Dark Claws All about Sneasel

The final wild Pokémon
A little history of Sneasel through the years

The beginning - Generation II (1999 - 2002)

Wild Sneasel in Gold
A wild Sneasel encounter in Pokémon Gold and Silver.

As said in the previous page, the first appearance of Sneasel in the series was in Pokémon Gold and Silver (1999). In these two games, Sneasel is the very last Pokémon species that the player can encounter in the wild, as it only appears outside Mount Silver - the last location to be unveiled in the entire game, which will be on average seen after 80 hours of gameplay. Even then, it can only be encountered when playing at night. This already makes Sneasel somewhat special - it is presented as a sort of a final treat; it's that Pokémon that you totally want to have, and that you really have to be hardcore to get!

So, if even getting a Sneasel is such trouble, one has to ask: is it worthwhile? Well...Yes because it counts towards the completion of the game - and no because, in spite of its appearance, Sneasel makes a rather underpowered fighter in Pokémon Gold and Silver. I know I didn't train one back then! This is mostly because of a problem in the way the game itself works. An important mechanic of all Pokémon games is that, when a Pokémon attacks using a move of its same type, the move's power is boosted by 1.5x. This is popularly referred to by the fandom as the STAB, acronym for Same-Type Attack Bonus. Another important mechanic of the game is that each Pokémon species comes with different strengths and weaknesses, which the game displays through higher or lower values of Attack, Defense, and so on - the so called statistics, or stats for short. These stats play together with the STAB: until the revamping of this mechanic in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (2006), it is the type of a move that determines which Attack statistic is used in the damage calculation - whether a Pokémon's move is based on its Attack or its Special Attack. For instance, with this mechanic all Psychic-type moves are based on Special Attack, and all Fighting-type moves are based on Attack.

Anime screenshot of a defeated Sneasel
...This happens a lot.

Sneasel happens to have high Attack and awful, awful Special Attack; however, its type is Dark/Ice - both of which were designated as based on Special Attack. This means that Sneasel can't count on using moves of its type effectively, which puts it at a disadvantage to say the least. It's like some sort of cruel joke, stuck with two types and neither of them suiting it! Sneasel has access to a few decent moves of other types that make use of its higher Attack, but, overall, it is rather impaired by the poorly designed STAB mechanic. It was rather disappointing to finally catch a Sneasel and discover that it is not as powerful as expected.

In spite of this, Sneasel received a warm reception from the Pokémon fandom. Part of it has to do with the fact that, let's be honest, it's a really cool design; part of it has to do with the fact that it's one of the elusive Dark types. I did mention that this was a feature that people were very excited about, but to more fully understand why it was so important, one has to understand what Pokémon Gold and Silver were in relation to the series. Gold and Silver were, essentially, the game that Game Freak had wanted to make since the beginning, and couldn't because of the hardware constraints of Pokémon Red and Blue being developed for the GameBoy and the time constraints caused by the fact that those games had been in development hell for many years and needed to be released before the end of the GameBoy's life cycle. As such, Gold and Silver have a much higher degree of polish; this is very evident when you consider how glitchy Red and Blue are, and how Gold and Silver are in comparison quite stable. A lot of care was also put to make the gameplay more balanced; and this is where the Dark type comes into play.

Mewtwo destroying the laboratory, from the First Movie
Back in the day, nobody was safe from Mewtwo. Not even walls.

In Pokémon Red and Blue, there is a definite type imbalance in which Psychic-type Pokémon are basically...unstoppable. This is especially true with Mewtwo, which was always meant to be the most powerful of all Pokémon, but that in this game is overpowered in a way that is even hard to explain; it is in a whole other class than anything else - with the sole exception of Mew, which could only be acquired by bringing your game cartridge to special Nintendo events. To counteract this problem, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced two new Pokémon types, Dark and Steel, with the Dark type being specifically designed as a countermeasure to the Psychic type; Dark-type Pokémon are completely immune to any Psychic-type moves, and Dark-type moves hit Psychic-type Pokémon for double damage. So, you could think of it like this: Sneasel is made of the stuff created to destroy Mewtwo.

