Houndour, Houndoom

#228 – Houndour

A fire-dog Pokémon, but angrier this time.

Houndour is a sharp-looking pup, don’t get me wrong. Strong build, very clear allusion to a real breed to ground him, and an instantly-recognizable “hellhound” theme. He even gets a point for being a short-haired breed, where Growlithe was decidedly on the fluffier side, which at least gives us a little doggo diversity. I even like how his bone-bits make “shackles” on his ankles, which is adorably trying-to-be-edgy.

The presence of “bone-bits” gets to me, though – the few times in nature we see a mammal grow bone outside its body, it’s usually because of a horrible growth disease or some sort of tusk. The mechanics of an internal skeleton growing externally have some nasty consequences that Houndour (rightly) just isn’t addressing.

Dogs like bones. This dog has bones. Good for him.

#229 – Houndoom

…and then those bones growths all moved around to be something way over-the-top. Double-wrist-shackles, a collar with a skull ornament, and… curved horns?

Okay, look, I know you’re going for the “devil” look here – the impish tail gives that away. But those curved demon-horns are explicitly derived from goat imagery, and slapping them on a working dog just looks weird to me. A Dobermann’s ears are already plenty pointy – maybe those could curve around to evoke horns? Because where we’re at, him having no ears at all makes his neck-and-head look awfully stumpy in a way that isn’t flattering.

There’s nothing wrong with what Houndoom is doing, exactly. I just feel like his design is very busy in the interest a relatively simple bit of wordplay, and not in an especially clever way. That heavy accessorizing feels like a design tick that belongs to a different monster series, but maybe Houndoom just isn’t my particular cup of tea.

He’s good enough to use in the main games, though – he trades a lot of weaknesses for a lot of resistances, has high attack stats and speed, and mainly just wants for any way to survive physical attacks. Glass cannon and all, but hey – glass cannons translate to easy sweeps through CPU teams.

…or, at least, he would be nice to use in the main games if you could catch him at a reasonable time. He pairs with Murkrow and Slugma in the “unavailable before the credits” club. What’s worse, there are only two main-series games at all so far where you can even catch a Houndour before the credits roll (three if you want to count the Gamecube games), so Houndoom is mostly around for the kind of player who likes digging into post-game content. And by that point, well… most teams have outgrown him, to be honest. Poor boy.

Oddly enough for a skull-y monster, though, the games won’t stop talking about how Houndour are tactical pack hunters. You’d think Dark-types would trend toward edgy loners, but that’s not true for either him or his feathered counterpart. On the other hand, this angle plays just as well into real Dobermanns (Dobermenn?) being working dogs especially pre-disposed to coordinating with given commands. I guess that also comes down to coordinating with each other.

That flattering talk about how gosh-darned smart they are goes away when the pups grow up, though, almost entirely replaced by ghost stories. “Its howls are oh-so-scary!” and “its fire will literally burn you forever!” and all the usual hyperbole – good reminders you that the Pokédex as published is very clearly not peer-reviewed.

It’s a nice meta-reference to the actual breed that this monster is based on, though, which has a bad reputation for being especially aggressive. To an extent, that comes with the territory of being trained to be guard dogs. To another, it’s just the impression given off by a big, sleek, powerful animal. Whether Dobermenn are actually more aggressive than other breeds or not (most behavioral science points to “not really”), leveraging that imagery for your Dark-type monster is a slick move, if one that fees nasty stereotypes.

The detail I do like about Houndoom is that his breath supposedly smells awful, one of the characteristics of Ye Olde Welsh Hellhounde. It’s also supposedly what allows him to ignite his breath – not that other Fire-types have needed the excuse so far – and has the triple-threat of being toxic, to boot. “Smelly” and “Flammable” are a venn diagram that usually leads people to sulfur, and adding “Toxic” from there, we can pretty easily trace the actual gas that this guy is probably breathing on you.

…what’s this thing been eating?

One last point of contention: Houndoom packs are supposedly led by the monster with the biggest, sharpest horns, which is a physical trait. This leader is chosen through action – physically fighting for dominance. So do their horns somehow make them better fighters despite extending backwards? Or does the the social affirmation of being the designated Top Dog trigger a biological change, like a mini-evolution? Neither way is a perfect explanation, but hey – he gave us a fun biochemical reason why he can breathe fire, so it all comes out in the wash.

I’m sure lots of people love Houndour. He’s cute, if you’re into that thing. But the “fire-type canine” niche is already filled, and wo will the “dark-type canine” soon enough. This series just doesn’t have elbow room for doubles any more – if it needs to pare down its roster over time, I shouldn’t be surprised to see him Houndoom pulled out of Reserves less and less often, if not just Retired outright.

Any and all appreciation for Houndour and Houndoom is welcome in the comments!

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