Sometimes Pokémon just straight-up gives us a cartoon character.
Seriously, those eyes and stubby-ended limbs look like they belong on a Mario or Kirby enemy, not a creature with a proper habitat and lifecycle. But y’know what? I still really like her. There’s a delightful simplicity to her design, like some sort of plush toy, and it makes her super-easy to fall in love with.
The best part is, for her goofily-round shape and bright reds and yellows, she doesn’t feel terribly out of place in the series. Each of those limbs looks like it could reasonably belong to a flippery creature or tendril, and her body feels sufficiently textured to be a sort of odd camouflage. She’s just realistic enough to fit in with Pokémon’s semi-consistent setting, just in her own goofy little way.
Plus, look at that dopey, vacant look permanently plastered to her face. Absolutely charming.
The thing about Shuckle, though, is that she’s min-maxed out her rear end. No attack, defense, or speed to think of, and minimal actual health, but goodness gracious does she have the highest defenses in the game. That unfortunately translates to a lot of stalling tactics that aren’t necessarily fun in the main game, but it does make her fun to annoy people with in-person.
It’s hard to pin Shuckle to a specific animal, really, and I’m not entirely convinced that she is one despite being part Bug-type. Rather, she seems to be based around a microbiome: specifically ocean rocks and the myriad critters that live inside.
You ever see a hand-sized hole and think “something’s gonna bite me if I reach in there”? Yeah, that phenomenon.
Plenty of things actually live in the holes in rocks – molds and fungi mostly, but anything from small snakes, nemotodes, and especially scale insects. I kind of like that Shuckle’s limbs don’t reference any one of these specifically – the inner animal is both an amalgamation of all of those and also none of them, some new creature that’s adapted to occupy the entirety of a single rock as some weird cross between a turtle and a hermit crab.
Speaking of, I’d love to see more variants of Shuckle in-canon that show off different kinds of rocks for the “inner creature” to inhabit. Does she just have four limbs and a head, or grow more or fewer to suit her home? Can she live in a flat and shallow rock? Is she explicitly a seaside-dweller, or are drier rocks just as fine as barnacle-y ones?
As to the last one, we’re given to assume she requires some manner of moisture in her habitat because of her key out-of-battle ability: fermentation.
Probably the most unique thing about Shuckle is that, when she originally showed up, any Berry item she held onto would have a chance to turn into the slightly-better Berry Juice. The idea was she was storing the Berry in her rocky shell, allowing it to rot and sweeten into a chunky kombucha over time. This is also part of where the Bug-type makes sense for me: a gooey, enzyme-ridden substance inside a hard carapace just smacks of a chrysalis, doesn’t it?
Bear in mind, this was back when equipping a Pokémon with a held item at all was brand-spanking new, so adding a mechanic on top of that that reacted uniquely with just this one-off species felt like a delightfully-odd curiosity.
Granted, by the point in Gold & Silver that you had access to Shuckle, Berry Juice wasn’t potent enough to be useful any more. But the very existence of this weird item that you could only get through an obtuse, gameplay-driven method gives the setting texture. If something that peculiar is present seemingly just for flavor, who’s to say what else isn’t possible:
- Is there a way to get ink from an Octillery, or prevent wild battles entirely with Grimer‘s stench?
- What other cultures do people ferment inside of Shuckle’s shell? Can we get Shuckle cheese?
- If we leave the juice to stew long enough, do we get Berry Wine? (not with your E-for-everyone rating, bub)
This is absolutely the precursor to the passive Abilities that the series would introduce in the very next games. They haven’t come up much yet as defining features of a monster, but suffice it to say they open up a whole other angle to the personality each individual critter can show off.
It’s a crying shame that Shuckle’s fermentation trait wasn’t codified as a proper Ability in following games; instead, the designers dropped it entirely in favor of a chance of wild Shuckle already holding Berry Juice, which drops both context and unique gameplay from the relationship. It doesn’t even play as well with her names in other languages, almost all of which mention jars or rotting in some way. Give Shuckle her defining feature back, guys!
Speaking of, I can’t sign off on this one without noting that her Japanese name is Tsubotsubo, and doubled names like that always make me smile. Cute face, cute name, cute Pokémon overall.
But also probably very stinky.
Shuckle is so much fun: she’s that ripe combination of filling unique niches and having a fun and obscure origin to her design. Plus, she’s just adorably simple. I don’t think she fills any critical role in the series, though, and she’s not unfortunately exactly super-popular in the marketing. Sad to say that knocks her down to a monster I’d love to see come out of Reserve every other generation or so, but one I don’t always expect to see around.
Any and all appreciation for Shuckle is welcome in the comments.