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Data Says - Choose Squirtle in Pokémon Red & Blue

Posted by Tim Latshaw

Logic once again seeks to ruin an Internet debate

It is one of the greatest questions of our common era: who is the best Pokémon to begin with in Red & Blue?

Everyone has their own opinion they will likely take to the grave, but science writer Kyle Hill decided to try a data-backed argument in a recent blog article for Scientific American.

In “Squirtle, I (Should) Choose You! Settling a Great Pokémon Debate With Science,” Hill works with a wealth of Pokémon data recently entered into online calculation site WolframAlpha. The result is a bunch of large charts and graphs that he infers to crown the Tiny Turtle Pokémon as the overall best choice.

Hill takes a look at the starters’ stats and their growth through the game, but focuses mainly on their capabilities against all of the gym leaders. Offensively, Hill says, Bulbasaur is great at the outset but doesn’t hold up as well in the long run:

If you want to hit the ground running then, Bulbasaur looks like the choice. However, like the starting stats, digging a bit deeper shows Squirtle’s overall advantages. Count up all the instances where each of the starting Pokémon have the upper hand (or at least an advantage) against the 12 gym leaders, and you find that while Bulbasaur might do great at the beginning of the game, it also will have the hardest time of all the Pokémon finishing off the rest of the leaders.

Defensively, Bulbasaur once again looks like a great choice, but Hill argues that the Water-type maintains an overall edge over opponents throughout the game.

Bulbasaur in particular is well defended against the first four gyms. But overall, Bulbasaur and its evolutions have the most Pokémon with advantages against them, and Squirtle has the least. Squirtle also has the most amount of “normal” defensive matchups, meaning that most Pokémon won’t have the upper hand on the little turtle. Squirtle comes out on top.

Charmander, sadly but perhaps unsurprisingly to most veterans, seems to be the most difficult starter to take through the game.

There are other points to argue, of course, and fans have taken up arms in the comments section to do just that, but Hill draws his overall conclusion:

Based on the data, the advantages against the games’ bosses, and the advice from gamers who want a Pokémon that can help them beat the game as quickly as possible, the choice is clear: You should have picked Squirtle. Perhaps a third of you can now sigh with satisfaction, another third can start a giant, unassailable nerd-off, and the other third can lament attempting to use “ember” against a Geodude.

Hills’s article is well worth reading for the vast amount of additional data, as well as an argument in favour of Magikarp not being the worst Pokémon. So, which Pokémon did you start with back in the day, and do you regret your choice now? Let us know below.


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User Comments (68)



Void said:

I never got to play the gen 1 Pokemon games, but Squirtle has always been my favorite among the Kanto starters.



Lunapplebloom said:

Well of course Magicarp isn't the worst pokemon, he just starts out that way.

Squirtle is the no brainer though as far starters are concerned. That doesn't mean I won't have my precious Bulbasaur though.



Wonder_Ideal said:

Well, you can't argue with science. Last time I tried that, the enrichment center was flooded with deadly neuro-toxin.
My favorite Kanto starter is Squirtle, with Charmander being a close second. However, I had Yellow Version so choosing which starter I wanted wasn't a problem.



Gioku said:

12 gym leaders? I guess he's counting the Elite Four in there, too. I went with Bulbasaur, though. You can always catch more Pokémon later, to help with gyms he isn't good against... just sayin'.



WiiLovePeace said:

I can't really remember who I picked out of Squirtle & Bulbasaur. I always thought it was Squirtle, I sort of remember having Blastoise in the end, but I also remember Blue having a Charizard in the end, which meant I would've had a Venasaur. Who knows.



Ernest_The_Crab said:

Meh, My favourite is Charmander and quite frankly in terms of sheer power Charizard triumphs. It's not like people aren't going to swap Pokemon in their team anyways so trying to judge based on one Pokemon is a pretty futile argument.



Captain_Balko said:

This doesn't make much sense to me. Obviously anybody who knows what they are doing is going to build their team with varied types from the beginning of the game instead of relying on their starter. Blastoise is the only one of the three starters who has a single type, and therefore gets a STAB bonus only for water moves unlike Charizard and Venusaur who get it for two types each.

Oh, and also, Charizard looks the coolest by far, so, there's that.



Fazermint said:

@Captain_Balko Came here to say that this "scientific approach" falls apart as soon as you consider the fact that you can CATCH POKEMON.

