Squirtle Squad, rise up! He’s not mono-color like the other two Kanto starting Pokémon, but I that just helps to break his design up a bit visually. He’s round and has a shell and a heavy tail, which suggests that he’s a more resilient tyke, but unlike Bulbasaur he’s bipedal, so he’s not relegated to being as slow-and-tanky in our mind despite turtles being naturally slow creatures (and he’s not a turtle, anyway! He’s got land-limbs, which makes him a tortoise! Augh!). The look is a lot more balanced in the end. Very round, very shiny, very friendly. Gotta love this lil’ guy.
Again, a pubescent version of the kid Squirtle, but with some interesting changes! He’s got claws now, a toothy smirk, and those angry-eyes – and a darkly cute meanie-blush on his cheeks. Aww! That teardrop-tail with a little wave pattern in it from the Squirtle days has become a full-on white wave in the tail, and there’s some sort of matching wing-ear thing going on that vaguely calls out to a Koopa Troopa. You’d think that this line of thought would continue on and you’d get a swifter turtle for its final stage, maybe inspired by The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Well…
Nope! It’s another tank-y Pokémon, with twin cannons to complete the metaphor! He is satisfyingly heavy-looking, though, with a hard shell and thick limbs, though again we’re going with the hollowed-out mammal-ish ears on an amphibious Pokémon? C’mon! Still, there’s no getting over how much this guy looks like an implacable force – how many other Pokémon need that backwards-facing toe to help support their sheer girth?
The Squirtle line is strong against the first gym in the game and stays strong pretty much throughout the game; its typing is more straightforward than Charizard and Venusaur, so it’s a more to-the-point Pokémon. Not exactly the strongest thing in the game, mind, but as its form suggests, it’s hefty enough to make a strong anchor that will help pull a lot of players through a lot of tough spots.
As one of the Kanto starting Pokémon, the Squirtle line gets a lot of spotlight in marketing materials and across other media. The sunglasses-sporting Squirtle Squad is a pretty widespread image (one halfway between “cool” and “trying-too-hard silly”), and Blastoise overall seems to be one of the go-to Pokémon when they need a chunkier Pokémon to make a spread look more powerful and menacing. He’s certainly one of the more recognizable ones to non-fans!
Squirtle and Wartortle have a bit of mythology to their design – but not the obvious kappa, which we’ll get to in due time. They’re based on the minogame, a turtle which lives a supernaturally long life and gained a tail made of seaweed – backed up by the Pokédex’s mention of Wartortle’s shells accruing algae and their tails lengthening over their thousand-year lifespan, albeit they also note the tail to be furry for some reason? Maybe the mammalian ears on Blastoise aren’t that far off. Their wave-inspired tails certainly play the part of a vaguely mythological look, but then Blastoise goes and sports a more traditional tortoise-y look? It’s an odd choice, but the three share a more coherent body build than the Charmander line, which does give the Squirtle line a bit better visual continuity (if not strictly a thematic one).
Blastoise’s two canons are actually based on an actual function of shelled sea-creatures – albeit mussels and shellfish, not tortoises or even turtles, but hey, they all have shells, so it counts. Real-life mussles’ tubes are more used like suction-y tongues for ingesting and spitting out food ‘n’ poop, but extrapolating this into water-cannons is an inspired pairing with the tank-y tortoise motif that Blastoise has going! (And which is made explicit in its French name, Tortank). It’s also worth noting that Blastoise is one of the few Pokémon to have an explicit weapon, let alone one modeled after a firearm, which makes him stand out a bit in these early designs.
Last note; Wartortle’s latest Pokédex entry suggests a certain physical tic: that when poked in the head, it withdraws into its shell, but can’t quite get its tail all the way back in. Poor fella; he’s just a little bit ineffective, in an endearing way.
That’s about it for this family; they have less of a coherent background, especially with Blastoise taking a bit of a left-turn as the final evolution. Still, he’s a great hefty monster, and it’s hard to say “no” to one of the Kanto starters. He’ll land with his peers in the Must-Have pile.
Any and all appreciation for Squirtle, Wartortle, and Blastoise is welcome in the comments!