With the stellar release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, we’ve had another evil team added to the mix. And much to the surprise of longtime Pokémon fans, these two new games gave us not one but two villainous teams to enjoy. With a history spanning 20 years and seven generations of Pokémon games, now's the time to break down our favorite villainous teams ranked from least shady to most nefarious, to see how they stack up in the #Pokemon Pantheon of villains. Some had better fashion sense, others had greater ambition, but here is our evaluation of each gang based on three categories — grunts, boss and overall evil deeds — and scored out of 10.
8. Team Flare
The Grunts: 8/10
Holy hell, they actually look kinda cool! They’re wearing dapper suits with skinny ties. They look like they could possibly be some sort of weird government agents. Honestly, if the rest of Team Flare were this cool, they’d be at the top of our list.
The Boss: 2/10
And with the big reveal of Lysandre, everything falls apart. He’d look alright if not for whatever the hell is going on with his hair. Is he trying to be a lion? How much product does he use to get it to stand up like that? Let’s keep in mind that he's all about beauty by his own admission, so it’s justified that I get to judge him for his hairstyle as part of his overall score.
Overall Villainy: 1/10
Team Flare is forgettable. I honestly couldn’t remember who the villains were for Pokémon X and Y, a game I played through. They’re just that sad. Their goal is creating a beautiful world and are hellbent on doing just that, going so far as to assemble a doomsday device to carry out their wicked plan. But I would hazard a guess that’s only because Lysandre regrets his hairstyle. I’m pretty sure anyone else on this list could wipe the floor with these poor schmucks.
Total Score: 11/30
7. Team Aqua
The Grunts: 6/10
These guys have a great pirate theme going, which helps to set them apart from evil teams that came before them. Add that to the fact their preferred method of travel is a submarine, and they’re looking pretty fly. Or float, as it were. Unfortunately, I can’t get around the fact that they work for a guy who’s looking to use a Pokémon to flood the entire world. Sure, the nautical theme is cool, but flooding the Earth is a really terrible idea. At least you can kind of understand the appeal of working for a gang like #TeamRocket, seeing as how they're kind of like the mafia, so Team Aqua does have the possibility of becoming rich.
The Boss: 3/10
Archie is dumb. His plan is dumb. He looks like an evil swimming instructor. It’s difficult to imagine how he’d have the charisma to accumulate enough capital to be able to afford a submarine and recruit people to bolster his plan of using legendary Kyogre to drown the world. The fact that he doesn’t manage to get his hands on the Pokémon while a 10-year-old manages to do so just makes the situation even sadder. At least Archie's got the pirate motif going for him, so that's something.
Overall Villainy: 4/10
Team Aqua is an epic fail. At least other teams are able to take control of #LegendaryPokemon before the player manages to subdue it. These guys just want to see the world flooded and don't even manage to pull that off.
Total Score: 13/30
6. Team Magma
The Grunts: 7/10
#TeamMagma is the counterpart to Team Aqua. Ruby and Sapphire were the first and so far only Pokémon games to feature two separate teams, depending on which versions you bought. But for story and gameplay purposes, they’re kind of the same team. What makes these grunts stand out is their weird and authoritarian devil motif. Their horns make them look like adorable little kids dressed up as Halloween demons. While I guess makes them more sinister than your average evil team grunts, even if they're no more threatening than Team Aqua.
The Boss: 5/10
Despite the seemingly hot disposition you might expect from a guy leading Team Magma, Maxie is more cold and calculating. He’s less of a putz then Archie, but he’s also not particularly memorable. His ultimate ambition to create more landmass with the help of Groudon makes more sense than Archie’s intention. More land means more real estate, and Maxie could make a killing with that, just like Lex Luthor in the #Superman movies. It’s not a great plan, but at least it’s not as ridiculous as Team Aqua’s flood plot. While I'm not sure it wouldn’t result in mass genocide, at least it’s not as stupid as Archie’s plan.
Overall Villainy: 4/10
Despite their intimidating satanic get-up, Team Magma are no more successful than Team Aqua at getting things done. They can’t capture the Legendary Pokémon and even with their Earth-drilling machine and secret base, they’re still unable to accomplish much aside from pilfering a few items. These guys do not do much to instill the kind of confidence you’d want in an evil team, which is why they occupy the lower tiers of this list.
Total Score: 16/30
5. Team Galactic
The Grunts: 5/10
Team Galactic grunts boast a very retro sci-fi flare, which is fitting, given their aspirations to create a new universe. Indeed, they’d be a better fit on the #StarshipEnterprise than a traditional Pokémon villain team. But their science fiction aesthetic makes them seem more dweeby than deadly — like they're not from a real sci-fi organization, but rather a cheap parody of one. They remind me of something you’d see in Flash Gordon or some Saturday Night Live sketch poking fun at #Trekkies, or in Galaxy Quest. It definitely helps them stand out among the other evil teams, but they're not particularly formidable.
