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 comes across more as 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 more a chimera 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, that trait has a reputation for being part of nasty caricatures; on the other, that doesn’t really apply to the monster at hand, and I sincerely doubt that the same subtext is common in Japan where these were designed. Besides, it’s just 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 squarely 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 brooding to do to relax.
His basis seems to have moved on to a stoat or weasel given his longer body shape, with the quills still there but not quite as dominant-by-volume. I love that this family kind of runs the 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 like a family unit. 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 ferocious woodland mammal without explicitly spelling out “I am a marmot” 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 can makes him come across as 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 a chunky action figure, 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 phenomenal 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, as of writing this in 2020, 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 the final form of a starter 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’ve seen a few burning tails, Cyndaquil’s flame-quills take up such a huge proportion of its body that they feel less tacked-on and more like its core identity, letting 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 oh-so-slightly more elaborate 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 naturally-expressive of the second-generation starter Pokémon, matching his compatriots’ strong personalities despite his otherwise-meek appearance.
Where Cyndaquil and Quilava have pretty obvious defensive and offensive features right on their backs, the design around Typhlosion has always been a little less clear to me. 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, like lighting sparks with a stone against sandpaper. 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 body part – it’s 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 another defensive mammal) 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.
Cyndaquil line was my very first starter in my very first game, and I still hold that he’s a cute sucker with a solid foundation whose family 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: ★★★★★
I want it out there that Typhlosion is, in a vacuum, a pretty cool take on Typhlosion. Those purples mix his fur into his flaming mane in a really elegant way, Onibi are always a great addition to a monster design, and I even dig his eye shadow. It plays off Quilava’s more angsty look in a fun way, turning playful and witchy rather than growly and standoffish.
And, in the vein of spirits and magic, knowing that he’s tied to Hisui gives him a plausible link to Ainu mythology, specifically a hearth-keeper who tends the souls of the departed.
That said, he just doesn’t work for me personally. Badgers don’t strike me as an animal with a particularly strong link to ghosts and death, and adding another element on top of Typhlosion’s slick design feels like the designers no longer trusting the core animal mash-up approach to stand on its own. It’s the same issue I have with Hisuian Growlithe – the original worked just fine, and while I don’t hate the newer and more explicit version by any means, it comes across as fixing what ain’t broke.
Part of this may also be coming from how the lore around Hisuian Typhlosion can feel a bit redundant – its collection of 108 spirit orbs and penchant for vengeance are both signature traits of another reasonably-popular Ghost-type, and one that had a major devoted sidequest in Legends.
So, I dunno. The original purpose of this blog was to uplift great Pokémon, but also to stay realistic about how many really make sense to cram into a single game. In that way, neither of the Typhlosion variants feel essential by any stretch, and both have their strong points; Hisuian Typhlosion has more going on when put to paper, but that also makes it overlap with other monsters and can distract from its core appeal.
…but I’m probably just biased because it’s not the Typhlosion I grew up with,
Any and all appreciation for Cyndaquil, Quilava, and Typhlosion is welcome in the comments!