Pokemon Scarlet & Violet’s Mecha-Evolutions Don’t Feel Like Pokemon

When I first saw Miraidon, I thought it looked terrible. A robot dragon? That’s some Digimon shit, Yu-Gi-Oh! even. I want Rayquaza and Haxorus, not Dragonroid and fucking Panzer Dragon. But, the longer I stared at Miraidon, looked into its eyes and appreciated its mechanical neon wheel of a chest, the more the design grew on me. Learning that it’s probably an Electric-type probably helped, too, seeing as the likes of Jolteon, Raikou, and Dracozolt are some of my favourite monsters in the series.

I had the same reaction when I saw Mecha-Donphan. Now I’m not much of a Don-fan (despite being in the top percentile of Fan-py), but its ancient tusked mammoth form was initially more impressive. More Pokemon. I’ve already talked about how Armarouge and Ceruledge deserve their own, fighting-based spin-off game, and I think that’s in part because they don’t feel like they fit in a traditional Pokemon world. But they both have excellent designs and would easily find a place on my team if I could only catch both in one game. So why don’t they feel right?

Pokemon has never really done robots. Porygon is a computer program, sure, and Armoured Mewtwo from Mewtwo Strikes Back has made its way into Go, but the only monster that comes close is Metagross (Rotom’s, um, an appliance, which is totally different). But because Metagross doesn’t look like a real animal, it doesn’t feel like a robot, it’s just its own thing. It’s Metagross. Miraidon, however, has a natural, prehistoric counterpart in Koraidon. As does this Mecha-Donphan in Proto-Donphan and regular, Johtonian Donphan. I’m copyrighting those names, by the way.

Mecha-Donphan has a segmented steel trunk and an LED screen for a face. It’s a bit goofy, but I’m already warming to it a little. In doing so, though, I’m having to let go of my preconceptions about what a Pokemon should be.

I, and many other Pokemon fans, have long said the series needs to innovate. Sword & Shield felt like it took too small a step with the Wild Area, but the DLC felt like real innovation and lifted Gen 8 to solid games in my mind. I acknowledge that I like them more than many fans, but still find myself cynical about the direction that Scarlet & Violet seem to be taking. We’re getting an open world, sure, but it still looks bland and behind the times. Terastallising looks broken from a competitive standpoint. Where’s the voice acting? Now we’re getting robot forms?

I’m still going into Gen 9 with a healthy dose of scepticism, but the past and future idea is a good one. Differentiating the two partner games by more than just a few exclusive monsters is really clever, and adding different forms of the same Pokemon doubles down on that concept. When you look at the big picture, a silly LED face on Mecha-Donphan still isn’t the greatest execution of the idea, but a whole future’s worth of robot Pokemon invading Violet’s version of Paldea is very exciting.

After all, what is Scizor if not the original Mecha-Scyther? I just accepted that evolution when I was a kid because I was looking at it with optimism only a child can muster. The iconic bug got its Proto-evolution in Legends: Arceus’ Kleavor, too. Was that a hint of what’s to come? Or just another Pokemon game set in the past, as Scarlet likely will be? Either way, there’s precedent to these past and future forms, precedent that we previously just accepted. Perhaps we’ll get a regular Pokemon that fits between Kabutops (the Proto-form) and Genesect (the Mecha-form)?

Maybe I’m jaded, maybe modern Pokemon games just don’t do it for me, and maybe my memories are tainted by nostalgia. But Pokemon Violet’s future monsters, its Mecha-evolutions are innovative and iterative in the way we’ve asked Pokemon to do for so long. They’re more than a gimmick (that job goes to Terastallising), and will likely feature as a key part of the story. Even if the designs we’ve seen don’t feel like Pokemon right now, in five or ten years we might look back on this moment like we do now with the advent of regional forms. We accept them as a core part of the series and would be upset if Paldean forms didn’t feature in Gen 9. Thankfully Wooper has put our hearts at ease in that case, but Scarlet & Violet are already doing the most.

As well as Paldean forms’ divergent evolution, Wiglett is adding a divergent evolution gimmick to the region’s monsters. Add to that the Terastal phenomenon and Proto- and Mecha-evolutions, and there’s a lot more going on than just a bland open world and Far Cry-esque outposts. Pokemon might finally be innovating and trying new things. I just hope some of the other Mecha-evolutions look better than the LED elephant.

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