Well, whenever there is something good, there is always something bad to go with it, and the overall designs of Pokemon are no exception. The Generation 1 games are often hailed as being iconic for introducing the Pokémon franchise to the world. As such, the most memorable Pokémon in the series are often cited to be from Pokémon Red and Blue, but even the most die-hard fan of Pokémon has to admit that the designs of some of the original 151 are not up to par with the rest of the series.
This article is one in a series we're calling the Year of Pokemon, which celebrates the beloved pocket monsters and their many games.
Part of what shields Generation 1 is a rose-colored view of the franchise. It was an innocent time then, where the rumors regarding hidden Mews under trucks and the glitch-ridden Missingno being a hidden Pokémon really captured the attention of the games' audience. Now, over twenty years later, I think it is safe to say that not all of the Pokémon from Gen 1 are well-designed, and today were going to list some of the worst offenders of the bunch.
As with the previous list, some ground rules before we begin. First, no legendary Pokémon will be featured here. Second, only one Pokémon per evolutionary line will be mentioned. Finally, the list will combine design aesthetics, competitive viability, and overall impact as part of the criteria of their design.
With this all out of the way, here are six of the worst designed Pokémon of Generation 1, in alphabetical order.
Generation 1 was the generation of threes when it came to Pokémon design. We had Dodrio, the three-headed bird; Magneton, which was three Magnemites slapped togethet; and of course, Dugtrio, which is essentially three Digletts at once. All three of these Pokémon are on the lower end of the best design criteria, but Dugtrio really takes the cake for being the most generic in the end.
Part of the problem is the joke of what Dugtrio represents. It is a mole pokemon designed to look like a Whac-A-Mole carnival game. On paper it sounds clever, but in overall aesthetic it is horribly generic. The faces of Dodrio are all at least distinct as the games progressed, and Magneton, while still generic in its own right, at least looks interesting and has a more unique evolution in Magnezone introduced in Generation 4. Dugtrio is just three Diglett heads, slightly bigger, with no real change to their design.
Now to give it some credit, the Alolan-Dugtrio is an underrated variant. The Pele hair has been a reference to volcanic glass, usually formed near Hawaiian Volcanoes, and at least all three heads now have a distinct hair-design on top of their heads, offering up some diversity between the trio despite looking extremely goofy. That all said, even the Alolan-form is lacking a sort of presence that makes it stand out compared to other forms, especially the better designed ones of Marowak, Ninetails and Golem.
Dugtrio is also odd in a competitive sense. Its high speed is prized, but it has a paltry 35 in its HP stat, meaning its overall HP is the lowest out of all fully-evolved Pokémon in the game bar the 1 HP of Shedinja. Dugtrio also didn’t gain an offensive presence until a 20 point stat-boost to its attack, and while it has a plethora of Ground, Dark, Steel and Rock type moves at its disposal, it doesn’t have the staying power to really be an effective fighter in most battles. Dugtrio’s major saving grace is the rare Arena Trap ability, which traps the opponent's Pokémon in battle. In certain situations this makes it a viable Pokémon to pick off weakened or Pokémon it has a type advantage over, but other than this, Dugtrio is incredibly hard to use in competitive doubles or singles competition.
Exeggutor is another Pokemon that can arguably fit into the “trio” category of Dugtrio, but falls off the mark due to different factors. First, it came from a fairly weak design in Exeggcute, which was a pile of pink eggs with faces and psychic powers. The coconut heads of course do it no favors, although that aspect of the design may be based on Japanese folklore, specifically a creature known as a Jinmenju, or “human face tree.” While this is admittedly a cool concept, part of the problem is the overall look of Exeggutor; its squat, rotund design is dominated by its three heads and thick hair of palm leaves, and outside of the coconut heads, it has little else going for it in terms of design other than being an armless tree.
It certainly is faithful to coconut trees for sure, but it does come across as very boiler-plate compared to the other designs found in the game. It lacks a cool factor, and in many cases lacks a lot of the respect other Pokémon get in outside media, especially the anime where it is sparingly used now a days as a one off visual joke due to its Alolan form. Exeggutor’s problem is different than all of the Pokémon on this list, in that it’s just simply boring in both concept and execution, leading it to be, at least visually, an underwhelming Pokémon.
Competitively, Exeggutor shines however. Generation 1 is arguably its zenith point, being one of the few Psychic types with the power to abuse their special stats against the opponent. Over the years, Exeggutor has sadly grown increasingly outclassed, mostly due to its Grass/Psychic-typing becoming defensively problematic. Its speed stat is also an issue, but often Exeggutor can make up for the lower speeds with sustainability through the Harvest ability. It is also a potent threat if unchecked in the Sun, and shines in double battles due to its support movepool as well, giving the coconut tree some options outside of a simple special attacker.
