It was in a time when you'd sooner ask your friend than Ask Jeeves. A time when Google was a meaningless word, unless you were talking about an actual 'googol', and unchecked rumours spread through the schoolyard like wildfire
One interesting point about the first Pokemon games, Red, Blue and Green, is that that creator Satoshi Tajiri attributed part of their success to some of the myths that surrounded them, particularly those involving the legendary Pokemon Mew. But of course, most of the rumours were lies. Filthy, filthy lies.
From Mew to Pikablu, to hidden gardens and secret button combinations, there were countless urban legends - and many of us, myself included, fell for them like suckers.
Today, video games are dissected in hours, their secrets unraveled overnight for our voyeuristic enjoyment. Myths cannot live for very long in the internet age.
So to celebrate 20 years since the release of Pokemon Red and Green in Japan (Blue would follow several months after) we've gathered some of the biggest urban legends from way back when. We also asked Reddit's Pokemon board to contribute some of their own memories.
Though we've attempted to debunk as many of these myths as possible, there remain a couple we may never get to the bottom of...
Bill had a secret garden
No, not in the Bruce Springsteen sense of the term. One rumour claimed that Bill, the architect of the sole computer system on which the entire Pokemon world apparently depended on, had a secret garden. The contents of this garden varied depending on which kid at school you'd spoken to, as did the method of accessing it.
Some people said the garden held the mysterious Pikablu (an early name for the Pokemon Marill - we'll come to that later). Others said this was where the starter Pokemon - Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur - roamed in abundance. Some reckoned you could even catch Togepi here.
But it was all tosh. In fact, I got into Bill's "secret" garden and there was nary a Pokemon to be seen. Given, my method involved using a cheat cartridge to bypass the fence at the side of his house, rather than collecting all three Eevee evolutions and then speaking to Bill or whatever it was I was supposed to do.
Either way, all lies.
Holding Down + B helped you catch Pokemon
HelloImDr3w: "Still to this day I swear holding down+b as the ball closes helps (make sure you press as hard as you can!)"
20 years later there's no evidence that this actually worked, and yet while putting this feature together I learned that many people still swear by it today. That includes several close friends who I consider to be intelligent, rational people.
It became received wisdom that holding both the Down and B buttons (or some other combination) when throwing a Pokeball would increase your chances of catching the Pokemon. The fact that the method varied between the people who swore by it - and yet all of them allegedly worked - should be enough to tell you it was all in our heads. And yet, even though I know this, I still do it. I guess the superstition has just become habit.
SteakShack69: "I heard so much about an obscure Pokemon dubbed 'Pikablu'. Back then, people thought it was an evolution for Raichu, or that it was a secret legendary, or this was a 'Shiny' Pikachu. Now, it is known as Marill."
Not long after the release of Pokemon Blue/Red, one of my closest friends, who I trusted dearly, told me that she had caught a "Pikablu". Of course, she had some ridiculous excuse as to why she couldn't show me this mythical Pokemon, but swore she obtained it by beating the Elite Four fifty times. Apparently, on the fiftieth time of defeating the champion, Professor Oak announced that he was "bored of doing this" and instead took my friend to a mysterious Pokemon garden where Pikablu could be caught.
And this is why I have trust issues. Pikablu didn't exist, yet so many people were convinced the mystery creature was hidden in the game. The rumour started when a blue water mouse Pokemon (later revealed to be Marill), showed up in an anime short in Japan in 1998, more than a year before Japan got Pokemon Gold and Silver. This convinced a lot of people that Game Freak had hidden the mysterious blue Pokemon somewhere in the game - and everyone had a story about how you could obtain it. Bill's garden. Beating the Elite Four 50 times. Something something Pokemon Heaven blah blah.
All, sadly, a bunch of Pokelies.
One of the few items on the list that's 100% legit, MissingNo is by far one of the most famous video game glitches of all time. Performing a particular set of actions in the original Pokemon games would trigger the appearance of MissingNo, an unofficial glitch Pokemon, on the shore of Cinnabar island.
So what was it? The clue is in the name. MissingNo, which stands for 'Missing Number', is indexed as Pokemon number 000; while it technically "existed", it wasn't an official creature, usually taking the form of a bunch of scrambled pixels.
When players would encounter a random battle, the game would assign values to a wild Pokemon in a data buffer, but due to a mistake the Cinnabar Island shore didn't actually do this and instead pulled the information from the last location the player visited. To trigger the appearance of MissingNo, the player would first have to go through the old man's Pokemon-catching tutorial, which assigned the player's name in the data buffer. Then, if the player immediately travelled to the Cinnabar Island shore, the game would try to pull the hexadecimal values of their name only to detect they did not match that of a Pokemon, and instead spat out a glitch: MissingNo.
