Light up your Gameboys and make sure you have some spare batteries at hand, because we’re taking a blast from the past as we look at some of the most beloved and successful games on Nintendo’s first handheld: Pokémon Red and Blue. Debuting in 1996, these seemingly standalone games would introduce people around the world to the lovable critters known as Pokémon, but little did the creators know just how popular their franchise would become with plushies, T-shirts, a slew of new games, and now the popular app, Pokémon GO all making an appearance. There seems to be no end for Pokémon, and it all started with Red and Blue.
Unlike how games are made today, there were actually a lot of secrets back in the day. This was true for many games, and Red and Blue are just echoes of that. However, some of the history and trivia behind them is quite interesting and would go to shape the entire franchise as it stands today.
You may know some if not most of these facts already, but I still encourage you to read, as you may learn something about these games you had no clue about. Despite the small cartridge space, Pokémon Red and Blue have much to hide in the 20 years of being made- from the Pokémon to the history of Game Freak.
Let’s journey back into the world of Kanto once more as we explore fifteen hidden secrets about the original Pokemon Red and Blue.
15. Nintendo Didn’t Want Them
Kicking off our list is a surprising piece of information. When Game Freak got the idea for Pokemon and began to put it into fruition, they obviously wanted to strike a deal with Nintendo to create the game, as they were the only ones with a handheld system at the time. However, Nintendo initially rejected the idea of Pocket Monsters, and it wasn’t until Shigeru Miyamoto caught sight of it that Nintendo actually approved a deal with them. Obviously that was a smart decision on the Big N’s part, as Pokemon would become one of their most successful franchises of all time, next to the likes of Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Having Nintendo’s help also benefited the end result of Pokemon Red and Blue, as Miyamoto gave lead designer Satoshi Tajiri some firsthand help on the project. This led to Tajiri programming his name as one of the possible names to pick for your character, and having Miyamoto as one of the possible options for your rival (in Japan). This wasn’t made to reflect a personal rivalry, but instead Tajiri meant it that Miyamoto was always two steps ahead of him.
14. It Was Originally A Japanese Magazine
Pokemon was created by Game Freak through and through, and none of the initial ideas had anything to do with Nintendo. However, Game Freak’s name didn’t always apply to them as well as it does now. Before having any interest in game development, Game Freak developed a magazine for people who loved video games. Back then, most of the business was run by Tajiri himself, who would photocopy the magazine for distribution. It wasn’t until it garnered a lot of attention that prints were able to be made. In this magazine, some early designs of creatures can be seen that would eventually become recognizable Pokémon. As the magazine became more popular, other people began to join Game Freak, one of them being a little known man named Ken Sugimori would go on to illustrate all of the original 151 Pokémon that we know and love today. Game Freak’s original magazine, despite its increased popularity, still never got mainstream attention, as a very niche audience was reading it. After a while of publishing the zine, Game Freak would eventually spawn the ideas for Pokémon Red and Blue, using some of the character designs from the magazine.
13. Mew Made The Game Successful
When Pokémon Red and Blue came out, nobody had ever really heard of the company Game Freak, only Nintendo. Regardless, the game sold fairly well, but never quite got the massive attention from the start. However, that all changed when the Pokemon Mew was discovered. It’s a bit of a long story though.
The cartridge space for Red and Blue was entirely full, but when the developers cleaned up some junk files, there was just enough room to fit in another Pokemon. An excitable programmer decided to stick Mew in the last second, but it was not attainable through normal means. Players began to discover that Mew could be caught through glitches though, and this is when things took a turn. A popular manga decided to hold a competition in which the winners would send their copies of Pokémon Red and Blue and they would unlock Mew. There were tens of thousands of contestants, and the buzz began reaching enormous heights. Word of mouth spread, leading others to try out the new Pokémon game, and just like that a star was born. While it would seem ridiculous to put a random Pokémon in the last second, that man needs to be thanked.
12. Rhydon, Clefairy, And Lapras Were the First Designed Pokémon
Pokémon designs are no laughing matter, and I wouldn’t wish that job upon anyone. It’s fortunate that Satoshi Tajiri is more than up to the task, and with the aid of other developers, has been able to complete hundreds of different little characters. It is unknown how exactly the process of creating a Pokemon works, but what we do know is that Rhydon and Clefairy were designed first. Rhydon has been officially revealed to be the first Pokemon design, which is probably why many statues of him can be seen throughout the games’ world. Clefairy is a close second, having a simplistic and unique design. This led to the creation of a unique sprite when viewing Pokemon in your party that looks just like Clefairy. They weren’t the only Pokémon of the first batch as Lapras was also one of the first designed. In the concept art for Pokémon Red and Blue, Ken Sugimori had drawn a very early image of a trainer sailing across Kanto on the back of a Lapras, meaning that Pokémon had to have been created much earlier in time. However it wasn’t until Pokémon X and Y that we were truly able to ride a Lapras.
