Back in May, an interview with Ken Sugimori, Atsuko Nishida, and Koji Nishino, who were all closely involved in the original game, revealed that Pikachu was meant to have two evolutions: Raichu, as well one called Gorochu. The interview was quickly translated to English. It was supposed to have horns, and fangs, resembling a sort of god of thunder. They stated that the Pokémon was removed as it would’ve been too strong.
However, Pokemon.com re-released a translated version of the same interview a few days ago. Again, Sugimori states that it was removed for balance reasons.
Sugimori: “There was nothing wrong with its appearance — it simply had to do with the balance within the game.”
Nishino follows up with a more interesting statement about the game.
Nishino: “There was also a problem in terms of the size of the game data. We had to save space by taking Pokémon originally designed to evolve twice and making them evolve only once. Pikachu was not one of the first three Pokémon, so it was an easy target for this kind of reduction.”
Later in that interview, he affirms that adding more variation in the species you could find was more important than giving every Pokémon two evolutions.
Nishida: “For the most part, many of the Pokémons’ final forms were removed from the final version. I think what people wanted was more variation rather than having the same Pokémon evolve twice.”
This is much more interesting. We know, from game data in the original games, that there were originally going to be 190 Pokémon. That later appears to have been pulled back to 150 Pokémon due to space constraints. Then Shigeki Morimoto added Mew into the game in the last few weeks before release. We recently saw some early artwork of what some of those 190 could’ve been.
With forty Pokémon that were cut during development, many of which were seemingly third stages, it is interesting to speculate which were cut and why others were not.
Pokémon that have three stages in generation 1 are:
- Bulbasaur, Ivysaur, Venusaur
- Charmander, Charmeleon, Charizard
- Squirtle, Wartortle, Blastoise
- Caterpie, Metapod, Butterfree
- Weedle, Kakuna, Beedrill
- Pidgey, Pidgeotto, Pidgeot
- Nidoran♀, Nidorina, Nidoqueen
- Nidoran♂, Nidorino, Nidoking
- Oddish, Gloom, Vileplume
- Poliwag, Poliwhirl, Poliwrath
- Abra, Kadabra, Alakazam
- Machop, Machoke, Machamp
- Bellsprout, Weepinbell, Victreebel
- Geodude, Graveler, Golem
- Gastly, Haunter, Gengar
- Dratini, Dragonair, Dragonite
For many of these, the choice makes sense. The creators state that they wanted the starter Pokémon to evolve twice. A big feature of the games were the trading between players, and having Alakazam, Machamp, Golem, and Gengar evolving through trade was an added benefit. Having Dragonite evolve twice was a way to justify such a strong, cool Pokémon that was the region’s only dragon.
Giving players the ability to raise their early Pokémon to become strong throughout their journey means it made sense to give two evolutions to Caterpie, Weedle, and Pidgey. In a biological sense giving two evolutions to the bug Pokémon also makes sense. It’d be weird if they stopped as cocoons, or if they evolved directly into a flying bug.
Oddish and Bellsprout were exclusive Pokémon in Red and Green respectively. This meant that a player with Pokémon Red could only get a Bellsprout by trading with a friend. Giving a cool final evolution to an exclusive Pokémon raised the value in trading with a friend.
The Nidoran lines are the ones that seem to make the least sense in this list. Gender wasn’t added until the second generation, and gender-split evolution wasn’t added until even later. As such, the only way to have female and male Pokémon was to explicitly label them. This meant using six slots to have two very similar sets.
Pokémon with two stages in generation 1 are:
- Rattata, Raticate
- Spearow, Fearow
- Ekans, Arbok
- Pikachu, Raichu
- Sandshrew, Sandslash
- Clefairy, Clefable
- Vulpix, Ninetails
- Jigglypuff, Wigglytuff
- Zubat, Golbat
- Paras, Parasect
- Venonat, Venomoth
- Diglett, Dugtrio
- Meowth, Persian
- Psyduck, Golduck
- Mankey, Primeape
- Growlithe, Arcanine
- Tentacool, Tentacruel
- Ponyta, Rapidash
- Slowpoke, Slowbro
- Magnemite, Magneton
- Doduo, Dodrio
- Seel, Dewgong
- Grimer, Muk
- Shellder, Cloyster
- Drowzee, Hypno
- Krabby, Kingler
- Voltorb, Electrode
- Exeggcute, Exeggcutor
- Cubone, Marowak
- Koffing, Weezing
- Rhyhorn, Rhydon
- Horsea, Seadra
- Goldeen, Seaking
- Staryu, Starmie
- Magikarp, Gyarados
- Omanyte, Omastar
- Kabuto, Kabutops
This a long list, 36 evolutionary lines in total. It seems like there are some Pokémon in this list who definitely had planned on receiving evolutions. In generation 2, Golbat and Seadra receive a third evolution. Pikachu, Clefairy, and Jigglypuff receive baby forms. Pichu, Cleffa, and Igglybuff could’ve been the original form of each Pokémon which were then removed.
Early generation 2 game data shows a number of additional baby Pokémon that were planned. Vulpix, Ponyta, Goldeen, Paras, Meowth, Grimer, Doduo, and Growlithe. It’s entirely feasible that these baby Pokémon were the planned stage 1 Pokémon, and then postponed, then removed entirely.
It should be noted that several other Pokémon in the list, Magneton and Rhydon, do get a third stage evolution in generation 4. It’s entirely possible these designs were planned all the way at the beginning.
From the remainder on the list, we can speculate as to whether the line had an evolution originally, and whether it was removed later in development. It should be noted that these removals would’ve happened very early in development, possibly before the original 190 count was selected. As Nishino stated, the designs were sent to everyone within GameFreak and each person chose their favorite.
Nishino: “In the survey, Pokémon were evaluated simply on their appearance. Since their abilities during the game and things like that were still under development, it wasn’t really relevant.”
As coolness and strength were potentially factors that were chosen, it could’ve led to the removal of some of these baby Pokémon.
It could’ve also led to certain middle stage Pokémon being removed. One can imagine a Pokémon like Dugtrio with only two heads, or Tentacool with more tentacles. These may have been in a state of being neither cool nor cute and led to more dramatic evolutionary changes. It makes you wonder about whether there was a transition Pokémon between Exeggcute and Exeggcutor.
Along with game exclusives, there were certain pairs of Pokémon that matched: Oddish and Bellsprout, Nidorans, Abra and Gastly, etc. There was a symmetry to the lineup in many ways. Looking at this symmetry may be another way to see if there were originally certain planned evolutions.
One potential pair may have been Pidgey and Spearow. Both were basic bird Pokémon, a pigeon and sparrow respectively. It’s possible Fearow could’ve evolved, but perhaps that didn’t give the game enough variety.
If Gorochu was the third evolution of Pikachu, does that mean Sandshrew may have also had a third evolution? Both are based on rodents, one electric and the other resistant to electricity. It may have made sense to give players a possible counter.
Ultimately this post is full of wild speculation. It’s difficult to get a look at the early days of the game’s development, and any small bits of information we get are highly valued. It’s fun to consider the many ways that the game could’ve developed, and it causes us to consider how the games may develop in future generations.
Which generation 1 Pokémon do you think should’ve received a third evolution?