Generation Loss: A Study of Pikachu and the Clones
It”s hard to imagine what the Pokémon franchise would”ve looked like without Pikachu as its mascot. Early on in the Japanese Red & Green version development, Clefairy was supposed to be the mascot instead, but this was decided against at the last minute, with Pikachu being chosen as Ash”s starter in the anime. It”s believed that this was decided to appeal to girls and their mothers, with Pikachu appearing to be more of a pet. This article would”ve probably been written regardless, with Clefairy and its clones chosen as the subjects. Ah yes, Game Freak sure hit a gold vein with this cute, chubby, yellow, electrical rodent, and it”s no wonder that they went and milked it for all its worth in the future generations with these clones. Some are bad, some are worse. Without further ado, let”s jump right in!
There”s not much to be said about Pikachu that”s not already common knowledge. This fat, oversized mouse has been featured in almost all main and spinoff games, trading card game expansions, and manga and anime adaptations available. It was featured on the $1 coin of the island country of Niue in 2001 and even had a newly discovered protein named after it in 2008: pikachurin, which helps carry electrical impulses from the eyes to the brain. To show off how incredibly spoiled this Pokémon has been, we will take a look at what changes and additions it has been given throughout the generations.
Starting off in Gen I, Pikachu on its own was mostly a pitiful excuse for a Pokémon. It had paltry attacking stats and awful bulk, and its Speed stat was its only redeeming quality. Its special moves were limited to Electric-type attacks, leaving it mostly with a plethora of Normal-type attacks for as its only physical options, with Submission as its sole option to hit the Rock / Ground types for any considerable damage. It did, however, gain Surf and Fly as available moves from different events that depicted a Pikachu surfing on a surfboard and it being carried off with balloons, respectively, as a way to justify it gaining said unconventional moves.
In Gen II it gained its exclusive item, Light Ball, which doubled its Special Attack stat, effectively transforming its meager base 50 stat into an equivalence of base 150 stat, turning it into a powerful glass cannon. It didn”t receive much in the way of moves, though, with the only notable one being Hidden Power to help its coverage.
Jumping ahead to Gen III, Light Ball helped it receive its first signature move: Volt Tackle, an Electric-type variant of Double-Edge. By breeding a Pikachu that”s holding a Light Ball, it will pass down Volt Tackle as an egg move to the Pichu. Due to the inhibition of transferring up anything from Gen II, Fly and Surf were once again released as event exclusive moves, with the drawback of being incompatible with Volt Tackle.
Gen IV brought a huge mechanics change, splitting all moves as either special or physical moves, forgoing the dependence on the type itself to determine the orientation of attacking moves. With this in mind, Light Ball received a buff, granting a doubling of both the Attack and the Special Attack stat. This opened up a great variety of options for Pikachu, enabling it to go either fully physical, fully special, or even mixed to deal considerable damage, gaining new move options in Focus Punch, Grass Knot, and Nasty Plot as a boon. Events also granted Pikachu Volt Tackle (now physical), Fly, and Surf at the same time.
We continue with Gen V, where nothing much changed except for Pikachu”s gain of the incredibly potent, and recently buffed, +2 priority move: Extreme Speed. It was only then that this mess of move incapability from Egg moves and moves from different events began to really cause problems. A combination of Fake Out and Extreme Speed would”ve been a powerful tool to pick off frail opponents but is made incompatible due to one being an Egg move and one being an event move. Eviolite is now an available option as well, but the small increase in bulk is vastly inferior to the sheer power boost of Light Ball.
As a change of pace, Gen VI brought quite substantial changes. Firstly, it granted stat boosts to Pikachu”s Defense and Special Defense stats, boosting them each by 10, being both the only Pokémon in this generation to gain boosts to more than one stat as well as the only non-fully evolved Pokémon to gain any to boot. Secondly, a new form for it was introduced: Cosplay Pikachu. By changing between the 5 different costumes available, it gained exclusive moves in either Meteor Mash, Icicle Crash, Draining Kiss, Electric Terrain, or Flying Press. It kept the boosting nature of Light Ball, but at the expense of any event or Egg moves available, due to it being unable to breed. Another change was in its new cry, being the only Pokémon to have its signature Japanese voice actor to also voice it in the main series games.
