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Bye Week Power Rankings: Pokemon Starters

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Happy Bye Week! Let’s talk about something else!

In this photo illustration a Pokémon Go logo is seen on a... Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s a really good time to be a Pokemon fan right now! Pokemon Go is as good as it’s ever been. Pokemon Unite is a thing now. In addition to all that, there are two new games that are coming out in the next few months! The excitement begins next month with the release of remakes from Generation 4: Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. And then in January, we are getting a brand new type of Pokemon game. It will be an open-world adventure known as Pokemon Legends: Arceus. I’m super excited, so I’m celebrating by power ranking each of the starters from all of the mainline Pokemon games. For the purposes of this article, that means I’m not including Pokemon Coliseum or XD: Gale of Darkness.

Anyway, let’s begin!

26. Pikachu (Electric)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Yellow, Let’s Go, Pikachu!

Honestly, I’m just tired of Pikachu. The original mascot for the whole thing as only been a starter Pokemon twice, but there’s always a caveat when you select Pikachu. You can’t evolve it into Raichu. Ever. I’m not the biggest fan of Raichu either, but it’s a whole lot better than Pikachu, as it is stronger in battles. Let’s Go, Pikachu! fixes that a little bit by giving it a stat boost, but it still pales in comparison to the normal base stat total for starter Pokemon, which is closer to 520-530.

What makes it even worse is that in any game that Pikachu is the starter, the player is also gifted each of the Kanto starters (Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur). For me, this does nothing but overshadow Pikachu on your team. One thing I do like about Let’s Go’s version of Pikachu is that it is able to learn different moves that it normally would not be able to in order to give it some more type coverage.

25. Eevee (Normal)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Let’s Go, Eevee!

Hey, let’s take Eevee, the Pokemon known for the many different types of evolution it has, and make it a starter for this upcoming Pokemon! What a great idea! Follow-up thought: Let’s not let it evolve! Wait, what?

Yep, Eevee, like Pikachu, is unable to evolve. Instead, it’s also given a stat boost and several other alternative moves to provide some type coverage. I did choose to play Let’s Go, Eevee! over Let’s Go, Pikachu! so I did use this Eevee, and while I appreciated the type coverage that it provided, it was outclassed in almost every single way by the rest of my team, which featured—you guessed it—the other three Kanto starters.

24. Piplup-Prinplup-Empoleon (Water/Steel)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl

So now, we are moving into the traditional Fire/Water/Grass-type, three-stage starters. Up first is Empoleon. Honestly, I really want to like Empoleon, but I just don’t. I think the Water/Steel type is pretty interesting, but it is completely outclassed by the other starters in the region.

The thing I struggle with here is the design. I appreciate that Empoleon is based on an emperor penguin and Napoleon, but it just seems very clunky, and I don’t like it. This will be one of the hotter takes in this power ranking, but it is what it is.

23. Sobble-Drizzile-Inteleon (Water)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sword, Shield

The Water-type starter from the most recent games, Inteleon has a secret agent vibe, which is neat. I think its stats bode well for it, being fast and able to hit hard with its special attacks.

Unfortunately, I think Inteleon is the best-looking of the bunch, and I don’t like Inteleon’s design at all. Sobble’s and Drizzile’s designs look like an actual baby and a punk teenager. I personally have not used Inteleon in a run, and it’s primarily the design that has kept me from doing so.

22. Chikorita-Bayleef-Meganium (Grass)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Gold, Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold, Soul Silver

I want to start by saying that I really like the design of the Meganium line. It does a good job of capturing the cute look that you want at the first stage and the more intimidating look at the final stage while having a good in-between at the middle stage.

My issue with this line is just that it’s kind of plain. It comes between Venusaur and Sceptile, who are two of the most well-regarded Grass-type starters (at least on my list), and I don’t know that Meganium does enough to really stand out. In the games, picking Chikorita also means that the beginning parts of the game—which see you go to a Flying-type and then a Bug-type gym, both of which Chikorita is weak to—will be a little more difficult.

