Rhyhorn just feels like a quintessential Pocket Monster to me. Conceptually she’s a cocktail of a half-dozen ideas, but they all weave together in such a wonderful way. She’s kind of a rhinoceros, and kind of a ceratops, and there’s even a little bit of hippo in there, but the main thing is that she’s immediately identifiable as a big, tanky, plains-roaming animal.
And what better way to communicate her bulk than by giving her a hide of of solid rock? It definitely feels like a hide, too: all manner of ridges and jigsaw-plating keeps her looking more like charging mammal than a literal rock monster, with a broad skull perfect for ramming things. You can even tell that she’s probably got weak points in the joints around her shoulders, and those holes in her skull look like the same “ears” that certain thicker-skinned animals have. There’s tons of satisfying ridges and points of articulation in this monster that just look nice, and give her a sense of texture without making her overly complicated in concept.
Rock/Ground is a very common and frankly boring type combination (especially in the first Generation), but Rhyhorn really pulls it off well. Satisfyingly stone-based and organic, the first stage of this line is hands-down my favorite of the three. Full marks.
Rhydon is just fine as an individual monster, really. She subscribes to the same kaiju-derived school of monster design as the Nido family, but gives it a much earthier flavor. Plus, the horn on her snout evolving into a proper drill feels like a silly rubber-suit-monster thing to slap on; not strictly natural, but definitely entertaining. Even Rhyhorn’s segmented plate structure has changed into something where you can see how the head, limbs, and upper torso are separate pieces that an actor would put on to play one in a creature feature.
She’s a lot smoother post-evolution – a freer range of movement means that she can be more aggressive. That powerful tail and all the fins on her head give her more of a chunky, prickly “stay away from me!” feel than Rhyhorn’s more passive “I’ll just shrug it off” vibes. Even their poses in the official art communicate the same thing. Rhydon’s a very different take on a rock monster than Rhyhorn, and while I like her less as wild creature concept, she’s still very fun.
Then there’s this monstrosity. I want to make a joke about how Rhydon’s been rolling about over the cobblestone path in somebody’s muddy garden, but that doesn’t even hold water with how differently her lanky, end-heavy arms are shaped. Those saw-like teeth even suggest that she’s gone predator now? We’ve landed a long way from Rhyhorn, that’s for sure.
I can get what they’re going for – a monster that has thoroughly armored itself in earth and stone. There’s even a bit of local flavor, with the rock patterns somewhat matching a miner’s helmet and vest (mining was very “in” in the games where Rhyperior was introduced). It’s not a strictly bad choice – I like how you can still see a bib of its body under the chin, for example, and its club-tail is a neat choice. Plus, those holes in her hands? She fires rocks out of them. We’ve gone full-kaiju now. Still, the orange isn’t flattering after solid greys and browns, and overall she feels kinda chunky and misshapen. I get how some people could like her, but she’s not for me.
Luckily, Rhyperior has access to a pretty good passive ability to make up for it, somewhat alleviating her type weaknesses, but that doesn’t change what she is at her core. This whole line is relatively slow, but with powerful, straightforward attack capabilities, and at the end of the day that’s just what you want out of a Pokémon a lot of the time.
Rhydon is actually pretty popular in the anime as a minor threat – a herd of rocky rhinocerous charging at you is an instantly-striking image, and Rhydon and Rhyperior pull their weight with a “generic strong monster” look. Unfortunately, they don’t see a lot of play as character merch – they’re not cute nor brightly-colored nor flashy. But hey, they’re in there doing the work they were meant to do, and nobody can fault them for that.
Rhydon’s very classic “monster” feel is no mistake – she’s famously the first Pokémon properly designed for the series and the first one coded into the games (she’s at the first index in a bunch of the code, regardless of the number attached to him in the Pokédex). This makes her something of a “base” that all the other creatures are working from, and it kind of shows. She’s got some animal in her – rhinoceros – but that’s not all she’s got going on. There’s a definite rock-element flavor that warps that animal base, in addition to monster-y parts like visible fangs and head-fins. Then there’s how she carries himself, making her endearingly human-adjacent. It’s all the features they regularly hit on in creature design, compacted into one!
Rhyhorn is a weird species to nail down with how the series treats it. It seems flavored like some sort of safari animal – and has shown up in the games’ Safari Zones – but just as often shows up in caves where it shouldn’t have the freedom to move properly. It supposedly has a one-track mind and charges itself to exhaustion when enraged and has trouble turning, but they’re also perfectly tameable and trainable for racing sports (the player’s mother in X&Y was a professional Rhyhorn racer)? And then there’s the Pokédex entries, which (aside from taking a digs at its poor memory and general dim-wittedness) make hyperbolic suggestions that it can do everything from knocking a trailer flying to bringing down buildings. It feels like there’s almost competing ideas within the fiction of what Rhyhorn is and isn’t capable of?
Rhydon and Rhyperior follow a lot of the same issues in communication. Rhydon can survive molten lava and cannonballs (okay, sure – high defenses, and Rock resists Fire), can crush diamonds with its drill-horn (a lot to ask of something positioned on its snout), and “shows signs of intelligence”. I feel like whoever wrote these entries was getting a little vindictive, huh? Then there’s the notion that Rhyperior shoot Geodude from the palms in their hands, which is frankly the most ridiculous since that doesn’t even line up scale-wise. Even with Rhyperior being just shy of eight feet high, those holes in its palms are eight inches across at best, where presumably Geodude’s 1’4″ size refers to the diameter of its body, not its disproportionate arms.
But if we set aside over-analyzing the numbers, Rhyperior bullying around and taking advantage of smaller rock Pokémon is a good bit of fun. Knowing that Alolan Golem similarly uses Geodude as ammunition, you can imagine the two species getting into something of a snowball fight, where the two sides are just launching an increasingly-dizzy set of Geodude back and forth for a bit of fun. Heck, someone in the setting has probably turned it into a proper sport.
Still, it just blows me away that this is a three-stage line starting with Rhyhorn. Usually in a three-stage line of monsters, you start out with something that’s clearly adolescent if not an outright baby. Even two-stage lines (as Rhydon and Rhyhorn were originally made) typically start with something more tame than a 250-pound, rock-plated tank of a creature. Rhyhorn, on the other hand, looks like she’d fare perfectly well as a standalone monster, or the middle (or even final) stage of a line. Giving her stat values similar to a Bulbasaur almost feels disingenuous, to be honest.
Rhyhorn is great. Rhydon is good. Rhyperior I could do without. But the first two are first-generation, and it’s nor in the series’ nature to break up a set once they’ve been made a set. I can pretty solidly see them in the rotation as Reserve monsters.
Any and all appreciation for Rhyhorn, Rhydon, and Rhyperior is welcome in the comments!