Pokémon Sword and Shield have finally been revealed following the announcement of their development in May, 2018 at the unveiling of Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu! The titles, region, early details, and starters have all been disclosed following the Pokémon Direct on Pokémon Day, February 27, in what may well have been the best new generation unveiling to date. That’s not to say that Pokémon doesn’t have a fascinating history of reveals and releases where the core titles are concerned. Until The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, and presumably Dark Horse Comics provide a much needed Pokémon History and Encyclopedia similar to those The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. received, here is a brief history of reveals for one of the most popular gaming franchises of all time.
The History of Pokémon: The Beginning
In 1996, Pocket Monsters Red and Green had to overcome every obstacle a brand new IP does when entering the market. However, being published by Nintendo has its benefits, especially, in this case, the clever idea to publish the game in two versions, each complete with exclusive Pokémon, a concept courtesy of Mr. Miyamoto himself. The games proved to be an immediate success and sales surged, prompted in part by eager consumers buying both versions. Soon after, Pocket Monsters Blue version (from which Pokémon Red and Blue were localized) was released, further solidifying the franchise as a popular and critical hit, alluring fans with updated artwork and new dialogue. Most intriguing of all, however, was the inclusion of an additional, enigmatic Pokémon, Mew, revealed by game designer Satoshi Tajiri. A legend was born almost immediately as rumor, speculation, and myth swirled around the game and the mysterious new (or ancient?) Pokémon.
It was in this state that Pokémon reached the Western world in 1998, preceded by the equally popular anime and the all-too-valuable word of mouth (particularly in the late nineties), resulting in an absolute frenzy and unprecedented pop cultural phenomenon. While the games were officially announced at E3 in 1998 (then held in Atlanta in May), revelation concerning Red and Blue tended to be far more personal. Unlike now when information is revealed and then regurgitated by countless online sources, in the late nineties, when those countless media outlets didn’t exist, the buzz surrounding something was far more pivotal to success. Visibility was further enhanced by unique marketing campaigns from Nintendo. The ageless appeal, social interactivity built into the core of the game with trading and battling mechanics, emergent myth and legend surrounding the games, and the trading card game following in quick succession ensured Pokémon would persist until the sequel and subsequent entries arrived a short time later.
Pokémon Gold and Silver claim perhaps the most unique reveal in franchise history. The first public showcase of the game was as early as November 21-23, 1997 at the Nintendo Space World video game trade show (a now defunct event Nintendo would host annually in Japan where it typically unveiled new hardware), a full two years before the game was released. It took the form of a demo, reportedly the most popular display of the show. According to Creatures Inc. president, Tsunekazu Ishihara, development for Gold and Silver (tentatively titled Pocket Monsters 2: Gold and Silver) began almost as soon as Red and Green were finished, explaining why this early demo exists. The prototype features two unused starters and several other unused Pokemon designs amongst several other differences between the Space World version and those released to the public two years later. On May 18, 2018 a ROM of the demo was anonymously leaked, giving fans a rare glimpse behind the curtain into a Pokémon game’s development. Paired with a separate leak provided by team Helix Chamber of some prototype data from Red and Green and we have a fascinating perspective into the history of this beloved franchise. While that is an incredibly cool way to reveal a game, for the majority of the public it remained the stuff of legend until the ROM leak of May 2018 and now it’s nothing more than fascinating trivia and captivating history.
The Dark Days
Ruby and Sapphire‘s announcements and development history are not well documented worldwide. They appear to have been revealed via press release by The Pokémon Company, then picked up and distributed by various media outlets. Again, this was before the internet was over saturated with sites and blogs, and information was particularly scarce surrounding the third generation of the franchise. It was notably absent from E3 and most information seems to have come via translated Japanese sources. The original games’ debut has been further buried by the remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
The CoroCoro Days
The development of the fourth generation of Pokémon was first announced via a Nintendo press release two years prior to the titles’ release in 2006, though that was all that was disclosed. Actual information regarding Diamond and Pearl, including the titles, was provided courtesy of CoroCoro, a popular childrens’ magazine in Japan that Pokémon still often utilizes to make many of it’s reveals, in May of 2005. Four Sinnoh region Pokémon were introduced in the eighth Pokémon movie, Lucario, Bonsly, Mime Jr., and Weavile, which premiered in July, 2005 in Japan and September, 2006 in the U.S., prior to the release of Diamond and Pearl in Japan on September 28, 2006.
