Finding a perfect Pokemon rival is like finding a soul mate. You start off your journey as a wide eyed child, only to be confronted by the harsh truths of reality. Not everyone is as nice as your professor. With Pokemon Sword/Shield right around the corner and a new group of kids about to meet their first rival, I got to thinking: why is the rival character so friendly?
Where’s the pre-teen bully I was promised? If I’m going to be participating in kawaii cock fighting, why can’t I obliterate another kid’s whole life without feeling guilty? I have questions, Reggie. I’m here to rank every Pokemon rival from the main games. I do not wish only to enlighten you, dear readers, but to convert you to the church of latter day assholes. Let’s get this party rolling.
What Is A Pokemon Rival?
I have a few criteria: first, a Pokemon rival must be a reoccurring character who battles the player character on multiple occasions. So, while Lillie is a companion in Pokemon Sun/Moon, I wouldn’t consider her a rival. Second, the game shows evidence of their team growing along with yours. This is most obvious when you and your rival get your Pokemon at the same time. While I would prefer your rival to be antagonistic towards you, we can’t always get what we want in children’s games. So being an awful person is, sadly, not on my list of requirements.
I’m not including rivals from the anime/manga, even though the contest rivals are the absolute best in the entire franchise. Instead, I’ll be focussing on the main line of games to keep some semblance of focus. I won’t be including remakes like Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire in their own category because the rivals do not change. I’m also not including Pokemon Let’s Go because frankly I don’t care about that kid. He pales in comparison to your original Kanto rival, who we’ll be getting to later.
Anyway, let’s get this list rolling with the worst Pokémon rivals:
Let me say this once: there are too many cooks in this damn kitchen. For one, I’ve always thought that including the player character that you didn’t pick at the start (i.e., Calem or Serena) as a rival is an absolute cop-out. As it stands, without player influence they’re about as bland as plain toast. The rest are just plain obnoxious. I can barely handle energetic tweens at my day job, I’d rather not deal with them in my rated E10+ video games.
The designs on Calem and Serena are good, but Shauna, Tierno, and Trevor are eyesores. I wish to god that I could bring myself to love these ugly children, but I just can’t. My issue comes down to costume design. While the silhouettes on these characters read well, it doesn’t bode well for the first Pokemon game with customizable trainer fashion when the best the art team can come up with is… whatever Shauna is wearing. While other Pokemon games have a cohesive design aesthetic, your rivals in X/Y dress like they came straight out of a GAP Kids commercial.
I’m sad to put this game so low on the list since it’s a favorite of mine! Some fashion crimes, however, can not be forgiven.
Bianca & Cheren, Pokemon Black/White
These two are absolute white bread. I’ve never been so bored in my entire life. There are only two reasons they’re not dead last on the list.
For one, they contribute to the overall theme of Pokemon Black/White and reflect N‘s ideas/philosophy. Both represent an extreme ideal, with Bianca valuing the truth while Cheren values ideals. You, as the player character, are meant to represent a neutral ground between the two. Hence, you are the grey between Black and White. Frankly, being in the same game as N should be enough to put them higher on the list.
The second reason is pretty simple: I like their outfits. Cheren and Bianca have really cute designs that only get better in Black 2/White 2. Bianca isn’t your Pokemon rival in Black 2/White 2, so that can’t count for much. As your rivals in Black/White, though, they’re really cute. I especially love the contrast between Bianca’s rounded forms and palette, and Cheren’s sharp, cool-toned design.
Wally, Brendan, & May, Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire
It was a hard pick. For one, I absolutely adore Wally. He’s one of my favorite characters in all of Pokemon, rival or otherwise. Wally is charming, gets great character growth, and even makes a cameo in Pokemon Sun/Moon if you know where to look for him! He’s a great kid, but too quiet and kind to really be a great arch-rival. In addition, he has one of the best designs in the series. Everything about his outfit, color palette, and posture communicates his nature. He’s pale, unassuming, closed off and buttoned up. Wally’s design is simple, but highly communicative.
He could have been higher up on this list since he became such a threat by the end of the game, but then there are May and Brendan. I call back to the too many cooks/cop-out fallacy established in Pokemon X/Y. Wally would have been a fine Pokemon rival on his own, but tossing in a more “charismatic” secondary rival to round out the game does little for my overall rival experience. Wally’s entire character arc relies on him becoming the strong, confident person that we see Brendan and May already living as. This undercuts his character’s growth and leaves less of an impact when he finally comes into his own as a trainer.
