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For many Pokémon fans, hunting and collecting shiny Pokémon is what keeps them playing for hundreds of hours after the story is over. It’s a much harder challenge than completing the Pokédex as it requires the patience and time commitment you’d expect from a true Pokémon master. Even if you’re not actively seeking them out, stumbling across one on your journey is a great thrill, especially if you’re an innocent child who doesn’t even know what shinies are.

Despite having played Pokémon since Generation 4, I didn’t encounter my first shiny until Generation 6 with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. While filling up my Pokédex, I found a shiny Raikou and just about managed to catch it. From there, I was hooked, and I’ve been shiny hunting on and off ever since, with almost 300 unique shinies at the end of 2022. The Pokemon Scarlet and Violet shiny hunting is surprisingly easy, which has been a huge boon in this regard.

However, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have a few big problems when it comes to shinies. The lack of audiovisual effect when one spawns has made them harder to spot, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it takes part of the joy out of finding one. Some of my most vivid memories in Pokémon Legends: Arceus are of that sudden shiny noise overwriting my current objective in a flash.

The ultimate failing of Scarlet and Violet’s shinies is that a huge portion of them are so very boring.

Meowscarada doesn't change much in its shiny form.

Meowscarada doesn't change much in its shiny form.

Meowscarada, Maushold, Dachsbun, Armarouge, Ceruledge, Bombirdier – all genuinely great Pokémon that barely change when they become shiny. Meowscarada, Dachsbun, and Bombirdier all have their color drained making them look more ill than shiny, Maushold’s torso changes from a very pale blue to a somehow paler yellow, while Armarogue and Ceruledge – two of the most vibrant and visually striking Pokémon of the generation – get the tiniest changes to their eye color.

That’s just a few examples, I could pick out a bunch more that don’t feel worth hunting because you’re not getting anything interesting for your troubles. These kinds of shinies do exist in older generations – Gengar and Garchomp being the two most infamous examples – and there are a few great designs in Gen 9, but never has a single generation had so many failures.

So why do shinies have, on average, worse designs now? Well, it’s because they never used to be designed at all. We don’t know about the process of creating shinies in much detail, but we do know that in Gen 2 – the first to include shinies – they were determined algorithmically. While they are all individually defined in the game’s code, designers had no input into what they looked like.

The only word from someone inside Game Freak we have on this is from James Turner, who has been a Pokémon designer since the start of Gen 5. He stated that the first time he was allowed to choose what a shiny form looked like were the Ultra Beasts of Gen 7. This tracks with everything we know about the pixel-art sprites of the first five generations. Pokémon of the same colors tended to have similar shinies. Purple became green, orange became blue, and white usually stayed white. These sorts of patterns imply an algorithm’s hand.

Nihilego is a simple shiny design, but a good one.

Nihilego is a simple shiny design, but a good one.

However, ever since Gen 7, it seems humans have had much greater input into shiny Pokémon, which has had its ups and downs. Looking at the Ultra Beasts that Turner mentions, they’re a bit hit-and-miss in terms of whether they’re better than what the algorithm would’ve likely produced.

Nihilego goes from a pristine white to a disturbing yellow, and Guzwole’s palette completely flips, making for two really good shinies. Pheremosa keeps the white on their top half and starts to gradient into black halfway down – another win for the human designer there. However, the rest leave a lot to be desired.

Kartana gets a nice splash of deep blue on its torso – that’s good – but the yellow gets drained into white – that’s bad. It keeps the striking orange around its head – that’s good – but the white that dominates the rest of its body doesn’t change at all – that’s bad. Still, you could argue that since it was predominantly white to begin with, the algorithm wouldn’t have done a better job.

Buzzwole is an example of a bad shiny design.

Buzzwole is an example of a bad shiny design.

The same cannot be said for Buzzwole. Buzzwole is a powerful red and black, offering any number of possibilities. You could’ve inverted the red and black, giving it a cool new edge; you could’ve flipped it to a bright blue to make something weird and striking; you could’ve even just brightened up the red and turned it into a fiery orange. But no. Instead, most of its body doesn’t change at all, and some weird lime-green highlights are put on the arms and legs, which is an utterly baffling decision.

Celesteela and Xurkitree are much the same, but you get the point by now – the team currently behind designing Shiny Pokémon doesn’t seem to understand what makes the very best.

The best shiny Pokémon make significant changes to the design. It doesn’t have to make sense lore-wise or even stick to the “original vision” of the Pokémon, it just needs to be visually striking and feel special.

Aegislash is one of the best shiny Pokemon.

Aegislash is one of the best shiny Pokemon.

Aegislash’s gold and silver regular design makes it a regal weapon worthy of an honorable king, but the shiny turns the metal black with red highlights that make it look like the blood-stained weapon of a dark knight. It entirely twists the design into something new, which makes it worth hunting.

Whether Aegislash was designed by a human or an algorithm doesn’t really matter – the important thing is that the spark of something special is lacking on the Gen 9 roster. Even shinies that I would consider good don’t come close to that level, Skeledirge’s orange-to-pink change is nice, but the skeletal white that dominates the design stays the same, stopping it from standing out in a major way.

It seems like the designers who now have a greater say in shiny Pokémon are too concerned with keeping the original feel of their monsters intact, which goes against what I’ve always felt shinies are about. If you’re going to put hours and hours into hitting a 1 in 4096 chance, the reward needs to be worth it, but Scarlet and Violet make me wonder why I should bother when there are so many other great shiny Pokémon in other games I could be hunting for.

The fun needs to be injected back into shiny designs. Get rid of the slight alterations, throw yourself into it with a fresh mindset, and give me a completely new take on an already great design.