Video Games

The New Pokémon Game Is Great, as Long as You Don’t Mind Them Attacking You

Pokémon have finally turned the tables—and are attacking humans.

A giant horse stands next to a girl in a kimono doing a thumbs up pose.
I love my gigantic, threatening son. Nintendo via Slate

The newest Pokémon game, Pokémon Legends: Arceus, is the most interesting installment in years: Now you don’t have to battle Pokémon to catch them, and there are new forms and evolutions (including this Ursaluna that looks like the “yes honey” meme). But my favorite addition to the Nintendo Switch game is that the Pokémon can kill you—and, more importantly, that some of these murderous beasts are chonky.

In previous generations, the literal god of time didn’t pose an actual threat to you, the human Pokémon trainer, besides knocking out your team of monsters. The teddy bear-wrestler monster Bewear’s Pokédex entry warns of its hugs being able to crush trainers’ spines, but there’s no hug button in the games. (There should be, though. I’ll risk it.) Even the massive Dynamax Pokemon in Sword and Shield that are standing right behind you somehow never catch you in the crossfire. It’s safe to say that that Pokémon’s danger element has been … lacking.

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But no longer. There is explicit mention of an extra-powerful Noble Pokemon, the one with axe blades on its arms, fully mauling some of your Galaxy Team members. Another Noble is the size of a small island and tries to impale you with icicle spears when you attempt to calm it down. Even something as basic as a Shinx—the cutesy electric lion—can electrocute you. I’ve felt my heart rate spike multiple times when a Staravia or, god forbid, a Machoke manages to get the drop on me, and I have to run for cover. As my editor put it succinctly, I am always afraid.

And this is all before we get to the big, bellicose jewels of the game: the Alpha Pokemon with glowing red eyes and girth to spare, as former Slatester Karen Han recently tweeted about:

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I’m a simple person with simple pleasures—and Big Gengar pleases me. Big Ursaring pleases me. Big Bidoof especially pleases me. Yes, I feel a little bad about whisking them away from their natural habitat. But consider: They are not real. They are pixels on a screen. By contrast, my joy at seeing a somehow even tubbier-than-usual Snorlax is the realest thing I’ve felt since March 2020.

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The genius of Pokémon Legends: Arceus is that it understands how Pokémon—like Walt Whitman, CDC guidance, and Eric Adams’ veganism—exist in contradiction. Yes, they do try to rend you limb from limb if you get close to their towering forms. But that’s so much real estate for hugging! Friendship ended with Bewear. Now Big, Brutal Tangrowth is my new best friend.

While the Alphas’ aggression should be a turn-off, the fact that they’ll rip you apart is a feature, not a bug. Why do you think humans jump out of airplanes for fun or voluntarily watch Hereditary? It’s because of the evolutionary misfire that somehow triggers the fight-or-flight reflex and the “more of this NOW” reflex at the same time. Upon meeting an Alpha Lucario, my first instinct is always to get the hell out. But give it a few minutes, and I’ll find myself crouched behind a rock, fawning at its ecstatic little face when it realizes a berry has mysteriously appeared next to it.

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I posit that this is why I love these oversized Alpha Pokemon so much: We want to be a little scared, because it makes every other emotion more potent. The fear of their crimson eyes only makes watching that baleful gaze melt all the more rewarding. Sure, this part of our natures is terrible for avoiding predators or dangerous situations, in real life or in Legends. It’s a miracle that humanity and my in-game self ever made it this far. But I’m glad we did, as there’s no greater gift than getting to see these violent cuties frolic and murder people every time I venture into the wild. Big Bidoof forever.

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