Hugh, Pokemon Black 2/White 2
Hugh gets credit for a dope character design and a grumpy ‘tude, but is ultimately too friendly. It was around Pokemon Black 2/White 2 that I really started noticing the friendly rival tendency in these games, and getting annoyed by it. Hugh’s design is really evocative, It makes you think, “Oh he’s going to be a threat! He’s going to be a secondary antagonist who I team up with later!” But no. He’s just your friend who happens to be a little goth. Disappointing, but not overall a bad experience.
Barry, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl
This brat has the most personality out of any Pokemon rival. He’s brash, he’s excitable, and he’s kind of rude. He’s still friendly towards the player, but he behaves like an obnoxious kid. Before his loss to Team Galactic Commander Jupiter, he’s got the confidence of a big-pawed puppy. He zooms between cities, crashing into people and bragging about his team.
His design also sets him apart from other trainers in Sinnoh. While the rest of the region is bundled up cool-toned Winter clothes to battle the frost, Barry’s warm palette and windswept hair contrast with the world and make him recognizable immediately.
Barry stands out for being an absolute lunatic as opposed to a scumbag. This is disappointing, but not the worst thing that could happen.
Hau & Gladion, Pokemon Sun/Moon
Hau and Gladion are my sons and if anything happened to them I’d kill everyone in this room and then myself. Just look at them! Hau’s design screams sunshine with his warm color palette and loose-fitting duds. Gladion, meanwhile, is my Hot Topic phase personified and I can’t not love that.
The two fall into the trap of friendly Pokemon rivalries, but only on a technicality. I had to weigh out the average between Hau’s overly peppy demeanor and Gladion’s Oscar the Grouch act. In the end, Gladion’s crummy personality outweighed Hau’s puppydog eyes, but only slightly. Additionally, Gladion’s relationship to both the red herring baddies and the true villains of Sun/Moon gives him bonus points in my books.
Blue, Pokemon Red/Blue
The absolute heresy of not ranking Blue first is not lost on me. He is a great Pokemon rival, though! I love that he’s a bratty little bastard who competes with the player in everything they do. I mean look at him! He’s got an open polo shirt with a popped collar like a frat boy about to go ham on some Mike’s Hard Lemonades. His fanny pack is Coachella ready! His bling is out of this world! Blue is the unsung Jersey Shore boy of the Pokemon franchise.
I know I said we wouldn’t talk about the anime here, but it’s impossible to separate Blue from Gary Oak. You can’t look at this brat and not hear the nasally voice of Billy Beach, which only adds to the flavor of his character.
Silver, Pokemon Silver/Gold
The ultimate bad boy. The supreme douchebag. The best Pokemon rival. Silver has it all. He’s outwardly antagonistic towards the player’s character. His morals are completely opposite yours. His dad is friggin’ Giovanni! Silver isn’t just playfully rude to you, he’s an actual criminal. This kid will shove you around, yell in your face, and actively insult you. He would beat you up for 200 poke coins. Silver would sell you to Satan for one corn chip. This is exactly what I wanted when I saw Hugh in Pokemon Black 2/White 2, but nobody has lived up to Silver’s legacy so far.
Silver’s character arc is also wonderful. As you play, you can watch him struggling to become a better person. He goes from battling you out of spite to challenging you to prove how well he’s raising his Pokemon. Also, just look at his design! This is a peak late 90’s character design. You can tell he’s a bad guy because of his mullet. I’ve spent sleepless nights thinking about that seam above his knees. That can only mean one thing. Does this boy wear convertible cargo pants/jorts? It’s the best design choice anyone at Nintendo has ever made.
What Your Pokemon Rival Says About The Game
Your Pokemon rival should reflect the nature of the game. It made sense for the rivals of Black/White to be a bit more… literary (read: boring) in order to gel with the themes of the narrative. As Pokemon grows as a franchise, its marketing strategy has grown narrower. Nintendo knows that they have nostalgic adults in their back pocket, so they focus on selling to a newer, younger audience. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a friendly rival along for your journey, but I still prefer the bullies.
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