I am extremely reluctant to call anything in life perfect. There are a few exceptions to this rule: Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged gig in 1994, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood, Dickies socks, and a nice, cold pint of Guinness on a warm - but not hot - Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately, I have yet to play a game fit to be held in equally high esteem as Kurt Cobain’s “SHIVERRRRRRRR” at the end of Where Did You Sleep Last Night. Still, I have to admit that certain very specific characters and concepts are capable of coming pretty close - luckily for Pokemon Unite, Blastoise is among these.

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I have always maintained a firm and fixed belief that turtles are great, actually. I know the snapping ones… Well, they snap at you with their little turtle jaws, don’t they? That’s less than ideal. However, I must ask: have you ever been bitten by a turtle? Probably not. And so in the case of 99.99999 percent of people, any grudge held against a turtle for this reason is completely unfounded. Also, despite Squirtle being, presumably, a turtle, Blastoise’s name clearly refers to tortoises - when did a tortoise ever hurt anyone? Never, that’s when.

The thing about Blastoise is that while its compound naming practice incorporates “tortoise” into its makeup, it also contains the word “blast,” as in, “I am going to blast through a building with my enormous shoulder cannons that make actual cannons look like Lego cannons.” Every time I see Blastoise in Pokemon now, all I can think about is Danny DeVito saying, “so anyway, I started blastin’!” except instead of two revolvers he has Blastoise’s heavily armed delts. It is an amazing picture.

blastoise devito

In case you hadn’t noticed, Blastoise is my favourite Pokemon of all time. I catch and train a Squirtle as quickly and chaotically as possible whenever I play a new Pokemon game. When I finally figured out how to get Blastoise out of the whirlpool in New Pokemon Snap, my brain Blastoised out of my skull. I actually sort of root for the cloned Blastoise in Mewtwo Strikes Back because I can’t in good conscience oppose it, so I instead cheer on both teams like a person watching their first football match after their first beer during their first trip to a pub. I was convinced I would find a Blastoise at the beach in real life until I was 25 years old, which is now. Speaking of which, what time is high tide today… Anyway, yes: Blastoise. It’s very good.

I already play quite a lot of Pokemon Unite, which you will know if you’ve read me moaning about its idling problems, fundamental misunderstanding of support roles, and inherent pandering to people who are unwilling to learn how MOBAs work. As with most people who commit to playing a service game, however, my grievances are written in vain - ten minutes after hitting publish I will find myself frenzied and frothing in the thick of a one-sided Zapdos scrap in which the enemy team, of course, steals the avian deity’s thunder, as it were. Once again, the joke is on me.

Blastoise changes all of this. The thing about playing as your favourite Pokemon is that the entire process of doing that - emphatically playing a game - becomes different. Consider New Pokemon Snap: I do not care if my Blastoise photos are good or not, because a) all of them are good, it’s Blastoise, and b) I am going to take approximately seven billion more anyway. Once a series you love is injected with a dose of a highly specific thing from that same series, the value you perceive it to have grows exponentially and enduringly.

blastoise snap

Put it this way: I don't really care for Final Fantasy all that much. As someone who only played a little bit of Final Fantasy 7 growing up, and who has invested a sizable 50 or so hours into Final Fantasy 14, the critically acclaimed MMORPG with a free tri- haha. But yes, as someone with those two not-very-impressive accolades on his belt, I can confidently say that if you put Blastoise into Final Fantasy 3 or 13 or 13,000-2: Blastoise Returns I would play it in a heartbeat.

That sentiment is obviously compounded by the whole way Pokemon Unite specifically is structured. It is a live-service game designed with player retention in mind - I already play almost every day thanks to typical trappings like login rewards and daily challenges. You add in my favourite Pokemon of all time and give it a role that isn’t just yet-another-attacker? How dare you devalue my time like this! Also, thank you.

There is a point to this piece beyond me providing myself with an excuse to gush about the best Pokemon ever designed (Blastoise, in case you missed it). I think there is a real lesson to be learned here about how iconic series are adapted to suit contemporary trends. While we’re getting Gen 4 remakes in November and Legends Arceus in January, Pokemon’s shift towards a genre as impenetrable as MOBA was, while obviously somewhat surprising, inevitable. Halo Infinite is supposed to be… infinite. Assassin’s Creed Infinity is supposed to be… also infinite-y. It seems as if every time I read the news yet another behemoth video game series is being prepped for its ascension to microtransaction monolith. The question of how this affects the integrity of the original series’ vision and values is a difficult and daedal one, layered with all kinds of intricacies we have no way of properly knowing yet.

blastoise unite

But then I think about how Blastoise is finally coming to Unite after over a month of delays, and all of a sudden the picture changes. Instead of seeing something dark and opaque, everything becomes clear - thoughtful retention or reintroduction of staples in a series can be far more effective than going in a new direction or hamfisting in generous handfuls of saturated tropes. There are more than two options on offer and Pokemon Unite clearly understands that - this is particularly evident from the fact that Blastoise was kept under wraps for so long, presumably because someone had somehow made the best Pokemon of all time rubbish, actually. That is almost impressive.

Anyway - cheers, Blastoise, for existing. As of Wednesday, I will inevitably spend every waking hour playing as you in Pokemon Unite or uncontrollably sulking whenever someone nicks you. Here’s to playing a MOBA without hating every second of it.

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