Poochyena almost feels almost like a throwback to Kanto designs by comparison to the Hoenn starters. She’s almost exactly just a wild canine pup, even colored somewhat-realistically, and cartooned up a bit. That’s really kind of it; more or less a bigger-looking and more aggressive Ratatta.
Unlike Ratatta, though, her color scheme ties her back to an element, and it’s honestly pretty neat to see the first wild monster of the generation be Dark-type. It won’t matter gameplay-wise right away, but it helps give the impression right off the bat that Hoenn’s ecosystem thrives on its variety.
In isolation, though, Poochyena does feel a little plain. She’s trying to do the same “amalgamation of animal traits” thing that made Sentret so appealing, but picking and choosing features from different wild dogs results in a critter that feels a little generic more than fantastical. That’s not a horrible thing for the first Pokémon you’re exposed to in the game – it’s good to start with something more grounded – but it makes for a Pokémon that I don’t really think about much.
I also don’t think a lot about Mightyena, to be honest.
The shaggier look is great at leaving a “feral animal” impression, and I secretly kind of love that his coat is split down the back into two stripes. All her dark fur is just one long pair of very angry eyebrows. I’m a little less convinced on the facial markings, though – I can kind of get that they’re trying for a “war paint” look, but all I see when I look at it is “clown” or even “mime”.
She’s a little more distinct than Poochyena, but shares the same issue: Generic Dog is a solid base, but not exactly awe-inspiring three generations into the series. For a common monster you’ll see a hundred times, though, you could do worse.
…you could do a lot better for a teammate, though. Mightyena has perfectly average attack, and her other stats kind of sag downward from there. She gets to debuff the opponent’s attack for free when you tag her into a match, which is nice for starting out with, but her whole moveset is kind of single-minded on basic attacks, which makes her uninteresting as a teammate after the first couple of Gyms (and even then, she’s kind of at a disadvantage against the first two in Hoenn).
Of the few things of note from this line, Poochyena – while obviously a hyena/wolf hybrid thingie – is actually a much better approximation of a Tasmanian devil than the one you’re probably thinking of. Hooray for useful design touchpoints!
And while it’s more trivial than anything, there’s a bit of back-and-forth on Mightyena’s nose. It’s been red in every game appearance and most screenshots you’ll find of it from the anime, but its original stock art showed it with a black nose. Naturally, most people are going to reference the former when making fan art, but even official material like the manga and the TCG will still show it in red at times. It’s definitely gotten more consistent with time, but it’s still fun to catch instances where the things slip past the Game Freak Style Guide.
Ultimately, Poochyena and Mightyena are Dark-type canines, and we literally just had a line of those with a more striking aesthetic. This family did a great job filling their niche at the time, and I’m sure they have their fans, and I don’t even think that they’re bad designs. I just don’t think the series would suffer at all if they were Retired.
Any and all appreciation for Poochyena and Mightyena is welcome in the comments!