Sandshrew is such an adorable lil’ guy. Somewhere between a proper shrew, a pangolin, and an armadillo, with cute lil’ claws and big ol’ curious eyes and a curvy nose. He definitely looks like the pudgy kind of small mammal that you’d want around as a pet. I also really like that his scales are laid out in a brick pattern, which kind of evokes a pyramid or some other sort of stone structure – a good clue-in to the fact that this line is a bit defensive, especially with their “curl into a ball” shtick. He’s a good example of something that just looks like a burrowing animal without me having to tell you that his signature move is “Dig”, and also of something that deserves a nice pat on his lil’ head.
Sandslash is one of the grew-up-and-got-mean evolutions. He follows from the same design origin, but his tough hide is all spikey quills now and its limbs are longer – all the better to scratch you up with, my dear. But it doesn’t sacrifice the fact that his arms and claws definitely have a curve to them that suggests that his main hobby is still digging. He also evokes more of a porcupine vibe, which helps keep with the idea that he’s fairly defensive. I mean, he and his pre-evolution are pretty much the visual for Defense Curl. He’s just a fantastic amalgamation of all those little ground-based mammals with quills or scales instead of fur, which we as humans have a natural aversion to messing around with that makes Sandslash look naturally that much more like something you do not want to mess with. Still got those big dark eyes, though – gotta balance the menacing impression out with some cuteness.
Where vanilla Sandshrew evokes bricks or a pyramid, islander Sandshrew evokes an igloo. He kind of looks like he’s bundled up in a big, thick igloo-coat, which is a nice twist on the design, but he’s otherwise largely the same.
Alolan Sandslash also isn’t much of a change – his spines have turned into icicles, which are a pretty natural spin to take for an ice-flavored redesign, and his paws suggest that maybe he’s got a bit thicker fur to him. His claws are also hooked on the end now, which suggest that he uses them as some sort of ice-climber now rather than a digger. Having natural climbing hooks would explain why he’s bizarrely part Steel-type now, because that sure doesn’t show up anywhere else in his or Alolan Sandshrew’s design.
Sandslash is a very physical Pokémon with access to some pretty all right offensive and defensive options, albeit he crumples a bit to special attackers (many of which will carry things that he’s weak to in the first place). Still, he’s great at just tearing through common monsters in the campaign, and you get access to him pretty early, so he’s not a bad pick. The icy flavor is even bulkier, but has even more problems with weak points in spite of that. Kind of high-risk-high-reward, which is a bit counter-intuitive for something with the spirit of an armadillo.
Like most of the Kanto Pokémon, Sandshrew and Sandslash have shown up in advertising a lot over the years, albeit usually as part of a grab bag of Pokémon or a weekly feature of the show. Still on the more recognizable end of things.
Nothing too much surprising about their Pokédex descriptions: that they have thick hides, burrow a lot, hunt like trappers, and like to curl up into balls in defense and roll into opponents. The only point of interest is that Sandslash’s spines and claws regularly break off and regrow, which gives it an indomitable predator feel for the obvious parallel to sharks’ teeth. Shame this thing isn’t even tougher, ’cause it sounds hard-as-nails.
In the name corner, Sandshrew’s Japanese name literally just borrows the English word “sand”, whereas his Chinese name uses wordplay that translates to “Mouse that passes through mountains”. Now, I’m not playing favorites here, but…
Side note: apparently Alolan Sandshrew is partially inspired by a curling stone?! I don’t think there’s any clean way to glean that from its visual design, and it doesn’t help explain its sudden Steel-typing, either. Odd choices surface the harder I look at this fella.
I really like Sandshrew and Sandslash in their original incarnations, and while the Alolan variants aren’t too different visually, they offer a nice take on the theme and lots of gameplay differences. I personally like them, but there are a lot of small-mammal Pokémon and we’ll even get a more digging-focused mole Pokémon eventually that plays in his same space. Still, he’s a strong design, and one that I’d like to see them keep in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Sandshrew and Sandslash is welcome in the comments!