Generation 5 is, for my money, the best generation of Pokémon in the franchise. Though many prefer the competitive landscape of Generation IV, or the Nostalgic factor of Generation 1 and 2, Gen 5 had everything that would constitute a soft reboot, new region, new mechanics, new visual style, darker thematic elements and most importantly, new Pokémon designs.
But not just a small amount, the whole Pokedex was brand new in Gen 5, reflecting the unique landscape of the Unova region being based off New York over Japan. This Generation introduced over 150 new Pokémon into the game, many of which get a bad rap for being poorly designed. While we will get to some of the weaker designs next time, for my money Gen 5 has some of the more imaginative designs in the series.
So let’s highlight the six best designed Pokemon from Generation 5.
As always, some rules before we continue. First, no legendary Pokemon will be featured on this list. Second, only one Pokemon per evolutionary line will be showcased. Finally, the list will combine design aesthetics, competitive viability and overall impact as part of the criteria of their design.
Right off the bat, a bald eagle Pokémon is a winning design idea, and with the Unova region representing New York, it is only fitting that a Pokémon like Braviary joins the roster. Featured prominently in the Black and White Adventure manga series, Braviary was the signature Pokémon for the protagonist Black, and become one of the most popular Pokémon in the series due to its loyal nature and powerful presence.
Though only a standard Normal/Flying type, caught in a sea of Normal/Flying types such as Dodrio, Noctowl, Staraptor and others, Braviary has a few things going for it that give it an edge in terms of its overall design. The color-scheme is purposefully invoking the flag of the United States, while retaining its signature ‘bald head’ with feathery visual flairs. Its head closely resembles a Native American war bonnet, further hinting at its American-heavy design. This makes Braviary feel bold and powerful when compared to its counterparts, a fierce Pokemon that is fitting for it's environment.
All of this makes Braviary an imposing Pokémon, one that matches it general statistics. Sporting a massive 100 HP and 123 attack, Braviary hits hard and can soak up some hits in return, despite a 75/75 Defense and Special Defense and only 80 Speed. While it’s typing is not special, physical moves such as Brave Bird, U-Turn, Superpower and Rock Slide give it great coverage. Utility choices such as Tailwind, Defog and Laser Focus give it some versatility as well, providing options if players don’t want to simply focus on pure attacking. Finally, the ability Defiant, which increases its attack by two stages when another stat is lowered, gave it power that could rip holes through a team unprepared for it.
What helps with Cofagrigus in terms of its design is how eye-catching it is; not just with the Egyptian theme but also the combination of its wicked grin and gangly arms. Based on an Egyptian sarcophagus, with the same stereotypical headdress as famous Egyptian ruler Tutankhamen, Cofragigus just oozes personality from a visual standpoint. It looks menacing, mysterious, and possibly has sinister intent, with its shadowing appendages seeping out of its golden cocoon to wreak havoc on unsuspecting prey.
What helps sell the Egyptian gimmick is Cofagrigus’ signature ability, Mummy. Another reference to its Egyptian lore, Mummy changes a Pokémon’s ability to Mummy if it touches Cofagrigus, which includes attacking and being attacked by it. Mummy can be a crippling ability, as contact moves such include a ton of popular moves, such as U-turn, Sucker Punch, Mach Punch, Night Slash and even some Special moves like Infestation and Grass Knot. The loss of an ability can cripple some Pokémon, which give Cofagrigus a massive defensive edge against most opponents.
Cofagrigius is used as a defensive wall, thanks to it’s 145/105 Defense and Special Defense. Though it’s HP is low at 58, Cofagrigius also sports a 95 Special Attack, and tons of options to harass and wall opponents thanks to its pure Ghost typing. Unique options include Toxic Spikes, Ally Switch, After You, Skill Swap and Role Play, in conjunction with Trick Room, Will O Wisp, Dark Pulse, Hex and Shadow Ball. Cofragrigus has a ton of options at its disposal, and enough bulk to really hold its own against major threats. Not bad for an evil sarcophagus.
Cryogonal often gets a bad rap, as it is sometimes lumped in as one of the worst designed Pokémon in Black and White. Though it does sport a simple design compared to some of the roster in the game, it is far from being overly boring. Essentially a giant snowflake with a wicked face, Cryogonal has a lot of elements in its design that let it stand apart beyond that simple description above.
For one, the design is based off snowflakes and ice crystals, part of Cryogonal’s lore is trapping prey in its ice crystals, a direct reference to Jötunn, giants in Nordic mythology made of ice who used ice crystals to eat their prey. Cryogonal’s maligned presence is added by its ice crystal chain, which represents its ‘mouth’ along with the shifting energy of its eyes beyond its ice-covered shell. Cryogonal is almost ghost-like in its appearance this way, giving it a sinister edge to it.
Cryogonal also has another reference in its design, one being based off a mirror. This is seen in some of its competitive abilities as well, considering it is as fragile as glass. It’s largest flaw is a now base 50 Defense, buffed from its original 30 base stat total, which coupled as an Ice-type give it a ton of weaknesses to contend with. Cryogonal, however, has excellent special defense at 135, with 95 Special attack and 105 Speed. It also sports a small but powerful movepool that includes tons of attacking and even defensive options, such as Rapid Spin, Haze, Defog, Icy Wind, Freeze Dry and Flash Cannon. Along with Recover, Acid Armor, Reflect and Light Screen, Cryogonal lackluster defense can be patched up for longevity and utility, giving it a few possible options despite a crippling weakness.
