Wooper, Quagsire, ???

#194 – Wooper

Wooper is something of a fan-favorite: and for good reason. She’s just so flippin’ adorable.

She’s based on a critter that most folks don’t see on their nature walks and that won’t headline any zoo. Rather, she’s more of a curiosity or as an exotic pet, giving her this sort of oddball charm. She’s ridiculously simple, one of those “eyes-and-a-mouth-on-a-sphere” designs with cartoonish proportions. And, best of all, she’s missing arms, which gives her this dopey, helpless look that’s super-endearing to so many (including myself). She even used to have a dorsal ridge like her evolution, but paring that away helps make her as simple and round as possible.

Plus, that soothing baby-blue color and round, blubbery little child-body? Love ’em, gotta protect ’em. And plugging the animal’s neck-frills with swampy detritus is a great way to work in a little whimsical hint of her actual nature.

This thing captures all the charm of the baby Pokémon trend without feeling like a tacked-on design that only exists to serve its evolutions. It turns out, that’s what happens when you design a Pokémon around an actual infant form of an animal.

#195 – Quagsire

And Quagsire is every bit as lovable in her own way. Look at her smile and wave; she’s just so happy to be here! Who doesn’t love a Quaggy?

I deeply appreciate that while the rest of her has gotten more complex – flippery limbs with digits, a dorsal ridge, and a more continuous body – she still has this dorky simplicity to her. If anything, I her eyes got smaller where her mouth got bigger, which gives her the same childlike innocence as Wooper despite her more delevoped proportions. That harmless look plays so nicely into her being something of a trickster design – which we’ll get to in a moment. It’s just a package that works really well as a whole.

If there’s one thing I’m not thrilled about with these two, it’s how the markings on their body completely shift around during evolution. It’s not a huge deal, but the inconsistency of one having stomach markings and the other a blotchy patch on its back does bug me.

Either way, excellent monsters, the both of them. High marks.

Quagsire isn’t the most exciting Pokémon stat-wise – fine physical stats and HP, but awful speed and lackluster special defenses. But she shines in a lot of other ways, from a surprisingly wide move-pool to a great passive ability that can ignore all stat-changes to some really stellar advantages. She’s a surprisingly solid pick!

In fact, let’s get into her elemental typing right now, because that kind of drives a lot of what makes Quagsire so interesting.

Back in the first generation, the developers didn’t play too much with people’s expectations for type matchups – except for small moments like robbing Gyarados of the Dragon type. So, coming into Gold & Silver, players felt pretty secure in their understanding of how things worked.

Then little Wooper comes strolling along. She’s kind of a dope, but she’s blue and inhabits a riverside area in the game. Seems like a pretty cut-and-dry “use Thunderbolt” situation, especially since you likely just caught a Mareep at that point.

No sell – this critter lives in the mud. She’s a slimy-skinned Ground-type, and immune to the main thing that the show has taught kids to do against every Water-type. In fact, the only thing she is weak to is Grass (which, to be fair, is perfectly abundant).

Gold & Silver gave us a lot of these curveballs – another notable example being Sudowoodo, the series’ first Rock-type that both wasn’t part-Ground and didn’t have any other obvious secondary type. So, at the time, a lot of players didn’t internalize that Electric-types had an even match-up against pure Rock-types.

The games keep on playing increasingly-elaborate tricks like this up to this very day, sure. But as a monster that you could encounter by the second gym in the second set of games, just after players had their expectations set, Wooper feels like the series’ first real “gotcha” moment, and she’s all the more special for it.

As a side-note, the games would keep leaning into this by giving Wooper and Quagsire a passive ability in the next generation that also made them immune to Water. That’s two situations where these monsters can switch in and eat an attack for free – or even recover from it. Fun stuff!

Speaking of fun switcheroos, Wooper often gets pegged as being the Pokémon interpretation of the fun-to-say-out-loud axolotl. While axolotls are absolutely related, this isn’t perfectly on the mark; axolotls never outgrow the frills on their neck, and never leave the water where they’re born.

Rather, this family is based on the hefty Japanese Giant Salamander, which (aside from the cartoony aesthetic) isn’t too different in size and appearance from a Quagsire. This thing looks kind of like a Looney Tune, sure, but every once and a while you do run into an equally-goofy animal in real life.

Now, we may have had a salamander before, but that’s more an odd quirk of naming. “Salamander” is a name with two distinct flavors: mythical, folklore-derived salamanders are lizard-like spirits capable of withstanding fire. Real-world salamanders are amphibians with permeable skin and natural regenerative abilities. They look a bit the same, but they’re of opposite elements – and Pokémon gives them wildly different appearances, to boot.

