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, I’ve always leaned toward the fire-type starter, despite sometimes not being the overall best choice.
While I’m certainly not that big of a fan of the Sword and Shield games, I was thrilled to see the champion Leon’s ace monster be a Charizard; although in our skirmishes in the Battle Tower, it seems Leon tends to get my Gigantamax Water-type Urshifu or Huge Power Azumarill in his face more often than not, which never ends well for Charizard. I continue to collect shiny Charmanders for the privilege of owning one of the best shiny Pokemon in the game with black Charizard. Strangely enough, Charizard is not my favorite Pokemon, as to this day, I simply cannot choose a favorite, but he is among my favorites.
Nostalgia aside, the primary reason Charizard is so popular is not that he’s actually good in the games – he’s actually sort of middling, really. It has to do with the Charizard card from the Trading Card Game’s base set being the ultimate chase card, as any Charizard card has been going forward. Strangely enough, even in the TCG Charizard is a bit underwhelming more often than not, but that’s a whole different article.
This article asks if Charmander is a good Pokemon, and sadly, he is in fact, 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.
However, Charmander does have a couple of things going for him, including a hidden ability introduced in Black and White called Solar Power. It 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. This means that he requires some setup, and he’s only viable in Little Cup; but with 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. Some trainers even pack Sleep Talk, meaning even putting him to sleep can’t stop his flame-throwing rampage.
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 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.