Since the release of Pokemon Red & Blue in 1996, Game Freak have followed the philosophy that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They found a winning formula of catching, evolving, and battling a weird and wonderful variety of critters and have more or less stuck with it ever since. That's not to knock the games in the slightest. Many titles down the years have stood the test of time as influential, classic games. However, there have been some slight deviations from the norm. Pokemon Black and White released 10 years ago on Sept. 18 in Japan, and GameFreak decided to do something a little differently.
Previous generations—after the first, obviously—featured a mix of new and familiar Pokemon that you could catch during your adventure. However, Black & White gave players an entirely new roster of Pokemon to choose from. You could only access your favorites from previous games after completing the main story.
I think it's fair to say you’re always going to disappoint some fans who hope their go-to critters are in the games from the start. The recent furor over "Dexit" in Pokemon Sword & Shield has proven that. Still, this approach definitely paid off in Black & White. It wasn't anything groundbreaking, but it was enough to build a decent amount of hype among players and critics alike. That generation’s additions have given us some of the series’ best-loved and most striking designs so far. It’s actually my favorite generation since Red & Blue for its Pokemon designs.
In honor of Black & White’s release 10 years ago, here are my 10 favorite Pokemon from that generation in ‘dex order. You’ll notice there are no starters or legendaries. Maybe that'll be a little controversial. Considering my love for Black & White, I didn’t think the starters or legendaries were much to write home about. I’m sure some of you will disagree, so feel free to let us know your choices in the comments below.
Possibly a slightly surprising one to start with but one of my all-time favorites nonetheless. You don't usually get such a cool Pokemon this early on in the game, but Stoutland is a definite exception. You encounter the Yorkshire Terrier-based Lillipup on Route 1, which evolves into Herdier at level 16 and Stoutland at level 32. The Raticates and Bibarels of this world can't hold a candle to this intimidating hound. Stoutland holds a special place in my heart as the first shiny Pokemon I ever caught (not including the guaranteed shiny Gyarados at the Lake of Rage in Pokemon Gold). I didn't even know what shinies were when he popped up on my screen with a twinkle. RIP to that shiny Stoutland—he eventually got deleted when my little sister overwrote my save game about a decade ago. Forever in our hearts.
Another solid addition to the early game, you meet Blitzle on Route 7. It evolves into Zebstrika at level 27. Yep, I know, the anally retentive among us are cringing right now. Why 27? Anyway, this gives players access to a decent electric type 'mon fairly early on in the game. Zebstrika lets you breeze past the flying type Gym Leader Skyla in Mistralton City without a backwards glance. It's also notable for (I think?) the only zebra-based Pokémon in existence.
Now we're getting to the heavy hitters. Excadrill paired a fearsome appearance with a great dual Steel/Ground typing and excellent stats. I'll be honest, when I first played Black, I didn't care about the meta game whatsoever. I just thought this metal mole guy looked pretty strong. I was right, but appearances are often deceiving when it comes to Pokemon PVP. What really made Excadrill tick was its beastly 135 Attack stat and Mold Breaker or Sand Force ability. It's been a force to be reckoned with in the meta game ever since its introduction in Black & White.
I love the bold simplicity of Krookodile. If you look at beloved Gen 1 Pokemon compared to later generations, I often think Game Freak have an increasing tendency to overcomplicate things. Classics like Charizard, Machamp, and Gengar were deceptively simple designs but very memorable all the same. That's why I love Krookodile's style. Other things that made it great were the unique Dark/Ground typing and similarity to Baryonyx, the very cool fish-eating dinosaur.
Now we're talking. Darmanitan has to be one of my favorite Pokemon ever. Another simple but very striking design that knocks it out of the park. Darmanitan is a mix of a daruma doll, modelled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, and a fiery gorilla. Decent. What really made it shine was the unique Zen Mode ability. If Zen Mode Darmanitan fell below half health at any point during a battle, it would transform into a Psychic/Fire stone statue with insane Defense, Special Defense, and Special Attack stats.
Darmanitan also got an interesting regional Ice form in Pokemon Sword & Shield that, despite not being in Black & White, deserves an honorable mention. Galarian Darmanitan has access to Gorilla Tactics, an insanely broken ability which effectively functions like a free Choice Band. A Galarian Darmanitan with Gorilla Tactics and a Choice Band has the highest possible Attack on the first turn of a battle. That's including any Pokemon ever in any game. Pretty big claim to fame!
Zoroark is another one of my absolute favorites. Wow, this generation is absolutely stacked! Again, a simple but memorable design that sticks in the mind. Zoroark evolves from the adorable Zorua at level 30. Based on Kitsune, the shape-shifting fox of Japanese folklore, Zoroark has the interesting and totally unique signature ability: Illusion. This allows it to take on the form of another Pokemon in your party when you send it out to battle. Zoroark is also unique, alongside Zorua, as the only non-Mythical Pokemon to be available exclusively through events.
7. Escavalier & Accelgor
OK, I cheated a little bit with this one. I was going to pick Escavalier but couldn't justify leaving out Accelgor, given their unique and symbiotic relationship. In order to evolve these two from Karrablast and Shelmet, they need to be traded with each other. Karrablast takes Shelmet's armor to make Escavalier, and Shelmet, divested of its shell, evolves into the lightning fast Accelgor. It's fairly unusual to have cool bug Pokemon, so to have three in a generation, including one further down this list, is exciting. Special mention to Escavalier for the exemplary word play, combining escargot (French for snail), Excalibur (from Arthurian legend), and chevalier (French for knight). It's also an incredibly satisfying word to say, up there with "cellar door." Try it: Escavalier. Rolls off the tongue, right?
In the Pokemon of the Year poll held by the Pokemon Company in 2020, Chandelure was voted the most popular Generation V Pokémon, receiving 50,943 votes. That speaks to its immense popularity amongst fans. It's a tough field to beat as well! Chandelure wins acclaim for its gorgeous design, cool Ghost/Fire typing, and frankly staggering 145 base Special Attack.
Haxorus is another fan favorite and heavy hitter in the meta game. Its brutishly stylish design is only slightly offset by its unusual color scheme. Muddy yellow was an... interesting choice for a Pokemon this cool. Luckily, the shiny form of Haxorus swaps yellow for black, making it one of the coolest shinies in the game and a must-have for shiny hunters. Its ludicrously high 147 base Attack could be boosted by Swords Dance, turning Haxorus into a meta game wall-breaker par excellence.
Well, all good things must come to an end, and we've gotten to the last stop on the list. Still, what a Pokemon to end it with! Like many other players, I thought this was a Legendary Pokémon when I encountered it first. After defeating Ghetsis and Team Plasma at N's Castle and then fighting through a bunch of Team Plasma grunts in Relic Castle, Volcarona was your reward at the end of the maze. There was only one and it appeared, like most Legendaries, in the overworld to interact with. All of these factors have cemented its status as an unofficial "pseudo-pseudo-Legendary." Its unusual Bug/Fire typing, amazing stats, and access to the frankly broken Quiver Dance move made Volcarona an instant hit with fans.
So, that's your lot! Did you disagree with any of my picks? Let us know in the comments.