Over the past twenty years, Pokemon has added more and more critters to its ever expanding roster.  Much to the chagrin of some older fans, what was once a reasonable roster of 151 monsters now extends well over 700, with even more set to debut on the scene later this year with the release of Pokemon Sun and Moon.  "Catching 'em all!" is certainly harder now than it ever was before.  However, among those hundreds and hundreds of monsters to collect, a select few are the ones that often get brought up the most during discussions and debates about the series.

I'm talking about the starter Pokemon.

Through the years, many loyal fans have written about the importance of the starter Pokemon in an individual's experience with the games.  No matter which game in the series you're playing, you have a choice at the very beginning of the adventure as to which of three Pokemon you want to begin building your party with.  Once you choose one, it's impossible to obtain the other two unless you trade with someone else who chose differently.  This means that not only is the starter Pokemon you choose the beginning of your ever-growing team of friends to train for battle, but they have a personal connection to the player because you yourself chose them, often over two other equally appealing Pokemon.

The designs of the three starter Pokemon in each game in the series have changed radically over the years to match the aesthetics and themes of each new Pokemon release, but some things never change.  There will always be three of them, there will always be a fire, a water, and a grass type, and they almost always have excellent designs that make it difficult to decide which of the three to befriend and take with you.  I said almost for a reason, because there are certainly some duds in the mix.

So today, to celebrate the reveal of Pokemon Sun and Moon's starter Pokemon, I've decided to go through all seven generations of Pokemon games to decide which are the cream of the crop, and which deserve to rot in their Poke Balls unloved.  It's worth noting that I'm basing this list off of the recent Game Informer reader discussion about starter Pokemon, so Pikachu, Rowlett, Litten, and Popplio will be included in the discussion.  Moreover, the final evolved form of every starter will play a huge factor in their position on this list, as that is the form you spend the majority of each Pokemon title with.  Finally, keep in mind that I am Game Informer's #1 leading expert on all things Pokemon, so you can rest assured this list is based on science and objectivity, and is just as awesome as the guy who wrote it.*

*This entire sentence is false. 

So without further ado, get ready to celebrate 20 years of Pokemon history with me by going through the series's 22 starter Pokemon!

There will be winners.  There will be losers.  Feelings will get hurt. Egos will get boosted.  This...is a Pokemon starter ranking list.

22) Tepig (Unova Starter)

Oh Tepig, how you've disappointed me so.

Generally, the first new Pokemon revealed when a new installment in the series is announced are the starter Pokemon, and for good reason - they'll be the first Pokemon you ever catch and train in the new games, and will likely be with you though your entire adventure.  Prior to Pokemon Black/White, I never spoiled what kind of Pokemon the starters would evolve into.  I wanted to keep it a surprise since evolution is meant to be a mysterious process.

But man, was I happy I spoiled Tepig's evolved forms for myself prior to Pokemon Black/White's release.

Tepig itself isn't such a bad Pokemon.  It's easily the cutest of the Unova starters, and as a pig that shoots fire out of its nose, that cuteness factor is automatically doubled.  The way it bounces around in battle is nothing short of adorable.  And then...it evolves.  Tepig injects himself with steroids and visits a magic chiropractor, gaining the ability to walk upright.  He also acquires anger issues and a permanent scoul, losing any cuteness his face once held.  And to top it all off, he evolves into a Fire/Fighting type, marking three generations in a row of fire starters picking up this now stale type combination. And it only gets worse when the final evolution comes around.

I don't know what hallucinogenic substance Game Freak's designers were on when they created Emboar, but I want some of it.  Emboar looks like the unholy result of an overweight boar and unicorn vomit thrown into a blender. When Pokemon X and Y came around and announced a new trio of starters, I made it a point of spoiling the final forms of all three of them, as that's the form your once adorable pal gets stuck in for the majority of the game.  And the thought of that fully evolved form looking anything like Emboar was too terrifying to imagine.  For making me cautious about every evolved starter Pokemon to follow, Tepig has more than earned its spot on the bottom of this list.

Why Game Freak?  WHY?!?

