Oh, Zubat. You’re the very embodiment of trash mobs for the entire series, but at least you’re doing something interesting with your position. While actual bats are pretty clearly mammals, Zubat looks a little bit creepier and more cold-blooded – primarily because of the lack of eyes, thumb-like digits on its wings, or even feet, which makes him appear somewhere between reptile and downright alien. I love his tail-limbs, though – they look like single, long finger-like noodles that would be great for grabbing onto the ceilings of caves for that classic hanging-upside-down bat action. It’s also pretty neato that his ears are exactly where his eyes would be, which is emblematic of how real bats famously “see” in the dark using sound.
Every choice here is weird and wacky, but also 100% tied back to its real-world basis to the point where elementary-school me would absolutely buy it if you told me that bats had actually evolved this way on some remote island. This is a really, really cool interpretation of a bat, and I deeply appreciate that the critter you’ll be tripping over every few steps in the game’s caves looks so sleek and so dang interesting. Great job, Zubat, top marks!
I’d actually argue that Golbat has a lot less going for him – he’s unfortunately got his eyes back (which makes him look a bit more “generic monster” than Zubat) and has more explicit feet, even if they are the biological equivalent of those grabby-arm toys. His body is mostly one giant, gobbly maw, which is commonly shown with a giant tongue hanging out of it; it certainly makes him look frightening in a Looney-Tunes way, but at the cost of looking like a cohesive animal. Golbat’s still weird and creepy, but a very different kind of weird and creepy than Zubat – and I’m sure some people out there prefer this guy for it.
Crobat is drops the “bizarre monster” look and slips the design straight into coolsville. Four blade-like wings, a sharper design that makes him look like a high-speed bullet, and a grouchy face to let you know he means business. Oddly enough, he doesn’t have feet where his feet would be – that’s just a confusing fringe-y tail, because his “legs” have apparently morphed into that stiff second pair of wings. That probably makes it a pain to land and take off and crawl around, but at least he’s got digits on his wings to grab with now. He’s actually a really sharp-looking bat critter who looks built built for swooping hit-and-runs, albeit one that’s strayed a bit far from the “alternate biology” basis that we started out with.
Crobat is super-fast, his typing resists quite a lot (including walling out the ever-annoying “poisoned” status), and he’s got all sorts of fun toys like poisons and stat-change-erasing moves, plus some pretty good offensive moves. He’s actually quite a solid pick for a team, especially considering how dirt-common Zubat is!
Zubat is everywhere in our consciousness, even if Nintendo isn’t putting them up on banners and parading them around – he’s kind of a staple when they show off cave environments, most of the series’ villains use him as a throwaway monster, a main character in the show had one during the show’s most visible years, and in general he gets all the benefits of being one of the most common wild Pokémon in the games. He’s even one of the very few Pokémon who can be caught in every single region in the series – he really is everywhere!
Lots of the Pokédex entries allude to this species having thin, burn-prone skin and huddling together for warmth, which gives the idea that these things are hairless. Backs up the more reptilian look, but it’s a pretty odd feature for a creature that is literally never found outside of cave environments in the wild, which it stands to reason are naturally-cold. Poor thing – maybe he’s just a real trooper. With the mention of direct sunlight being unhealthy for it (possibly a nod to real-world mythology around vampires?), you can bet that if he was introduced today Zubat would get some sort of passive bonus at night or in other environments out of direct sunlight, but unfortunately the original Gameboy couldn’t get quite that fancy.
It’s nice that its early moves are very explicitly bat-themed, too – Supersonic to exemplify echolocation, and Leech Life and Bite to exemplify the vampirism image. He’s just a very batty bat.
To make the vampire parallels complete (on top of the Pokédex mentioning that Golbat specifically targets its prey’s necks for blood-drinking), the French name for this line is series of portmanteaus involving Nosferatu. On top of that, every other (non-Chinese) version Zubat’s name is based on a Japanese onomatopoeia for an object piercing something, like a fang on skin. Golbat follows with a pun on gollop/gulp-bat, which would follow naturally as a blood-drinking sound after the bite from the first form. Almost a shame that Crobat drops this for a play on “acrobat”; he’s gone off-model in more ways than one.
Funny, then, that the trash-monster bat of the series only reaches its final form from having nearly-maxed-out Friendship, which seems decidedly un-Vampire-like. You have to get over that natural urge to be bitter at the cave critter that you’ve seen a hundred times and learn to properly nurture and appreciate one of them before the game rewards you with the mean fightin’ machine that is Crobat, which is something of a nice internal message that the gameplay is enforcing there.
Everyone knows Zubat, which would make it a bit hard to let him go either way, but his base form is actually really sleek and interesting – on top of his final form being both solid gameplay-wise and pretty attractive for the boys and girls who just want a mean, spooky bat for their team. As much as people may complain about his common-ness, he’s got a great claim for something that the series Must Have on a regular basis.
Any and all appreciation for Zubat, Golbat, and Crobat is welcome in the comments!