21. Litten-Torracat-Incineroar (Fire/Dark)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon

Incineroar is weird to me. It so clearly looks like it’s trying to be a Fighting-type, but after having the Fire-type starter pick up the Fighting-type in three consecutive generations, there is clearly some fatigue. So instead, it picks up the Dark type.

Design-wise, I really like all three stages, but I don’t know that they flow very well cohesively. I wish Torracat would go ahead and start to stand up instead of staying purely quadrupedal. Either that, or the final stage also should have been a quadruped, which maybe could have helped to avoid the Fire/Fighting-type fatigue.

20. Tepig-Pignite-Emboar (Fire/Fighting)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Black, White, Black 2, White 2

This is the straw that really broke the camel’s back on the Fire/Fighting-type starters. After having back-to-back Fire/Fighting-type starters, the folks at Gamefreak decided, well let’s do one more! And out of all of them, I think this easily could have been changed to either just a pure Fire-type Pokemon, or another subtype could have been added. As such, Emboar ended up being one of the least liked starters of the generation.

One thing that I really like about Emboar is it’s shiny form. If you’re not familiar with Pokemon, a shiny form is just an alternate coloring of a Pokemon. There is a very, very rare chance that a Pokemon will appear in its shiny form, so it has become very popular to hunt shiny Pokemon. Anyway, Emboar’s shiny form is really cool! It swaps out the yellow and red in its fire for blue, so I think it looks really cool.

19. Snivy-Servine-Serperior (Grass)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Black, White, Black 2, White 2

I can’t really explain why, but I have always disliked Serperior. Maybe it’s because Ash’s Pikachu lost to a Level 5 Snivy in the anime, maybe it’s the weird stat distribution that makes its focus on speed and defense, who knows. I just have never been able to bring myself to use one in a play-through.

I don’t particularly love the design of Snivy or Servine, but the design of Serperior is really nice. It looks very royal and eloquent. I just don’t really want to use it.

18. Oshawott-Dewott-Samurott (Water)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Black, White, Black 2, White 2

If any Pokemon from Generation 5 was going to be a Fighting-type Pokemon, I think it should have been Samurott, whose design is based of a samurai. Really, I just don’t love the starters in Gen 5. I’ve always said that if I was going to do a run-through where I didn’t use a starter, it would be a Gen 5 game.

Anyway, talking about Samurott, I also have the opposite problem with it that I had with the Incineroar line. I wish it would just stay standing and embrace more of that samurai feeling.

17. Squirtle-Wartortle-Blastoise (Water)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Red, Blue, Fire Red, Leaf Green

Blastoise is my least favorite of the original Kanto starters. It’s not that I hate Blastoise, I just don’t particularly like it. And if I’m going to play a game set in Kanto, I’m going to use Charizard or Venusaur instead. The cannons coming out of its back are pretty cool, and I really like how Mega Blastoise takes that cannon to the next level.

Wartortle’s design is just weird to me. It add the tail and ears to make it look different from Squirtle, but then when it evolves into Blastoise, they just go away. I don’t know. I think it’s weird.

16. Froakie-Frogadier-Greninja (Water/Dark)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: X, Y

This might be the most controversial take on this list, but I really don’t care for Greninja. I think it’s very well-designed and formidable in battle. I think it gets propped up, however, for it’s Ash-Greninja form.

In the anime, Ash and his Greninja are able to form some kind of connection that essentially gives it a mega evolution without actually having a mega evolution. Maybe I’m just being a contrarian, but I just don’t like this one.

15. Scorbunny-Raboot-Cinderace (Fire)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sword, Shield

Normally when I play a Pokemon game for the first time, I use the Fire-type starter. When I picked up Pokemon: Sword and played it for the first time, it was one of the first times I didn’t do that. I thought Cinderace’s design was fine, but it didn’t blow me away.

I know a lot of people take issue with Pokemon who are more humanoid, but personally, I don’t take a lot of issue with it. I just think the final stage is a little plain. I really like the hoodie/training feel that Raboot has in its design, but I’m left wanting more with Cinderace.

14. Popplio-Brionne-Primarina (Water/Fairy)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon

So, I have a bit of a confession. I have never actually used the Primarina line in a play-through of the Alola games. I will say that this is the highest ranking of a starter I have not used, but I just couldn’t rate Primarina any lower. Based an Opera singer, I think Primarina’s design is brilliant.

