From Generation III onward, Game Freak has altered Pokémon’s core battle mechanics in some way or another. Double Battles and the Physical/Special move split fundamentally changed the way people play Pokémon both casually and competitively, but it’s the latter three — Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, and Dynamax — that garnered a lot of debate as they were introduced and thrown away like a Pokémon with a detrimental Nature.
Before Pokémon Scarlet and Violet reveal another controversial mechanic – Pokémon fusions anyone? No? – we thought it prudent to take a look back at how these last three Generations’ mechanics fared.
As each functions differently in casual (single-player adventure, battles with friends) and competitive settings (VGC), we’ve provided two rankings for each. We’ve also called upon the 2016 VGC World Champion Wolfe Glick for some insight.
Generation VI – Mega Evolution
Kalos’s Mega Evolution signalled the beginning of Game Freak’s attempts to keep Pokémon battles as fresh as a recently cut Slowpoke Tail. The reveal of Mega Evolution forms for old favourites along with the new Pokémon introduced in X and Y created one of the most exciting times to follow the core series of games. They also promised more nuanced gameplay for competitive players as only one ‘mon could Mega Evolve per match and had to sacrifice holding an item to do so.
Needless to say, Mega Evolution remains a fan favourite, and the general consensus is that Game Freak dropped the Voltorb when it nixed Mega Evolution entirely in Pokémon Sword and Shield. In fact, we’d say Z-Moves and Dynamax suffered in popularity because fans see them as poor substitutes. However, Wolfe Glick had this to say about its competitive viability:
Mega Evolution remains a fan favourite, and the general consensus is that Game Freak dropped the Voltorb when it nixed Mega Evolution entirely
“When Mega Evolutions were first released, they were not balanced at all,” Glick told us. “In generation VII they were tuned a little bit but still it was stratified. There were around eight Mega Evolutions that were viable. If you used anything other than those eight, you were at a big disadvantage from the get-go. Salamence, Kangaskhan, Gengar – these Megas were so much stronger than stuff like Altaria and Beedrill. They were great from a design perspective. But from an actual competitive lens, there were a lot of issues with them.”
We have to agree with Glick here. Of the 48 different Mega Evolutions, most designs, such Mega Absol and Mega Pidgeot, added layers to otherwise unremarkable Pokémon, but that still did not make them strong enough to see serious play.
To make matters worse, for some reason Mega Evolution played an extremely minor role in X and Y’s adventure. Much like we’ll forever wonder how Charizard isn’t a Dragon type, we’ll also wonder why the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four of Kalos didn’t have Pokémon to Mega Evolve.
Casual Ranking: B
Competitive Ranking: C
Generation VII – Z-Moves
Despite amazing names like Bloom Doom and Pulverising Pancake, both casual and competitive players disliked Pokémon Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves. They were nowhere near as intriguing as Mega Evolution, and their extended dance-like animations outstayed their welcome after the first watch. However, Game Freak did let Z-Moves shine more throughout the Alola region as many trainers made use of them, thus adding a layer of difficulty and a surprise factor in certain battles.
This surprise factor, however, Glick had issues with.
“Z-Moves did double damage… They just deleted Pokémon. Strong Z-Moves would KO even Pokémon that resisted the attack,” he said.
The fact that you never knew if a Pokémon had a Z-Crystal or not exacerbated this, Glick explained. So, you always had to play a guessing game; they were only once per game and for one turn. It felt very much like a coin flip to him – if you guessed wrong and wasted your Z-Move, it put you at a massive disadvantage.
Glick might have a personal bias, however:
“Move pools were wider back then, too. I lost to Z-Focus Blast Tapu Lele at the World Championships, which is not something I anticipated playing against,” he says with a laugh.
Casual Ranking: C
Competitive Ranking: D
Generation VIII – Dynamax
From the very moment Game Freak announced Dynamax, trainers bemoaned it for being way less cool than Mega Evolution. We get it – a Pokémon growing massive for a few turns and laying down some stat-boosting moves thrills us about as much as stumbling upon a Zubat in Mt. Moon. And Pokémon Showdown, a popular online battle simulator that does away with a lot of the annoyances of competitive battling, banned Dynamax in most formats from the get-go for its overpowering potential.
“I like that there was a defensive component to [Dynamax]… used defensively it’s a 200% health increase”
Despite all this, of these three mechanics, Glick believes Dynamax is by far the healthiest.
“I like that there was a defensive component to [Dynamax]. Yes your Pokémon becomes way stronger with a 50% damage increase, but used defensively it’s a 200% health increase. If you’re like, ‘oh [the opponent’s Pokémon] is going to Dynamax and do more damage,’ you can overall increase your survivability on your important Pokémon. I thought that was a really nice mechanic.”
Glick further elaborated that because Dynamax lasts three turns, it gives you more time to make an impact whereas with Z-Moves you risk whiffing. Mega Evolution being limited to a handful of viable candidates isn’t a problem for Dynamax as all Pokémon (save for three Legendaries) can take advantage of it. Overall, Dynamax ain’t that bad.
We’re even going to bump the casual rank up a letter-grade with how the music changes when a Gym Leader Dynamaxes their ace. In fact, from the very first Gym Leader throwing an overgrown dandelion at you to the penultimate fight against Leon’s Gigantimaxed Charizard, utilising Dynamax wasn’t a problem Sword and Shield had – and Sword and Shield wasn’t without a problem or two.
Casual Ranking: B
Competitive Ranking: A
Generation IX – ?
As details on Pokémon Scarlet and Violet remain scarce, we have some time to wait until we see what Game Freak has in store for us.
Casually, we’d want the mechanic to play an active role in the story – whether being used by Gym Leaders or even trainers in the field – along with some significant story moments.
If Dynamax has taught us anything, Game Freak might have learned what does and does not make for a good battle mechanic for competitive battles. It should not be limited to a handful of Pokémon, and it shouldn’t have an absurd damage increase. It should also come paired with a defensive component. Glick hopes it lasts longer than a single turn, either becoming a permanent effect or lasting for several, as well.
Yet until we get closer to Scarlet and Violet’s 18th November release date, we’ll have to remain as patient as a Sudowoodo to see what Game Freak has in store for the next generation of Pokémon battles.
But these are just our thoughts along with those of a bona fide Pokémon Master. What do you think of the three mechanics – Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, and Dynamax? Make sure let us know in the poll below which is your favourite, and head to the comments to tell us what you’d like to see Scarlet and Violet.