you do? You don't want to mess up the qualities the base form had going for it. So, if you are Game Freak, you take three of that pokemon and glue them together. Apparently.

Dugtrio is the first in just such a trend. Magneton has the same thing going on. Weezing has it imperfectly, and so does that gear thing from Gen V. There are so many pokemon with three heads, they made a special attack just for pokemon with three heads. It doesn't intuitively make sense, either: do these pokemon evolve by reaching level x, or by joining up with two of their ilk? Can the joining only happen at level x? Why does this constitute a new species? The magic number is always three, too; four is too many, and two is too few. Obviously you can't just keep adding Digletts to make Dugtrio stronger. They don't swing that way.

The Pokedex doesn't really help matters. "Dugtrio are actually triplets that emerged from one body," Ruby and Sapphire tell us. "As a result, each triplet thinks exactly like the other two triplets." "Because the triplets originally split from one body, they think exactly alike," Emerald adds. Okay, wait. By "thinking exactly alike," do you mean, they like the same movies? They dress in the same clothes and pull ingenious pranks on their parents? And by "emerged from one body," you must mean from one fertilized egg, in the womb; that is how triplets usually work. Unless a fully-grown Diglett at level 26 splits into three separate Digletts, like a flatworm. Except they're still psychically connected. And maybe physically connected too, for all we know. Sounds legit.

There are real-life organisms that work this way; clonal colonies are what happens when plants and fungi grow multiple, genetically identical individuals by vegetation (asexually), sharing a root or hypha system. One of my favourite Real Things on earth is Pando, which is a colony of Quaking Aspens in Utah. It is the heaviest known organism, at around 6 million kg, and covers over 100 acres. It is 80,000 years old. Its name means "I spread." If it could get up and walk around it would kill all of us.

There are also probably bigger colonies elsewhere that just haven't been studied yet. Anyway, this comes to mind with all the speculation of Diglett and Dugtrio's underground parts. And leads to my absolute favourite speculation, courtesy of Burn the Internet:

Yes. I applaud this person for finding Diglett and Dugtrio's logical extreme. You can't go deeper than that.

What more likely inspired Diglett and Dugtrio is whack-a-mole, their resemblance to which is exploited in everything from Pokemon Pinball to Pokemon Stadium minigames. Looking at Dugtrio's arrangement, though, it's always struck me as intentionally reminiscent of a certain Nintendo property. Bear with me as I code-switch into another fandom, with which you might not be familiar.

Really, the resemblance is uncanny. Look at Dugtrio's Red and Green sprite and tell me that isn't inter-franchise visual reference. The weird thing is, I've never known what those hills were supposed to be. They have no name in Mario canon. I guess a background designer back in the day just drew some oddly silo-shaped hills together and threw some eyes on them for fun. And now you can draw something similar and people will immediately say, "Those are the Mario hills." Or, "That's Dugtrio." Not a bad legacy. I'm not sure what the implications are for land forms to have sentience, but it's... cute?

Of course, Dugtrio's resemblance to these hills causes some problems for my previous favourite "simple" theory. Pay special attention to the head at the back: that thing has to be crazy tall! It can be nothing less than an oarfish snake monster emerging from the ground, to be able to peer above the two heads in front. You can see this directly in its Black and White back sprite, and its stubborn insistence on anatomical consistency:

Hah! Bet you wish everything didn't have to be plausible in 3D space now, eh Black and White?

Some sprites try to lessen the weirdness by having Dugtrio's heads angled away from each other, so they look less rigid and architectural. Red and Blue Dugtrio takes up bowling pin formation. FR/LG and HG/SS look like they actually are sprouting from the same underbody, emerging through a too-small hole. I'm not a fan of this; if Dugtrio is indeed separate triplets I see no reason why they shouldn't make enough space for themselves to stand up straight. None of them are as silly as this card illustration though, which, given all the Dugtrio Underground images showing three buff dudes being rather intimate with each other, has to make you laugh:

I mean, the sweat and everything. Good grief. It's a Diglett accordion.

The Winner:

We see a variety of approaches in these sprites at giving Dugtrio emotional character. Most of them looked pissed, having evolved angry eyebrows I guess. Gold, Silver, and their remakes retain Diglett's mellowed out vibe. D/P breaks the rules, to its benefit I think, by giving its heads different personalities: the tall one looks distracted and neutral. I guess they don't all think exactly alike after all. That sprite is my second favourite.

Yellow is great for the following reasons: 1) it's not afraid to give you some overhead perspective, rather than looking at Dugtrio straight on. 2) It's easily the most menacing Dugtrio, especially the lowermost head, which looks positively sinister. The shading helps. 3) This was back in Gen I, when Dugtrios were allowed to be noticeably thicker than they were as Digletts. Just compare Yellow's waifish Diglett thumb to these plump thugs. It helps get across that you've got something stronger, and not just more numerous. Three reasons! Ah ah ah


  1. This is great xD More would be appreciated

  2. Hey I've been reading your stuff for a while now. Mind if I make a suggestion? Why don't you do a segment on trainer sprites? You know, bug catchers, hikers,etc. I know you're a 'pokemon' sprite guy but why not try that too huh?

    1. Huh, I hadn't considered that. It's a "Pokémon" site, as in the games, so nothing's off the table. I'm not sure how it would fit into my usual schedule of not posting though.

      If I don't do it, it will probably be because A)lazy and B) inherently, trainers don't have as much character or background to them, because they're sort of stereotypes and not the games' focus, and not onscreen for nearly as much time as pokemon themselves. Also, writing about them would be trading in biology/folklore for sociology, and I'm not sure scrutinising human people is as much fun.

      Good suggestion though. I can tell you right now what the best trainer sprite is: FR/LG Hiker. That guy's a bamf.

  3. Good sir, what do you think of this?

    1. I think that's pretty awesome! Just recently I was wondering what all the new pokemon would look like in old, Gold and Silver era sprites. I didn't think someone would take it all the way back to Red and Green's crazy out-of-proportion style though. That's a really neat project.

  4. The hills have eyes.

  5. I just found your blog & I really enjoy reading. I can't wait to see more from you~ <3

  6. I need to put this somewhere, but I don't know where else, so I'm going to put it here.

    I think Dugtrio's heads (bodies?) are physically seperate, since it does say in the R/S/E/ dex entries that Dugtrio is three triplets who split from a single body, with the word "split" implying actual seperation. I see it as being similar to budding.

    It also makes Dugtrio's ability, Arena Trap make more sense, since Dugtrio's three heads could, theoretically, surround an opposing pokemon in battle to prevent escape. I'd have to take a closer look at the anime to see if there's any indication of this being possible, though.

    Anyways, good read, I thoroughly enjoyed it Sorry about the nerd rant, I just needed to get that off my chest.

    1. No worries! This whole site is comprised of nerd rant. I probably didn't look at that possibility enough; it raises all sort of other questions, like why we never see them separate, and how far apart they're able to go.

  7. If Heatran lives in the center of the earth, then how would the diglett thing work? and how would you put one diglett in a Poke ball if they're all connected?

  8. Pokemon - Emerald - Hack (all pokemons) GBA ROM+SAVE+CHEAT