It’s the golden rule of gaming: losses are never our fault. There’s always lag or hax or some damn thing to blame. Some cause to fire grammatically-questionable rants to each other through Xbox Live. Another popular one? The cry of OP.

Which is an interesting point. Actual broken mechanics/characters/suchlike are often mere ‘noob killers’ in disguise. Smash Bros’ Little Mac for instance. Early in the game’s life, the cries, howls and gnashings of teeth about the tiny boxer were something to behold. His balancing is all kinds of wonky, there’s no denying that, but Mac is not the unstoppble insta-win button he may have appeared at first glance.

On Pokémon X and Y’s release, a similar case arose in the form of Talonflame. Upon first catching this thing as Fletchling, I laughed at it. I mocked like the mocking mockster of mock I am, because it was a Route 1 Bird. This has been a Pokémon tradition since Red and Blue’s Pidgey: one of your first catches will be a horribly craptacular bird ‘mon. It’ll get you through the story, but in any form of competitive battle it will suck. And suck hard. Forever.

Staraptor, that feathery ballistic missile fueled by fury, power and raw hatred, was the only exception to this rule. But then… Fletchling evolved.

Talonflame’s stats are suitably Route 1 Bird-ish across the board. Its speed is stellar, I’ll concede, but it has all the defenses of a one-legged kitten in a coma. Its power is average at best too. It was another instant write off… until it got its hidden ability.

Gale Wings. Gale freaking wings. It’s exclusive to this thing’s evo line, and is the one and only reason for its popularity. Gale Wings grants priority to all Flying-type moves, and coupled with Brave Bird this makes me a very sad panda. It’s pretty nifty for setting up Tailwind too, and that’s all you’ll really ever find Talonflame doing.

Talonflame 2

Priority moves in the games have always had a very low base power, because they are priority moves. Sucker Punch may not, but it has the drawback of failing entirely if the opponent isn’t readying a damaging move. So Brave Bird, the strongest physical Flying attack (the two-turn Sky Attack notwithstanding), has no business having priority.

As I’ve said, this fiery bugger’s power is pretty middling. But with a Life Orb or Choice Band, and its high speed, anything that doesn’t resist Flying is going to take a good hit before it can move. Choice Band Talonflame is a born revenge killer, a one trick pony that’s so damn good at that one trick that it makes me cry a little inside.

This simple yet powerful concept gave rise to the early X and Y strategy of ‘bird spam.’ This simply meant abusing the new-found power and coverage of Flying-type STAB attacks, and was a real player favourite.

Talonflame is certainly still a top pick for these reasons, but is it truly OP? Some Poké-players still insist that it warrants a banning, but I’d say not. The metagame adapts, and bird spam has died down considerably. As with Little Mac, a little inside knowledge goes a long way.

The blazing bird’s Achilles heels are its typing, frailty and predictability. With regards to the former two, Flying/Fire STAB leaves it unable to do much of anything to Rock types. There isn’t much else in its repertoire either, unless you’re using something odd like Natural Gift (which uses up a berry you’re holding to give you a one-shot different type attack). Tyranitar doesn’t like taking a U-Turn to the face, true enough, but that’s really Talonflame’s only option when faced with these guys: run for your life.

Then there’s that 4x weakness in return. Not to mention Stealth Rock, sapping half of its HP just for switching in. Ouch.

More generally, its half-assed defenses leave it threatened by bulky pokémon. If an opponent can survive that first hit, Talonflame isn’t likely to be able to take what comes back at it. All in all, it’s a fearsome force, but there’s so much clipping its wings. There are two sides to the argument, but I wouldn’t say it was broken.

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