As for Blastoise: The fact that he is a single type is actually a good thing. Venusaur does not know any good poison moves, so he doesn't benefit from the extra STAB. He is also weak to psychic moves because of that. You can teach Charizard Fly, but that's it. Also, hello extra weaknesses and 4x rock damage



GuSolarFlare said:

I always chose Bulbasaur because it's my favorite not because it the easiest or the best. like in yellow where I catch a caterpie to train it until it becomes a butterfly, it's because I like it more than Pikachu.



twistedbee said:

Bulbasaur all the way. Even in this new generation, in the face of some pretty awesome mega evolutions, gotta go with Bulbasaur.



Ernest_The_Crab said:

@Fazermint The problem however is that the "scientific" approach fails when you consider that he's talking about the original Red and Blue versions. Despite the severe weakness to rock, Charizard really has no issues in the ORIGINAL games as there were only two rock moves in the whole game (Rock Throw and Rock Slide).

Not to mention, the rock type actually felt rather rare when it came to in-game trainers (there were 6 final form rock Pokemon: Golem, Onix, Rhydon, Omaster, Kabutops and Aerodactyl and each of them except for Aerodactyl was double weak as well).

Similar point arises with Bulbasaur as fire type users are quite rare until you reach Blaine. Flying types were particularly weak that generation as well. They also didn't learn any Flying type moves until later, in almost the teen levels and by that time someone would have developed a team that could handle that kind of problem.

His problem appears to be that he's trying to analyze the Pokemon themselves in terms of "innate" capabilities but forgot to actually factor in the overall environment in his study, that is the ORIGINAL conditions for Red and Blue.



Samurai_Goroh said:

Charmander is the best. Harder means tougher! And it was "common knowledge" back then that Bulbasaur was the best for beginners, the first couple of gyms are a joy ride with him.



Geonjaha said:

Choose a starter based on an article like this and your quickly on your way from a fun time to professional Pokemon training, and lets face it, there are better balanced games out there if you're going to start going pro.



ModernMARVEL said:

I don't care, I still choose Charmander! And seriously, 12 leaders? Ugh... And @Fazermint makes a great point of how catching Pokemon is still a factor.



MadAdam81 said:

Playing Blue, my Charizard was so powerful it one hit fainted most of the elite fours Pokemon.



sinalefa said:

Right now I am playing White 2. I started with Oshawott, and he (well, Samurott now) is not even part of my current team. I usually use the starter as that, an starter, then I get other (sometimes better) Pokémon.

For Red, I chose Charmander, mostly because of the looks.



Expa0 said:

Gen 1 my choice is mosly always Bulbasaur due to the broken auto-crit Razor Leaf and more importantly the even more broken Toxic + Leech Seed combo. I sometimes go with Squirtle too just because how baddonkey Blastoise's Red/Blue sprite looks.
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Obito_Sigma said:

The choice is clearly Bulbasaur. He's number one! ... or #001, same thing! I chose Bulbasaur in Red, Leafgreen, Heartgold, and now Y! The only time I didn't choose him was in Firered when I just wanted to catch all the Pokemon in order to migrate them, there's no way I'm giving up my Leafgreen or Emerald teams. (although I did the duplication glitch in Emerald to solve that little problem)

Pokemon has became too intense now-a-days. I have someone on my Friends List who played over 150 hours of Pokemon Y so far, while I'm still only a shy over 55 hours and six gym badges... Everyone wants to be the very best, even if it means choosing Pokemon who are the strongest but not their favorite. I just want to catch Pokemon who catch my attention and train, super train, and do Poke-Amie with them.



BlatantlyHeroic said:

Only an idiot would use a Charizard against a rock type. You do have the ability to switch out you know...



Weedy said:

I chose squirtle all those years ago, and I'll choose him again now, he has a gun under his shell!



GamerZack87 said:

Bulbasaur is indeed strong against the first four Gym Leaders, there's no denying that. It also has type disadvantages against Psychic, Fire and Ice-type moves, in which Sabrina, Blaine and Lorelei, respectively, specialise. But by that point you should already have other types of Pokémon to offset the Bulbasaur line's disadvantages.

And of course, Sabrina's the most overpowered Gym Leader in Gen I, giving even those who chose Squirtle a tough time (even if you had a Gastly, Haunter, Gengar or Beedrill - the only Pokémon of that time with a worthwhile Bug-type move - they all ended up with a weakness to Psychic-type moves due to being part Poison-type).

In the end, not even science can contradict peoples' opinions on which starter they prefer, which is why there's a choice in the first place. People have differing likes and dislikes, and that's what makes us all unique. Trying to scientifically prove that a person's choice is wrong is...well...wrong.