Though it is a bit off-beat, the simple yet malevolent design helps it stand apart amongst the other simple designs of Black and White help Cryogonal stand out. Couple this with its odd movepool and stat distributions, Cryogonal offers a bit of unique play in competitive formats as an offensive and defensive pivot, mostly thanks to Rapid Spin. With the right amount of skill and team chemistry, Cryogonal can be a difficult opponent to play against, a very attractive trait for a Pokémon if played correctly. in competitive formats.
Probably most famous as one of Ash’s signature monsters in the Black and White Anime, Krookodile is a winning design on multiple levels. The anime gave it tons of flair thanks to its signature red-trimmed glasses and carefree, can-do attitude. It also helps that it was one of the few fully evolved Pokémon on Ash’s team, which gave it a ton of power and presence when it came to the anime’s battling.
As with most Black and White Pokémon, Krookodile's design gives off a bit of a menacing presence. It's color scheme is perfectly eye-catching, with its maroon-colored body and thick black stripes across its back and eyes. Its dark, beady eyes are a reference to the spectacled caiman, the common crocodile found in South America, while visually it represents a Mecistops, or slender-snouted crocodile of West Africa.
Where Krookodile shines is its battle prowess. A physical threat thanks to it’s dual Dark/Ground typing, powerful abilities in Intimidate, Moxie and Anger Point, and physical movepool. Though its general stats were balanced, with base 117 Attack and 92 speed being the two standouts, access to STAB Earthquake, Crunch, Foul Play, and Stomping Tantrum complimented coverage such as Outrage, Power Trip, Aqua Tail, Low Kick and Stone Edge. It has enough tools to be a potent threat if left unchecked, especially in conjunction with its abilities that grant it pure offensive or defensive movesets.
Bug-types always have great designs, even though they are not always great Pokémon competitively. Generation 5, however, bucked the trend by offering a late-level evolution for the Bug/Fire-type Larvesta. Evolving at level 59, marking it the longest single stage evolution in the entire franchise from level 1, the results are arguably the best design of Black and White, the orange winged monstrosity known as Volcarona.
Visually, Volcarona has a lot of complexity to its design that thankfully doesn’t go over the top with visual flair. It’s white, furry body compliments its orange wings, further accentuated by its sky blue and grey caterpillar body. Likely based on an Atlas Moth, Volcarona also has a ton of visual references from mythology, most of them relating to various sun gods and goddesses. One of the more prominent theories depicts it as a Seraph, or “burning one,” a six-winged angel often associated with the fire of the sun.
Visually, Volcarona is striking and gorgeous. Competitively, it is a heavy hitter and arguably one of the best bug-types in the game. Part of this comes from its coverage, with Bug/Fire being an offensive powerhouse. Access to the move Quiver Dance, which boosts its already meaty 135 Special Attack, 105 Special Defense, and 100 Speed, turns Volcarona into a fast, powerful sweeper. Moves such as its signature Firey Dance, Fire Blast, Flamethrower, Bug Buzz, and Hurricane can destroy unsuspecting opponents with relative ease. Heat Wave, Overheat, Solar Beam and Psychic give it some other options, while Roost or Morning Sun keep it healthy. Volcarona is predictable as a Pokémon thanks to Quiver Dance, but it plays to its strengths well as a fantastic sweeper.
The de-facto mascot of Generation 5, Zoroark was first introduced to players the same way fan favorite Lucario was, through a Pokémon movie. Like much of Black and White, the Zoroark movie was noticeably darker in tone than the rest of the franchise, with its titular Pokémon giving off a mischievous impression in the process. This trend continues in Black and White proper, where it is almost impossible to access Zoroark and its pre-evolved form, Zorua, due to it being event exclusive until Pokémon Black 2 and White 2.
Zoroark is also simple in its design, but like many Pokémon in Black and White, has a sinister edge to it thanks to its visual aesthetics. It’s black and red color scheme, skinny body and foxlike features gave it a dark yet playful presence. Based on the Japanese Kitsune, Zororark’s signature ability, Illusion, is where it really shines. Illusion allows Zoroark to visually look like the Pokémon in 6th team slot when first entering the field. If Zoroark is touched, the illusion breaks, but otherwise Zorark has access to all its stats and moves, unlike transform, which allow it to hit opponents with its massive Attack and Special Attack.
Though Illusion is only a visual change, it plays into the trickster nature of Zoroark, who can mask its strengths against unsuspecting players. It works best as a glass cannon, thanks to its mixed attacking stats and base 105 speed. A pure Dark-type, Zoroark has access to a signature move in Night Daze, a special move that has a 40% chance of lowering the opponent’s accuracy. Night Slash, U-Turn, Low Kick, Knock Off, Flamethrower, Shadow Ball and Snarl help round out its attacking stats even further. While utility moves such as Trick, Memento, Snatch and Imprison give it other options, though Zoroark truly shines when attacking.
And there you have it, the six best Pokémon designs in Generation 5. Black and White was a unique generation that players either love or hate, but we cannot deny that Generation 5 had some standout Pokémon and designs, like the ones above. Of course, what folks focus on the most are the weaker designs of Black and White, and we will talk about them next time.
Until then, see you next time and stay hungry, Pokemaniacs.
I know it's been a while, but I plan on finishing out this series in time before Generation 8 really kicks into gear. Black and White I feel does have legitimately some of the best designs in the game, and limiting to six was pretty difficult. Which would you pick though? Let us know in the comments below.