Murkrow from the HGSS quiz book
This picture comes from the Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver quiz book. I like to think that it illustrates the amazement to finally get to see a Dark-type in the wild!

At the time of their introduction, Dark types were a rare breed - out of the 251 Pokémon of Gold and Silver, only six of them were Dark types. As such, these Pokémon are showcased in the game as somewhat of a rare treat, all of them being hard to find or to acquire. Sneasel's case was already discussed above; as for what concerns the others, Umbreon requires evolving Eevee at maximum friendship at night; Murkrow, Houndour and Houndoom are only available very late in the game (all in the same patch of grass, just to piss you off), and Tyranitar requires training the already rare Larvitar up to level 55. So you can understand that Sneasel got a bit of an aura about it simply out of belonging to this small club of the Dark-types, even if in the end it wasn't anything that special.

Beat Up sticker (this is the most ridiculous alt text I've ever written)
A sticker featuring an illustration of the move Beat Up. Run, Marill, run! Especially from Jigglypuff. That's the face of a cold-blooded killer.

Although Sneasel definitely got the short end of the stick as for what concerns its gameplay, it must be noted that it comes with a special move which, at the time, was unique to this species. The move in question is called Beat Up and, fittingly, it causes a team attack by the entire party. Beat Up has Sneasel rile up each Pokémon in the party which is not affected by a status ailment: everyone joins in for a decidedly unsporting attack. It is rarely particularly powerful, but it's a fun thing to play with. There's also a little secret about this move: it is at the base of an exploit which the player can use to get a Celebi, the ultra-rare special creature of generation II, which otherwise would have to be obtained by going to special Nintendo events.

Sneasel Neo Genesis
The infamous Neo Genesis Sneasel.

I've been saying all over that, at the time, Sneasel was quite the disappointment as a battle choice. There was one notable case in which it was not. We're talking about Sneasel's first appearance in the Pokémon Trading Card Game, in the Neo Genesis expansion (1999). You can view it in the accompanying picture. Ironically, this card, featuring a Pokémon that in the games wasn't really that good, became the center of a controversy because it was just so game-breaking. The main issue with the Neo Genesis Sneasel is...Beat Up. With a little bit of luck, this Sneasel can take down any opponent with one hit. Yikes! And so, after a few months in which the Pokémon Trading Card Game was, essentially, broken by the presence of this overpowering card, the Neo Genesis Sneasel had the honor of being the first card to ever be banned from TCG tournaments. That's right: Wizards of the Coast had to step in and declare this Sneasel to be banned, banned, and banned. And thus came an end to those...Dark...days.

Ice Path
Art of the Ice Path at night, from Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver.

Let's go back to the core game series. In Pokémon Crystal (2000), the enhanced remake of Gold and Silver, Sneasel is available much sooner in the game - in the Ice Path, which the player will visit towards the end of the first half of the game. However, that makes it somewhat harder to find, as the Ice Path is a puzzle dungeon where the player has to conserve resources and will hardly revisit afterwards. Additionally, Sneasel can only be encountered there at night, with its chance of appearing being 1% in the first area, 5% in the second area, and 10% in the last area (the deepest one). Now, this doesn't seem like a great problem, but consider this: I played Pokémon Crystal when I was twelve, and at the time I was not always allowed to play in the evening, which already made the night-only Pokémon harder to find. Even if I could play at the right time, I'd need enough time to get to the deepest area of this sliding block puzzle-maze to have a decent shot at encountering a Sneasel! So, even though it is available much sooner in the game, it is still among the hardest species to catch. Besides, let's be honest: even if it's not the very last Pokémon of the game, by when you reach the Ice Path the player will most likely have a full team of beloved companions, which means that Sneasel will most likely get caught and then end up in a box forever.

Generation III (2003 - 2005)

Entei cannot enter
Essentially how it feels to play Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire if you liked the Pokémon from Generation II. This very puzzling picture is from the Pokémon Omoshiro Kotowaza artbook.

As Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (2003) were made with the intent to be somewhat of a reboot of the Pokémon series, many of the species from the first two generations cannot be found at all in those games. Sadly, Sneasel is among those. This is probably why I didn't like those games as much as the previous ones. This might seem petty of me, but I think that a great part of the appeal of the Pokémon series is that the number of available creatures is always expanding, never shrinking; so, whenever you play a new game, you can find your old favorites and make new ones. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were the first games of the core series to depart from that; for the first time, you'd play a Pokémon game in which your favorite was simply not there at all. Terrible choice, as far as I'm concerned. I did play those games a lot and I did like them, but I did very much resent the lack of Sneasel and of other old favorites.

Icefall Cave
Art of Icefall Cave from Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green.

The only way to acquire a Sneasel in the third generation of Pokémon games is in Pokémon Leaf Green (2004), in which Sneasel can be found once again at the very end of the game, in Icefall Cave on Floe Island. To continue with the trend set by Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal, Sneasel has a very slim chance of ever appearing - only 5%, and only in the deepest part of the cave.

It is of note that Sneasel can only be found in Pokémon Leaf Green and not in its sister game Pokémon Fire Red, so if you were like me and got Fire Red because its name sounds cooler than Leaf Green...no Sneasel for you.

The evolution - Generation IV (2006 - 2009)

Sneasel and Weavile in the Omoshiro Kotowaza artbook
Sneasel and Weavile from the Pokémon Omoshiro Kotowaza artbook, probably illustrating that this was around the time when Sneasel stopped being such a rare, untouchable thing!

...On the other hand, Sneasel is somewhat of a featured Pokémon in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (2006), as that game marks the first appearance of its evolved form Weavile. Diamond and Pearl take place in the cold region of Sinnoh, and as such Ice-type Pokémon are prominently featured in the wild; for the first time, it is no longer hard to find Sneasel in the game - it is readily available to the player in many routes, in some of which it has up to a 35% chance of appearing. It is so featured that Sneasel is one of only fourteen Pokémon to benefit from a special feature: the ability to read foreign Pokédex entries for it when a foreign Sneasel is received through trades.

The introduction of Weavile and its marketing as the awesome critter of the generation were also a sort of a promotion for the revamping of a game mechanic - the one that was discussed above as the reason why Sneasel would not make a good fighter. From Diamond and Pearl onwards, it is no longer the type of a move to determine whether that move uses a Pokémon's Attack or Special Attack statistic, but rather the move itself. So, now there can be Psychic-type moves that use the Attack statistic, and Fighting-type moves that use the Special Attack statistic.

As for what concerns Sneasel, most Dark-type moves became based on Attack, so it can finally use this mechanic to its advantage. In fact, it became instantly awesome in battle. So, Sneasel would have been fixed...too bad that now it got an evolution to steal its spotlight. Yeah, I know, it's been ten years, and I'm still bitter about it.

Jakks Pacific Sneasel plush
Sneasel plush, produced by Jakks Pacific in 2007. Part of my own collection!

On the bright side, the introduction of Weavile allowed Sneasel to get some side attention, too - most importantly, merchandise-wise. Before Diamond and Pearl, there were barely any Pokémon toys of Sneasel. Then, all of a sudden, there were figures! cards! plushies! Collectors of items relating to this Pokémon had a field day. Even I managed to snag a few. Sneasel got to make a few appearances in the Pokémon anime series. Overall, it was a great time to be a fan of Sneasel.

Generations V-VI (2010 - present)

Ever since the introduction of its evolution Weavile, Sneasel no longer holds the place as the rarity it used to be. Now, it is a regular, average Pokémon; one of many. It makes sense that it is the way it is, but, of course, it still makes me a bit sad.

I guess time goes on, things change, and the retrospective comes to an end. So, we move on. Next, we'll delve into Sneasel's design and concept. Do you know what a kamaitachi is?

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[3/6] The demon weasel