I’m also a big fan of the Water/Fairy type pairing. Both are types that focus a lot on special attacks, which Primarina is really good at. I don’t know the next time I’ll be playing an Alola game, but when I do, I look forward to using Primarina.

13. Fennekin-Braixen-Delphox (Fire/Psychic)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: X, Y

Remember what I said earlier about always picking the Fire-type starter when I pick up a Pokemon game for the first time? Yeah, I picked Fennekin the first time I ever played Pokemon X for a couple reasons. First, I was very fascinated by the Fire/Psychic pairing. The thought of having a Pokemon who could make use of Flamethrower and Psychic was particularly exciting.

I also really like Delphox’s design. It reminds me of an old mage, and I think it just works really well. I will say, though, I think this group of Starters should have been around for Gen 5. Gen 5 is a lot more Medieval in nature. The bad guys are all knights that are trying to crown their king. I just think it would have worked really well.

12. Chespin-Quilladin-Chesnaught (Grass/Fighting)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: X, Y

So I’m currently playing Pokemon X again, and I decided to pick Chespin because I’ve never used it before. I think Chespin is honestly one of the cutest first-stage starter Pokemon out there. I also long flirted with the idea of leaving it as a Chespin for the whole run because I really don’t like the design for Quilladin or Chesnaught. I think Chesnaught’s design is fine; I just don’t like the color. I think Quilladin is just kind of ugly though.

Anyway, the reason that this line is bordering on the Top 10, though, is because I’ve had a lot of fun playing back through the Kalos Region with it. One thing I love doing is playing through Pokemon games with starters I wouldn’t normally use, despite the fact that I still haven’t used Empoleon in a run. You always gain a new bit of appreciation for that Pokemon.

11. Cyndaquil-Quilava-Typhlosion (Fire)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Gold, Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold, Soul Silver

Typhlosion had the unenviable task of following up one of the most beloved Fire-type starters even today by having to follow up Charizard. And I think it does really well! It has the added benefit of evolving from Cyndaquil to Quilava at Level 14 instead of the normal Level 16, but it’s also just a solid Fire-type Pokemon. I don’t have really anything bad to say about it.

The one knock—if you can even call it that—that I can put on it is that I think its design is a little plain. Other than the size and poses, there isn’t a ton of difference among the three stages.

10. Turtwig-Grotle-Torterra (Grass/Ground)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl

I was actually a little surprised that Torterra didn’t end up a little higher on this list. I really love Torterra. The Grass/Ground pairing is really nice, especially for a Pokemon with really good physical attack. That means it can fire off powerful Wood Hammer and Earthquake attacks, which is really nice.

I also love Torterra’s design. It reminds me a little bit of the Lion Turtles from Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is my favorite show of all time. It probably won’t be my first run of Brilliant Diamond, but I do look forward to using Torterra again.

9. Treecko-Grovyle-Sceptile (Grass)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire

I love Sceptile, and I want to love Sceptile more, but I think it suffers a fatal flaw. When it was released, it was given the exclusive move Leaf Blade, which is an incredible physical Grass-type move.

When it was first released, a move’s type determined whether it was a physical or special move, as opposed to whether it’s a physical attack or not. So when it was first released, the attack power that Sceptile would be using with that Leaf Blade was it’s 105 special attack. Now that the physical-special split has happened, it now uses that 85 attack to use Leaf Blade, which just takes so much oomph out of the attack.

Other than that, each stage looks absolutely incredible, and it’s just a lot of fun to use. I just wish it’s stats were rearranged a little bit.

8. Totodile-Croconaw-Feraligatr (Water)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Gold, Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold, Soul Silver

When I turned 7, my parents bought me my first Pokemon game: Pokemon: Crystal. When I fired it up, I selected Totodile and proceeded to play through the game as a 7-year-old does, pretty much just using my starter. I always hold a lot of sentimental value with Feraligatr because of that.