The Boss: 7/10
Cyrus is one of the more compelling and cruel Pokémon team bosses. He probably has one of the greater ambitions of the entire franchise: To destroy the universe so he can make a new one, because he hates emotions and feels socially ostracized. This detached boss brings a brand of nihilism that isn’t present in the more charismatic team bosses. It almost makes up for the fact he forces everyone in his organization to dress up in terrible-looking retro space outfits. Almost.
Overall Villainy: 6/10
Team Galactic is responsible for probably one of the most brutal acts ever seen in a Pokémon game, when they drain Lake Valor, leaving hundreds of #Magikarp to flop around helplessly as they slowly suffocate to death. In the entire franchise, we’ve never seen an evil team flat out murder Pokémon, and Team Galactic holds that special distinction.
But here’s the thing. While brutal by Pokémon standards, draining a lake and killing fish is pretty lame as far as villainous acts go. We’ve seen the #Joker do more brutal things in the Batman cartoons. Sure, Team Galactic wants to end all reality as we know it by using Legendary Pokémon, but they never even come close. Plus, they don’t even have the guts to go after Arceus, the true god of the Pokémon universe. Instead, they go after the generic dragon creatures featured on the box art of Diamond and Pearl — which is fine, but the team has the opportunity to enslave a god by putting it in a ball, yet lack the imagination to carry this idea out.
Total Score: 18/30
4. Team Skull
Oh man, there are no words for how sad Team Skull is. I mean, they’re just — no one is afraid of them. They don’t even have a coherent plan. They’re more of a nuisance than anything else. So why did we rate them so highly? Because they’re perfect at fulfilling their role. Team Skull takes its marching orders from the Aether Foundation, and their orders are to be as distracting as possible.
They’re also possibly the most nuanced of all the grunts. While every other grunt on this list is more like a Saturday-morning cartoon villain, the Team Skull grunts have a much more painful reality. They live in the poorer parts of #Alola, in trailer parks and in Po Town. This has a tragic basis in reality, given that the Alola region is based on Hawaii, where one in six inhabitants live in poverty.
The Boss: 9/10
Guzma is just a terrible person. He takes over a town, stockpiles Z Crystals for Pokémon of his chosen type, and keeps his grunts in line through sheer terror. His goal is simple: Power and more power. He started on his path to villainy because he’d been passed over as a captain, probably because all he ever wanted was the ability to control people, and he only stops when he runs into someone even more evil than he is. In a fight, I’d probably lay odds on him winning against any of the other bosses because he’s so ruthless. OK, everyone except Lusamine because she is just completely off her rocker.
Overall Villainy: 1/10
Here’s the big failing for #TeamSkull. Despite Guzma’s violent, chaotic nature and obsession with power, Team Skull are no more than patsies. They have no goals, no hope, and even their members would rather just get out of Po Town than do anything truly villainous. All they’re good for is keeping everyone looking the other way as the #AetherFoundation quietly tortures Pokémon and tries to summon the elder gods from beyond our world. At least they have a really catchy theme song.
Overall Score: 20/30
3. Team Plasma
The Grunts: 9/10
Easily some of the best grunts ever introduced into Pokémon, #TeamPlasma shows they mean business and are ready to get medieval on collective Pokémon asses with their gear that’s reminiscent of the Knights Templar. Which is about 20 times cooler than the usual Power Rangers-style thug we typically see from Pokémon evil team grunts. Even better than the Knights Templar grunts are the tactical SWAT team-style ones. That’s honestly the aesthetic you want in a grunt team — guys who look badass, like they could wipe the floor with you, even if they aren’t smart enough to carry a full team of Pokémon and grind in the tall grass, which is what these guys accomplish.
The Boss: 6/10
N is probably the closest thing we’ve ever come to a really complex villain in a Pokémon game. It’s almost as if #Nintendo hired Hideaki Anno to make a kid-friendly clone of #Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangelion to serve as the main series villain. Too bad he isn’t the true ruler of Team Plasma — that title belongs to Ghetsis, whose design feels like that of a rejected #FinalFantasy character. The philosophy of Team Plasma is great in terms of challenging the core principles of Pokémon. They desire to take every Pokémon away from the trainers who enslave them and force them to fight, which is awesomely counterintuitive.
For all of its talk about bonds of friendship, Pokémon always has and will always be glorified cockfighting. The reality of the game sees players making Pokémon puppy mills in which to breed hundreds of critters in the hope of getting a battle-ready monster, and to have villains who challenge this ideal is one of the boldest things ever attempted in the franchise.
But it all kind of falls apart when you learn that Ghetsis just wants everyone else to lose their Pokémon so that he can be the one guy who has them in his possession. It's as if he's asking everyone in the world to disarm so that he can possess the world’s last AK-47 and everyone must bow down before him. The idea of a villain who goes against the game's core principles was a brilliant idea, one we wish #GameFreak had followed through on instead of chickening out at the last minute.
