What an odd little fella.
Cacnea feels like a mash-up of the two shapes I would expect of a cactus Pokémon, with the arms of one of those iconic multi-armed Saguaro cactuses but the round body and flowery crown of a cultivated houseplant breed. Both common interpretations of that genre of plant, sure, just not really seen together.
It seems we’ve landed in the same pool as the first-route mammal Pokémon we’ve seen, where the artists create a chimera of a whole family of creatures more than a representation of any one species. Plants kind of get glossed over into categories like that to begin with, but hey – there are several times as many species of cactus as there are of shrews, so it’s not a bad lesson to throw out there.
She even has a fun “Jack o’ Lantern” motif, what with the wide, “toothy” grin and sunken eyes. A bit weird for her to have actual eyes as a plant – specifically eyes with whites and pupils, which we see so rarely in other non-animal-based Grass-types. In fact, I doubly love this theme since it’s an interesting twist on Halloween iconography that we wouldn’t otherwise get for a decade.
I wonder what would happen if we went all-in on the “carved fruit” motif and deepened Cacnea’s eye sockets all the way instead.
…I can’t decide whether I love that or hate it. Nice and haunted, if nothing else.
My main mark against her is that she doesn’t have the sandy Ground-type, which feels odd coming off of Trapinch. Not that cactuses are necessarily bound to sand, sure, but it is kind of Cacnea’s main habitat in this series. Well, she’ll get a different secondary type in a minute, anyway:
This fella’s more of a prickly-pear, but hey – same family, so close enough for a non-horticulturalist. I do like what they’ve done with her here in upgrading the vague Jack o’ Lantern theme to an explicit Dark-type scarecrow, though – a properly spooky continuation, especially given how the former is sometimes used to build the latter.
I also appreciate how Cacnea is overtly rotund – you’ll see them tumble head-over-heels down dunes like a Graveler in New Pokémon Snap – but Cacturne looks like the opposite to me, giving me a Flat Stanley impression aside from her wide-brimmed cap. I don’t think that’s the intention, but maybe it’s a side-effect of the wide outline and single-color scheme.
Maybe they’re deliberately going for a bit of a mirage here, what with the desert theme, or maybe I’m giving them too much credit. Up to the reader’s interpretation, I guess.
The eyeballs are still an odd choice to me, but the mouths on this line make up for it. It’s like they have strings of plant fiber holding them together, “sewing” them shut to suppress a Cheshire-cat grin. How wonderfully grotesque!
For how rarely I think about Cacturne, there’s really nothing to complain about here. That speaks to a simple and effective design, which is a big ol’ thumbs-up from me.
I’m less thrilled about her as a teammate – she has as many weaknesses as resistances, and they combined make up more than half the types in the game. It’s a lot to track for a Pokémon who’s admittedly pretty flimsy, dumping all her points into two redundant attack stats while her speed and defenses suffer. She doesn’t even learn a lot of hard-hitting moves naturally, instead getting mismatched tactical options like Destiny Bond, Ingrain, and Spiky Shield. She’s a lot of choices that don’t unify behind a purpose – she doesn’t even have a passive ability that references cactus’ signature spines, for crying out loud.
Though, come to think of it, that serves her flavor text well enough. The folklore on this one is that Cacturne stands as a sentry during the day, rooted in place, spines out. Then, at night, she stalks the travelers that she’s been watching through sunken eyes, tracking them down with the strength they’ve been wasting in the sun but she’s been storing in her sandy “blood”. They move in staggered packs through the night, like arid zombies, or lanky carrion-eaters. And when they find you, you’ll not have the strength to fight back.
Ah, a good old-fashioned Dark-type horror story to make scarecrows, well, scary. You love to hear it – even if it doesn’t interact with another species like I might expect.
You know what? These two are rock-solid designs, and probably some of the better Grass-types in a while for representing a real-life plant. In fact, it’s a bit of a shame they’re relegated to desert biomes, since they’re so rarely part of the games. I’d say a properly good cactus is something of a Must-Have when addressing desert regions, though admittedly the series sometimes puts that entire biome into Reserve.
( Unfortunately, the designers don’t seem to agree – her signature move has been dummied out of the newer games, and the family hasn’t been seen in the anime for nearly fifteen years. In fact, only one Cacnea and one Cacturne are ever shown in the show; the former belonging to James, and the latter belonging to a main rival character. No respect. But hey; they threw Cacnea a bone via New Snap last year. They’re allowed to correct their mistakes going forward. )
Any and all appreciation for Cacnea and Cacturne is welcome in the comments!