Whether it's Pikablu, the Mew under the truck, the PokeGods, Bill's secret garden, or Pokémon Purple, the game where you could play as Team Rocket, you've probably heard a Pokémon rumor or two if you've spent any amount of time with the franchise. At one point in my life, I had about a dozen friends whose uncles all supposedly "worked at Nintendo," and I attribute my former deep fascination (and later disappointment) with Pokémon conspiracy theories as the reason that I currently stay away from anyone that begins a sentence with "Well, here's what the government wants you to think..."
Pokémon rumors were big and continue to be big. Every few weeks, I see a new set of "leaked" starter Pokémon from the upcoming Pokémon game on the Switch console, and while I applaud people for being able to draw in that infinitely likable Ken Sugimori style, it does make me wonder where exactly all of this rampant speculation got its start. And so I did some research, and I believe it started with a Pokémon game that actually existed.
Pokémon Green is known, if it's known at all, as the "lost" Pokémon game. Sure, you can probably buy it online or find it on sale in the vendor room of any major gaming convention, but it was originally only released in Japan back in 1996. "But Daniel," you may ask, surfing back and forth for hours in Union Cave trying to find a shiny Lapras, "America got Pokémon Red and Blue. Aren't they just remakes of Red and Green?"
Well, sort of.
See, nowadays, most games get released in different countries around the same time. But there was a full two-and-a-half year gap between the releases of Pokémon Red/Green in Japan and Pokémon Red/Blue in America. A lot went down in between them.
Pokémon Red and Green weren't perfect games. But not in the way that we usually perceive that generation of Pokémon as not being perfect.
Nowadays, we lambaste Pokémon Red and Blue because some of the moves are inherently worthless, some of the type matches seem weird, and because, before you obtain the move "Fly," you spend a lot of time going to one city, finding an item that you need for the last city, and then backtracking to that last city to actually deal with the problem. Pokémon is the near-apocalyptic story of a civilization that can store monsters in a computer but has somehow placed every other piece of technology hundreds of miles away from where you need it to be.
No, Pokémon Red and Green had a few things, like glitches and some rough mechanics, that needed fixing, and developer Game Freak made the fixes, releasing an "updated" version with the title Pokémon Blue later in 1996. Also, Blue overhauled the in-game Pokemon sprites from Red/Green, mainly because many of the Red/Green sprites did not do the 151 fantastical creatures justice. In Green, Charizard looks like a weird plush toy; Ekans barely resembles a snake; the LSD has just kicked in for Wigglytuff; Vileplume took all of four seconds to draw; Primeape seems to be exploding; Gengar is the creepiest dude at the bar; and the incredible Dragonite seems to be melting.
But it was only released through Japan's CoroCoro Comic magazine at first, and didn't get a wide release for three years. And it was Pokémon Blue, which was initially only available to subscribers of a manga anthology magazine in Japan, that served as the basis for Pokémon Red and Blue. The types of Pokémon available in each would be changed to match the original Red and Green, but the inner workings, like the game engine and script, all come from the Japanese Blue.
And so Americans got Pokémon Red and Blue, leaving Pokémon Green as almost a folktale at my elementary school. Years later, when the Game Boy Advance remakes Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green were released, I was faced with a whole new generation of Poké-confusion. My friends that didn't know about Pokémon Green found it weird that a "remake" of the American Pokémon Blue would be called Pokémon Leaf Green.
I'm sure that there wasn't a huge disparity between the sales of Fire Red and Leaf Green, but most of my friends picked up Fire Red because Leaf Green was a stranger to them. Fire Red meant revisiting an old friend who had shiny new graphics. To them, Leaf Green "replacing" Blue was like when a popular actor leaves a sitcom, and suddenly a new guy shows up in the same episode, acting like he's part of the main group of friends already. Nah, buddy. You gotta EARN your way into the Pokémon inner circle.
And so the original Green, with its bizarre glitches sprites, was history. And I believe that a lot of the weird Pokémon fan speculation and "leaks" are all because America never got Green. They never got the original Pokémon games, and instead, their initial Pokémon experience was technically with a pair of remakes. There was a piece of the Pokémon past hidden from them from the onset, and it made them insatiable. To the Japanese, Green was a game that got remade into Blue. To Americans, it was a game that got swept under a rug. A secret. So what else is Pokémon hiding? There has to be more.
Looking into all of this made me even more interested in trying to find out why the current barrage of fake Pokémon news keeps happening. And so I talked to Joe Merrick, the webmaster of a site called Serebii.net. If you're a Pokémon fan, Serebii is an endless resource of information. Struggling to remember a certain Pokémon anime episode? Need to figure out where to catch a Corphish? Need to prepare for every single trainer in Jubilife City or Lavender Town or Hano Beach? Serebii is the place to go.
Merrick is a massive Pokémon fan, and I was happy to see that we agreed on a few major things, mainly that the latest 3DS releases Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon aren't being given a fair shake. They're great games, and if your problem with them is that they don't "do enough" to change the Sun/Moon experience, then you are going to have a heart attack if you ever play Pokémon Emerald or Crystal. Also, you can surf on a big stingray Pokémon in them, which is everything that I've wanted for the past 20 years out of every video game.
Merrick, like myself, was also curious about Pokémon rumors when he was younger, but he never believed any outright. Now, rumors are flying again, with all kinds of intense fan speculation about what will occur in the eighth Pokémon generation, which will be the first generation on the Nintendo Switch. What would give people the inclination to believe in all of the fake Pokémon leaks?
As it turns out, that kind of thing has happened before in a big way. "In 2010, we got the reveal of Servine and Dewott through a leaked anime reference sheet, followed by someone leaking Pignite, Serperior, Emboar, and Samurott," Merrick recalls. "The person who leaked the latter actually got caught as CoroCoro staff and even jailed in Japan. Then, in 2016, we had another confidential art sheet leak which revealed Decidueye, Incineroar, and Primarina, which stirred a lot of debate as to if it was real or fake until Mallow was revealed, as she was on the artwork."
And as to why people are so eager to share it: "Due to this, people have continually tried to emulate the way they leaked to try and make their claims seem legit," he reasoned. "Some of them are legitimately talented, but they usually have tells that allow those of us with knowledge of Japanese, or in-depth Pokémon knowledge to discern that they are fake."
Moral of the story? Trust the experts. And good luck finding a copy of Pokémon Green, which is real. I promise.