Have you or someone you know ever saw the Pokémon games and thought: "Hmm, Pikachu is the mascot of the entire series, so he must be extremely powerful." Well I'm sorry to say that assumption couldn't be farther from reality. If we were to describe Mewtwo's power as "ringing the bell" of a high striker carnival game, Pikachu wouldn't even be able to get the puck off the lever. It's that bad.
Fortunately for Pikachu, GameFreak has tried more times to give it tools for success than any other Pokémon. Unfortunately for Pikachu, only one of these attempts did anything to help him rise from competitive nonexistance, and it only got him as far as the bottom of the barrel. That being said, GameFreak is determined to make Pikachu seem like a good pick, and with Pokémon Let's Go Pikachu and Pokémon Let's Go Eevee on the way, maybe they'll finally give him the tools he needs to shine.
For now, though, he's bottom tier trash, and I've made it my job to look at Pikachu's identity, why he's as bad as he is, and what I would do to fix him. My name is Ty, I spend way too much time analyzing Pokémon, and I'm setting out to investigate the worst of the worst in Pokemon in an effort to buff them all. What better way to start out what I hope will be a long series by giving the electric mouse mascot the fire power he deserves?
History of Pikachu
As many Pokémon Red Version and Pokémon Blue Version players will remember, Pikachu was a rare encounter in the Viridian Forest. Being the mascot of the series and all, many a child found themselves hunting for a wild Pikachu expecting to beast their way through the game. Unfortunately for them, Pikachu's status of not being fully evolved meant that he wields only a fraction of the power of his evolutionary predecessor Raichu (and Raichu was never much of a powerhouse either, but that's for another day).
Since then, Pikachu has been catchable in almost every main installment Pokémon game (Black, White, and their respective sequels being the only exceptions, where no Pokemon from previous generations were available until the post-game) and starred in several spin-off titles throughout the years. Each new generation also brought with it something new for the Pikachu family line.
In Generation II, Pikachu's baby form, Pichu, was added into the game, adding a layer of complexity to obtaining a competitive Pikachu that no one asked for. In Generation III, Pikachu received the (near-useless) ability Static, the exclusive move Volt Tackle (more on this later), and the only thing that has ever significantly aided Pikachu's pursuit of power: the marvelous Light Ball, doubling both his Attack and Special Attack. In Generation IV, players could unlock special Pikachus with access to Surf and Fly through Pokémon Battle Revolution. In Generation V, Pikachu received the hidden ability Lightning Rod. In Generation VI, Pikachu had his defensive stats boosted slightly. Also, a female Cosplay Pikachu could be dressed in various clothes that not only gets her bullied at daycare, but also gives her access to exclusive moves otherwise impossible for Pikachus to learn. And now in Generation VII, you can replace your more useful Light Ball with Pikanium Z for normal Pikachu, or Pikashunium Z for the special event, hat-wearing Pikachus. Both will grant you access to overly-flashy moves that will do slightly more damage one single time than your Pikachu would've done every turn if you gave him the Light Ball instead.
Pikachu has received a lot of attention over the years, so you'd think they'd have figured him out by now. Sadly, all of these changes tiptoe around the real issues and do little more than apply bandages to broken bones.
The Problems with Pikachu
There's really nowhere to start other than the root of Pikachu's issues. At the end of the day, he's a not-fully-evolved Pokemon, and unless you're Chansey, that basically means you're nothing more than a weaker version of your evolutionary form. Pikachu's stats are a fraction of Raichu's, and that's not even saying much. Even Pikachu's speed stat, which the anime would like to trick you into believing is blistering, is really just decent. Here are Pikachu's base stats for reference:
Notice how most of these are color coded in red? That's not a good thing. If you're not all that familiar with how base stats work, don't worry too much about it. Simply put, these values are used in the equations that determine how many points Pokémon get in each stat. While these values maybe be subject to change with future installments of Pokémon games, GameFreak has only recently begun adding points to some weaker Pokémon, and they've done so frugally. I like to use a tool I call "The Pokémon Report Card" to get a clearer picture of how how well, or not-so-well, a Pokémon is performing statistically. Different values will have a different letter grade, and that grade is determined as follows:
B: 95 - 109
C: 80 - 94
D: 65 - 79
E: 50 - 64
F: 1 - 49
You want to get an A or B in every category if possible. Cs and Ds are passing but leave something to be desired. Es are failing but only failing a little, whereas a flat F is just plain bad. Let's see what Pikachu's report card looks like:
HP: F -
Attack: E (A- w/ Light Ball)
Special Attack: E- (B w/ Light Ball)
Special Defense: E-
Would you be happy seeing a report card like that? I didn't think so. Granted, the Light Ball makes a huge difference, but those toilet paper defenses and mediocre speed make it hard for Pikachu to stay on the field before being blown away by a faster Pokemon. Now, you don't necessarily need amazing stats to succeed. There are several Pokemon who prove that (Smeargle, for example). But if you don't have stats, then you need an amazing move pool and/or an amazing ability.
