What a goo-ber.
Slugma is such a beautifully simple concept. Slugs look like bubbly puddles of slime; lava pools look like bubbly puddles of slime. Mash the two up, bing-bang-boom. You got yourself a pocket monster with a strong elemental theme that screams “DO NOT TOUCH” despite her obvious adorableness.
While I do bemoan the fact that this family lacks the characteristic eyestalks, Slugma at least gets the same effect with those aggressive eyebrows and having her head itself be perched up on a neck. It’s a fair compromise; leaving the final design too flat could have too strongly resemble our other goop-monster, and somehow Slugma’s silhouette still feels correct for the animal it’s going for.
Strong concept, executed well. This is the kind of monster I’m all about – it feels obvious in retrospect, but delightfully novel when you first see one.
This is just an ideal follow-up to an already-great design. The only thing she loses is the flashy eyebrows, but in return there’s a greater sense that she’s positively melting, which suggests an even more potent heat. You even get the fantastic detail that she’s lighting up her own rocky shell from below with her own absolute radiance – it’s a heck of a thing to attribute a quiet ferocity to such a vacant stare. The fact that she leaks fire plumes is just a delightful embellishment at this point, really.
I also love that Pokémon has such a consistent look with its rocky monsters – they’re either very sharp and angular, like with Geodude’s body or Golem’s shell, or they cobble geometric patches together into a craggy mosaic, not unlike Graveler’s “skin”. It gives them all a feeling that they belong to the same environment, which is one of the subtler touches that nonetheless contributes to their worldbuilding.
Plus, it creates this messy, natural look that works perfectly for what is, after all, this creature’s dried and hardened skin. Wouldn’t be Pokémon without subtle body horror.
Magma-dwelling monstrosities are a classic cryptid concept – both in and out of actual folklore. The series technically already had a spot filled for “magma monster”, but I’d argue that a molten gastropod is a step up in almost every way.
Regrettably, Magcargo just struggles in the main games. She’s understandably slower than molasses going uphill in January – on crutches – which is enough to be a pain as she’s constantly taking hits. What’s worse is that a combined Fire and Rock monster just crumples when it so much as looks at a fish, and Water is the most dead-common type in the entire series. Add onto that another quadruple-weakness to Ground, and Magcargo just doesn’t look great even before you get into her heavily-defensive abilities – no wonder the designers had to pump up her stats in Sun & Moon. Sorry, friend; maybe you can still find a foothold in competitive play.
Slugma is also a little infamous for breaking the Pokémon-Amie features in the series’ 3DS titles. It’s a lovely concept, letting you play with and pet any creature you could possibly have on your team… even and especially ones that weren’t designed with this in mind. As it turns out, there’s no safe spot to pet a living puddle of molten rock, and any place you try results in an animation where you burn your hand. This has the unfortunate result that sad Slugma owners everywhere can’t show these lava mollusks the affection they so clearly deserve. Poor things.
These little goobers also have other care problems, like how their magma bodies (how does that even work, again? How does any of this work?) need to stay in constant motion to circulate heat, oxygen, and nutrients. Sit still enough to cool down, and they just harden into the material that Magcargo’s (supposedly-brittle?) shell is made of, and chunks of their body can chip off. So do they just… not sleep? Or can they only sleep in specialized environments, like actual volcanoes or the inside of a Pokéball?
Let’s just assume that it’s much easier to book a magma bath in Johto than it would be in the real world, because the alternative is a slow, withering decline for domestic Magcargo. They still aren’t allowed in the house, though.
On the flip-side of that, Slugma’s alternate, “shiny” coloration does reflect this trait, being the dark silvery-grey color that actual magma turns when it hardens. Neat touch! Kind of a shame that Magcargo couldn’t carry that torch, but at least it gets a dark-red shell that looks like it’s constantly glowing. Man, are these two delightfully on-theme.
Also, Slugma’s Japanese name is Magumaggu, which is just fun to say out loud.
Useful from a gameplay perspective? Not especially. But an elegant and appealing design for an elemental monster? Absolutely. We already have evidence that the games can continue without these two, since they’re absent in Sword & Shield – they’re arguably barely present in Gold & Silver, for that matter, being one of the brand-spanking-new common families that you can’t even catch until after the credits roll. Still, Slugma and Magcargo are well-conceived and well-realized ideas that deserve to stay in Reserve.
Any and all appreciation for Slugma and Magcargo is welcome in the comments!