Remember the original Pokémon Pokédex toy released by Tiger Electronics and Hasbro Toys back in the day? Well, apparently Nintendo's Japanese team made it an absolute nightmare to bring to market.
Speaking to Johto Times recently, former Tiger & Hasbro senior game producer Chris Nicolella (between 1997 - 2001) revealed the entire story behind the development cycle - explaining how Nintendo's Japanese headquarters wasn't a big fan of the US toy company and made the entire process "very difficult" due to concerns about the device taking sales from the Game Boy releases.
Chris Nicolella: "The process was very difficult from several aspects. While we were awarded the Pokémon license, we didn’t get much help at all from Nintendo of Japan (NOJ). In fact, they didn’t like us very much and didn’t see our value in expanding the Pokémon brand into the toy market. They felt [that] our toy product line would take away sales from the Game Boy game which wasn’t the case at all. The next problem I had was the lack of assets and licensing material they were willing to give us to study."
After Nicolella and his team were provided with the basic materials to get underway with the project, Nintendo's Japanese branch supposedly "freaked out" about the Pokémon graphics and animations featured on the device, which apparently "almost killed the entire toy":
"We were strictly forbidden to have any type of graphic game function because of the Game Boy game. I wanted to at least have an image of each Pokémon just to give it some fun visuals as opposed to just a complete text-based toy. So, I had my art team come up with a simple 2 frame animation of each of the 151 Pokemon characters... When NOJ saw the screen animations they freaked out and said we couldn’t do that and it was too close to the Game Boy game. We disagreed and said the toy needed it [but] NOJ would not let us move forward."
Although Nintendo of America and 4Kids Production were supportive of this new electronic toy, Nintendo's HQ made the "final call on everything and final approval". The device apparently got put on hold for 6 months until a big meeting that got "a little heated" but resulted in a solution:
"I was so frustrated I didn’t even want to work on it anymore and wanted to get back to working on Star Wars toys. Finally, we had a big meeting...We had to again promise there was not [a] game element in the Pokedex and the 2 frame animations of each Pokémon needed to be removed and a senior art manager from [the] Japan Pokémon art team had to design each [Pokémon] graphic image for us."
In the end, the Pokedex electronic toy did make it to market, but it came "so close" to being cancelled. You can read the rest of the interview on the Johto Times website.
Do you remember this device? Do you own one by any chance? Comment below.
[source johto.substack.com, via gonintendo.com]
It's quite amusing how Nintendo granted the licence, and then had non-stop fits afterwards. If they were so worried about it "competing" with the games (which is a bit bizarre in itself), why did they agree to it in the first place? An intriguing story.
That is very NOJ, an extremely talented bunch of people with the most narrow and particular viewpoints in the industry.
@Ooyah I think it's because of their ownership stake.
Do people actually say Nintendo of Japan? Thats like saying Microsoft of America. A 5 second search will tell you its Nintendo Co., Ltd. or NCL for short. Hell, even when Reggie did his retirement tweet he specifically called it NCL.
Ironic now since merchandise is most of pokemon's revenue.
I remember having one of these.
Omg I wanted one of those so badly. Looking at that image now gives me a pain in my chest remembering how bad I wanted one. I know I could get one now as an adult but it wouldnt be the same.
@Ironcore Just do it man I can get one here around 25 euros, if you can get it for that price it will look great on a shelf as decoration.
Ah the old over protective and short sighted Nintendo.
They have at least got a little better with this stuff
The follow-up to this, the Deluxe Pokédex (featuring Johto as well as Kanto), actually skipped two-frame animations in favor of still images. You almost have to wonder if NOJ demanded that change or if it was just hardware limitations.
I'm so glad it got made. This was the coolest toy I ever had, it was just so darn memorable. To be fair all Pokemon toys were cool as heck.
Anyone remember the pinball machine or the clamshell pokeball that no-one understood how to play where you could catch them all by lining the lights up or something with a little screen?
Interesting background. I actually still have one of these in a display case. Wonder if it's worth anything now.
