Not only is Charmander the most popular of the original three Pokemon starters, but it happens to be the first Pokemon I ever saw as a kid. Most of us were likely introduced to Pokemon through Pikachu, but it was Charmander for me. In fact, the first Pokemon anime episode I ever watched happened to be Ash’s Charmander evolving into Charmeleon. Of course, its final evolution of Charizard continues to be one of the most popular competitive Pokemon through Sword and Shield, regardless if it’s actually the best option or not.
Many people will ask the question, is Charmander a dragon or a salamander, much more often than if Charmander is a good Pokemon. As the little salamander-esque baby dragon Pokemon evolves into the fan favorite Charizard, it seems to go without saying that Charmander is a good Pokemon simply by virtue of his final evolution. But, I have a bit more history with Charmander, as he is the first Pokemon I ever saw. While Pikachu was most people’s first exposure to the pocket monster craze of the late 1990’s, I will never forget when someone showed me Pokemon Red, and I was immediately taken with the little orange guy. As soon as I got my hands on Pokemon Red, I chose Charmander as my starter and, for reasons I can’t explain, named him Psycho.
Perhaps my odd name for the little guy had to do with his design; a salamander with a flame on his tail seemed a bit odd to me. But, my connection to Charmander didn’t end there. The first anime episode I ever saw was the episode where Ash’s Charmander defeated Primeape and evolved into Charmeleon. Pretty much all of my favorite anime episodes revolve around Charmander, Charmeleon, and Charizard, So, given a choice, in the main adventure games, I’ve always leaned toward the fire-type starter, despite sometimes not being the overall best choice.
In future generations, I’ve often leaned towards the water-type starter, or even the grass-type, depending on the gym leader matchups. But, what I can only explain as an overwhelming nostalgic choice, I continue to lean towards Charmander when choosing one of the original three starter Pokemon, even as the other types have much better match-ups against the required fights in those games.
So, we ask, is Charmander is a good Pokemon? Sadly, statistically speaking, it’s the worst of the three Red and Blue starter Pokemon, at least in his first form. He has a 20 point or so speed advantage over Squirtle and Bulbasaur, with a slight advantage in physical attack over the other two, and a special attack that falls between the two. Not until he evolves into Charmeleon does he become an equal to his second stage counterparts Ivysaur and Wartortle. Also, Charmander and his fellow fire types may be strong against ice and grass type mons, but are weak to rock and water types, both which you will encounter often in the games Charmander in which features prominently.
However, interestingly enough, Charmander does have a couple of things going for him in competitive Pokemon. Most of its viability is due to a hidden ability introduced in Black and White called Solar Power. This ability acts a bit similar to the held item Life Orb, in that it boosts a Pokemon’s attack stats in exchange for 1/8th of its max HP each turn. However, Solar Power only considers Special Attack and boosts it by 50 percent only when Sunny Day is active.
Thanks to requiring sunny weather, Charmander requires some setup, and it’s only viable in Little Cup. But, while holding a Choice Scarf, which boosts his speed by 50 percent while limiting him to the first move he chooses, he can become a sweeper. His move pool is quite deep, and learning Weather Ball is often all he needs to be successful. Some trainers even pack Sleep Talk, meaning even putting him to sleep can’t stop his flame-throwing rampage. Also, Charmander also has access to the power-up move Dragon Dance, which makes up for what he lacks in power with his base stats.
The only real advantage to keeping Charmander from evolving in the main adventure is to learn moves faster. This is helpful if you’re only looking to level up your mons to be level 50. Otherwise, you’re not doing your Charmander any favors by keeping it unevolved, unless you just want it to stay little and cute forever, which I get. Really, you want to move up to Charmeleon soon as possible. Still, people certainly will run Charmander, even if it’s not the optimal build from a raw power perspective. Its move pool is very impressive, and like Squirtle’s evolution line can be equipped with a wide variety of move sets.
Still, as an unevolved Pokemon, Charmander really is a one-trick pony. In casual playthroughs, Blaze can get you through some rough-spots, powering up his Fire-type moves when he’s below 1/3 of max health. What about when Charmander finally evolves, though? That’s a different story which we’ll look at in a future article. For now, it’s safe to say that Charmander is pretty much only a good competitive Pokemon as a Solar Power sweeper in Little Cup, and by virtue of possibly evolving into a fan-favorite and still relevant Pokemon in Charizard.
What are your thoughts on Charmander as an unevolved Pokemon?
Pokémon and All Respective Names are Trademark & © of Nintendo 1996-2022