21) Chespin (Kalos Starter)

Choosing which starter you want to accompany you in a Pokemon game is always a daunting and difficult task.  I swear I spend ten minutes in front of Professor Oak's table making this decision each time I replay the Kanto Pokemon games.  He must think I go temporarily braindead at the sight of three Poke Balls.

That being said, there are times when this decision is made easier, thanks to one or two of the starters looking incredibly...well, stupid.  In Pokemon X, choosing my starter Pokemon took less than 30 seconds, and it was mostly thanks to the idiocy of Chespin's design.  I mean, just look at it!  He looks like a Happy Tree Friends reject that stuck a giant shell on his head hoping he'd pass as a water starter so that somebody picked him.  Chespin's design is so unappealing to me that its one of the few starter Pokemon I never picked in a playthrough of a Pokemon game, though part of that also has to do with how little replay value Pokemon X and Y have.

I'm rather glad I never chose Chespin though, because its evolved forms somehow manage to upstage it in the ridiculous department.  Its immediate evolved form, Quilladin, looks like the guy from Dig Dug started to inflate Chespin and then gave up halfway through.  And then there's Chesnaught.  I suppose if there's one good thing about Chesnaught, it's that he became a part-fighting type so that the fire type starter for Kalos wouldn't have to.   However, acquiring this secondary type also cursed Chespin with ludicrous body proportions; it's as though all the body fat from Quilladin's rotund form relocated to his arms and legs.

I'm just gonna say it - Chespin is a dud.  My favorite aspect of him as a starter was that he made the decision of my Kalos starter much easier by making Fennekin and Froakie look even greater by comparison.

So do you three try to look stupid, or does it come naturally?

20) Chimchar (Sinnoh Starter)

Whenever people ask me to list the Pokemon starters from the Sinnoh region, I always, always forget Chimchar exists.  Probably because there's a much better fire type starter with a flaming tail and "Char" in his name...

Savage jabs aside, unlike Chespin and Tepig before it, I don't get filled with rage by looking a Chimchar's design.  I just find him to be a very underwhelming Pokemon in general.  He and his evolved forms, Monferno and Infernape, strike me as an amalgamation of elements of Charizard and Blaziken's designs.  Infernape is a fire/fighting type that boosts impressive speed and the ability to infuse punches with fire, just like Blaziken, and the fiery tale brings Charizard to mind.

I don't have anything against Chimchar in particular, it's just that his final evolved form isn't radically different from that of the previous region's fire type in its final form.  To quote Futurama in respect to Chimchar, "I have no strong feelings one way or the other."

Eh... I can't even be bothered to write a witty caption for these guys.  They're alright.

 

19) Litten (Alola Starter)

I debated whether or not to include the starters of Pokemon Sun and Moon on this list.  After all, we won't have the chance to use them for several months now, and we know next to nothing about their evolved forms, nor abilities in battle.  That being said, that hasn't stopped the Internet from already deciding which one they'll pick, and create tons and tons of fanart in record time.  Thus, I've decided to give my two cents on the new starters here alongside the rest of the crew.

I'm treading on thin ice by pointing this out, but I fail to understand why Litten seems to be the most popular of the three newly unveiled starters.  It seems to me to be the most uninspired of the three.  It's a cat that can shoot fiery hairballs.  Yay?  I can partially understand its appeal; I'm sure cat lovers appreciate that it has the same nonchalant, apathetic demeanor as most felines, and it has an interesting color scheme.  That being said, I don't find it to be a particularly interesting Pokemon, though I can imagine my opinion improving once its evolved forms are shown off, especially with speculation circling the web that it may acquire Poison as its secondary type after evolution,  After all, fire-type cat isn't that interesting.  But a fire type cat that can shoot venom is ten times more rad in my book.

Right now, I'm about as apathetic towards Litten as it looks in all of the artwork that's been shown of it.

18) Fennekin (Kalos Starter)

In the months preceding the release of Pokemon X and Y, I went back and forth between whether or not I'd choose the fire type Fennekin or the water type Froakie as my starter.  As established, Chespin was never a potential candidate.  It was a difficult decision to be sure, but I finally decided on Froakie after spoiling Fennekin's evolved forms on the Internet pre-release.

