Monday, February 24, 2014

62. Poliwrath

The day is come friend!

Watching the X and Y reveals made me aware of a tendency in creature design, which one Pokebeach poster called "it gets bigger" syndrome. It didn't come up because any gen VI pokemon suffer from it, but because our expectations and projections do. As a reminder, this is what many wanted Frogadier's evolution to look like:

All the respect in the world to fakemon artist zerudez and his wonderful Sugimori-style rendering. But there's a reason why the ultimate design for Greninja looks like Greninja, and not like this. That dude is essentially a Frogadier that got bigger. The obvious characteristics of Frogadier are taken and intensified, but no design elements are introduced, aside from the black spots. It's more of an extrapolation than an evolution, and certainly falls short of the professionally clever and gross concept of Greninja's shinobi-style tongue scarf. Yet, there was much internet caterwauling when the real McCoy was revealed, and even long afterwards I couldn't get my friends to google "froakie final evolution" without them seeing the fakemon instead; it had become that popular.

I don't only bring this up because Poliwrath and Greninja are both blue-colored frogs. It's so easy to sit here and trash a poor guy's design for not living up to the standards of Gen VI evolution, yet here we are comfortably loving a Pokemon in Poliwrath that's basically the poster child of "it gets bigger." Did Gen I pokes simply face less scrutiny, from design to reception? Or is there nothing at all wrong with simple evolutions, and the difference in new pokemon is just a matter of style?

A couple thoughts:

- In my last post I came just short of calling Poliwhirl the objectively best pokemon, and in that respect any degree of resemblance to it can only be a good thing, in fact we would be blessed to have Poliwhirl variants taking up multiple pokedex slots. Seven Poliwhirls, maybe more. Imagine

- Maybe the small degree of change is the point? Axolotls, neoteny in amphibians and so on. It's the opposite of what you'd expect from tadpoles in a game about metamorphosis, which is kind of awesome (and indeed, all 3 polis are the "Tadpole Pokémon"). Also there's something to be said for giant, muscly tadpoles, and until I played X and Y I don't think I appreciated just how big the entire Poli line is. Poliwags are 2' spheres - they're beach ball size. I don't know how accurate the scaling in XY is; Greninja is clearly given its standing height in a crouching position, so when it does stand it's like 11 feet tall. But I enjoy that people see pictures like this and have to be a little freaked out:

- It's simplistic to say Gen I designs were all more minimalist than now. True, there was an angry eyebrow evolution and a cross-popping vein evolution, but look at the starting pokemon: Charizard is a salamander that grew wings, and Wartortle grows metal cannons out of nowhere. No fan could have seen those coming. Meanwhile Gen VI has much-loved lines like Goodra and Talonflame, which evolve in a steady and conventional way.

Of course, Poliwrath is distinct from Poliwhirl. I would never gloss over its je nes se quois. Obviously, it gets those broader shoulders and more of the classic, upside down triangle shape of heavy muscle characters. For some reason, its profile has always reminded me of Gossamer from Looney Tunes, probably due to childhood scarring.

It compares favourably with Frogadier 2.0 up there, in that it keeps a chubby, charming look and doesn't have to grow spikes or splotches. It was smart, in all seriousness, to keep intact a lot of the roundness of Poliwhirl's design, while adding an edge (almost literally). And that helix fossil spiral pattern will never go out of style. In case you're wondering btw: in all but a few early sprites, the swirl on 'wrath and 'whirl always goes clockwise, and the swirl on 'wag goes counter-clockwise.

While Poliwhirl almost had a visible skeleton, Poliwrath has an interesting design history as well. Look at the kingly swag on this one:

This style is so cool. Again I am reminded of Rayman characters, or maybe an old Kirby boss. A whole world of frog prince mythology would have come into play if they had kept that crown, and it would have been fresh given that this frog is heavy-set and kinda villainous. The resemblance of that crown to the eventual design for King's Rock is also interesting. What could have been! But I'm guessing they wanted to go for a more active and capable-looking monster to befriend, and it's understandable. Personally, I'd have a hard time deciding between a bloated, enormous tadpole and a tadpole with beefcake arms.

I ordered the first box set of Pokemon Adventures (volumes 1-7) to do Poli research for this post, and it didn't get here in time. But my recollection is that Red's Poliwrath is his full-time lifeguard, and now I can't wait to dive through those exploits. So I bring you the most representative image of Poliwrath, and perhaps the whole relationship between pokemon and their trainers, to ever exist:

Lastly, it seems Bulbapedia added a reference to glass frogs on Poliwrath's page since the last time I memorized the entirety of its contents. So do yourself a search for glass frogs, which are real animals that are completely haunting and sweet. And would you look at that! Swirly guts!

The Winner:
Red and Blue

Yellow is very dynamic. I really like the upward tilt of B/W. And D/P has a sort of flair for the dramatic. But I couldn't really be expected to pass over the fluid pose and shapely leg of this sprite, could I.

Another thing R/B did well with both Poliwrath and Poliwhirl: put their eyes almost on eyestalks. Poliwrath's eyes have definitely receded further and further down into his skull over the years. But it turns out big round eyes nearly in silhouette are really fun to look at, which Game Freak took advantage of expertly in the design for Froakie.

I'm leaving a note about my past year in the comments. Brace the day people!


  1. I want to thank everyone who is still checking this site, despite my going over a year without updating. I get stressed out, and embarrassed by writing of mine that is more than a little bit old; so please, never go back and read some of my first fifty posts on this blog, which can be done very easily via the navigation bar at the top of this page.

    If you find yourself wanting more pokemon content to look through, you may be interested in a tumblr I made, It's for pokemon fan art, with a vague focus on good environments and a vaguer take-off of National Geographic. It also has not updated in a long time; this blog has been on hiatus for so long that I have started new blogs that have gone on hiatus in the interim. I don't know if I'll post on it anymore, but it's there.

    I don't know when the next update here will be, because for the next six weeks I'm teaching an illustration course for teens at Rhode Island School of Design. Its subject is "Mastering Pokemon." SEGUE: if any of you are or know 13-17 year olds in the RI area whose parents have $340 to spend on their child drawing pokemon, enrollment lasts through February 28th! It's going to be a lot of fun I think.

    Thanks again people! I'm going to go respond to some old comments because they're all so nice.

    1. Welcome back man!! I've been checking your blog for a year to see if you'd come back. Almost lost faith. Keep the blog going! A lot of people love niche topics like this :)


    Also I happen to love all your old stuff! I honestly don't see the problem lol. :P

    1. ermahgerd Gurdurr and Herdier mer fervrert perkermerns!!

  3. I knew subscribing to this RSS feed was a good idea. So glad to have you back.

  4. Aaaaah welcome back!! :D I had a feeling you'd be swingin round again :3


  6. Dude comeback...pls...spriteguy pls

  7. I remember a lot of people I knew telling me not to believe in chesnaught, greninja, and braixen.

  8. Yes, Poliwhirl's spiral was only reversed from Poliwag's from Yellow version onward. Poliwrath is more curious... In Blue, it's inconclusive which direction it's going due to the hand in front. And in Red and Green, I think the artist got a little confused, because the spiral is somehow going clockwise both on the outside and into the inside. Only the low resolution keeps you from noticing that they changed direction and Poliwrath really had two spirals that collided at some point.

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

  10. I miss this blog, I hope the Pokémon Sprite Guy comes back :c