Man, just look at that adorable face! His whole body is stout and strong and a pleasant green color, but with plenty of rounded edges on him that, while just a bit sharp, still make you just want to reach out and give him a big ol’ hug. I also love how he has emphasized scales (splotches?) that keep him from being plain smooth-and-green, plus that bulb on his back is a great jumping-off point for showcasing how Pokémon change and progress through evolution. This kid is a very strong thesis to start out with as Pokémon Numero Uno!
Ivysaur feels very much like a grown-up Bulbasaur, which is a pitch-perfect progression for our first line. He looks a bit leaner and meaner, what with his belly fully off the ground now, the claws and teeth are much more pronounced, and there’s even a bit of a saurian beak in there – plus, Angry Eyes! It even looks like it could stand up on its hind legs and pounce a little! The bulb is starting to flower and grow now; it’s a great middle-stage where we’re definitely going somewhere, but haven’t quite arrived there yet. I don’t know if I’m a fan of making the reptilian horn-bumps into explicit ears, but it works with the overall look!
Now we’re talkin’! This fella is very low and very wide, and that just screams “I play like a tank”. Which Venusaur does, at least compared to the other two Kanto starting Pokémon! There’s also has a pink-red splotched plant on its back, which works with the serrated leaves to evoke some pre-historic poisonous plant thing. The previous two evolutions didn’t hint much at their Poison typing, but he certainly does! It’s a very clear design, and you know exactly what’s up with Venusaur at a glance. He does make some thematic changes, like trading colored scales for toad-like bumps and more rounded, lazy eyes compared to Ivysaur’s sharp ones, but that just gives him more of a heavy-set vibe rather than the sharper one that a smaller body could pull off. Overall, this whole line has got a lot going for it visually!
It’s no slouch in the games, either! The Grass/Poison typing is either super-effective against or resists (or both!) the first five gym types (!) in Kanto, which is a huge boon to newer players! It also can take a hit like a champion and dips its reptilian claws into a lot of status-inducing and recovery moves, which will hopefully encourage players to branch out beyond the “attack-attack-attack” mentality as they get a hang of the game. He’s a pretty well-balanced fella all-around!
As to their presence in marketing… it’s Bulbasaur! He’s the first thing in the Pokédex, Venusaur has been on the game’s covers twice now, and he’s one of the first Pokémon you get introduced to in the first game! This evolutionary line gets used everywhere in advertisements and promotional art; maybe not quite to the extent of its peers Charizard or Blastoise, but this family overall are some of the most-recognizable monsters in the roster.
While there’s a whole range of fossil Pokémon that dabble in the space of Prehistoric-inspired monsters, none of them really quite look like Venusaur… and that might be because his design is such a weird mish-mash of frog parts, generic herbivore-dinosaur traits, and ancient plant life. Though it is very fun to think about the idea of a Pokémon inspired by plant-eaters having a plant growing on its own back, and being a Plant-type itself!
This might actually make some sort of sense, though – the plant on its back is based on Rafflesia, which isn’t poisonous, but it does smell nasty (unlike the Pokédex’s depiction of it as sweet-smelling). Rafflesia is also a parasite that ingests and incorporates genetic information from its host… so this entire time, the plant on Bulbasaur’s back has been merging with it, and by the final evolutionary stage, the plant has properly merged with the main body! Wild – especially since Bulbasaur was designed working backwards from Venusaur, so the parallel is definitely intentional! At least the Pokédex suggests that they have some sort of mutually-beneficial nutrient-sharing operation going on rather than the main body just suffering through things. In a fun twist, neither half of the monster here (Rafflesia and frogs) are particularly prehistoric, but all the flair and detail added to the design manage to clearly invoke that feel regardless.
One fun note that carries throughout the three Kanto staring Pokémon is that they’re all based on creatures that you would keep as pets in an aquarium – a frog (Bulbasaur), a lizard (Charmander), and a turtle (Squirtle). It creates a nice through-line and nudges players into the idea of thinking about their Pokémon with empathy, like pets!
Also of note, in a nice bit of payoff, Bulbasaur may or not be the main inspiration for the name of an actual genus of dinosaur. Nice!
It’s such a simple and elegant design that has more layers underneath it if you dig a bit into the research – the Bulbasaur-to-Venusaur progression is a proud representative of what all evolutionary lines hope to be! There may be other bulky grass-types, frogs, and dinosaurs in the Pokédex, but this one has a special place in the public’s heart; even if it wasn’t mega-visible due to its status as one of the Original Starters, the Bulbasaur line would still have a good case as a Must-Keep.
Any and all appreciation for Bulbasaur, Ivysaur, and Venusaur is welcome in the comments!