Psyduck is another one of those Pokémon that non-fans are pretty likely to recognize, but whereas Pikachu is “cute” and Charizard is “cool”, Psyduck is a straight-up dork. He’s got chubby proportions that force him to waddle around ineffectually, no wings to speak of (which will come into play in a second), and despite his moveset, background, and even name calling out Psychic abilities, he’s purely a Water-type. As much as I want to call that poor messaging, I suppose that kind of plays into his Psychic powers being latent and suppressed, which is a nice roundabout-but-totally-on-brand way of portraying supernatural abilities.
This guy’s a walking disaster, and it’s… kind of adorable. The pale yellow plumage evokes a duckling even if his endearing shape doesn’t, the little black feathers poking childishly out of his head do help give a “toddler” image, and overall he kinda looks like what would happen if a rubber duckie stood upright. He’s the kind of thing that you want to hug and keep safe just because he seems like he’ll trip over his own feet if you don’t. Alternately, you’ll find his blank stare and uncontrolled psychic abilities creepy as all get-out, but different strokes for different folks.
This one right here is the one to blame for Psyduck not getting wings. He’s called the Duck Pokémon, but despite evoking the idea of a duck at a glance, the bill and webbed appendages are really the only duck-features he has. Rather, his proportions (and Pokédex entry) suggest that he’s based on a river monster called a Kappa, but he’s missing any of the Kappa’s defining features:
- Bowl sunken into his head for keeping water? Nope.
- Turtle shell? Nada.
- Green? Not even in its alternate “shiny” configuration.
- Love of cucumbers? If this is a thing, it’s never mentioned.
So that leaves Golduck in a weird middle space between a duck, a kappa, and strong noes of a platypus. He looks like he can swim better than Psyduck, at least, and that jewel gives him a bit of a mystic look that follows up on the “psychic abilities” theme. Plus, it’s admittedly pretty satisfying to see doofy little Psyduck evolve into a lean, muscular Pokémon with an aggressively spiky head and claws. Still, he’s kind of a mish-mash of a bunch of ideas that don’t really come together into a single interesting concept. Not a favorite, personally, especially considering that this odd compromise would be our only water-type bird for two generations and the only waterfowl for four, despite the games being absolutely flush with Water-types.
Golduck is pretty all right as a day-to-day battler, at least. Lots of good special-attack moves and all-right stats to back them up, and an ability that totally negates any weather effects. Unfortunately, he’d probably be better with the Psychic typing that he’s so clearly asking for to further beef up his moves, but that might just be me picking on him a bit. This guy’s honestly fine.
While Golduck shows up often enough, Psyduck is the real bread-winner of this outfit. He was a regular in the show for ages, he had a lead role in the live-action movie, and in general he gets paraded around a lot as a mascot. Definitely one of the more visible Pokémon – and one of the few that has appeared naturally in every single region so far The developers even considered making a Let’s Go, Psyduck instead of Let’s Go, Eevee for a hot minute, which certainly says something.
Psyduck’s infamous shtick is that the poor fella has a perpetual migraine due to not knowing how to properly use his psychokinesis – and the headache keeps him from remembering much of anything (let alone how to use his powers), despite technically having impressive mental capacity. He’s kind of just stuck in a perpetual cycle of suffering until he eventually peaks, goes into a trance, and wields his abilities, intentional or not. That feels like such a cool power-up gameplay gimmick that 1989 hardware just couldn’t deliver on properly.
The series has still had great fun playing with the concept from different angles, though. The movie portrayed him as a walking psychic grenade that needed constant distraction to keep his fuse running, the show characterized him as a colossal dimwit that happened to be equal parts comedy and a useful get-out-of-jail card for the writers, and the games have invoked his obliviousness to build a natural barrier out of a flock of the suckers.
While even their names kind of admit that Golduck drops a lot of the unique identity that Psyduck has (Psykokwak evolves into Akwakwak, Gorapaduck (headache-duck) evolves into just Golduck), he does at least maintain a little bit of the idea, as the glowing gem set in his forehead acts as a focus for his psychokinesis. Unfortunately, him having control is less interesting both visually and story-wise, although having his power concentrated there isn’t great in the context of a setting with petty humans about.
There’s a few mentions that superstitious people believe possessing a Golduck gem can give them supernatural powers, so the species has been a victim of poaching – that uncomfortable subject is definitely going to come up more than we might like. Except the language used in most cases is that the species was “over-hunted”, which leads to the troubling implication that there’s a regular amount for them to be hunted. Doesn’t quite seem in-step with the series’ image – especially since Psychic (and Psychic-adjacent) Pokémon are said to have the most human-like intelligence of any of the critters. And this is in lore that’s been passed around as recently as 2016, too, so it’s not like it’s an artifact of the early concepts. Yikes.
Easing away from that nasty set of thoughts, it’s always nice when the series can translate a Pokémon’s abilities into some practical use – and Golduck uses Disable (one of his signature moves) to freeze river-fish in place to feed on them. Not that he really needs to, since the games suggest that he’s the fastest swimmer there is in the first place – but there’s a fair chance that’s just a boast, ’cause the in-game numbers sure ain’t backing that up.
Regardless of how I feel, Psyduck was and continues too be a staple of the series, so he was always going to go in the Must-Have pile and drag Golduck along with him.
Any and all appreciation for Psyduck and Golduck is welcome in the comments!