Concluding with the current generation, Gen VII, Cosplay Pikachu was discontinued and is no longer available to obtain. As a replacement, Pikachu donning one of six caps that Ash wore in the anime in the various regions was introduced as different forms. These forms do absolutely nothing for Pikachu except allowing it to use one of its two exclusive Z-Moves introduced as a mechanic this generation: 10,000,000 Volt Thunderbolt, a special 195-Base Power move with an increased critical hit ratio, while it also has other Z-Move, Catastropika, being a physical 210-Base Power move only available to regular forms. Z-Moves are only available at the cost of an item slot, however, severely limiting Pikachu without its crutch in Light Ball. Volt Tackle is now available as a tutor move as well, helping alleviate its move incompatibility problems.
How does all this turn out in competitive then? Despite all the numerous buffs and exclusive moves available to it, Pikachu is still mediocre at best. Having to rely on Light Ball costs it its item slot, and its Speed stat is often inadequate to make up for its non-existent bulk. This leads to other options being preferred in the lower tiers: either faster Electric types, like Zebstrika and big brother Raichu, or those that can take a hit while still dealing out damage, like Ampharos and Eelektross.
Now I know what you”re thinking here: “Pichu is Pikachu”s pre-evolution, there”s no way this would qualify as a clone, it”s part of the same evolution family!” But this is just how Game Freak decided to start the milking, innocent enough and disguised as one of the newly introduced baby Pokémon in Gen II. But just like the majority of baby Pokémon, it”s absolutely atrocious. The Pokédex describes it innocently enough: its skill at storing electricity is lacking, leaving it to spontaneously discharge energy when shocked or amused. Basically a tiny yellow rat that has incontinence problems, leaving it to piss electricity at inconvenient moments. When Abra has a higher physical bulk than you, and you lack any of the redeeming qualities that Abra has, you know you have some major problems. Pichu has the lowest base stat total of all Electric-type Pokémon, standing at a paltry 205, with a base 60 Speed as its highest stat. Fortunately, it is rarely seen in the wild, with Pikachu being the standard to encounter. However, in Sun & Moon it”s readily available on Route 1, leading to a truly awful experience of trying to level this thing up. Thunder Shock is both its starting move and the only attacking move it learns by level up, with Nasty Plot slightly redeeming it at the early level of 13. In competitive, it”s not much better, being vastly outclassed by its fellow baby brethren Elekid, coupled with its bad stats in general. It does, however, have some features to carve out a tiny niche for itself, with access to Nasty Plot, Encore, and its signature Volt Tackle.
Plusle & Minun
Prepare for trouble, and make it double! If by trouble you mean two small yapping mice, cheering on each other to the bitter end, that were featured as one of the introductions to the new Double Battle mechanic in Gen III, with abilities and moves to support and power up each other. The cute lady loved them dearly, but they were silenced swiftly. Their Pokédex entries mention their love for cheering: using sparks from its body to create pom-poms and lightning showers, while being less concerned for themselves than their teammates and crying loudly should they lose. Compared to previous entries, their stat distributions are an improvement: with Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed ranging from base 75 to 95, with Attack and Defense stats between base 40 and 50. Their movepools feature mostly status moves, leaving their coverage rather barren during normal play. They retain their supportive role in competitive scenes, utilizing moves such as Encore, Thunder Wave, and Nasty Plot, coupled with their useful Lightning Rod and Volt Absorb abilities, respectively. However, this is only true on paper, they tend to not get too much usage due to their very average stats.