Similarly, the fifth gen. was revealed in a press release direct from the Pokémon Company stating that the titles were due out later that year, though no further details were given. The silhouette of the first Pokémon of from generation five was revealed on “Pokémon Sunday,” a Pokémon variety show, on February 7, 2010. This Pokémon was later revealed to be Zoroark, the star of the 13th animated Pokémon movie. On May 9, 2010 the three starters were similarly silhouetted and later revealed via Pokémon Sunday. The games’ titles, cover Pokémon, and release dates were revealed on the Pokémon website later that May.
This seems to be the start of the info drop pattern the Pokémon Company and Nintendo would use on the rest of their new core games: initial reveals at the beginning of the release year in January or, more typically, February, cover art and cover Pokémon revealed in April or May, followed by smaller trailers and teases, typically via YouTube and CoroCoro, leading up to release in the fall, now typically November. Remake titles and sequel entries tend to be revealed later in the year with a shorter gap between announcement and release. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, for example, were revealed in June, 2017 before their release in November that same year. Alpha Sapphire, Omega Ruby, and the Let’s Go titles were similarly unveiled in May, 2018, and released in November, with Let’s Go getting an additional mention and demo in Nintendo’s E3 Direct and show floor.
The Direct Days
On January 8, 2013 Nintendo streamed it’s first ever Pokémon Direct, a Nintendo Direct presentation dedicated exclusively to Pokémon. Though not the primary focus of the presentation, the eleven minute direct culminated in the unveiling of X and Y. The stream concluded with the late Iwata San disclosing the Pokémon Company and Nintendo’s desire to finally achieve a global release with the sixth generation of Pokémon games. The Nintendo Direct format, first introduced in October of 2011, gave publisher and developer the perfect format to deliver global updates and news drops to assist in this initiative, allowing Pokémon to be properly promoted worldwide. Since then, all Pokémon reveals, remake, sequel, and new generation alike, have been unveiled via Nintendo Direct except Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire as well as Let’s Go, though the Let’s Go games were part of Nintendo E3 presentation in June.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire instead made use of some of TPCi’s other direct resources, the Pokémon website and official YouTube Channel, to make their debut. Though some reveals, at least initially, come courtesy of CoroCoro, the majority of additional details concerning new titles comes from these direct, digital sources. On February 26, 2016, for example, a Pokémon Direct occurred which celebrated the twenty-year history of the franchise. In the end of this Direct, the title art for Sun and Moon were displayed as well as some brief glimpses of the game’s development. Sun and Moon truly first entered the light when a trailer introducing the starters and teasing the mascots was uploaded on May 10, 2018, to the site of media channels.
The Future of Pokémon
That, of course, brings us to the reveal of Pokémon Sword and Shield. It can reasonably be predicted that the next reveal will be a trailer in May disclosing the cover Pokémon, artwork, and a release date likely in November based on the franchise’s history. Looking even further out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel or remake title announced in May 2020 and scheduled to be released in November as well. Only time will tell.
Pokémon is a franchise with a rich history, from its early days as a pop culture revolution, to its unique history with Nintendo and the publishers most notable figures, to its long record of mythic prototype designs, hidden monsters, eerie urban legends, and glorious glitches. Each game reveal has added an interesting chapter to the IP”s history. If anything is to be gleaned from this, it’s not the ability to predict the future announcements of the series, but that Pokémon, perhaps more than any other franchise, really needs that encyclopedia.