Sure is a pinecone, innit?
Jokes aside, Pineco is one of the more simple-looking Pokémon at a glance, and there’s two ways to look at that:
- A: It’s a flat, static, boring design.
- B: It’s successful camoflague.
I’m inclined to lean away from the latter considering that Pineco is supposedly two feet tall, which only the most braindead of critters would confuse for an actual pinecone. On the other, usually pinecones are up and hanging from branches, so it’s not like a Pikachu on the woodland ground will have a perfect sense of scale looking up at one. He passes, I suppose.
I will say that, despite or because of the lack of detail, Pineco pulls off his pareidolia pretty well. You can see two of his “leaves” form distinct eyelids or eyebrows, one is placed to look like a nose, and the lower layers look like some bushy beard. It’s a lot to read into a deceptively simple design, which is a tricky act to pull off.
By the way, Pineco is a bug-type, which is going to be the major hint that this is indeed a camouflage job rather than Pineco being some manner of living pinecone (which is entirely within reason in this series). Specifically, he’s a bagworm – we’ll get to that in a bit, but for now it’s important to understand his evolution:
The thing about bagworms is that they’re a category of moth, and we’ve already got one of those. So, rather than repeat a creature already, the designers decided to invent an entirely new path for Pineco to evolve in, and that path logically follows surprisingly well for a non-standard insect.
So what if a bug never really exited the cocoon stage? Well, it’d still be a shelled invertebrate, and probably already used to a life based on natural camouflage rather than hunting. And one of the key animal types that fills the same niche?
Forretress is basically a mollusk re-imagined for a forest biome, looking like a little creature hidden inside some manner of chestnut or rock. Heck, turn him on his side and you get a passing resemblance to Cloyster. I’ll grant you that fire-engine red isn’t great for a lifestyle based on deception, but I don’t think that’s the main goal here.
Rather, Forretress looks more like a “trapper” – luring prey in and letting them either fall to his “cannons” (as one of the few Pokémon with a visible weapon), fall on the biologically-produced caltrops he leaves around hes territory, or exhaust themselves on his shell. Then, he pulls them inside the shell to slowly digest. Marvelous.
Plus, who doesn’t love a Pokémon who’s a googly-eyed, shadowy mystery on the inside?
Forretress is a fun Pokémon overall, if not a fun one to use during the main game. He’s got perfectly serviceable attack – a rarity for a defensive Pokémon – a ton of resistances and a full immunity to poison, plus a whole bag of tricky moves. Unfortunately he’s dead slow, doesn’t have great Special Defense, and keels over if he so much as looks at a campfire (amusingly so, since pinecones burn famously well). He does kind of invest in a long game of trap-laying and enfeebling, which matters less when ~99% of trainers in the game have very small teams, but he’s certainly got his place.
As noted, Pineco is based not on a pinecone, but on the bagworm – something that even his name obscures. A pinecone is a pretty good pick to mimic, considering that virtually nothing aside from squirrels actually eats pinecones, but also that their spiny shell evokes a natural defense.
Some specifc bagworms can grow this appearance naturally – like Pineco seems to do – but much more often they’re parasites that cloak themselves in dead plant matter like the twigs and bark of their hosts or the shells of other insects – like Forretress seems to do. It’s pretty cool not only that they’ve captured both modes of shell-building from the family, but also that he apparently goes from self-sufficient to taking advantage of its environment, where most invertebrates are shown as helpless squishy babies that subsequently procure a shell.
This marks yet another bug for the second Generation that dodges the trite “larva-shell-flyer” evolutionary pattern, but it interestingly does so by staying in that shell form for its entire lifecycle. It’s even a true-to-life representation… kind of. Bagworms are sexually dimorphic where males will emerge as moths, but females stay in a pupa form for life. Pokémon still hadn’t done sexually-divergent evolutions at this point, so unfortunately both male and female Forretress behave the same. Honestly, though, given the choice of the two, this is certainly the more interesting route to take a fantasy critter in.
Insects are a crazy-varied category of animal, so it’s nice to finally see it digging into some more specific Bug Biology.
Aside from that all-encompassing shell, the other big defensive tactic that these two have is borrowed from a more industrial creature:
This felt somewhat passable for Voltorb and Electrode, as their more mechanical appearance made it feel less squicky for them to make a suicide attempt. They can just rebuild, right?
Forretress and Pineco get a bit more of a side-eye for it, as a clearly biological creature inflicting self-harm isn’t unheard of, but completely destroying oneself grenade-style isn’t usually something nature usually evolves to do. It does make a bit of sense in The Bagworm Context, though, considering either one could eject all their spines and shells and such at once in the hopes of letting their more sensitive inner body escape.
Which brings up the question again: what’s inside a Forretress? Is it just a soupy mess of organs like a cocoon? A scarab, operating all its cannons like a mecha pilot? Something else entirely?
Yet again, I’m so happy that the series deliberately leaves these dangling question marks with no intent to ever answer them.
The main problem with these two is that we’ll see another take on a bagworm in a few years, and it’s equally interesting in a different way. On their own, these two are strong designs, and I’d be perfectly happy to see them trade off with their successors in a rotating fashion, letting these two be in Reserve while the other shows up and vice-versa.
Any and all appreciation for Pineco and Forretress is welcome in the comments!