Monday, April 30, 2012

54. Psyduck

I read a great thought about Pokemon once, via the Wikipedia article for Snorlax (slightly off-topic, I know): in the book Media and the Make-Believe Worlds of Children: When Harry Potter Meets Pokemon in Disneyland, it is mentioned that children can relate to Snorlax as a character because he embodies their vices (sleeping, eating, being fat), but also embodies more positive aspects of themselves (bravery, strength). We can also extend this principle to young adults, because let's face it: no one sleeps and eats better than us. Anyway, Psyduck belongs to a similar class of pokemon.

Psyduck is great because he's ineffective, silly, and in constant suffering. And chubby to boot! A true reflection of ourselves. Anyone who has ever suffered from headaches, depression, anxiety, or any uncontrollable neurological problem, can sympathise with Psyduck. The buggy eyes, the useless body, the state of duress, and he still manages to be cute. I think my favourite Psyduck moment is on Route 210 in Sinnoh, when they make one of those contrived videogame roadblocks... out of Psyduck. They are so afflicted, they must gather in narrow passages just to sit in mutual pain. Then refuse to disperse until you bring them some of Cynthia's “special medicine.”

I won't say Psyduck has our better qualities, because the most positive feelings towards it are usually something mixed with pity. But it's still popular enough to make it into every regional Pokedex until Black and White, and have a bunch of Something Awful smilies. And just recently, timely enough, Psyduck was among the earlier-gen pokemon confirmed to be returning for Black 2 and White 2.

This makes it the first known pokemon found in every single region.

And yet, no one is complaining. Other pokemon fixtures Geodude, Zubat, Machop, Tentacool draw substantial ire, but are you ever displeased to encounter a Psyduck? Probably not, and it's probably because they usually don't turn up until late game, when you're surfing or fishing, and even then at reasonable ratios. In Red and Blue they only appear in four places, apart from the Safari Zone; in Yellow only one; in the remakes and Japanese originals they're exclusive to (Fire)Red. So when Platinum makes them an early-game cave pokemon, almost supplanting Geodude in the Ravaged Path and Oreburgh Gate, it's amazing. It's like a breath of fresh air, and the first time I enthusiastically trained a Psyduck from the beginning. With good Special, it's a Water Gun / Confusion powerhouse around then. At least until you hit level 20 and realise you still have 13 to go until Golduck, since pokemon evolution levels are pretty much determined by where in the game they appear in the originals.

Since it's underused in the games, the anime probably takes a lot of credit for Psyduck's popularity. Personally, I found the “pop out of pokeball at inappropriate moments” comic relief gag to get pretty old. But it did add an element of neglect and abuse to Psyduck's pity case, since Misty treats hers like garbage. In what's probably Psyduck's best episode, The Ninja-Poke Showdown (Venonat's debut!) she wants to trade it to Brock. Then later on, in a whacked-out ninja room, its headache gets so bad that it finally unleashes its telekinetic Neo Matrix powers.

Apparently Confusion and Disable let Psyduck control all elements of the physical world around it. It's like Professor X.

I'm not sure where they got the idea for Psyduck to have latent psychic mastery. Its Pokedex entries are pretty intense: From Red and Blue, “While lulling its enemies with its vacant look, this wily Pokémon will use psychokinetic powers.” From Ruby, “When it does so, this Pokémon generates brain waves that are supposedly only seen in sleepers. This discovery spurred controversy among scholars.” From Platinum, “Overwhelmed by enigmatic abilities, it suffers a constant headache.” Dang Psyduck, you got it bad. There isn't really a clear precedent, or pun, or mythos that would lead one to conceive of a water-type duckling as a deceitful, tormented, mysterious psychic. But it sure makes Ducklett look boring.

The rest of Psyduck draws nicely from the platypus, everyone's favourite venomous duck-beaver hybrid and original hoax pokemon. It's so obvious, I don't know how I never noticed before. It's still got plenty of duck, what with the yellow rubber ducky colour, feather tuft, and short non-beaver tail. But the bill shape and claws are almost exactly platypus.


I can't reconcile psychic abilities with platypodes either, other than their general weirdness. But I think it speaks to good creative design, that they've made a pokemon so defiant of explanation. Part duck, part platypus, part random inspiration. Or maybe the whole hidden power business is just another way to make it relatable to the youth demographic. We all think we're unappreciated geniuses.

Psyduck's sprites are all so great, I'm going to break some of them down individually. It will be an adventure in bad formatting.

This one is easily the most 3-dimensional Psyduck, and uncommonly good for a R/G sprite. It's like a balloon.

Compare that to this one, with its lazy stomach shading. Nice triangle, there.

I like how this one has one hand on its head, and one on its nose. It's so confused, like “Where's my headache? Is it in my nose? Is it in a china hutch? In a graveyard?”

It's like: “Is my headache in a graveyard?

This one reminds me of Rocko Wallaby for some reason. Or maybe Filburt.

These two are in so much pain they're picking up their feet and stomping them, or maybe dancing.

This Psyduck is just so over headaches, he rolls his eyes at us.

This is the back sprite from Platinum, the first game to have entry animations for back sprites. Aww, he rubs his head all over! Aww, he's in so much pain

I'm especially impressed that every sprite kept at least one hand on Psyduck's head, for its trademark “my brain is full of fuck” position. I wish one of them had used the asymmetrical expression from Sugimori's hilarious artwork, but you can't have everything.

The Winner:
Red and Blue

Admittedly, I'm going with this for its sheer insanity. It's probably not the best sprite. But it transcends the realm of Pokemon art and enters the avant garde. It looks like it belongs on some unsettling underground mural. Its eyes, even pointed downward, will follow you around the room.


  1. It will be an adventure in bad formatting.

    It's so confused, like “Where's my headache? Is it in my nose? Is it in a china hutch? In a graveyard?

    Apparently Confusion and Disable let Psyduck control all elements of the physical world around it. It's like Professor X

    All of the above is why you are loved

  2. Man I despised the pop-out-of-ball gag >.< Then for gen 2 they thought 'hey, y'know what'll be funny? If we do that same gag, but with Wobbuffet'.

  3. My first impression by just looking at your blog was "What kind of weird silly blog is this"

    and then I found myself reading everything and being both amazed and amused. I LOVE this blog. New favourite internet home ok. <3 Keep this up, it's really entertaining and so COZY.

  4. Now you made me feel all nostalgic about gen 1. Good times.

  5. "I'm nauseous... I'm nauseous..."

  6. Stopped posting?

  7. I'm surprised that they didn't make it a poison type, looking back. Platypus are poisonous in real life, right? What was the obsession with poison types in the first generation, anyway?

    1. By that you mean 'why do they hate poison types in the other generation anyway' right?

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