Voltorb! I’ve really been looking forward to talking about this thing. They’re one of the simplest designs in the whole lineup – deceptively so. It’s effectively the classic Pokéball design, but without a mechanism about his… waist? …and sporting a very shonen-manga-aggressive pair of eyes. The lack of a button even puts it closer to the original concept art for the monster-catching capsules, which is a neat little touch. People tend to knock on Voltorb for being visually uninteresting, but that’s kind of the point, so I vote that it’s doing its job to specification.
Electrode isn’t that much different than Voltorb – but again, that’s arguably to its benefit. Having it able to masquerade as its pre-evolution, then potentially flip over and deal the double-whammy of “now you have to deal with the big boy” fits so delightfully into this line’s whole theme. Great take on the idea, Electrode. Hard to complain.
Electrode isn’t terribly exciting as a teammate, unfortunately. Its best feature is its great speed, but that’s generally more to the monster’s benefit in the wild as a “gotcha” trap. It can be used pretty effectively to set the stage in your favor with status moves and stat boosts before swapping to a more offensively-minded party member, but that’s simply not an exciting way to play for most people outside of a competitive setting.
Voltorb and Electrode don’t show up in the series’ advertising a lot, doomed by their designs – see Voltorb on a shelf from a distance, and it just looks like a Pokéball, which really isn’t the intent. On the other hand, Electrode does regularly appear in Super Smash Bros., which makes the line way more visible to people who aren’t even directly paying attention to Pokémon, so that’s not nothing.
The killer feature of Voltorb and Electrode is that they’re the Pokémon setting’s take on a mimic, a downright ubiquitous monster archetype derived from the grandpappy of role-playing games: Dungeons & Dragons. A monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest to lure in and feed on unwitting adventurers, it’s shown up for decades in everything from Dragon Quest and Dark Souls down to non-RPGs like ToeJam & Earl.
Pokémon is more an odd sort of “science-fantasy” setting, so instead of treasure chests, items are stored in convenient item capsules that look – in the games’ abstraction – exactly like a common Pokéball. So, following that same line of logic, Voltorb came to camouflage itself as a Pokéball in order to trick curious humans. Bang! It’s the classic the-chest-is-a-monster trap, adapted for a modern age and a younger audience.
This creates a pretty minor logical gap when you consider that both of these monsters are considerably larger than Pokéballs, so they should be fooling nobody – especially now that the series’ more modern graphics mean that there’s less room to fudge the line between a Voltorb and a Pokéball and blame it on the abstracted, cartoony pixel art. They could’ve at least gotten the Minimize move to explain it away, sheesh! Still, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a bit if it helps us make the leap to a friendly mimic critter.
And on a meta level, considering that Pokémon will be a lot of players’ first experience with role-playing games, a fun take on a mimic is a brilliant inclusion. The first time you accidentally disturb one, it pops out at you once and typically explodes – a cheeky little gag that’s generally over quickly and feels more like a surprise slap on the wrist than trapping your party into a nasty encounter. If you’re quick enough, you can even catch it instead and turn the situation into a net positive. All those caveats act almost like invisible guardrails on an introduction to an RPG staple – that’s getting a lot done for just a bi-color sphere with some eyes slapped on.
On an in-universe level, Voltorb is… really weird to consider. There are multiple places in the canon you could point at that disagree about how recently modern Pokéballs were invented in-universe – a few one-off locations and stories imply that the good ol’ red-and-white Pokéball was used as far as a couple of centuries back, whereas some material centered around the Johto region suggests that other capture methods were more common until about half a century ago.
Either way, Pokéballs are a very human invention, which means they don’t naturally occur in the wild – or at all more than a few centuries back – and Voltorb are made completely of material that also doesn’t occur naturally. So the clear implication is that, not unlike Grimer, Voltorb as a whole are a very recent species that emerged (or “evolved” in the Darwinian sense) in direct response to modern humans and industrial practices. In the real world, this takes an order of magnitude longer to happen for multi-celled life, but clearly things are on a bit of a quicker timeline for beings that have mastered rapid metamorphosis.