This is largely Fennekin evolves into a feminine, humanoid witch-like Pokemon named Braxien.  I was never a fan of humanoid Pokemon, since I always found it weird to capture and fight human-like creatures, and have always feared typing in their names on Google Images.  Truly horrifying things pop up when you do.  However, I didn't outright say "nope!" until seeing Delphox, who suffers from all the same problems as Braxien, plus a serious ear hair problem.  The thing seriously needs to see an ENT doctor.

Fennekin and its evolutions do have a few things going for them though; they finally break the trend of fire type starters acquiring fighting as their secondary type upon evolution, a stale trend that had persisted for three generations straight.  Delphox instead acquires  psychic as its secondary type, making it the first fire starter that specializes in special attacks over physical ones since the Johto days in 2000.  I don't think Fennekin's a bad Pokemon by any stretch of the word, it only occupies a spot so low on my list because I think its humanoid design contrasts too heavily with its initial form.

Delphox really ought to invest in an ear razor.

17) Torchic (Hoenn Starter)

After choosing Charmander as my Pokemon Red starter, and Cyndaquil on my romp through Johto, the Hoenn Pokemon games marked the first time I didn't gravitate towards the fire type starter.  I prefer my fire-type Pokemon to be special attackers, as some of the special fire type moves are some of the best attacks in the series, such as Flamethrower or Fire Blast.  Hoenn is the first of three Pokemon regions whose fire starters more physically orientated, as Torchic boasts a higher attack stat and an evolution that obtains fighting as its secondary type.

Yes, it was ultimately Torchic that started the trend of fire/fighting type starter evolutions that I've been whining about since the start of this blog.  While I never quite warmed up to Torchic (get it?), nor its evolutions, one did find its way my Pokemon X team after a special Mystery Gift promotion at launch.  It was through this promotion that  learned Blaziken can actually end up becoming a solid choice for any team.  This promotional Torchic was special in that its ability was Speed Boost, which raised its speed every single turn it stayed in battle, meaning it could outspeed any opponent given enough time, making it a force to be reckoned with.  Blaziken is also one of just six starter Pokemon that can mega evolve, and it obtained this ability a full year before the other two Hoenn starter would.  I blame Junichi Masuda bias.

At any rate, after mega evolving Blaziken will acquire the Speed Boost ability if it didn't already possess it, and it also gains a huge buff to both its physical and special attack, making it a more well-rounded 'mon in general.  So why does it rank so low on this list?  Well, as with Delphox before it, humanoid Pokemon rub me the wrong way, and fire/fighting Pokemon have never done much to win me over either.  Really, my favorite thing about Blaizken is this hilariously awkward review its crotch prompted on Amazon.  And that's not something to be proud of.

Combusken also kind of looks like Chicken Little if he took up marital arts training.

16) Chikorita (Johto Starter)

I wanted to like Chikorita. I really did.  Back in the good ol' Red and Blue days I defended Bulbasaur despite not having chosen it as my starter myself, an action that ostracized me from others on the playground.  I wanted to become a defender of the under-appreciated grass-type, and chose Chikorita in my Pokemon Crystal playthrough in the hopes it'd be awesome enough to show my peers that grass types are worth your time.

It wasn't.

Generally speaking, picking the grass-type Pokemon means playing the game on "easy" mode, as the grass-type is super effective on many of the game's gyms and on the water-type Pokemon that populate the sea routes.  On the contrary, Chikorita marks perhaps the only time in the series' history that picking the grass type will make your life a living hell.  It has trouble in 6 of the 8 gyms of Johto, and because the region also has the fewest amount of water-logged routes, it doesn't make seafaring any easier either.

