The Pokemon fandom can be divided into two parts: those who hold the original Pokemon Red and Blue games on a special pedestal and those who believe that the franchise has only gotten better with the addition of more Pokemon, more characters, and more regions. The "Genwunners" as their known in Pokemon fandom have a few solid stats to back their claims: the original Pokemon games remain the top-selling games in the franchise and characters like Bulbasaur, Pikachu, and Charmander continue to be a prominent part of the franchise 20 years after they were first introduced. Nostalgia, after all, is a powerful selling tool and many look back at the original Pokemon craze with fondness.
When "Genwunners" talk down about the newer games and characters in the Pokemon franchise, they often recycle through a few arguments. A common complaint is that the newer Pokemon "don't look like Pokemon," usually due to lackluster designs that they claim don't hold a candle to the original. While Pokemon like Trubbish (an animated bag of trash) or Vanillish (an animated ice cream cone) are often pointed to as "bad" Pokemon designs, Genwunners conveniently forget Pokemon like Voltorb (an animated Pokeball) or Muk (an animated pile of sludge.) However, there may be some validity to the complaint that older Pokemon don't "look like" the originals and not in the way you might think.
A redditor over on /r/gaming pointed out that the original Pokemon designs seemed to have polygonal eyes (that is eyes with three or more straight lines) than circular or semi-circular eyes. While round eyes were more associated with "cute" Pokemon like Pikachu or Jigglypuff, many of the more powerful Pokemon like Mewtwo or Charizard had eyes with sterner, more polygonal features. As the franchise progressed, designers seemed to favor giving Pokemon circular eyes more and more, to the point that even Legendary Pokemon had either circular or semicircular eyes. One Redditor even made these handy gifs show what some of the newer Pokemon would look like if they had eyes more in line with the original designs.
To test the "eyes" theory, we looked at each Pokemon's eyes and split them into four categories: polygonal, semicircular, circular, and no eyes at all. We also divided the Pokemon by Generation to get an idea of how the original Pokemon compared to later generations. Here's a handy chart to summarize what we found:
As you can see, the original 151 Pokemon had a much higher percentage of Pokemon with angry polygonal eyes. By our calculations, approximately 44% of Pokemon from "Gen 1" had polygonal eyes, while 33% had circular eyes. Gen 1 was the only generation of Pokemon in which Pokemon with polygonal eyes outnumbered those with circular eyes. In later generations, the percentage of Pokemon with polygonal eyes dropped to about 25% per generation, while the percentage of Pokemon with circular eyes jumped up to around 40%.
There's more to a Pokemon's design than just their eyes, but it's still a fascinating trend to look at. It looks like there was a conscious effort to make Pokemon look cuter and less threatening in later generations, which in turn could be why many fans look at the original Pokemon as superior to the ones that debuted in more recent games.
Let us know if you think there's a difference between the original Pokemon designs and newer ones in the comments below!