Salamanders are a bit more odd in their being very ambhibian-like lizards, being born entirely underwater before coming up to the ground. As a result, salamander children are something not unlike tadpoles, with frilly gills, fewer and flipper-y-er limbs, and a more pronounced tail. It’s the perfect monster to reflect a multi-stage evolution, from egg to an aquatic toady to a damp lizard.

That said, a lot of internet denizens have a mild obsession with the axolotl in particular, which translates into a mild obsession with similar-looking Pokémon. There’s even some reason to believe that The Pokémon Company is aware of this; in one season of the anime, a wild Wooper was given a recurring bit part over about seventy episodes. He never joined a main character’s team or anything, and the Johto region wasn’t seeing any emphasis in the games at the time, so he’s kind of an odd choice for a recurring guest-star in a vacuum. It’s nice to take that minor evidence and read from it some meta-awareness that fans love them a Wooper and the anime was willing to provide – whether or not it’s actually the case.

And all of this is without getting into some of the weirder functions of The Wooper. Did you know that they’re nocturnal? Or naturally toxic? How about that Quagsire slowly and absent-mindedly crashes headlong into fishing boats while swimming, making it The Dumbest Sea Monster? Or that it feeds by leaving its mouth open and hoping that food just swims right in? These two just have so much personality that it’s almost unfair to their peers.

Functionally, Wooper has peers that accomplish the same thing that she does nowadays, which would usually put these guys under some scrutiny for being benched to Reserve or even Retired. But you just can’t replicate fans’ natural enthusiasm for a mascot, and the series would be doing itself a disservice to exclude these two. I’m as biased as everyone else, but they really are a Must-Have if the series’ goal is to hold their audience as long and strong as possible.

#194p – Paldean Wooper

Welp, Game Freak keeps feeding us with great updates to fan-favorites.

Paldean Wooper is a wild mish-mash of things relating to the Johtonian Wooper’s baby salamander, but that aren’t perfectly part of its nature. She’s something of a literal mudskipper – albeit we already have one of those – but really more of a newt, especially if we assume she’s based on things that live in swamps in the real-life Iberian Peninsula.

That swampy habitat is also paying off in the form of a new fun Ground-and-Poison typing, cashing in on Wooper’s already-repulsive toxic skin-slime and giving her that “kid playing in the mud” look forever.

Plus, look at how they changed her little gill-protrusions into bones! She’s her own little skull-and-crossbones to ward predators of her poisonous demeanor! …if in a bit of a gruesome way, perhaps.

Oh, and what’s that on her belly? An extra vertical marking?

Give her just a moment and a few Rare Candies:

#??? – Clodsire

What if Quagsire, but dopier?

Clodsire is a muddy Quagsire that’s completely flopped down on his belly and merged into a continuous blobby mess of a creature. She barely even waddles through the dirt in the games; she more has to flop across the ground like a beached fish, and rather than looking sad, she’s just the silliest little goober you ever did see.

Up to a point, at least. It’s hard to see without official art, but you can also get a sense for six very pale spots on her back, lined up in two rows of three.

That where her bones come out.

See, this line is based on a very particular species of ribbed newt native to the south of the pinensula, and one with warty little growths along its sides much like Clodsire’s spots. The newts will deliberately rupture these from the inside with their own sharp ribs to secrete poison, and any animal oblivious enough to chomp down will get stung by a venom-coated bone.

But with their placement on Clodsire, it implies that either her spine is along her stomach, with her ribcage facing upward, or that else she can contort her bones at will to twist completely around and puncture her own back.

Gross.

But also, wicked cool and even clever considering that she’s otherwise so plush-doll-shaped. Fear the cute ones.

She doesn’t pack much of a punch, for sure, but she is a solid anchor on an in-game team. With plenty of type resistances (including the potential to absorb one of its weaknesses with an ability) and a chunky pool of health, the Clodsire on my campaign team has been a real survivor.

Fun fact: the newts that Paldean Wooper and Clodsire are based on are one of the few species that have been to space, with natural generation and long gestation periods that make them ideal for microgravity experiments. It certainly doesn’t contribute to how Wooper is presented in the game at all yet, but it’s always nice to poke in one last reference to Pokémon as starfarers.

Less fun fact: Paldean Wooper’s Pokédex entries note that it gained a ground-type for being forced up on land. We get this in-universe as some sort of vaguely-described territory dispute with another Pokémon. In reality, and considering Wooper’s identification with the axolotl, you might instead look at Valley of Mexico, deliberately drained dry in the 1600s – by Spanish settlers no less – but formerly filled with a lake where axolotl used to live. Since then, they’re a species that survives largely in captivity, on land and among urbanization as its typing suggests.

Terraforming: useful for humans, less useful for non-humans.

Any and all appreciation for Wooper, Quagsire, and Clodsire is welcome in the comments!

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