Compared to his puppy peers, Smeargle falls more into the Meowth camp of “upright cartoon animal”. It still works – she’s got her appeal, and she kind of has to be a two-legs dog anyway to work with her “gimmick”: the Sketch move.
Smeargle is yet another creature designed around a very specific gameplay move, but less in a “bizarre biology” way and more in a charicature-y way. Though, in retrospect, that makes some amount of sense for a dog with a street-artist streak. I’m personally not a huge fan of that camp of design – it can feel a bit cheap to me in a series that usually goes for more “fantasy zoology” – but for people without that hang-up, the beige-and-brown with a green tail-splot makes for a nice, neutral canine. At least her built-in beret and perpetually-dangling tongue don’t feel too silly, I guess?
I’ll grant that her pale complexion and the tired bags under her eyes add to the “tired artist” look in a fun way. She’s not my bag, but she does what she does well enough. If nothing else, she’s a more unique kind of domestic dog than we see with Houndoom.
Smeargle’s stats are all pretty objectively bad; her attacks are abysmal, and the only thing resembling “okay” is her sub-average speed. Really, she only has one redeeming factor, but it’s a doozy.
The single move that Smeargle can learn – “Sketch” – allows it to copy almost any move in the game. Permanently. You want to load her up with moves like Mean Look and False Swipe that make her a perfect monster-catching companion? Can do. Change out her move-set before every Gym to counter the leader’s type? Go for it. Make a team of six differently-themed Smeargle? Sky’s the limit.
Well, within reason. You can’t copy some corner cases (the “you-have-no-moves-left” Struggle or moves that duplicate other moves), but that accounts for about ten out about 900 individual possibilities.
There are tons of ways to get creative with her mechanically, and if you’re not worried about keeping up with the competitive Joneses, that makes her a very fun option that can slot into any team.
Better not to think about how that works biologically.
Instead, let’s think about how that paint works!
Rather than grinding up chalks or berries to use as a faux-paint, Smeargle’s tail apparently produces its own fluid of varying colors. That means the gland runs at least three feet long, but it does make for a fun visual of an animal waving around her own tail.
We do know that the colors they produce are unique to each individual; the Stadium games would semi-randomize the colors seen on each specimen of a Smeargle, and the anime has (of course) given us the full spectrum. This gives them an even better reason to act like pack animals – only by getting multiple Smeargle together can they create some really unique markings.
It’s kind of odd to me that they aren’t considered an urban pest, though. Remember how actual dogs mark their territory?
…you’re right. Maybe it’s better not to think too long about how Smeargle-paint works. Especially not considering that the species has a tendency to put their paws in their own paint and mark each other.
Well, maybe she can go hang out with Weavile some time. They could open up a non-human art gallery, maybe do some cultural exchange. Just make sure it has good ventilation.
The last point of curiosity is that Smeargle originally only showed up in the Ruins of Alph, the dilapidated ruins that house the Unown species. Maybe they were just hanging around to get some inspiration for their later work?
Smeargle is just too fun and unique to trash entirely. I’d even say her pure whimsical possibility makes her a curiosity that I’d like to see in every main-series game, but clearly Game Freak doesn’t agree with me. Still, I’d be really disappointed to see her given the axe long-term, so Reserve feels right for this graffiti-dog.
Any and all appreciation for Smeargle is welcome in the comments!