I really wish Swinub’s popularity had taken off in the way that some of the other first-form Pokémon did. Just look at him. He’s a round lump of fuzz with a permanently-sleepy look on his face. No mouth, no ears, no limbs. Just a cute critter distilled down to its most huggable possible form. Perfection.
Personally, I love the mix of “wild pig” with a little hit of a stubby “guinea pig”. Other cartoon designs have to do a lot of abstraction and cleaning to make piglets appealing – which is absolutely done here, too – but evoking even a whiff of a domestic pet makes him feel like something friendly you’d want to play with, which is what all the first-stage Pokémon feel like they aspire to.
Plus, he’s part ground-type. A ground hog, if you will.
I’ll see myself out.
Piloswine pulls the exact same trick as Swinub, and it works just as well. He’s lumpier, hairier, and sleepier. As a result, where actual wild boars can be nothing short of terrifying, Piloswine instead feels more like a shaggy dog than a threat. Just lookit those floppy ears! The continued lack of (or, rather, super-short) legs! Even the tusks are fun little additions with how they’re sideways in a way that must only be useful for milling dirt.
Then there’s his dopey, self-induced blindness. When you see that on a dog, mostly it just bumps its head on tables. On a hog, it ends up charging sull-speed into walls.
Ridiculous, and all the more lovable for it.
No joke, these first two evolutions just look like big ol’ warm, hairy pillows to me. That sounds a little gross, maybe, but simplifying them down to a core appeal works very much in their favor. Who doesn’t want to pet a pile-o’-swine?
It’s almost disappointing that the fourth generation evolved him into a relatively normally-shaped mammal. Part of it’s the sheer size of this lad, but still: it looks like somebody shaved my boy, and he lacks some of that scruffy charm as a result. He can even see clearly out both eyes! What gives?
That said, much like Swinub nicely pairs guinea pigs with wild piglets, Mamoswine makes an interesting “speculative zoology” angle in connecting the woolly mammoth to a wild boar, and the result is… an absolute unit. It totally works as a form factor, and I love how the lack of a trunk accentuates the most fun part of a mammoth: those tusks. Seriously, this guy is nothing but big, sturdy, heavy-lifting-capable mandibles and a tanky body to back them up. There’s something just satisfying about seeing such a hefty animal throw its weight around.
I still wish he had more shaggy hair than just his bushy “mustache”, though.
Mamoswine is definitely fun to use in the games, at least. He’s got plenty of health and loads of attack, plus perfectly fine speed and defense, so he’s fun to just bulldoze opponents with. Well, sometimes, at least. Unfortunately, it takes some effort to get some of his better Ice-type moves and abilities, and he’s got a lot of weaknesses that his special defense just can’t take. Kind of a mixed bag, but applied correctly, Mamoswine is oodles of fun to just roll through NPC opponents with.
One of the more fun curiosities to this line, though, is how Mamoswine failed to get retconned into the games correctly.
Usually when the series introduces a new evolution to an existing family, they try to use in-game mechanics to hand-wave why you couldn’t get it before. Onix requires a Metal Coat to evolve into Steelix, and you just couldn’t get that item before. Eevee needs to interact with a Moss Rock to become Leafeon, and those don’t naturally exist in Kanto or Johto. But Piloswine and Yanma have to know “Ancient Power” to evolve.
…which is a move Piloswine could always learn.
Lickilicky had this problem, too, and in both cases it’s kind of just been ignored. And that feels like the right reaction in hindsight; this is more the fun kind of plot hole that ultimately doesn’t matter, anyway.
It seems like the developers are much more devil-may-care about this nowadays, too: Eevee can evolve into Leafeon with the available-since-1996 Leaf Stone now, and other Pokémon can evolve through friendship instead of using one-off “beauty” or “affection” mechanics. I’d wager those little inconsistencies are worth not having to muddy the games with three dozen methods that each just evolve one family.
But anyway, Swinub.
He especially seems to be based in truffle-sniffing pigs, which is fun enough. He even has a favorite mushroom, because of course he does! But do you know what else that snout is especially good at finding?
Natural Hot Springs.
That in itself, intentional or not, feels like it enables how Pokémon as a whole seems to have a very “let nature run its course” attitude despite it being something of a science-fantasy series. Rather than seeking out or drilling for hot springs, this imagines that humans literally communicate and partner with nature to find good (and safe) places to settle.
…and also that these little wool-piglets just love them a warm bath, which is the coziest thing I’ve heard all day.
On a different speculative note, Mamoswine are ancient. Assuming the Pokédex entries have even a little bit of accuracy, they’re some of the best (non–fossil) evidence we have of the setting having a real history, including a multi-millennium-long history of population decline.
Back in the day, fans (who love to overthink things, myself included) seemed to love the idea that Pokémon was something of a “ruined Earth” scenario, with the actual critters all stemming from some horrible experiment that returned the earth to nature. A fun “what-if”, maybe, but now we officially know that was never in the cards.
I think these guys are genuinely some of the most appealing ice-types in the series design-wise, and if it were up to me I’d especially keep Swinub and Piloswine around forever. I don’t think we need to see them in every game, just based on how many options exist, but they certainly feel like the coziest Ice-types to me. I’d be torn if Swinub dropped to anything less than a Reserve monster that we see pop up regularly.
Any and all appreciation for Swinub, Pilowsine, and Mamoswine is welcome in the comments!