Totodile is such a rambunctious little squirt; you almost never see her in an idle pose, but always up and snapping and ready to go. It’s a fun direction to go in for a crocodile-based Pokémon given that real-life crocodiles are more about lounging about and relying on ambush tactics. The three Johto starters all seem to have a prescribed personality just going by their looks, with Chikorita being docile and Cyndaquil being timid, so it makes sense to let Totodile be a playful, peppy alternative.
Even if you take away her near-constant dancing, Totodile is shaped the most out of this round of starters like she’s ready for a scrap. She’s got all sorts of pointy angles – the tail, his dorsal ridges, claws, even the chevron on her chest – and that muzzle dominates his profile. On top of that, you have those eyeballs that seem to bulge outside of her eye sockets, which is absolutely a crocodilian feature.
Really, Totodile’s proportions make her look inherently like a toddler, and I’m kind of wondering how she holds her own head up when it must be close to a third of her body weight. Not that I mind; it gives her the mark of a lil’ critter that doesn’t know her own strength, which is a great hook and absolutely part of her in-game descriptions. Who signed off on giving first-time animal owner something that will playfully crush their arm in its jaws?
Croconaw goes through an absolutely cartoonish caveman phase for a hot minute; her muzzle goes a bit snub-nosed, she gets some snaggleteeth, and her chest pattern changes entirely, which wouldn’t be so bad if not for how those features will be dropped when she evolves again. She even changes her dorsal fin pattern to a stegosaurus plate on the tail and something like a mohawk up top (so we’re three for three with this generation of starters and decorative crests). She’s still got Totodile’s energy, but it’s less “playful” now and more “wild”.
I really like that she’s simultaneously sharp and chunky here; the rounded body and nose make her look hefty and even a little jolly, so you can still imagine a friendly Croconaw. But those teeth jutting out, her sharp gaze, and even those slicked-back dorsal ridges still mark her as an aggressive punk. I love those monsters that can pull off two looks simultaneously, and Croconaw absolutely lands square in that camp for me.
She’s a good design on her own, and I like the non-obvious crossover between the kinda-goofy prehistoric look and a powerful, strong-jawed animal like a crocodile. She’s even got those sunken eyes that make her look more focused and ravenous. There’s a lot to like about this stage, and she’s just such a distinct look that I only wish her final evolution had followed up on the idea. As-is, that break in cohesion has always bothered me a bit.
Feraligatr, almost certainly named as such because of memory limitations that prevented Pokémon names from being more than ten characters long. They won’t rename an existing monster, though, so she’ll never be the “Feraligator” she probably should be. Ah, the casualties of early hardware.
Feraligatr is another one of those Pokémon who had their designs changed very early on. In her pixel art in the Japanese release of Gold & Silver, the chevron pattern on her front continued down and along her tail, but in every appearance afterward, it was reduced to just an stripe about her hips. I kind of prefer the older design, and even wish they’d taken it further; it would probably help break up her solid-blue color better, and having that up her chest would have provided a more natural “armor-plated” look than those bumpy pads she has all over her limbs. Ah, what might have been.
The more I look at her, the more split I am, even looking at other models and images of Feraligatr that aren’t at the same awkward angle as we see here. Her dorsal ridges strike a mean silhouette, especially considering that those bunches of three clearly call out to the King of the Monsters himself, and the padding on her limbs works as a stand-in for protective scales; she really looks capable of tanking a hit as she is. On the other hand, her arms and chest seem oddly gangly compared to her lower half, and her defined nails really stand out after her pre-evolutions had nice-looking monocolor paws. She walks back some of Croconaw’s other features, too, from a longer alligator muzzle and chevron belly pattern to the overall slimmer (but still plenty-stocky) build.
On paper, Feraligatr is nice and chunky water-type bruiser, and that hunched-over look gives her a real feeling of physical power – I absolutely get and support that a lot of people like her. But put into practice, this design just has a few too many elements that make it come across as messy to me. It doesn’t help that her silhouette and expression here make her look a bit sluggish as opposed to her more energetic predecessors. I get that an fully-evolved alligator definitely fills a niche in the roster, but this one just doesn’t land for me.
Feraligatr started out not really able to take advantage of her build, but definitely got better in the fourth generation once some Water moves could operate off the Pokémon’s physical attack stat. Now she has a great range of moves at her disposal, and some stat-boosting options to back those up. Unfortunately, like with most starters, her stats are spread a bit too even for her to be a real stand-out, but as a bulky attacker she’s quite solid.
Croconaw has as hard of a time with naming as the space-constrained Feraligatr. Back in Black & White, following Nintendo’s pattern of hyper-caution in any and all online interactions, there was a very thorough list of words that, if they appeared in your Pokémon’s nickname, would automatically ban them from being traded or seen online at all. This list was so thorough, in fact, that it contained some pretty ubiquitous strings of characters, such as “con” (meaning “idiot” in French). This prevented some Pokémon, including Croconaw, from being traded at all unless they were given a unique nickname in certain languages. This filter was eventually eased up when it became clear that some Pokémon’s given names were being flagged as inherently offensive, but it makes for yet another fun and frustrating tale of Uncle Nintendo’s Online Follies.
Luckily for that issue, assuming you evolve your Pokémon at the first opportunity, Croconaw will be the starter-Pokémon evolution you spend the least time with. Totodile is tied for the latest level at which a starter evolves (18), where Feraligatr is the undisputed earliest (30), making Croconaw a relative bump in the road. Poor little Croconaw; they really give you as little space as possible to flaunt that paleolithic motif, huh?
Speaking of Croconaw, one of the best features that doesn’t come across in the imagery is that she has barbed teeth, much like fishhooks. While you occasionally see animals like snakes and some ducks with teeth that curve backwards to ensnare prey, barbed teeth are mostly the domain of sawfish. Coupled with the crushing force of a crocodilian, that becomes absolutely terrifying, creating a monster built to rip and tear through anything it can get its mouth on, with virtually no chance for prey to escape. Top it off with the sharklike ability to regrow those teeth, and I’m honestly more afraid of Croconaw’s sheer savagery than its evolved form’s heft.
These games needed a good ‘gator, and this line’ll do it. Not so much that you need her around all the time, mind – I’d be happy to see a better run at a gator later, and I admit I’ve got a bit of a vendetta for how they’ve slighted the painfully-cool Croconaw here. Still, Totodile is adorable, and all starters were somebody’s first Pokémon, so she’s gotta stay in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Totodile, Croconaw, and Feraligatr is welcome in the comments!