@Big_Round_Robin I bet it is! I had one too, and completely forgot it existed until I read this article. Nice blast of nostalgia
I've still got one of these in a drawer, and it still works! Was one of the coolest electronic toys I had. I loved it. Thank heavens Nintendo aren't as ridiculous about this kind of stuff as they used to be, because it sounds like an absolute nightmare.
that's Nin 'they're a big company so their business decisions must be logical' tendo for you.
@Axl_abe People do say Nintendo of Japan, to differentiate the Japanese headquarters of Nintendo from Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe. Yes, it technically isn't called Nintendo of Japan, but NoA and NoE are official names, so it makes sense.
Had a classmate that had this and borrowed me it for a day, I thought it was super cool.
Nice drive through Memory Lane
Pretty ridiculous fear about it competing with the games considering that Pokemon makes more money now on merchandising than the games lol. The games allow a gateway to the world of merchandising.
I'm not a poke'mon fan, but even I wanted one of these.
@Big_Round_Robin Saw one of these on eBay UK recently, by chance - sold for around £20 I believe.
I used to have one of these. It was basically useless, but looked cool. Now I know why it was so useless. Good old Nintendo!
@gcunit welp, maybe more luck in another decade or two.
@WallyWest If you still have it could be worth a lot on eBay
So glad it ended up being made in the end, while I didn't have this Pokédex in particular as a kid I had its successor, the Deluxe one @Thief mentioned which most certainly wouldn't have existed if the original had never come out!
@bones Nah i haven't had it for years, can't remember what i done with it but i no longer own it.
This seems like peak Yamauchi-era Nintendo. They did so many things that shot themselves in the foot in the name of "protecting" their games.
This was the same time the N64 came out and they insisted on using cartridges instead of CDs to avoid piracy, which caused a lot of devs to jump ship including Square Enix.
Just a reminder that Tamagotchi was still quite a popular toy in Japan when the Pokedex released. The Pokedex looked like a deluxe Tamagotchi, having access to all pokemon and all animations from the games, just give it the feeding element, the minigame element and maybe a battle element and you a have a functional competitor to the main games.
Now you can see why Nintendo was worried about this.
@Axl_abe no in my experience its only people who dont actually know or play nintendo games who call it nintendo of japan
I remember seeing this. Never had one though.
It would have lost most of it's fun factor hadn't it had the pictures display. Mr Nicolella seemed reasonable and quite in touch with what kids wanted in his story. I wonder how much misunderstanding was born from the language barrier
Just leave it up to Nintendo of Japan to turn a mole hill into a mountain. Not surprising to read this. But just boggles my mind the level of concern they had/have for certain things that don't really warrant it
I could see Nintendo being a little upset about working with Tiger, but for VERY different reasons.
Tiger did not have a very good reputation, but because their Game & Watch style LCD games were not fondly remembered. They sometimes tried to do more than they should. It was not until I played Nintendo's G&W port collections that I saw the actual G&W games and saw that tech could be used to make GOOD games, they just had to be designed within the limitations.
And Tiger infamously sold the game.com (which wasn't well-regarded upon release) with a commercial stating it "plays more games than you morons have brain cells!"
THAT is what Nintendo should've been more worried about.
NOJ knew that even before Pokemon hit the west that it was a multimedia/merchandising juggernaut in Japan, regardless of what they were telling Tiger they were all in using things like toys to sell the games and vice versa along with everything else like the cards and anime, they most likely feared that if these western companies had more control they’d overdo it to the point that Pokemon would be seen as a fad rather than a evergreen franchise, the meta about things being labeled as a fad at that time almost always led to them failing eventually which NOJ would want to avoid. In this instance they probably worried Tiger would make something like this into a Tamagotchi clone which I can see hurting the game sales and Pocket Pikachu, Tiger at this time had their Gigapets line and it’s safe to assume they thought of doing one for Pokémon.
It doesn't even look the same as in the show!