SheldonRandoms said:

Squirtle was always the best gen 1 starter, Bulbasaur and Charmander can't compare because........................Those shades.



ccg1998 said:

honestly in gen 1 i believe that charmander is the best choice. Now hear me out. Most of the area at the start of the game is grass... so there will be grass type and bug type mostly so charmander is a good match. Then yes you must face brock, but just catch a nidoran (spelling may be off) and get it to lvl 12 and it will learn double kick which will destroy brock then later in the game you have the pleasure of owning a charizard



anthonypokemon said:

i always chose charmander because fire is awesome and if you have trouble with brock catch a grass/bug type in viridian forest



DefHalan said:

I say bulbasuar, he can own the beginning gym leaders and by the time he is weak you will have enough pokemon for it not to be a problem



MrL1193 said:

Like many others have already said, your starter's type is only a major concern in the first few gyms (which are the ones that Bulbasaur has an advantage in). By the time you reach Koga, Sabrina, and Blaine, you should have long since managed to catch some Pokemon that cover for your starter's weaknesses.



Flowerlark said:

Usually grass starters are my favourites, but I like all three Kanto starters equally. So I'm not going to nerd-out this time.



TreesenHauser said:

From my history, I agree with this guy. I remember the first time playing Pokemon Red, I started with Bulbasaur--by Nintendo Power's advice--and all seemed dandy, but as the game went on I relied on my other team-mates like Snorlax, Nidoking and Lapras to help out in battle.

Then in later runs, I would choose Squirtle almost always. In fact, I didn't choose Charmander as my starter until just recently when I started a new game, though admittedly I had the MissingNo glitch to help me out

Also, it was nice to discover the Mew glitch.



JubilifeRival said:

I friggin love Bulbasaur! He's (supposed to be) the main starter and I love him! Mega Venasaur is even better, rekindling my love. My least favorite is Charmander, why are people so obsessed? How about Mega Venasaur X and Y instead Nintendo?



MikeDanger said:

Yeah Blastoise learning Ice Beam, Surf, Eathquake and Body Slam is pretty much all you need to beat the game single handedly.

I never really caught on with all the Bulbasaur hype, I always found Exeggutor to be the coolest gen 1 grass type, so I never chose the Grass Dinosaur.



LoveSugoi said:

Well, duh. Water is best starting type.

That said, Bulbasaur>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>



BulbasaurusRex said:

Bulbasaur is the best! I may be somewhat biased, but I argue that a strong starter is only needed for the early gyms. After Bulbasaur/Ivysaur wipes the floor with Brock, Misty, and Lt. Surge, you should have plenty of other powerful Pokémon to make up for its weaknesses against the later gyms.



Psychomalone said:

The very first time I played red, I transferred the other 2 starters from blue anyway, so it didn't matter. On a normal play thru thou, I'd choose Squirtle, because there weren't any decent water types until much later in the game. Finally, correct me if I'm wrong, but in red/blue Charizard (despite being able to learn Fly) remained a single type, it was only in gen 2 (maybe yellow, I'm not sure) that he gained the flying type



Rensch said:

@Psychomalone You are incorrect. He is Fire/Flying in Red/Blue, but in Yellow he gains the ability to learn Fly, which is absent in Red/Blue.

Squirtle, even in the long run, has the least weaknesses. They mention 12 leaders, but I assume they mean the Elite Four too.



AlexSora89 said:

Water starters are always the best — remember, they can learn ice-type moves, which can easily put the rivals' grass-type starters back in their own place.



DASchenk said:

All 3 had a super-kewl final evolution. Just pick the one you think looks the coolest, who cares about optimizing?



KingMike said:

I chose Charmander the first time, partly because I got the Red version. But also because Fire types were pretty rare. Abd if my memory is right, were still rare in later games, at least through gen 4. It's been some time since I played Pearl but I recall Ponyta being the first Fire-type and it was a ways in and pretty elusive. Grass seemed to be the most common of the three types.
But then I began playing White 2, and it was possible to find one of all three types pretty early in the game.



Darkness3131 said:

My Charmander and I had some really good times (and still do). Sorry science, but the bonds we have with our Pokemon can never be trumped!



LegatoSkyheart said:

People: "Charmander is useless against Brock!"
Charmander Trainer: "That's why you evolve Charmander to a Charmeleon and have him learn slash!"



pokemonrougefeu said:

Bulbasaur all the way. Even in this new generation, in the face of some pretty awesome mega evolutions, gotta go with Bulbasaur.
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