While many of the event Pokémon have given Pikachus access to some interesting moves in the past, just catching a wild one in your base game won't give that many good options coverage-wise. Pikachu does have access to the exclusive Volt Tackle, which sports a pretty impressive power level with perfect accuracy and a chance for paralysis. The problem here is that Volt Tackle also suffers from a crippling 50% recoil damage factor. This means that whatever damage Pikachu deals out, he'll receive half of for himself. Recoil moves are a hard sell unless the user has a substantial HP stat to soak up the damage, but it just so happens that it's Pikachu's worst stat (Also true for Raichu). It's not just a bad stat either, it's flat out awful. Considering no other Pokemon barring Smeargle can learn it, and the Raichu's not that impressive either, it's a little odd that it so poorly synergizes with Pikachu's frailty.
As for abilities, there's not much to say. Static is borderline useless; end of story. Lightning Rod gives Pikachu an opportunity to switch into combat without dying, but many Electric-Types have this and are flat-out better than Pikachu anyway. Neither of these abilities helps Pikachu stand out.
How I Would Fix Pikachu
If you ever watched and recall Ash's battle against Lt. Surge in the first season of the Pokemon anime, you may remember the show showcasing Raichu's power and bulk overwhelming Pikachu. What Ash learned in that episode (and then proceeded to forget in future battles) was how to use Pikachu's advantages over Raichu: his speed and nimble frame. The anime was actually referring to the fact that Lt. Surge's Raichu was evolved with a Thunderstone before learning the move Agility, a status move that enhances speed. However, the idea that Pikachu could be faster and more nimble than Raichu makes a lot of sense without the Agility cop out. The show does like to paint Pikachu as being a notably fast Pokemon, after all. It would be an interesting trade off if Pikachu's speed really was blistering, and that an evolution into Raichu (Kantonian or Alolan) would result in a drop in speed in exchange for a more reliable bulk and power.
My first proposition would be to swap speed values between Pikachu and Raichu. In exchange, Raichu's other stats should all go up (both Raichu and Alolan Raichu need buffs as well, but more details can go into that another day). This would boost Pikachu's speed score of a C+ 90 to an A- 110, a good step in the right direction, but not quite enough.
Additionally, it would be nice for Volt Tackle to syngerize better with Pikachu's status of a quick-but-frail Pokemon. To be honest, I'm tempted to remove the recoil entirely, as moves like Boomburst show that you don't need to have a major detriment to prevent a move from breaking the game. Low accessibility of a move can also limit its strength. That being said, I have a few other things I want to bring up as well.
My second proposition, as a compromise, would be to lower the recoil of Volt Tackle from 50% damage dealt to 25% damage dealt.
Since both Pikanium Z and Pikashunium Z exist, it would be nice if using them didn't cost you access to Light Ball, which is currently the only thing making current Pikachu at least partially usable. I can think of one fairly extreme alternative: changing Light Ball from a held item to a consumable item.
My third proposition: using a Light Ball on Pikachu (possibly in the presence of a special NPC, or for an in-game event) will remove Pikachu's ability to evolve, and Pikachu will no longer be considered a not-fully-evolved Pokemon. Instead of doubling Pikachu's attack and special attack, all of Pikachu's base stats go up by 20, making Pikachu look something like this:
HP: 55 (E)
Attack: 75 (D+)
Defense: 60 (E+)
Special Attack: 70 (D)
Special Defense: 70 (D)
Speed: 130 (A+) (After the swap with Raichu)
This brings Pikachu up to the status of blistering speed without doing a Base Stat overhaul. There's a couple concerns here: first, this still isn't a stellar report card, and second, Pikachu would have less fire power than with a held Light Ball currently. But I have one last trick up my sleeve.
Pikachu is the series mascot. While Lighting Rod isn't a bad ability, it's not one that screams identity. Pikachu needs a signature ability, one not shared by Pichu, Raichu, or Alolan Raichu.
My final proposition is for Pikachu to drop Static and Lightning Rod for the new, exclusive ability: Light Speed. Light Speed causes all damaging Electric-Type moves to calculate the user's speed stat instead of attack or special attack.
There's a lot to take in with these four propositions, but I believe they give Pikachu a well-deserved identity, a unique role no other Pokemon can claim, and a fair amount of counterplay. He becomes a risky late-game sweeper capable of cleaning through your opponent's team with unresisted Volt Tackles, Thunderbolts, Electro Balls, and/or Volt Switches. Agility works double duty for your electric attacks as well. This comes at the cost of coverage moves, though, as Pikachus weaker Attack and Special Attack will leave much to be desired for non-Electric-Type attacks. Ground-Types and Volt Absorb/Lightning Rod/Motor Drive Pokemon will completely negate Pikachu's gimmick and be harder for him to handle on his own.
Honestly, I wouldn't make these kinds of changes to any other Pokemon, especially an unevolved Pokemon, if it wasn't Pikachu. I want to do more posts about other Pokemon, but I'd like to be more realistic with my propositions, so it certainly won't become a trend in the future. Because he's the franchise's mascot, though, I feel obligated for Pikachu to have something going for him, and while these are definitely unlikely changes, I have at least a shred of faith that updates of a similar magnitude are possible. As of this post, there are several upcoming Pokémon games coming out for the Nintendo Switch, so time will tell just what new gimmicks Pikachu will actually get.