More than anything though Chikorita is overall a dull Pokemon, especially in comparison to some of the other grass types the series has seen.  It learns very few moves that deal damage to enemies, instead relying on gimmicks such as lowering the foe's evasivenesswith Sweet Scent or using Synthesis to heal.  As one of the few "pure" grass types in the whole series (its evolutions don't obtain a secondary type), Chikorita also never becomes as flexible as some of its grassy peers, such as Bulbasaur or Turtwig.  Its evolved forms, Bayleef and Meganium are also rather unexciting; the creature becomes bigger, and the leaves around its neck grow into flowers but its visual changes stop there, making both of its evolutions an unexciting process.  Those looking for a challenge in their journey across Johto would do well to pick Chikorita, but if you're looking for a Pokemon with a compelling movepool and impressive battle prowess, you're better off looking elsewhere.

Chikorita doesn't change a whole helluva lot when it evolves.  Even the evolution chapter of my Biology class was more interesting than this.

 

15) Rowlett (Alola Starter)

Pidgey.  Hoothoot.  Tailow.  Starly.  Pidove.  Fletching.

Every Pokemon region has "that early bird type Pokemon" that the game encourages you to catch and train due to how many of them show up in the first hour or two of gameplay.  These birds often make for a good addition to any team, often having strengths and type advantages that your fire, water, or grass type starter doesn't.  Sun and Moon might be the games to turn this trend on its head by giving players the option to pick a flying type Pokemon right off the bat as their starter in the form of Rowlett.  And what a freakin' adorable flying type Pokemon it is.

Owls are one of my favorite animals, which has made me disappointed the generic and wimpy Noctowl is the only owl Pokemon in existence.  Rowlett, though late to the party, seems fixated on eliminating this egregious oversight by giving the series some much needed owl representation.  There's already a lot of things I already like about Rowlett, and I won't even be able to train one for several months. First, its secondary type will give players a nice advantage in the early game which historically tends to be populated by grass and bug-types in forest like areas, while the weaknesses the flying type also brings to the table will likely add some much needed challenge to the end of the game.  Second, Rowlett can turn its head 180 degrees and look behind it, just like a real owl.  Third, it has a bowtie made of leaves.  And lastly, people have already made cool fan art and even plushies of the thing, despite being revealed not even a week ago. Seriously, how can you not like this thing?

It can also blow things up just by looking at them.  Maybe.

While I do think highly of Rowlett, the fact is starter Pokemon evolve early, so he won't stay in his adorable ball-like form for long.  He'll be forced to grow up and evolve, and possibly even become as ugly as Tepig's evolutions.  Which is a scary thought.  So for now, to be fair, I'll comfortably place Rowlett towards the middle of this list, reserving final judgement until the release of Sun/Moon this Fall.

Rowlett, I think highly of you right now.  Try not to screw that up when you evolve.

14) Popplio (Alola Starter)

Hey, you.  Yeah you!  Leave Popplio alone!

As stated earlier, the upcoming Pokemon Sun and Moon have had their starter Pokemon finally unveiled, and it's had the Internet in a bit of an uproar.  While Rowlett and Litten fans have been going back and forth as to which starter is better, Popplio fans, the vast minority, have mostly been licking their wounds in silence, because the unfortunate seal lion is by far and away the least popular of the new trio of starters.  The "stupid, derpy circus seal" hasn't received nearly as much love as its feathery and furry starter friends, and the apathy and disdain towards its design has already made it an Internet meme of sorts.

It could have to do with my affinity for the water type starters, but I have no idea where the hate for Popplio's design stems from.  Popplio to me is a microcosm of what makes Pokemon designs in general so great; it's a sea lion that has a puppy-like feel to it, and boasts a playful demeanor to it similar to that of a circus animal.  Popplio's design takes a real life animal, makes it more endearing, and gives it unique abilities, which is the formula that has created some of the greatest Pokemon designs in the whole series.

People call Popplio's design ridiculous and point to how far "Pokemon designs have fallen," since the glory days of Pokemon Red/Blue, but really, this is the same series that has sentient piles of sludge, key chains, and whatever the hell Shuckle is supposed to be as Pokemon.  I think a sort-of-doofy looking sea lion is tame by comparison.  At any rate, I think it's too early to pass judgement on Popplio.  While I'm fond of its initial form, whether its final evolution is the next Emboar or Charizard will ultimately determine what spot it holds on this list months from now.  For now, I'm happy to comfortably place it around the mid-way point of the list.

