The thing with Pokémon design is that there are no rules to follow, outside the usual make them look strange and fantastic. It’s not like in Digimon, where everything goes and you are free to do essentially whatever you want. However, most of the time people tend to bring the argument that most Pokémon tend to be based on real life animals or mythical creatures. It’s a good one, and it could be argued further that most of the best designed Pokémon stick with real life approach in their sort of simplicity combined to the whole reality-is-strange approach, like with Bulbasaur. It’s a strange dinosaur like thing with a bulb on its back. It’s simple, rather cute and pretty damn neat design. Pokémon evolution is more like a metamorphose which expand on the concept. Bulbasaur grows in size as does the bulb when it turns into Ivysaur, and in Venusaur it gets this huge appearance with the leafs and flower on its back. It loses its cuteness and is somewhat grotesque in its original appearance, but this sort of ‘growing bigger’ is what Pokémon at their core do. Digimon are the ones that go to wildly different directions, sometimes having no connection to each other thematically or otherwise. That’s pretty great on its own right, allowing large amount of variety in somewhat small range of sample.
Original Pokémon design was restricted by the Game Boy itself. There’s only so much you can cram data on its screen and the colour, or the lack of thereof, puts up restrictions. Pokémon is a good example of a game series where you can see how the designs don’t get better when more freedom is given to the designers from the hardware side. Nowadays Pokémon come in all forms that make little to no sense, like ice cream and keychains. Vanillite and its forms are the most retarded Pokémon design out there, competed with Klefki, Rotom’s forms and Trubbish. They showcase the example of designers having the problems of coming up new Pokémon, and rather than basing them on real life animals and making variations of them. We could have shitloads of more Pokémon based on different breeds of animals rather than take some good shit and come up with bad shit like Binacle or Kling. A goddamn metal gear Pokémon for fuck’s sake.
The new Alolan form for Rattata is an interesting case study the mentality of modern Pokémon design in many ways, mainly how that certain simplicity is gone and things have to be more busy, more mean and extreme to satisfy the designers’ wants. The same applies to Mega evolutions, but they’re a whole another thing I could rant about. Let’s just stick with Rattata now.
The changes are numerous. The posing is the same, but the silhouette has been changed. Rattata is just a rat with some peculiarities to it. It’s design is straightforward and just works, so to speak. Not!Hawaii Rattata on the other hand has revamps that don’t really mesh well. You can even see that the Alolan Rattata has lost its belly and its backside has a smoother curve. The pattern on its belly is not jagged rather than a smooth. Claws have been elongated and the fangs are less beaver like with a more taper to them. The tail is thicker and shorter with hair protrusion at the end for no reason. The ears share that protrusion , and they really add nothing to the design. Those, and the solid moustache, are good examples of how modern Pokémon designs just put on elements that add nothing to the design. They exist there solely to make designs more busy than what they need to be and they degrade those designs because of that. On top of that, the shading above Alolan Rattata’s head makes it look angrier. Gotta have them look more angry for the American audience, just like Kirby. It’s nose also is more on the front, with both holes visible. There’s a fan made comparison floating on the net how a modern Charizard would look with a supposed Generation 1 Garchomp next to it.
It can be understood why Alolan Rattata is like this. It’s supposed to be the Dark-Type to standard Rattata’s Normal. It’s supposed to look a bit meaner, but it ends up being DeviantArt tier edgy redesign. One could argue that Dark as a type is edgy in itself and the design matches it, let me remind Sableye, Scraggy, Sharpedo and others don’t fall into this trope. Pangoro the least, it being a damn bancho. That’s a whole another trope.
Some of the other Alolan Forms we’ve seen thus far do better or worse. Sandshrew is an igloo on two legs while Sandslash looks stupid with its spikes just being straight like that. Vulpix and Ninetails work the best of the bunch, striking a level of Marilyn Monroe like appearance in them. Alolan Exeguttor became a meme for a damn good reason, and Alolan Meowth is a sassy black woman. Marowack’s complete type change and new design is pretty laughable, but nothing can really compare how Alolan Raichu lacks any of the sharpness the original had. It looks like a Chinese knock-off now.
Alolan forms are designed the way they are for the sake of adding something new to the older Pokémon. Pokémon has always had a gimmick to it after the first game, and these Regional variants is Sun and Moon‘s. It pisses me off that Game Freak really doesn’t stack their gimmicks on top of each other. Day/Night and Seasonal cycle on top of Mega evolutions and these Regional variants, that I hope will stick and will be appearing in future games in various new forms to mess with the metagame, but just abandon them for what? Keeping each game unique? Perhaps, but obsoleting their older games would do them some good. Pokémon has barely changed in its twenty years of existence when it comes to gameplay, and revising the game play model they’re using would have an impact. The overall sense is that Pokémon hasn’t changed, and that may play in some part it losing to Yokai Watch in Japan. Pokémon Go‘s success is without a doubt part because it is Pokémon game, and that it breaks the usual mould. Then again, it has given the franchise certain recognizable stability, something that isn’t reflected in the creature designs.