11. Clefairy Was Going To Be The Mascot
Anytime you mention Pokémon to anyone, it’s really hit or miss whether you’ll get someone who knows what you’re talking about. Almost everyone will know who Pikachu is though. Pokémon loves their precious Pikachu, and plasters him on pretty much any merchandise they can find. But could you imagine a world where that wasn’t the case? Game Freak originally intended for Clefairy to be the mascot for Pokémon, because they believed that it would appeal more to girls and young women, but after some studies, they discovered that girls actually liked Pikachu much more, deeming it cuter than Clefairy (and even as a grown man, I would have to agree). So Game Freak listened to them and made the switch, resulting in the most recognizable Pokémon of all time. Pikachu is lovable, excellently designed, and is the farthest thing from helpless. It’s a good thing too, because what exactly would have become of Pokémon Yellow if Clefairy was a mascot? Would we be playing “Pokémon Light Pink” instead, having a little Clefairy follow us around with various expressions?
10. 37 Sounds For Pokemon Cries
Once you begin filling out your Pokedex in Pokemon Red and Blue, the first thing that you’ll notice is that every Pokémon you encounter has a specific noise that they make before battle. Every Pokemon has a cry unique to them, and you can imagine that sort of thing would’ve taken up a lot of space on a Gameboy cartridge. In order to maximize their space, Game Freak only designed 37 different sounds for the Pokemon cries. From there they just distorted and manipulated the sound clips to give the illusion that everyone had their unique sound. This is why you’ll notice that some Pokemon have VERY similar cries if not identical. Granted it’s not an easy task to come up with a unique noise for each and every critter, and their work thus far deserves to be commended. Perhaps the problem could’ve been avoided altogether had Pokemon come out later, and the developers could’ve just made the Pokemon say their names like the anime (the only one that does so far is Pikachu). It still amazes me that they haven’t done so in current installments, including the upcoming Pokemon Sun and Moon.
9. 200 Pokemon Were Created For The Game
Here’s something to give the genwunners all a run for their money. If you ever run into a purist that only loves the original 150 Pokemon, this is what you show them. Many times during a game’s development, you begin to wonder what the game would’ve become had the developer’s been able to make it the way they want. Pokémon Red and Blue is no exception, as the game’s content was very limited to the amount of space available on the cartridge. One such limitation was how many Pokémon were able to be put into the game. While we’re familiar with the original 151, there were actually 49 other Pokémon planned to be put in the game, bringing the total to 200. While it’s unfortunate that many Pokémon had to be cut, the designs were later reworked into Pokemon Gold and Silver. This is probably why many second gen Pokémon appeared in the first and second seasons of the Pokemon anime respectively, such as Marill and Togepi. Ho-Oh was also likely one of these Pokemon, as it appeared in the very first episode, being a sign of good luck for Ash, whether he wins a Pokémon league or not.
8. Professor Oak Super Boss
As you train, level up, and evolve your Pokemon for the first time, you begin to wonder just how tough the battles are going to get. You face the boss of Team Rocket and a total of eight gym leaders. Now we’re all familiar to the formula of fighting the league champion at the end of the quest, but along the way, that wasn’t Game Freak’s original intent. It’s unclear where they would’ve placed this boss (that was probably why it was cut), but there is code in the game revealing that Professor Oak, the one who sends you on your quest, was going to be the toughest trainer in the game. He had a team of high level Pokemon that are well in their sixties. No doubt it would take some serious work and possibly a Mewtwo on your team before you would ever be powerful enough to beat him. As a matter of fact, the code for that fight is finished enough that the battle itself can be accessed by means of a GameShark or other “cheating” device. If you’re curious about the fight, you can also find recordings of it floating around on YouTube, which makes us wonder why it didn’t come in the final game.
Because of how big the franchise has become, it’s hard to imagine a world without Pokémon. Every few years, Game Freak is always willing to try something new and innovative to rekindle our love for the game or bring in new audiences. They still come up with new Pokémon, mechanics, and more. But did you know that this wasn’t always the plan? As a matter of fact, Game Freak never had any intentions to turn Pokémon Red and Blue into a massively successful franchise. Instead the original plan was to have Pokémon Red and Blue, then release their sequels: Pokémon Gold and Silver. Gold and Silver were slated to be the final installments in the Pokémon series so that Game Freak would have the opportunity to move on to other projects. Why they planned to have two installments is anyone’s guess, but most likely due to unused assets for Pokémon Red and Blue that would then carry over to Gold and Silver. Not to mention that in Gold and Silver, you can challenge a trainer named Red, who is the same character you play as in Red and Blue. Kind of interesting to think about.
6. A Third Female Trainer
In the older Pokémon titles, one of the most unforgettable things is having a rival. Not just any rival either- Gary (or Blue). He was the jerkiest most stuck up person anyone had ever gone up against, and we all wanted nothing more than to put him in his place. Then he ended up becoming the league champion and it all went downhill from there. However, this wasn’t the initial idea for Pokémon Red and Blue. Many pieces of concept art showcase Red standing with his rival and a third female trainer on top of that. Each carried a unique starter, presumably based on the one you choose. No doubt this would have led to some interesting battles, fighting both starters that you didn’t select. For some reason, this idea was scrapped though, but having more than one rival is something that came back in later games such as Black and White and X and Y, but none of them are quite as jerky as Blue. We’re also unsure what her name would’ve been, but I’d put my money on the name “Green”. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess.
