Man, this bugger is cute: wide circular eyes, a pleasant round shape, and a delightful play on bivalve anatomy with its literal tongue standing in for a clam’s “foot”. Her recessed, shadowed face and dumb look even give her a bit of that “creepy-adorable” vibe, which a lot of folks are super-into. Her shell is pretty much a less-wide scallop given the way her “tail” flares out in back, but her spines and the fact of her entire face being inside what we see as her mouth make for a distinct look. It’s simple at a glance, but all the little creative touches in here work together incredibly well.
How convenient that when you mash up “clam” and “oyster”, they become a pun on “cloister”, which is a perfect word for what shelled mollusks are known for. The spines on Shellder have evolved into full-on spears now, which pairs nicely with the natural defensive shell to give her the feel of a living caltrop. They may have re-used the scallop shape here, but the ridges, spines, and inner layer give us elements of other seashell-life like oysters and conches. And again, points for having an anatomy with virtually no humanoid features aside from that smug face. It’s a very intricate design while still feeling very organic in its way – I could absolutely see a younger player believing that they traced a photo of a real-life reef creature and slapped an angry anime face on ‘er.
Defensive Pokémon are usually a pain to use, but Cloyster actually has some pretty solid attack stats and all right options for using them, including possibly the best physical Ice attack in the game given the right passive ability. Plus, it gets weird tools like traps and stat-boosting moves on top of that. She’s just a fantastic and flexible contender. Except for her special-defense. Keep her far, far away from that accursed electro-rodent.
Shellder gets some attention for being linked lore-wise to the evolution of the somewhat more visible Slowpoke, and Cloyster gets a little boost for being prominently used by one of Red and Blue’s Elite Four (the game’s final bosses), which give both a little note without making them spotlight features. They’re actually fairly of popular, considering that they don’t make for the traditional idea of cute mascot characters.
Of the five Ice-type Pokémon available in the original 151, the majority are all water-type marine life, with the two outliers being a one-off legendary monster and the bizarro creature that is Jynx. It’s kind of a shame that the Ice type took a while to find its own footing, but luckily Shellder and Cloyster are pretty interesting choices within that realm.
Presumably normal bivalves can’t taste things with the muscley, tongue-looking foot that they use to burrow around, but Shellder turning that into a mammalian tongue makes the same action very very icky – this little thing is just a real trooper, I guess. This line’s other two forms of propulsion – Shellder by basically clapping its shell to push against water and Cloyster through jet propulsion – are delightfully weird and also true to life, so additional points to them for giving kids a window into Cool Animal Facts.
Update: And double-bonus points to sticking with it! In the Wild Area in Sun and Moon, you absolutely seeing them basically swim backwards, which I’m sure will lead at least one curious child to look into bivalves on their own time. Hooray for learning opportunities!
While Shellder is key to Slowpoke’s evolutions, we don’t really see much of that mentioned in discussion around Shellder itself – but that distancing is arguably a more interesting choice. It can become parasitic to Slowbro’s and Slowking’s psychic prowess, but is perfectly equipped to live a self-sustaining life, which feels like it gives the critter a level of complexity and depth beyond some common monsters in other games – even within the Pokémon roster – that seem to have exactly one defining trait or serve a single purpose in the lore.
A few more quick hits around Cloyster’s shell – this monster is so self-protective and so dang tough to burst open (on paper, not strictly in practice) that her inner body is a total question mark, which leaves a nice little air of mystery to their biology and makes their face more interesting than just being a black pearl. Also, her natural “spears” aren’t necessarily a static part of her shell, but are rather a form of callous, with damage to Cloyster’s shell swelling up and re-hardening into sharp ridges and spines again and again over time until it reaches maximum defense at old age. The bits that get damaged and fall off? Re-purposed into tools and (in hunting-tribe times) weaponry, naturally. Use every part of the Pocket Monster, as they say.
These two are have more interesting things going on behind their already-appealing appearances, which makes the kind of Pokémon that are right up my alley. They’re not hugely popular and don’t give us new insight into the world, but I’ll be darned if they’re not some of the better-designed monsters in the original roster and absolutely deserve to be kept in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Shellder and Cloyster is welcome in the comments!