Exeggutor certainly has its fans in the end, including the likes of current Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara, and out of all the Pokémon on this list, it is perhaps the most arguable that it shouldn’t be here. At the end of the day though, the problem is Exeggutor has struggled since its inception to be taken seriously. It is again a Pokémon that has few cool aspects to it, failing to stand out in a positive way among the rest of the Pokedex.
One of the first “human-shaped” Pokémon (so much so that’s its official Pokedex description) Jynx is a poor Pokémon design on several levels. First, we should address the elephant in the room; the original incarnation of Jynx, complete with black-skin, was accused of being a racial stereotype of minstrel black-face when Pokémon first came to the United States. The controversy really took off when Jynx made its anime debut in December of 1999, leading to a quick backlash that saw Nintendo quickly revise the design of the Pokémon with purple skin by the release of Pokémon Gold and Silver.
The accusation was certainly not unfounded, as the bleached blonde hair and ruby-red lips and dress didn’t do any favors for Jynx when it came to adding fuel to the fire. Of course, the truth is much more complex. No official statement regarding Jynx’s design has been given, but fan speculation has offered several theories, from her being based on the mountain witch of Yama-Uba, a Japanese Yokai; the Nordic Goddess Hel, who is often depicted as half black and white while ruling the icy realm of Niflheim; to even being a “Fat Lady” stereotype from Operas. Perhaps the most credible theory goes to the mid-1990s Japanese fashion trend of ganguro, where Japanese women would dye their hair bleach blonde, deeply tan their skin, and wear high amounts of makeup to accentuate their features.
The ganguro trend was an attempt to rebel at traditional Japanese tastes regarding beauty and even created extreme spin-off styles, including one based on Yama-Uba named yamanba that are still practiced today. In the end, we will never know what Jynx was officially based on, but it is clear that, at least culturally, its history as a design has not been without controversy.
This, however, doesn’t make it necessarily good either; as a design Jynx is defined mostly by the accusations and the speculation behind her appearance. Unfortunately, Jynx as Pokémon is not really noteworthy. It suffers a problem that most human-like Pokémon will have (especially future entries) in that it tries to do too much with the design at once, becoming too human-like in the process. Jynx is easy to cosplay and re-create in the real world, and while this seems like an odd criticism, when it comes to Pokémon, the fact that it is so close to being humanized, it just stands out as being weird instead of unique.
Its typing also does it no favors, being a Psychic/Ice type with great special potential but a paltry 35 defense. Ice-types in general are tricky because they are one of the weakest types defensively, yet offensively a potent threat due to its coverage. In Generation 1, Jynx was essentially an alternate choice over Alakazam, arguably the most powerful non-legendary Pokémon in the first game, because of its bonuses to using Blizzard and Ice Beam in conjunction with Psychic. Since then its typing and lack of a defensive presence has been overshadowed, leading it to be a forgotten Pokémon competitively.
Another human-shape Pokémon with the same problem as Jynx, Mr. Mime is arguably worse in the end because its overall design is simply pitiful in terms of aesthetics. The concept is primarily based on clowns and mimes, right down to its bad name and goofy pantomiming animations in the latter games.
Mr. Mime epitomizes a lot of the negative stereotypes we see of bad Pokémon design: poor shape and form, mediocre color scheme, thematically odd, and overall just unpleasant to look at. Mr. Mime is a Pokémon no one takes seriously either because of this design, and even outside media have taken that stance with it, including the use of Mr. Mime as the housekeeper for Ash’s mom in the Pokémon anime vs seeing it in many competitive battles.
Part of that is mostly due to Mr. Mime being a full blown “gimmick” Pokémon with its moveset. Each generation has a few Pokémon designed with a gimmick in mind; some of them work out well in terms of design and overall competitiveness, others however fail miserably. For Mr. Mime, the gimmick was the use of Reflect and Barrier to shore up defenses, as well being the only Pokémon to learn Substitute in Generation one. Combine this with psychic attacks, and in theory you have an unstoppable wall.
Competitively, this strategy rarely worked. Mr. Mime was a very rare Pokémon in the first generation, only being obtained via an in-game trade. It was a poor man’s Alakazam in most respects, but with a low HP stat at 40 and a base 90 speed that, while good, is not great in terms of competitive viability. The gimmick of hiding behind Substitute and Barrier often took too long to set up, and the raw power of an Alakazam, Machamp, Golem, or even a Persian would decimate Mr. Mime relatively quickly. Substitute is also tricky when it comes to HP use, and on low HP Pokémon like Mr. Mime, getting it at the right number to have maximum effectiveness is incredibly difficult.
