The Demise of Sprites

By CaptKirby.
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Japanese Blue/Green and English Red/Blue


The first two generations of Pocket Monster games had imaginative sprites that defied their technological restraints. Both Japanese Blue/Green and English Red/Blue had hilarious and highly expressive sprites, often managing to be both cute and genuinely monster like. Gold/Silver/Crystal used intelligent coloring and cuter sprites to provide a bit tamer but very eye pleasing game. While the average sprite in Heart Gold/Soul Silver is fine, such as all of the Butterfree or Beedrill lines, the sprites are neither monster like and expressive nor cute and colorful. HGSS is rather closest to the tepid, unprofessional, and rigid sprites of Fire Red/Leaf Green, created by people who do not understand several aspects of pixel art. I do not make these observations as someone who is claiming to be a professional, but rather someone completely inexperienced with sprite art work, which shows how obvious the degradation has been.

The biggest concept that is misunderstood is expressiveness. Charizard’s poorly drawn eyes and rigid arms portray it as if it were culled from an episode of Barney. Rather than looking powerful, Blastoise’s rigid posing and poorly drawn eyes and mouth cause it to look like an oversized, goofy, boorish bully. In Western Red/Blue Blastoise was supposed to actually look like a powerful bully, evidenced by its powerful posture and bulky size. Ampharos’s posing makes it look like it gained twenty pounds and decided to endeavor ballet. Magmar, after a long day of residing at its stuffy manor, set aside its top hat, put on a copious amount of frills, and set off to its secret night life of disco dancing. Gengar, sick of its days of evil, joined in on the dancing poses in the style of an Irish dancing corps. Fallen far from the days its grin showed how incredibly prepared to explode in your face it was, Electrode’s ineptly drawn eyebrows and mouth cause it to look like comic relief. While the sprites do look somewhat similar to the monsters we already know, they lack the charisma and charm of expression they used to have nearly universally.

As cursorily mentioned, a big reason for this is how poorly the eyes are drawn in this game. Eyes have perpetually shrunk in Pocket Monsters games, and it has reached a climax in HGSS. When you look at the sprites of the monsters I chose to fixate on, you can see this weirdly scrunched up, pinched expression on all of them, and it makes them look very off from how they should be. Hoothoot was flying on its way to a productive night of hooting, when seemingly out of nowhere a glass window cropped up and hindered its path with a violent crash. Upon waking up, beak a pounding, it was unfortunately day, and the sun seared its eyes in a way an owl's eyes were never meant to be touched, forever leaving its pupils out of place. Even evolution could not fully fix this disaster of nature, as Hoothoot still retains some retinal damage upon growing into a noble Noctowl. Hitmonchan's eyes, rather than making it look like a prize fighter, make it look like a constipated buffoon. The starkest example of all is Lapras, which looks like it was punched in the snout with eyes open, but looks gorgeously elegant with eyes closed.

Another concept ignored is the former proportions of the monsters. Even if it is arguable that proportions do not need to be consistent with the past, it is certain that the monsters should retain the same basic shape. Quagsire losts its cuteness by losing its curves. Mewtwo became anorexic as a plea for attention after Arceus statistically dethroned it. With a greater plenitude of insect monsters to feast on than erstwhile menageries, Victreebel came to HGSS as chubby as it could possibly be. After creating parts of this game while watching television, it seems that Jay Leno's chin was accidentally left on Aerodactyl (although, deceptively, the eyes play a larger role in making Aerodactyl look horrible than one might first notice). No other baffling sprite, however, can contend with Jolteon having accidentally fallen into a trash compactor, its sad mewling ignored until it struggled out a much lesser beast when next it saw the crack of dawn.

The most ridiculous mistake in these sprites is the often the ridiculous and arbitrary shading. It is not hard at all to get right, and they certainly have in the past. Yet, for some reason, Onix everywhere awoke to find themselves balding from their necks upward, while their rocks waist downward retained youthful vigor. Poliwrath's shading is so offensive that I cannot even muster a contrived metaphor to describe the folly. Why Raichu has a random diagonal shadow cutting across nearly half of it is anyone's guess. I suppose they were just high off of the fumes of millions upon millions of dollars from the budget for rehashing a game they already made once and accidentally missed the urgent quality control emails.

Despite all that is wrong, there are still both unique and beautiful sprites in these games. Muk really stands out in both its expressiveness, despite the too small eyes, and its color shading. The decision to make its folds more subtle lends it a greater feeling of oozing about. Raikou's coloring is well done, and its excellent posing is very nicely animal, showing it standing powerfully and ready to pounce. Lugia's odd shading actually works out for it, and the posing is by far its most powerful yet, in large part due to its hands being less like weird human hands for once. Another nice touch is its wide open mouth, which expresses its power even better than the wings, and gives a sense of anger rather than the amused, prideful look it had in GSC, both of which are great. Raticate, which looked utterly ineffectual the last couple of generations, looks genuinely ferocious and powerful now due to the drawing of the mouth and posing. Gyarados looks hilarious in both its frames, but especially with the smugly powerful closed mouth look, and its standing up is a refreshingly unique look that was not offered by the pixel limitations of past generations. The newly transparent wings of Yanma make it look really bold despite being a minor detail. Houndoom, while still short of the incredibly vividly colored Houndoom of Gold, manages to improve on all attempts since GSC, producing a convincingly powerful stance and much better coloring than the other post-GSC games. Machamp, Magneton, and Kabutops all manage to strike properly expressive poses, leaving fun sprites even with some glaring defects. While there are infuriating and humorously bad sprites that fill this game, these sprites show at least some beauty is left in Pocket Monster spriting.

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