Just look at this tyke; how can you not love him? He’s all manner of round and warm and roly-poly and everything that makes for a fantastic little friend. That lovely cream and off-black fur combination gives him a nice visual contrast and really makes those fiery “quills” on his back pop to the eye. He’s perfectly precious, and yes I’m biased, but that doesn’t make it less true.
Cyndaquil is called the “fire mouse”, but he doesn’t smell specifically mousey to me, and the obvious “quill” hook points the viewer more at a porcupine than anything. The long nose suggests something more of a possum or a shrew, really, and his coloration even gives off a hint of badger. The best blend of all of these would be an echidna, but given that most starter Pokémon are based on animals recognizable outside of Sonic the Hedgehog, I like to think that he’s something of an amalgamation of various small mammals and rodents, mish-mashed together to form his own little charming critter.
I never know quite how to feel about Pokémon with permanently-squinted eyes. On one hand, it’s a bit of a nasty caricature, even if it doesn’t really apply to the monster at hand and I sincerely doubt that the same connotation is common in Japan where these were designed. On the other, it’s pretty gosh-dang adorable, with the resulting critter looking like he’s just happy to be here or perpetually ready for a nap.
Cyndaquil’s best feature, though? When he’s calmed down, those flames on his back die out, revealing the set of four “burners” that they vent from. He’s a little walking stove; how neat is that?!
Quilava has something of a Charmeleon Syndrome going; his fiery mohawk and angry-eyes peg him in that “rebellious teen” stage. Unlike Charmeleon, however, Quilava didn’t get all angly and boney on evolution. Instead, he just got a bit baggier and lankier, still definitely something you could hug and lounge around with. Not that he’d let you of course – just look at that cool pose. He’s got too much attitude for relaxing.
His basis seems to have moved on to stoat or weasel given his longer body shape, with the quills still there but not as dominant now that the creature has enough of a body to do something better than curl up. I love that this family kind of runs a gamut of small mammals in their inspirations; porcupine is a consistent mix-in, but otherwise they kind of bounce about while keeping the whole line feeling consistent. It’s a nice balance.
…and Typhlosion continues much in the same way. Similar fur pattern, but a more powerful build, a mane of fire-quills, and something of a “tattered cloak” look with his battered fur. You’ve got some wolverine, honey badger, even a bit of bear in there, plus the fangs and pointed-back ears are some pretty universal “fierce animal” markers. Another one that captures the idea of a powerful animal without explicitly spelling out “I am a bear” or what have you.
Admittedly, Typhlosion may play things a bit too composed for a fire-type, since he can look a little plain next to the other fully-evolved starter Pokémon. That’s perfectly fine by me, though; his very direct appearance makes him a bit more naturally imposing, which definitely has its own appeal to it. On top of that, giving him a body shape with a clearer through-line makes him feel nimble enough to dodge or outrun you. It makes for a nice switch from every other fully-evolved starter Pokémon we’ve seen so far – every one of the others in the first two generations can come across as chunky action figures, a stocky body with some limbs and accessories stuck on. Typhlosion, on the other hand, is pleasingly organic-feeling.
Typhlosion is one of those Pokémon that excels at moving fast and hitting hard, and that’s about it. Luckily, his stats are still spread fairly evenly (the exact same as Charizard’s, oddly enough), so while he’s not going to blow anyone out of the water, he doesn’t really have crippling weaknesses or anything, That said, his movepool isn’t terribly exciting – most of his good options are all fire-type moves – but he does get access to Eruption, which has the same power as a Hyper Beam when he’s at full health – and without needing a turn to recharge. He’s mostly got the one trick, but it’s a pretty good trick.
Oddly enough, Quilava seems to be something of the preferred evolution with the writers of the anime – two headline characters have been in custody of a Cyndaquil, which after staying around in its base form for ages (because Cyndaquil is adorable and more-marketable) evolved into Quilava… and then never again. In fact, Typhlosion has had as many appearances in the movies and specials (exactly two) as in the main series itself, which is definitely not the normal cadence for a monster introduced so early in the series.
Cyndaquil’s flames – which, as mentioned, flare up and die down depending on its mood – feel like a very emotive monster design. Where a few first-generation monsters had “action features” like retreating into shells, and we have seen a few burning tails, Cyndaquil’s flame-quills take up such a huge proportion of its body that they feel very deliberate as a feature to make an otherwise terminally-hunched-over creature able to more vividly express itself.
With the brand being more heavily established by the time the second generation was rolling around, I get the feeling that this was something of a test for the games getting more dynamic with their creature designs. Those quills are fine as static pixel art – the way that most people would first encounter Cyndaquil – but they really paid off in the anime and, eventually, when the Pokémon’s sprites were animated starting in Pokémon Crystal. Those depictions of him going from “little ball of fur” to “flared up” make him feel like possibly the most expressive of the second-generation starter Pokémon.
Where Cyndaquil and Quilava have pretty obvious defensive and offensive features right on their backs, the lore around Typhlosion has always been a little odder. He only has a bit of neck-scruff by comparison – more an intimidation feature than an actionable one. Instead, he just radiates enough heat when provoked to ward other monsters off entirely. Then, if that doesn’t work, he rubs his abrasive and fire-retardant fur together to create localized explosions. Implausible as anything else in this series, but it absolutely fits the “flaming deterrent” theme, and in a more menacing way that’s terribly appropriate for a final-stage monster.
Interestingly, the line’s German names follow the same pattern as their English ones: Feurigel (Cyndaquil) lends its last syllable to the first of Igelevar (Quilava), but Tornupto (Typhlosion) drops them both entirely. It’s not like they’re a literal translation, either – igel is “hedgehog” rather than a shared feature of the two. Just a happy coincidence.
I will say that it’s a little weird for Typhlosion to be named in most major languages after a typhoon, which is an inherently wet weather event. Then again, “typh-” has about a dozen other plausible alternate meanings, from typhon (a Greek deity married to Echidna, namesake of an animal Cyndaquil draws from) to Eulipotyphla, an order of mammals that look not unlike the Cyndaquil family. Realistically, though, it’s almost certainly there because “typhoon-explosion” is just such a boyishly-cool pair of words to mash up into a monster name.
The Cyndaquil line was my first starter in my first game, and I still hold that he’s a cute sucker with an interesting foundation that steers well clear of the “over-designed” camp. Probably not a monster who needs to show up in every game – he’s more of a Reserve kid – but I’ll be darned if I don’t always hope he turns up.
Personal rating: ★★★★★
Any and all appreciation for Cyndaquil, Quilava, and Typhlosion is welcome in the comments!