The addition of the Fairy-type in Generation 6 saw Mr. Mime gain a few more defensive buffs, and its three abilities in Soundproof, Filter, and Technician are great utility tools, but that low HP stat often puts it at a severe disadvantage, and its mediocre defense is not high enough for long-term sustainability. Mr. Mime makes a good doubles partner thanks to Quick and Wide Guard, Role Play, Trick Room and Psychic Terrain, but it is often overshadowed by better doubles Pokémon, leaving it to be another forgotten battler with limited potential.
Raticate’s pre-evolution Rattata starts a trend that only really deviates for a few generations of being the “early game Normal-type” found in the games. Most of the time, these Normal Types present pretty basic, but functional designs that offer an early-game capture that can either be abandoned quickly for better Pokémon or raised to try your luck with down the line of the game. Raticate kicks off a second trend, however, where the majority of these Normal-types often have terrible designs upon evolving, transforming them from basic and forgettable to downright ugly designs in the process.
Raticate fits the ugly design category easily. Clearly based on rats, mice, and a guinea pig, with some speculating it being based on a large South American rodent known as the Coypu. Part of this comes from oversized rat teeth and short, chubby body that has always been Raticate's trademark, the Coypu often has the same features, although is length-wise longer than a Raticate. However, the Coypu, despite its oversized teeth and rat-like appearance, is somewhat eye-catching, whereas Raticate is a monstrous eye-sore.
Raticate is also another trend-setter by being an early game Normal-type without much competitive viability. With a low base stat total and none of its stats hitting 100 (the highest is a 97 in Speed), Raticate has very little it can do when it comes to competitive play. Its best weapon is the move Super Fang, a signature move until Generation 4 that halved the HP of the opponent if it hits. Super Fang is a “tank busting move” as it bypasses defenses and always takes out half of the opponent's health, but this is all Raticate can really do consistently. It’s ironic that its unevolved form, Rattata, is often used more as part of a very specific strategy among competitive battlers known as the F.E.A.R strategy, which is named after Rattata.
The F.E.A.R strategy has you use Ratatta with the moves Endeavor, Quick Attack, and the Focus Sash item, which allows you to survive an One-Hit Knockout (OHKO). The idea is to take a level 1 Rattata with 12 HP and simply use the move Endeavor, which matches the opponents HP to yours, to knock down an opponent’s health while using Quick Attack to finish them off the next turn. This, in turn, would provide at least one to two easy knockouts for the player in a three-Pokémon match.
So yes, you read this right, Rattata has more competitive viability than its evolved form. Of course, F.E.A.R today involves multiple unevolved Pokémon with various abilities, items, and even some variants to primary moveset to make them viable, but the goal is ultimately the same: to score a surprise knock-out with what seems to be a minor threat. The difference between most F.E.A.R users and Raticate, however, is their evolved forms are actually viable in other respects. This is not the case for Raticate, leaving it in the dust like many other poorly designed Pokémon.
Tangela is an odd Pokémon when it comes to design and viability. Much like Scyther, Electabuzz, and other Pokémon from the first generation, Tangela was a single-stage Pokémon with no evolution that was compensated with slightly higher stats than normal. Its primary design is a bundle of vines hiding its face, with the vines a reference to the Greek monster Medusa.
It is not a boring design in and of itself, but it is an aesthetic with little thought put into it. What you have essentially is a faceless, big-eyed, red-boots wearing blob of vines that is only three feet tall. Generation 1 has several Pokemon that are underwhelming in this way; the Voltorb line always comes to mind in most fans, but the use of Voltorb as camouflage to surprise trainers, and being a living bomb, is at least somewhat clever, giving the game world character. Tangela just sits there; found only in a singular patch of grass and often overshadowed due to it being a pure grass type.
Tangela is simply design that doesn’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of the Pokémon world, something that begins to plague the future generations. It also doesn’t help much that Tangela was a mediocre battler due to a poor movepool in the early days. Primarily a defensive tank, Tangela’s weaknesses plague its viability, despite having an incredibly high Defense and Special Attack. Its Special Defense, however, weighs it down further from potent Fire and Ice-types, and while it has some value as a physical tank thanks to Eviolite and the Regenerator ability in Little Cup formats, its evolution in Tangrowth offers a beefier tank, and I would argue a better design, to the table in the end.
And there you have it. Not every Pokémon has a winning design, but someone must be named the worst in end, so here is my short list.
Next time, though, we go from Generation 1 to Generation 2, and start with the best designed Pokémon coming out of Gold and Silver. Who will make the list there? You will have to find out next time.
Until then, what are your thoughts on the choices here? Are these the worst-designed Pokémon of this Generation? Leave your comments below.
All stat blocks are courtesy of Bulbapedia.