Overall Villainy: 6/10
Team Plasma summons a giant mystical castle in the sky and also manages to get their hands on a Legendary Pokémon, either #Reshiram or #Zekrom, depending on which version you're playing. The raising of the castle is the single most epic thing to happen in any Pokémon game. But after that, their villainy kind of falters. Sure, most fantasy stories aimed at children have an evil entity to overcome, but the really great villains manage to get in a few licks before they meet their ultimate defeat. The Joker is memorable because of all the nasty stuff he manages to pull off before #Batman gets his ass back in Arkham. It’s such a shame Team Plasma couldn’t quite takes things all the way.
Total Score: 21/30
2. Team Rocket
The Grunts: 4/10
Man, I want to like these Rocket grunts. They’re iconic as all hell, but they do set the bar low. Most organized crime outfits don’t issue a standard uniform that pretty much begs police to arrest them on sight. Yes, some gangs do have color schemes that make them instantly recognizable, but there’s at least some element of plausible deniability to just wearing a blue or red bandanna as opposed to, say, wearing the exact same uniform as everyone else in their group and also telling people you’re part of a criminal organization. Holy hell, at least Team Aqua and Team Magma have the excuse that they’re some sort of weird quasi-militant group bent on taking over the world.
This score would be even lower if we included Jessie and James’s appearance in #PokemonYellow, because they are the most incompetent goons ever. If they weren't part of the cannon you could rationalize Team Rocket’s defeats as being spread out all over the map as Red or Blue trashes everything in his path in a fit of silent protagonist savant glory. After all, there’s no shame in being beaten by someone who goes on to mop the floor with the Elite Four.
But Jessie and James are a completely different story. Time and time again they screw the pooch by not only failing to steam a relatively common Pokémon, but also getting so sidetracked that I’m willing to bet they have absolutely no idea what #TeamRocket’s actual projects are. It’s no wonder Giovanni has largely sidelined them in favor of his more competent grunts.
The Boss: 9/10
Giovanni is pretty much the only reason Team Rocket is even a little bit competent. He’s the one pulling all the damn strings. I half wonder if the reason he has all his underlings dress like incompetent dorks is because it draws attention away from a respectable gym leader wearing a sharp suit. Not doing anything in regard to his gym leader responsibilities doesn't help his cover, but at least he could honestly say he doesn't dress like a member of Team Rocket.
You've also gotta give him points for realistic expectations. He’s not trying to summon otherworldly horrors or destroy the world. He just wants to be filthy rich, and he doesn’t have a lot of scruples about how he goes about it.
Overall Villainy: 9/10
The idiots of Team Magma and Team Aqua at least thought they were doing some good. Team Rocket suffers no such illusions. They’re pretty much stated as being responsible for killing a Pokémon mother and causing a full-on ghost-fueled rage haunting in Lavender Town. And they break into people’s houses, steal Pokémon, start a gambling ring, illegally mine fossils, and of course break into Silph Co. to steal the Master Ball. Despite the ridiculous outfits, they really are an unrelenting organized crime gang. They even show up again in Gold and Silver after being stomped into the ground by a kid.
Total Score: 22/30
1. Aether Foundation
The Aether Foundation underlings aren’t exactly threatening, but at least they’re not trussed up like Team Rocket. Their uniforms are retro-futuristic, so they have that going for them, and having everyone wear pristine white uniforms that are reminiscent of hospital orderlies or scientists is rather creepy. But all in all, they’re a little bland, which is kind of the point. They’re meant to be overlooked because #Lusamine doesn’t want anyone to know what’s really going on.
The Boss: 10/10
Damn. Just. Damn. Lusamine is a stone-cold monster and crazy to boot. Her entire reason for being is to summon the Pokémon equivalent of Lovecraftian creatures, and she will do anything to get what she wants. She tortures Pokémon, manipulates her children, genetically engineers an artificial Pokémon fitted with a control device, and even forms an alliance with a gang of criminals to make sure everyone else is looking the other way. She doesn’t care what happens to anyone else as long as she gets her precious Ultra Beasts. Oh, and she has a room full of Pokémon trapped in suspended animation. And have I mentioned she’s a monster?
Overall Villainy: 9/10
Let’s point out that this organization is founded on deceit and lies, and in a world where even the mafia declares that it’s evil rather than, y’know, acting at all like an organized crime syndicate, that’s pretty impressive. An organization pretending to help Pokémon and fight Team Skull when they’re secretly allied with them, all while quietly performing unethical experiments designed to find superpowered alien entities and unleashing them on the world with little to no regard for the effect it has on anyone is — pretty hardcore for Pokémon.
Overall Score: 24/30
So which is your favorite evil Pokemon Team? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.