Pokémon on the Game Gear!
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Satoshi Tajiri, as we all know, is one of the key figures behind the incredibly successful Pokémon series. However, it's important to remember that Tajiri's interest in game development began long before he had the idea of linking two Game Boy consoles together in order to share fictional monsters and produced one of Nintendo's most successful franchises.

Like so many young people in Japan at the close of the '70s, Tajiri became hooked on Taito's Space Invaders, as well as other classic titles, such Namco's Dig Dug. His interest eventually evolved into wanting to make his own games, and he apparently even went as far as to disassemble his Famicom to figure out how it worked.

Prior to that feat of amateur engineering, Tajiri entered Sega's 'TV Game Idea' contest in 1981. He was one of the winners, alongside Yochi Maekawa, and was presented with the award by lead Sega engineer Shikanosuke Ochi on December 25th, 1981 – that's 40 years ago this month.

Maekawa's winning concept was called Super Locomotive, and Sega title with that name would eventually see release in arcades in 1982 (although its designer and programmer is listed as Fukumura Mizunaga). Tajiri's idea, Spring Stranger, was never released.

Around the same time, Tajiri started producing his Game Freak fanzine, which ran until 1986. This is how he met legendary Pokémon illustrator Ken Sugimori, who came on board as a contributor after spotting an issue in a local store. The pair quickly decided they wanted to make their own software, and Game Freak the fanzine eventually became Game Freak the developer, with the NES title Mendel Palace / Quinty being its first release. Game Freak would go on to produce titles for Nintendo, such as Yoshi (NES, Game Boy) and Mario & Wario (Super Famicom) before Tajiri pitched the idea of Pokémon; the rest, as they say, is history.

While a lot happened between Tajiri winning Sega's contest and the foundation of Game Freak, it's fun to speculate about how different the games market could have been if he had been given the chance to work more closely with Sega, perhaps even as an employee.

The Game Boy was, of course, utterly integral to the success of Pokémon (and vice versa, you could argue), but Tajiri could have easily have executed the same idea on Sega's Game Gear, which also had link-up capability and was still very much an ongoing concern in the mid-'90s, despite the domination of the Game Boy. What makes this even more interesting is that Game Freak enjoyed a close relationship with Nintendo's erstwhile rival at the time, producing titles such as Pulseman and Magical Tarurūto-kun for Sega, both of which were Japanese exclusives for the Mega Drive / Genesis – so perhaps Tajiri's path could have diverted at that point, too, had he pitched the idea of Pokémon to Sega and not Nintendo.

Of course, such talk is largely pointless given how things have turned out, but we'd like to think that in some distant part of the gaming multiverse, Pokémon is published by Sega.

Oh, wait! That kinda already happened. Twice.