If you started playing the Pokémon video games after having watched the anime, like many children in the 1990s, you might have been surprised to see how rare Pikachu actually is. In the anime, Pikachu is Ash’s favorite Pokémon and acts as one of the main characters of the whole series, making it the de facto mascot of the entire Pokémon brand. In Pokémon Red and Blue, however, Pikachu is not a starter Pokémon, nor is it particularly common or useful. In fact, few players will run into one at all.
According to Junichi Masuda, the composer behind Red and Blue, this was actually a conscious decision from Game Freak. The company decided that Pikachu would make a perfect sidekick for Ash because it was so rare, as that would inspire children to look for it and talk about it, which would help them build communities by spreading information about the game by word of mouth.
In a recent interview with GameSpot, Masuda was asked about Pikachu’s fame and its history as the Pokémon mascot for almost twenty years. This was his response:
“I think the biggest reason is that Pikachu was Ash’s partner in the animated series, and that’s probably what caused it to be such a success and endearing and widespread. But why was Pikachu chosen as the partner for Ash in the animated series? If you remember back in the original games, the first forest you go into, Pikachu was a very rare Pokemon there. It was a situation where, in places like an elementary school class, maybe two or three kids would have encountered Pikachu. The rest of them hadn’t seen him before. It was a cute Pokemon, hard to get, and other students would wonder “How did you get that?” So Pikachu got a lot of buzz, but the internet wasn’t around then like it is today; it had to spread by word of mouth. It was a rumored Pokemon that existed in this forest.
“That was one of the reasons we chose it as the partner for Ash in the animated series. We wanted to feature it because of the rumors that spread about it. The guy who originally coded that part of the the forest, he liked Pikachu because it was a cute Pokemon. He just wanted to catch it for himself, so he made it very low encounter rate. Extremely rare.
“Though I guess he wasn’t always as cute as he is now [laughs].” — Junichi Masuda
What do you guys think? Have you ever noticed Pikachu’s relative absence from the Pokémon games (apart from Pokémon Yellow, of course)? Let us know in the comments below!