For a bit of a change of pace, the previous chain of rats turned into a squirrel this generation. It kept the stupid grin and puffy cheeks from its predecessors, while gaining a tail two times larger than itself. This time even the Pokédex entries fail to differentiate it, the entry for HGSS is as follows: “It”s one of the kinds of Pokémon with electric cheek pouches.” It was probably around this time that Game Freak started to realize the ridiculousness of this chain of clones every new generation, figured they were too deep in the trenches, and just decided to roll with it. Its stat distribution is similar to Plusle & Minun”s, with its attacking stats being its shortcomings instead. Its movepool follows the same suite as well, with the addition of the very useful Super Fang. To no one”s surprise, Pachirisu is average at best during normal play. Unless you”ve been living under a rock, or a meteor in this case (ha, get it?), you shouldn”t have missed the big splash Pachirisu made in the VGC 2014 Master World Championships, where Se Jun Park brought yours truly and won. The tiny squirrel was able to tank a Draco Meteor from the opposing Salamence, recover health using its Sitrus Berry, and later support Se Jun”s team through the use of Nuzzle, Follow Me, and Super Fang. Game Freak was fast to capitalize on the sudden fame of the previously overlooked critter, holding multiple events of it in the times to come. The doubles style of playing does not always translate to singles, however, with Pachirisu being a joke and vastly outclassed since its introduction to competitive, failing to carve out any specific niche.
The squirrel has now taken flight, gaining the Flying typing and soaring using its massive skin flaps stretching from its hands to feet. I guess it has stupid giant ears as well, but after five generation of clones you start to run out of good insults. The entires in the Pokédex are much of the same: Living in the treetops and discharging electricity from its cheek pouches while gliding. Emolga does earn the achievement of being the first clone with a stat over 100; unfortunately it”s only the Speed stat, and with a similar base stat total to the rest, the other stats are quite lacking. It does get access to both Air Slash and Roost, albeit as Egg moves and not via level up, leaving you with Acrobatics as the sole Flying-type STAB move in normal play. The slightly higher Speed, natural immunity to Ground-type attacks, and access to U-turn, Taunt, Encore, and reliable recovery in Roost let it perform slightly better as a supporter in competitive than the previous entries.
With the introduction of the Fairy type in Gen VI, the first new type since Gen II, what better choice is there than to give it to this generation”s clone. After a brief exploration of squirrels, we”re back to something more mouse-looking, more specifically a fat little gerbil or hamster, but it did steal its giant ears from Emolga. It has a long tail shaped like some sort of electrical plug, as well as adding some antenna-shaped whiskers, featured heavily in its Pokédex entries: plugging its tail into electrical outlets and using its whiskers to transmit electrical waves, communicating with others over vast distances. Despite all this electrical super-charging, Dedenne”s stats are pretty much identical to Emolga”s, leaving me with even less stuff to comment about. Despite its Special Attack being higher than its Attack stat, Dedenne doesn”t learn a single special Fairy-type move, leaving it only with Play Rough, with the rest of its movepool being nothing out of the ordinary. Dedenne is one of the few Pokémon with access to Cheek Pouch, healing 25% of its health whenever it eats a Berry, allowing a niche Substitute + Recycle set with Petaya Berry in competitive to boost its Special Attack while healing simultaneously. But to no one”s surprise, it is still frail and outclassed by other Electric-types.
Someone forgot to turn down the fat lever when copy-pasting Dedenne, so we ended up with a completely round mouse, blessed with the Electric / Steel typing, previously unique to the Magneton line, almost like a mix of a Ferroseed and Voltorb. One weird thing about its design is the odd placement of its tail, resulting in a clearly deformed skeleton should its anatomy be correct. While Togedemaru retains a similar base stat total to the previous clones, the stat distribution is much better, sacrificing Special Attack for an Attack and Speed stat of 98 and 96 respectively while maintaining average bulk. On top of having access to a reliable Steel-type STAB in Iron Head, it learns the semi-unique Spiky Shield and even a signature move of its own, Zing Zap, an Electric-type Iron Head. These traits coupled together make Togedemaru a whole lot more viable than its predecessors, both in in-game play and in competitive scenes. In VGC 2017, it served as a great speedy support role, being able to check Tapu Koko and redirect Electric-type attacks from its teammates while utilizing moves like Fake Out, Encore, Zing Zap, and Spiky Shield. This set is mostly retained in lower tier singles, as well as a more specially defensive set with Wish + Spiky Shield to check a plethora of threats.
