Usually, in cases where I’d treat a set of Pokémon as one collective article, I’d at least try to treat the individual members on their separate merits.
Not this time.
Plusle & Minun only really exist as a set, and that’s kind of by design. The two barely even have physical differences: one is red, the other is blue, and they have slightly different marks on their cheeks and tails. They might as well just be two different forms of the same monster, really.
And that certainly wouldn’t be an appalling monster; Plusle & Minun have a dash of that same simplistic charm that made Clefairy and Pikachu so broadly endearing. They’ve even got that “indistinct animal” vibe that I adore, considering that you could claim them as any of a dozen unique rodents. Perfectly serviceable as a “new Pikachu“.
But that’s really all they are in the long run, and we already have Pikachu. You can’t really even argue that they give the impression of a spunkier electro-rat with childlike proportions – that’s just a Pichu. In fact, it’s kind of hard to point to anything that makes them distinct, and that’s kind of a red flag when you’re up to Pokémon #386, let alone #900.
They also kind of have no purpose on a team in the main game. Their whole identity revolves around being doubles partners, and to be frank that’s going to be less than 10% of your time in the campaign. And when you’re past that, well, you just have more interesting options available. Sorry, kiddos, there’s just not a lot to vouch for here.
In case it’s not thuddingly obvious – or, more generously, if you weren’t playing new Pokémon games in 2003 – Plusle and Minun are a manifestation of “double battles”. Where most JRPGs will field a party of at least three adventurers against as many (or often more) enemies, Pokémon revolves around a one-on-one “duel” format. So, when the series added two-on-two matches in the third generation, it was a properly different context from what the series was tuned for – especially after considering the other changes in Ruby & Sapphire.
Plusle and Minun reflect that in every way possible. Half of their moveset doesn’t do damage, but instead powers up their tag-team partner in some way or another. Their passive abilities boost each other’s stats if Plusle and Minun are sent out as a pair. They were arguably even co-mascots for the generation, featuring in the long-running Adventures manga and as a regular sibling-like pair in the anime and merchandising.
And, to throw them another bone, having a “positive charge” and “negative charge” feed off each other is a pretty great way of keeping them in-theme as a conjoined set. If you’re going to have a monster exist to showcase a feature, this is how you’d do it.
But it’s 2021 now, and doubles matches are such old news that the games barely even explain them to players any more. A whole-monster tutorial into a feature is pretty slick, but it’s also kind of unnecessary at this point. Not to mention that they’re… kind of uninteresting as an actual team. Both of them serve the same purpose, as a relatively underpowered Electric-type. Neither really compensates for the other, so you’re left with near-uniform twins.
One thing we’re not usually shown is that these two create electric pom-poms, which they use as a pun-intended conduit for their support moves. That adds some nice flavor, at least, but I can’t really think of a time that it’s displayed on screen. All the more of a shame – it seems like there’s a fond idea behind these two, but they just don’t measure up outside that initial impression in the early aughts.
It says a lot that, while Plusle and Minun used to have a fairly strong marketing presence (and were potentially even candidates for a Smash Bros. fighter back in the day), they’re simply absent from the last two generations of mainline games. They were fun back in the day, but now that the novelty has worn off, there’s just not much more goose for them to give. I could see them showing up in retrospective specials, sure, but otherwise, we could stand to retire these two.
Any and all appreciation for Plusle and Minun is welcome in the comments!