Goodness gracious, he’s precious.
Those big round eyes, the full-body mustache with the upturned tips, even how he’s basically just a face poking out of a shell. This monster is tiny and adorable in a way that I feel like I haven’t appreciated enough until now. I do love the choice of using the tentacles to evoke whiskers, too; it makes him look properly old and ancient – appropriate for a fossil – but leaning on details like obvious cracks or chips in his shell that the original Gameboy and its 56×56-pixel images couldn’t capture well enough. Plus, the way that the shell forms into a little eyebrow at its lip is a great little touch. Even as the first one, Omanyte is a front-runner for the series’ most appealing fossil.
And then Omanyte grew up and became properly monstrous. Omastar underscores just how alien so much of prehistoric life looked, and how deep-sea life still looks. Cat-slit eyes to see prey in the dark sea, a horrible beaky maw to break apart the shells of that prey, and a starfishy face-body to hold the suckers in place while it does. Plus, spikes on the shell and even more spindly tentacles because, y’know, that looks gnarly. I’m a little bit afraid of Omastar and uncomfortable looking at him, which I’m taking as an inidcator that his design is working for its intended purpose.
The problem Omastar is that he’s both painfully slow and takes quadruple damage against the incredibly-common (in single-player) Grass-type, which means there’s a whole range of situations where sending him out is just a non-starter. Unfortunately, his best utility is to invest in his bulkiness to up nasty things like status effects and spikes that damage opponents when they switch in, and unfortunately that’s a slow play style that isn’t very rewarding unless you’re into the multiplayer aspects for the game.
Aside from being the focus of a minor and not-altogether-serious internet cult, Omanyte and Omastar seem to appear a bit less often than their first-generation compatriots in the public space. Whether that’s some minor attempt to maintain an air of mystery around them or just because they’ve incorrectly decided that Omanyte isn’t cute enough, or Omastar isn’t intimidating enough, who knows? They’re also virtually never seen in the show without the other first-generation fossils around, which unfortunately makes them feel like they’re relegated to being part of a set.
I want to acknowledge how very much I appreciate what Game Freak did with choosing the basis of their “fossil” Pokémon, by the way. Where other series tend to default to “Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Brontosaurus. Them’s the popular dinosaurs.” and call it a day for prehistoric life, they dug a bit deeper and went for some deliberately different monsters, underscoring just how unfamiliar previous eons of creatures look next to modern-day ones.
Ammonite in particular may not be exactly a household term – even the still-living Nautilus is arguably more recognizable as the name of many sea vessels. But ammonite is readily recognizable to anyone with a passing interest in paleontology; it’s commonly used as an index fossil to determine how old a rock layer is, since ammonite persisted over hundreds of millions of years, and developed a wide range of distinct variations over that time. Chances are that if you see a stock image of a fossil, it’s either one of the ever-popular dinosaurs, or it’s some form of an ammonite (or, in some cases part of Omastar’s sister line).
Ammonite’s traditional evolution makes Omanyte another case where, while I understand why they don’t do it, I really wish that Game Freak were a bit more ambitious with including purely-aesthetic variants of existing Pokémon at times. How cool would it be to have a fossil dug up in Johto restored to an Omanyte that looks slightly different than one in Galar, implying that the two migrated and changed form over past millennia, or that the two regions were previously-underwater at different times? Unfortunately, even the Pokédex doesn’t throw us much of a bone on this one, which feels like a missed opportunity on all fronts to add some texture and history to the world. What a shame.
That shell also provides us the only hard reason in the series as to why a species went properly extinct; post-Evolution, Omastar’s shell was simply too bulky for it to move around properly, so it couldn’t hunt for food and subsequently died out. The series is never quite clear about how long-form Darwinian evolution works, since it appears to be part of the lore right alongside the metamorphasis-like Evolution mechanic, but in-canon fossils give us evidence that “survival of the fittest” is at least some small part of it – and also that one Pokémon species can lowercase-e evolve into another over time, as the games make claim that Omastar is an ancestor of another otherwise-unrelated octopus Pokémon. It also, amusingly, suggests that Shellder is a flatly better Pokémon in the wild, since despite being Omastar’s main prey, it still exists naturally today whereas Omanyte doesn’t.
Having a massive puberty-on-steroids change in the middle of their life has to have some impact on natural selection, though. Do Pokémon try different forms of capital-E Evolution until they find the most effective ones? If so, how do the base forms change over time? Can one lowercase-e evolve without the other being effected? What about split-evolution lines; could Vileplume change without affecting Bellossom? Even brushing up against this would probably get pretty confusing very quickly for parts of this game’s core audience (elementary schoolers, lest we forget), so I don’t expect this to ever really get addressed, but that’s sure not gonna stop me from making wild extrapolations.
Omanyte and Omastar are delightfully odd, and play that up to great ends. Plus, they make a great jumping-off point for a prehistory that the lore otherwise doesn’t seem to explore especially deeply. I’m finding them to be stronger designs the more I look at them, and while I still don’t think that Omastar specifically is a necessary part of the series – he’s more Reserve material – Fossil Pokémon as a whole make a delightful pocket of the games’ roster, and the Omanyte family feels like the shining example of a Fossil Pokémon.
Any and all appreciation for Omanyte and Omastar is welcome in the comments!