Incineroar is, unquestionably, the biggest mistake in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I know there are some Incineroar fans out there, so if you love this way-too-sexy cat man, I don’t mean to offend you. But Incineroar exposes the recency bias of Smash Ultimate and leaves the game feeling dated in a really unfortunate way. It’s not that Incineroar is a bad Pokemon, but it's certainly not even in the same league as the rest of the pocket monsters in the roster.
There are ten Pokemon in Smash Ultimate if you count Pokemon Trainer as three. Pikachu, Pichu, Jigglypuff, Mewtwo, Lucario, Greninja, Charizard, Ivysaur, Squirtle, and Incineroar. If you can’t see how one of these things is not like the others, I don’t know what to tell you. Nine of those Pokemon are top-tier, a-list characters, while Incineroar was merely the flavor of the week when Ultimate happened to come out. When Smash launched in December 2018, Pokemon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon had been out for a year and the Sword & Shield starters had not yet been revealed. It’s entirely possible that had either game shifted its schedule by just a few months, we could have had Cinderace in Smash instead.
This isn’t the only character in Smash Ultimate who got the invite simply because they were relevant at the time. There was a collective groan heard around the world when Byleth was revealed as a DLC fighter. Byleth is the protagonist of 2019’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, so while their inclusion in Smash feels like an advertisement for another game in the same way Incineroar did, at least you can say Byleth is the main character of the game they’re from.
If you need proof that Incineroar was a mistake just look at its legacy, or lack thereof. Incineroar has practically no merch and it hasn’t shown up in any of the Pokemon spin-off games, including New Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Unite, or Pokken Tournament. That’s right: the Heel Pokemon, a Wrestlemania reject, isn’t in the Pokemon fighting game. Decidueye is though. It’s also in Unite, so clearly there are some Gen 7 Pokemon with legs. Incineroar isn’t one of them. Even with the massive boost from Smash Bros, the Pokemon has already faded into obscurity.
The Pokemon Company has a history of trying to make specific Pokemon a thing – sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. After Lucario became a fan-favorite thanks to the movie Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, TPC tried to push Zoroark as Gen 5’s breakout Pokemon by giving it its own big-screen debut and in-game event – the only non-Mythical Pokemon to ever get one. Zoroark never caught on, of course, but there have been some successes. Through extreme exposure and sheer force of will, Eevee has become a co-mascot alongside Pikachu in the last five years. While it’s still relatively new, Scorbunny/Cinderace has certainly established itself as a breakout star on the same level as Greninja.
Incineroar is not a star Pokemon, and its inclusion in Smash will inevitably make the game – which is otherwise chock full of timeless characters – feel dated. There are five Pokemon generations represented in Smash, but it’s immediately obvious what year it came out thanks to Incineroar. Sakurai has suggested that a future Smash game would need to cut back on the roster. I guarantee if that ever happens, Incineroar will be one of the first fighters on the cutting room floor. We could have had Gengar. God, we could have had Gengar…
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