It was impossible to imagine that they would go on to explode in popularity,” said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata during a recent installment of Nintendo’s ‘Iwata Asks’ Q&A sessions. Chatting alongside Game Freak director Shigeki Morimoto and the president of The Pokemon Company, Tsunekazu Ishihara, Iwata described Pokemon’s gestation – a lengthy six years.
“We wanted to release the games quickly. But we missed the end of year sales season and finally released them at the end of February – the very worst time of year!” explained Ishihara. True enough, sales of Pokemon were sluggish. However, slowly but surely, its popularity began to gather pace. “Word steadily spread about how much fun Pokemon was… There was also the small matter of Mew, the Pokemon that Morimoto-san contrived as a kind of prank,” said Ishihara.
Mew was hurriedly inserted at the last minute – a potentially game-breaking addition after the game had been bug tested. “What we did would be unthinkable nowadays!” exclaimed Morimoto. Mew wasn’t supposed to appear in the game, and was instead intended to be activated at a later date, but due to an unforeseen bug, the mystery ’Mon showed up in some players’ copies of the games.
Word of this ‘legendary’ Pokemon spread through playgrounds like wildfire, causing such a buzz that, when CoroCoro Comics announced that 20 lucky players could get Mew unlocked through a competition, 78,000 entries poured in. Pokemon was not only on its way to becoming the phenomenon we know today, but it also helped extend the Game Boy’s shelf-life beyond Nintendo’s expectations.
After the launch of Red, Green, Blue and Yellow, Ishihara felt that Gold and Silver would be the ultimate (and last) in the Pokemon series, banking on the huge level of merchandising, TV series, movies and trading card games to ensure their success when they eventually launched.