Actually Honorable Mentions
Most lists that have honorable mentions usually feature entries that were quite not good enough to fit the list, but since these are actual honorable mentions, they refer to them being too good for this list, having an honor in the first place.
Raichu & Alolan Raichu
As the word evolution might imply, it refers to a change for the better, which Raichu certainly fits. Despite what the anime tried to teach using the fight between Ash”s Pikachu and Lt. Surge”s Raichu, Pikachu stands no chance against this thicc mouse. The Pokédex describes this thunderous beast: it can fire off 100,000 volt busts of electricity, instantly downing foes several times its size, even an Indian elephant (another case of odd cross-referencing with the real world). But just when you thought you”d seen it in all its marvel, the Alola region introduces its own variant: a surfing telekinetic badass, sporting a unique Electric / Psychic typing and its very own Z-Move: Stoked Sparksurfer, a 175-Base Power Electric-type move that always paralyzes its foes. Both formes sport almost identical stats and a base stat total of 485: a respectable base 110 Speed stat, base 90 and 95 Special Attack with decent bulk, respectively. Due to evolving through the Thunder Stone, their movepool through level up is quite barren, only having moves available at level 1, although they have access to great coverage options from TMs in Focus Blast, Hidden Power Ice, and Grass Knot. However, it”s in competitive that these two shine the brightest; they”ve both had success in VGC over the years, with the Alolan forme most recently due to its unique ability Surge Surfer, which doubles its Speed under Electric Terrain, making it a perfect partner to take advantage of Tapu Koko. In the lower tiers, they have a plethora of sets to choose from: Nasty Plot + three attacks, Choice Scarf, Z-Happy Hour, or just a Z-Move of your choice, with Lightning Rod and Surge Surfer fulfilling niches of their own.
Now this entry might not be that similar on paper, but Mimikyu”s character is built on wanting to be as beloved as Pikachu, hiding its true self to mimic a yellow rat by using a rag and some crayons. But you know what, Mimikyu is beneath this sort of behavior; it stands out as a truly unique Pokémon in its own merit. Both the Ghost / Fairy typing and its signature Disguise ability with one of the more spooky Pokédex entries: its true appearance is unknown, a scholar once saw what was underneath and died from the shock of said terrifying sight, making it a one-of-a-kind. Mimikyu”s stats might not be that impressive on paper: its Attack, Defense, Special Defense, and Speed stats range from base 80 to 105, with HP and Special Attack sitting at base 55 and 50 respectively, but its unique typing grants it 3 immunities with only 2 weaknesses. Coupled with an expansive movepool and Disguise”s ability to shield it from any one attack, it makes for one interesting and fun Pokémon to experience in-game, either as your own team member or against as one of the Totem Pokémon in Sun & Moon. In competitive, it”s mostly used as a setup sweeper or even a blanket check to other threatening foes in OU, due to the shielding that Disguise grants, with moves like Swords Dance, Play Rough, Shadow Claw, and Shadow Sneak. It”s also able to run supportive moves like Will-O-Wisp and Trick Room depending on the team”s needs. All is not well, however: its base 90 Attack stat is often underwhelming, even with boosts, failing to deal enough damage, while it is easily revenge killed once its Disguise is broken due to its below average Speed and bulk.
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There you have it folks, while the clones have mostly been poor rip-offs, the recent generations” entries have started to branch out and become a lot more interesting. Maybe in Gen VIII we”ll get a Electric / Fighting type clone, in Gen IX a Electric / Poison type clone, and in Gen X a Electric / Dark type clone to spice them up even further. The only bad thing is that there will probably be an Ultra Primal Pikachu at that point… I think I would”ve preferred Clefairy after all.