On the other hand, we know for a fact that other, similar capture mechanisms existed before Pokéballs did in the setting – namely, Apicorns. So did Voltorb and Electrode previously disguise themselves as berry-like creatures, then adapt over time to mimic human inventions? If so, were they originally grass-type? It’s a silly hypothetical within a hypothetical setting, but I would love to see some regional variant of Voltorb take a swing at the idea.
EDITOR’S NOTE – I’m cleaning up this article for the Hisuian versions right now, and I want to leave this bit unedited because I totally called this shot back in 2019. Thanks for reading my blog, Uncle Nintendo! I’ll take my design credit whenever you please.
There’s a fair bit of color from the games that paints this evolutionary line as living grenades or bombs – they’re go-tos for a veteran soldier in the series, the game corner uses them as failure icons in a Minesweeper-like minigame, and most obviously, their wild A.I. just loves to use Self-Destruct (it’s the primary thing they’re shown doing outside the core titles). It’s a little bit depressing to think about, that these things are chronically driven to self-harming moves just to spite their targets – or, if the Pokédex is to be believed, due to over-indulging on electricity, or simply to amuse themselves out of sheer boredom. I’m not qualified to touch that with a ten-foot pole, but I feel like it’s really hard to spin that into a positive.
Just about every journal entry notes that they’re extremely dangerous, but at least one notes that they tend to feed on electrical systems like the generators at power plants – which makes them a supernatural pest, forming the basis for at least one subquest in the series. So in addition to being more mobile mimics, these things are also the electrical equivalent of invasive rodents (except rats don’t usually have landmines strapped to their bodies, unless you want to count the disease they tend to carry). Maybe their Pokéball-like disguise is meant to be less of a lure, and more of a defense mechanism developed in order to hide themselves from
exterminators potential captors?
Voltorb and Electrode are reliable, working-class monsters: they serve a definite purpose, and they show up to serve it reliably and effectively. What more could you ask of them, really? Especially for how they relate to Pokémon’s positioning within role-playing games as a genre, Voltorb and Electrode get my vote as a Must-Have to be held onto dearly.
Remember how Voltorb got its unique-ness from veering ever-closer to the original monster-ball design? Hisuian Voltorb caps it even further with the little vent up top, mimicking its little button. That’s obviously a reflection of how the Hisuian Pokéballs also take after that design, but hey – I’m not gonna dock ’em points for being sensible.
Yup, more of the same! I love that you can see the wood-grain on these two, and it’s especially obvious on Hisuian Electrode with its carved-out eyes. My main takeaway is that it looks like a fun little whittling project come alive, but otherwise it’s the same concept as before, transposed onto Hisuian Voltorb. Hey, it clearly works.
The other main thing that I’m getting off of them is that these two are hollow. Where Kantonian Voltorb and Electrode made a pass at oddly-organic eyes. these two have drilled-out pupils that make them look more like a deeply haunted object – in fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see these re-contextualized as Ghost-type Yokai in a pre-modern setting.
But that new look does tie them nicely back into their newfound Grass-type. Where “standard” Pokéballs are manufactured, built up from raw material, traditional Pokéballs are carved out from wood and tree-nuts. It’s a reductive process more in tune with nature as opposed to an additive, energy-intensive one, so of course Grass has completely overtaken the theme.
It’s a shame that Grass-Ghost is a surprisingly well-occupied niche, as that would make a more sensible change than we see elsewhere in the Hisuian Forms, but hey – Grass-Electric is a pretty unique combo, so I ain’t complaining.
Excellent update to these two – low-touch at a glance, but that’s the result of a literally natural change in context. Sure, they really have no reason to exist outside of a game set in the Hisuian era, ever, but I’m delighted by them around as a one-off.
Any and all appreciation for Voltorb and Electrode is welcome in the comments!