Alright, I can't deny he looks kind of derpy, but don't discount Popplio just yet.  For all we know, like Oshawott, it could evolve into something truly great and change the popular consensus about it

13) Snivy (Unova Starter)

Snivy is one of the few Pokemon I trained that I never wanted to evolve. Not because I outright hate the new type or design of its evolved forms, but out of pity.  Because every time Snivy evolves, it loses two of its limbs.

That's downright cruel Game Freak.

Snivy has one of my favorite initial forms of any starter Pokemon.  Just look at the thing!  He's a smug son of a...mug.  Like, if he were a person you'd wanna smack that dumb smirk right off his face.  But he's not a person - he's a radical walking snake that crosses his arms in battle and wreaks havoc on his foes with attitude.  I was very fond of Snivy throughout my playthrough of Pokemon Black.  I can be pretty smug myself sometimes too, so it was nice to have a partner that was the same way.

And then...he evolved.  And lost his damn arms.  And with that, half his mobility.  He would never pick anything up again and it was my fault.  It was an observation that made me fear his final evolution, and my fears were founded - Serperior, Snivy's final evolved form, loses its legs and gains about 30 pounds.  It becomes an ordinary, limb-less snake.  Gone is the smug expression that gave the Pokemon personality, gone are the arms that it arrogantly crossed in battle, and gone were the legs that carried it to and fro.  And it was my fault Snivy lost all of these things.

It also doesn't really help that Serperior doesn't have much going for it in battle - its speed stat is pretty exceptional, but every other one is average at best.  Serperior's moveset is  indicative of a Pokemon meant to stall the opponent, by boosting its own stats and weakening the foe with attacks like Gastro Acid, but it just doesn't boast strong enough defenses to make that happen.

I like Snivy.  I think as a Pokemon it had a lot of potential, but aside from its limbs, it loses the personality that I liked so much about its original form when it evolves, which ultimately hampers the 'mon from making it much higher on this list. 

Fully evolving a Snivy is the equivalent of hacking its limbs off.  It's animal cruelty at its worst.

 

12) Turtwig (Sinnoh Starter)

Up until this point, I've spent the entirety of this blog criticizing many of the starter Pokemon, at times outright tearing apart many people's favorites, but rest assured I do like the majority of them.  We've reached the point in the list where my thoughts on each starter are more positive overall than negative.

We start with Turtwig.  Unlike some earlier Pokemon on this list (*cough Tepig *cough) Turtwig actually gets much cooler every time he evolves.  He starts off looking similar to Bulbasaur without the iconic plant on his back.  He is a turtle whose shell is made of soil, which I suppose is pretty neat.  Turtwig then evolves into Grotle.  While much stronger than Turtwig and boasting vegetation on its back, it reminds me of a Koopa Troopa with an unfortunate growth on its back and looks a bit goofy.  

"Goofy" is the last thing I'd call Grotle's evolution though, because that thing could tear me apart if I so much as look at it the wrong way.  The vegetation on Torterra's back has grown into a small continent, and this beast of a Pokemon boasts the unique Grass/Ground type combination, making it immune to electrical attacks and also allowing it to learn powerful ground type attacks such as Earthquake to lay waste to the fire type Pokemon that once gave it so much trouble.  Torterra is quite slow, but its formidable attack and defense make it a force to reckon with, and healing moves such as Leech Seed and Synthesis make it a viable wall in battle.

Torterra's Pokedex entry is also rather neat:

"Some Pokemon are born on Torterra's back and spend their entire life there."

Torterra's back actually has its own ecosystem with more Pokmeon living on it, which is pretty meta.  Choosing Turtwig in the Sinnoh Pokemon games means dealing with a lame Koopa Troopa/Bulabasaur hybrid for most of the game, but it's all worth it in the end to get to use this earth shaking Pokemon in battle.

Hey look!  It's dumb, dumber, and...whoops, uh, please don't kill me!