For a Pokémon with a unique ability that you’re forced to encounter every time you adventure through Hoenn, Keckleon does strike me as… average? Definitely an oddball with a dopey look and odd anatomy, but that just comes with the cartoon-chameleon territory.
Maybe a big part of it is how the encounter is framed. Not only do you not even see Kecleon in the overworld, but you’re only really interrupted by her if you don’t go the five steps out of your way to challenge Winona’s gym before pressing onward. Leave Fortree with the Feather Badge, and you’re handed the “key” to her puzzle the second you even find her, leaving the encounter a bit underwhelming.
Which is a shame, because I think there’s a lot of potential in this idea- clearly the designers agree to an extent, given that she was one of the Hoenn monsters appearing a whole year before the games’ release. Her whole gimmick – the ol’ color-changing chameleon trick – could work wonders when applied to the elemental type system, or even as a hide-and-seek puzzle in the games.
As is, neither really work in her favor. Kecleon’s Color Change ability is reactive, “absorbing” the type of the last move she was hit with and making that Kecleon’s new base type. This means the opponent more-or-less gets to decide what type she changes into, and the ability doesn’t even kick in unless she takes damage, which she doesn’t have the HP or physical defense to put up with a lot of the time.
This works better with Kecleon’s hidden ability, which immediately changes her to the same type as the move she’s about to use, but that’s a fix that you have to pull some strings to get onto your Kecleon in particular. And with her miserable speed and average-to-underwhelming attack stats, it’s just not going to be worth it for a lot of folk.
Granted, she does have a neat quirk that kind of saves her; that zig-zag stripe on her chest is a bit of a blind spot, and the only spot on her body that she can’t make bend into her environment. It amusingly makes her ineffective at hiding from predators in the wild, but probably serves a more social purpose. You see, Kecleon get really upset when people don’t notice their little faux-invisibility trick – something of a Catch-22. So that zig-zag stripe seems to be to ensure she doesn’t stay too hidden, just enough to play or to safely pop her head out of a hidey-hole.
Certain games also call out that her color changes based on temperature and especially mood – that her skin turns lighter when she’s at ease and darker when she’s upset. Turns out, this is exactly how actual chameleon skin works; their skin reacts more (and slowly) to how excited they are much more commonly than they do to try and mimic the surrounding terrain. Instead, it’s more useful as a playful social signal – granted, the camouflage aspect is hardly a lie, and can actually be used to take advantage of certain predators’ colorblindness. It’s just likely not the primary use.
So, in summary, Keckleon – much like the thing she’s based on – is really more of a walking mood ring.
She’s fun, but frankly hard to see coming out of Reserve too often. The Monster Hunter franchise has given us a chameleon-dragon, so by comparison, I guess this just feels… under-realized? I’ve got nothing against little widget-y Pokémon with one unique concept, but the series has tried the “elemental camouflage” thing in about three different ways over the years; Kecleon needs a bit more oomph if she’s gonna keep hold of her niche.
Any and all appreciation for Kecleon is welcome in the comments!