Design-wise, I think the proportions are a little weird, but at the same time, I kind of like it. I think it’s a MASSIVE step up from Blastoise, and it’s just fun to use. It also got a huge boost after the physical-special split as it could actually use the attack stat it’s good at.

7. Bulbasaur-Ivysaur-Venusaur (Grass/Poison)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Red, Blue, Fire Red, Leaf Green

I think Venusaur is incredibly underrated. There was a time when I got really into playing ROM versions of Pokemon games on my computer so I could just use cheat codes to get a lot of rare candy and not have to actually train my Pokemon, but then I decided to actually play a version where I couldn’t do that. So I picked up my copy of Pokemon: Leaf Green and started building a team around Venusaur. I don’t remember a ton about who was on that team, but it was one of the first times I remember really having a lot of fun building up my team and legitimately beating the game. I also think Venusaur is just incredibly underrated. It’s a lot of fun, and more people should use it.

6. Torchic-Combusken-Blaziken (Fire/Fighting)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire

Alright, now we’re getting into some of the Pokemon that people expected to see here. Blaziken is the original Fire/Fighting-type starter, and it has always looked like the coolest thing around. And then in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Blaziken was gifted a Mega Evolution that just about breaks the game as overpowered as it is.

I remember watching the Pokemon anime when Ash was in the Johto League tournament, and he faced Harrison, who came from the Hoenn Region. His final Pokemon was Blaziken, and from that moment, I knew that I needed to use it. And hot dang, it’s an amazingly fun Pokemon to use.

5. Mudkip-Marshtomp-Swampert (Water/Ground)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire

While I think Blaziken is an amazing Pokemon, I think Swampert is even better. It’s unique Water/Ground type pairing gives it just one weakness, and it’s a good enough mixed attacker, it can really take advantage of a wide range of moves from both types.

As far as the design, it starts out super cute and then just gets even better. I will be honest. I didn’t love the Mega design at first, but I’ve really come around to it.

4. Grookey-Thwackey-Rillaboom (Grass)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sword, Shield

This was actually a change I made as I was writing this article. Originally, I had 3 and 4 switched. I started playing Pokemon Sword during the pandemic when I bought my Switch, and as I was looking at the starters, I decided to look at their final stage. I was going to use whichever one looked the coolest. And that was Rillaboom.

As for why it’s so highly ranked, Pokemon Sword really reinvigorated my love for the series. Seeing the game on my 65-inch TV certainly helped that, but the game itself was just a ton of fun, and Rillaboom was right at the center of that.

3. Rowlet-Dartrix-Decidueye (Grass/Ghost)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon

l recently replayed Pokemon: Ultra Sun after finishing my initial play of Pokemon: Sword because I really wanted to use Decidueye. I mean, just look at it! It’s like a ghostly version of Robin Hood, and it’s also an owl. I just absolutely love the design. Dartrix stands out for not-so-great reasons, but Rowlet is super cute.

As a Pokemon, it’s also just a lot of fun to use. Being a Grass/Ghost-type Pokemon, it has a lot of fun moves it can use.

2. Charmander-Charmeleon-Charizard (Fire/Flying)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Red, Blue, Fire Red, Leaf Green

Growing up, most people’s favorite Pokemon was Charizard, and for good reason. It looks absolutely amazing and was super popular in the anime. And then in Generation 6, we get not just one but two Mega Forms. I’m partial to Mega Charizard Y myself, but both forms are really cool. Fast forward to Generation 8, and we get a Gigantamax form and another reason to see Charizard again.

As a Pokemon itself, it can draw attacks from the fire and flying types primarily, but I will also tend to run Dragon Pulse on it just for the type coverage.

1. Chimchar-Monferno-Infernape (Fire/Fighting)

Pokemon games in which Pikachu appears as a starter: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl

Ahh yes, here we are. Infernape is the pinnacle of all Pokemon starters. It’s design at each stage hits the mark from cute to cool to intimidating and awesome. I think it’s far and away the best Fire/Fighting-type starter. It does a better job of being a balanced attacker and can just hit hard no matter where it’s coming from.

As Pokemon: Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are getting ready to come out, I am looking forward to the opportunity to be able to use Infernape once again.

Which starter Pokemon is your favorite?