Oh, wow. I remember seeing the commercial for this as a small Pokémon-obsessed child and immediately begged my parents for it. It was a pretty boring toy all things considered but I was fully suckered in to PokéMania so I didn't care.
Who would have guessed such a simple toy would be this big of a point of contention but I guess that's Nintendo of Japan for you, especially when Yamauchi was still calling the shots.
I had no idea this thing had so much trouble getting into the market. I can't say I'm surprised to hear how tight NCL was with it, and it's really funny considering how much Pokémon relies on merchandise now.
I think I've still got my old Pokedex toy around somewhere
Funny how Nintendo thought some simple 2 frame animated Tiger Electronics pokedex was a threat to the Game Boy
@KingMike Yea, this reasoning makes sense. The Game.com was also still fresh in their minds as well. @CielloArc also makes a good point of it also being the peak of Tamagotchi as well, considering Nintendo was making Pocket Pikachu at the time.
@Axl_abe Yes. It’s because NoA and Nintendo’s Kyoto HQ function a little differently from one another. They’re not completely independent ofc, but the distinction needs to be made to understand why certain decisions were made.
I've still got this, it's in my draw with my D-2 digivice. Both don't work now. I think I took the batteries out when they stopped working and never replaced them. I'm glad it got made use to love looking at it as child.
Everyone always knows how to run Nintendo better than Nintendo but I keep missing where everyone has a company as long lasting and successful.
I can understand his point of view, if he had been working on Star Wars toys before, I would imagine the more fun or similarities to the films the better. But since Nintendo is a toy company themselves, they of course don't want to have any competition from licensed toys.
This had a Calculator built in. I remember a friend of mine had it and was using it in maths class. Bleep-bleep-bleep....'Pikachu!' came the low bit cry.
Don't think they believed him it was a calculator too after that.
Weird they thought this would compete with the Gameboy games though! There is no gameplay! They are so different. Ah well.
Wow, I remember used to owning one of these as a kid. Thought it was one of the coolest toys ever at the time.
I seriously don't understand why NOJ thought kids would ever prefer toys over the actual games. The Pokedex were just basic PDAs for Pokemon and didn't even come close to the games. I used the toy for maybe about a year before forgetting about it, while with the games, I played until D&P on DS.
That’s a shame. This was one of the cooler Pokémon toys at the time.
Wow I still have mine. That’s intense. But considering what the gba graphics looked like and that tiger handhelds were still popular at the time I sorta see why the devs were nervous. Especially since they had the scandals with the anime and the boycotts with American parents to deal with as well. Pokémon was still teetering on super success or could crash and burn. I’m sure if the devs had known pokemon would become so unstoppable they would have done more to make the toys popular. They often ended up in the dollar tree (unlike the super expensive power ranger/super sentai toys) so for me they were gateways, especially since I didn’t get a gameboy from my parents until the color and pokemon gold. (I had a gameboy but had traded for it on the playground. My mom was livid).
I always wanted the Pokémon watch. I remember the commercial where the watch had animations and voices from the show. “The Pokémon time is……. It’s team rocket….we’re here for your Pokémon…..Pikachu I choose you…..it’s evolving into Raichu….I don’t want to end up as cat food….Pokémon catching sure makes you hungry!
I kind of liked the idea of PokéDex 3D on 3DS, even though it was more or less useless in the modern times with unlimited access to internet. A smart phone app with a good user interface and a lot of data about every single Pokémon would be kind of nice, though.
I had one of those when I was a wee yin. I remember going around a family Christmas do, asking people to give me a number to punch in to see which Pokémon came up. Who'da thought it had such a troubled past?
So Nintendo was just as stingy with their IP in the past as they are now.
@Axl_abe Wow, people will literally complain about anything.
@Axl_abe I’m sure Nintendo’s marketing department is very proud of your use of approved copyrights, but the rest of us are just talking about stuff and trying to get our point across. Microsoft of America sounds completely inoffensive to me.
Now if you don’t mind I’m going to google some stuff and play with my legos.
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