5. Game Freak Didn’t Want An Anime
Pokémon Red and Blue did become hugely successful games, but where would they be without the Pokemon anime? Not only did it put them on the map with casual audiences, but it also gave us one of the best anime theme songs of all time. It also cemented Pikachu as the mascot for the rest of time. Start singing it anywhere, and five other people will join in with you. However, when the idea was pitched to Game Freak, they initially declined. They feared that having a cartoon show would risk that it was bad and that it would be canceled pretty quickly. Then as a result, the reputation of the franchise would decline and Pokémon would fade into the backs of people’s minds. Fortunately they went through with the idea and it was a success. The anime did have some very low points, but fans were smart enough to separate the show from the games, and Pokemon still remains strong today. Their anime is also still running with eighteen seasons under its belt. If you’re interested in watching all of them, do yourself a favor and just pretend like Black and White never happened.
4. They Took A Long Time To Make
There are some games that get stuck in development Hell, whether people just don’t have the interest in making them or hardware constraints don’t allow for the optimal experience to be put together. Titles like Half Life 3, The Last Guardian, and Final Fantasy XV just have everything working against them. Then there’s Pokémon Red and Blue. The game mechanics such as trading and battling with other players as well as training and evolving Pokémon were all mechanics that were unique to the game and original ideas. Having such revolutionary tech in the games took a lot of time to be able to perfect though. Combining that with the designs for all of the Pokémon as well as the region itself, and it’s a wonder that Red and Blue never got stuck in development Hell. That didn’t stop it from taking a long time though. Game Freak also struggled getting the proper funding to create the game. Production for Pokémon Red and Blue began in 1990, but the games weren’t released in Japan until 1996, and they didn’t come to the West until 1998. That’s almost a decade it took for us to get our hands on the game.
3. Arcanine Was Supposed To Be A Legendary
Every kid that plays Pokémon isn’t interested in doing competitive battles and or official tournaments. What they play Pokémon for are the creatures themselves, and the one thing they want above anything else are the Legendary Pokémon. Explaining which Pokémon is a legendary and which one isn’t to a kid is kind of difficult, but no explanation is more confusing than Arcanine. Many casual Pokémon players think that Arcanine is a legendary because of his Pokedex entry labeling him the “Legendary Pokemon”. Little on the nose there, Game Freak. This isn’t just a coincidence though, as when Game Freak was creating the legendary Pokémon for the game, they designed Arcanine as one the original legendaries along with Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno. More evidence of this can be seen in the second episode of the Pokémon anime. As Ash talks to Professor Oak over the phone, a mural can be seen depicting four “legendary Pokemon”: Moltres, Zapdos, Articuno, and Arcanine. It’s a bit confusing for those trying to understand which Pokémon is which, but there’s no denying that there is something whimsical about Arcanine’s design. His shiny variant is even more glorious.
2. Munna’s Shoutout
If there’s one thing the developers of Pokémon do well, it’s designing plenty of Pokémon to keep in store for future generations. Pokémon Red and Blue probably dealt with this more so than any other Pokémon title due to the storage limitations of the Gameboy cartridge. That being said, that didn’t stop them from making shout-outs to some of the unused designs. One strange instance in the game happens while you exit the Rock Tunnel. There is a trainer just outside waiting to battle you. Once you beat her, she has a strange piece of dialogue.
“The POKEMON here are so chunky! There should be a pink one with a floral pattern!”
While this left many players thinking nothing of it, as the original 151 didn’t match that design at all, we did get a look at this Pokémon much later down the road. In Generation V, which debuted fourteen years after the release of Pokémon Red and Blue, a certain chunky, pink psychic elephant Pokémon with floral patterns was revealed. Munna does fit the description of the lass in Pokémon Red and Blue, but it’s unclear for sure if Game Freak made this a nod to the Pokémon or if it’s just an untimely coincidence.
1. Strange Names
Coming up with unique names is no small task, and this is another area where Game Freak must be given a pat on the back. Having over 700 unique names for each Pokémon is impressive to the say the least, but the road to get there isn’t quite as pleasing. As the creatures were being created, Game Freak had to name a lot of them, and let’s say that they weren’t always as original as they are now. Abra and Kadabra used to be called Hocus and Pocus respectively, while Jigglypuff and Wigglytuff sported the names Pudding and Custard. Even the line of Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar was reduced to Spirit, Spectre, and Phantom. Thankfully these weren’t the names that ended up in the final version of the game, but it’s interesting to see what their original thoughts were on some of these Pokemon. The funniest name I have seen is Lickitung’s. It used to bear the appropriate name Tonguetied (pronounced “Tongue Tied”). Had these names really gone through, Pokémon probably wouldn’t be as loved as it is today. How boring would it be to say, “I caught a Flamie!” That was Growlithe’s old name by the way.