After encountering MissingNo, the player's sixth listed item would usually multiply, hence many people referring to this as the "Infinite Rare Candies cheat". But MissingNo could also bring about a number of damaging effects, one of which scrambled the final Hall of Fame data. MissingNo could be caught - it acted like a fully functioning Pokemon - but doing so caused a few other mishaps, such as messing up the player's sprite.
You could find Mew hiding under a truck
HelloImDr3w: "Oh man. I remember hearing so many about Mew. From him being under the truck to having to beat the elite 4 a certain number of times (100?) after which someone in game gave you a ticket to 'heaven' where Mew was."
The Mew-under-the-truck theory was unrelenting, and you can understand why. When you visited the SS Anne early in the game there was a truck in the docks, hidden just outside of view. You couldn't actually reach - or even see - this truck without using the Hidden Move Surf which you didn't obtain until later in the game. Plus, once you'd completed the SS Anne section of the game, the boat would sail away and you would be prevented from entering the harbour ever again.
It was possible to trade Pokemon with a friend and received a monster with Surf, meaning you could have swam over to the far side of the harbour and discovered this random truck, but 99% of players wouldn't be able to/know to do so - so why the hell was it even there?
The question gave birth to a rumour that the legendary Pokemon Mew was hiding beneath the truck. Again, there were variations on this: some said you had to use the move Strength to push the truck out of the way in order to reveal Mew; some said you had to use a key card; others claimed it could only be budged by a level 99 Machamp. Yeah, sure thing pal.
None of these worked, but to this day the truck's placement remains a mystery. It actually made a return in the remakes, Fire Red and Leaf Green, with Mew still nowhere to be found.
Mew was in the game somewhere
It's true! You could catch Mew - no cheat card or link cable exploits required - but the real method of doing so didn't spread until long after the games were released.
Technically it was a glitch, the result of manipulating index numbers, but nonetheless you'd come out the other side with the most coveted of all Pokemon at the time. The procedure involved the player having a Pokemon with the HM Fly and performing a number of steps to bring about the encounter. You can read the exact method here.
There were some hidden Pokemon in the grass
FPHdidnothingwrong: "Wild starters in the grass outside pallet town. Always tried to find a way through the wall because no one would trade away their starter."
XyDz: "Definitely the "wild starters" in the un-reachable grass around Pallet."
We were taken for fools. This was another one I used the cheat cartridge to test, using the walk-through-walls glitch to hop the fence - only for the game to crash.
Lavender Town's music caused suicides
It's fitting that some of the theories regarding the ghostly graveyard of Lavender Town refuse to die even today. I still feel a mixture of dread and sadness when I hear that eerie music.
Lavender Town was the perfect storm of creepy. First, there was this:
Then there was the big reveal that happened when you visited this town: Pokemon can die.
That's right, one day Ash's Pikachu is going to slip into eternal darkness and, after a halfhearted resuscitation attempt by the nurses at the Pokemon Centre, will be pronounced dead. There'll be a burial. Ash will cry. Squirtle will attempt to comfort him. That's the circle of life, kids, and your precious Pokemon are no exception.
But back to the music, the source of what is easily the creepiest and probably best-known myth about this town. The story goes that, when Pokemon was first released in Japan, there was a spike in teen suicides that became linked to the binaural beats in the Lavender Town music. The legend said that the music was changed after the causal link was found, hence it was harmless by the time the game arrived in the West.
You can read more about all of the supposed "cases" here.
While it's definitely not true, to this day some people are convinced that the music was changed after launch, but claim it was done because certain tones were so high pitched that they damaged the Game Boy speakers. You'll find a number of "original" versions of the music floating around online, but as far as I can tell there is absolutely no evidence that these are legitimate.
Still, you go visit Lavender Town today and tell me it's not as creepy as it ever was.
You killed your rival's Raticate
One trope of the Pokemon games sees you battling your rival at various stages of your adventure. When you fought him in Lavender Town in the first games, something odd happened: one of his Pokemon disappeared.
This was strange considering your rival's other Pokemon remained the same (albeit evolved) through the game, but between the time you battled him on the SS Anne and the confrontation at Lavender Town's Pokemon Tower, his Raticate vanished.
That the second battle took place at a Pokemon graveyard has led some people believe he had just buried his now-missing Raticate. The story goes that after your battle on the SS Anne, your rival tried to hurry to a Pokemon Centre to save his Pokemon, but couldn't make it in time due to all of the commotion aboard the boat.
The story fits, but then there's nothing else to suggest there's any truth to it. For one, your rival makes no reference to anything like this taking place.
There's a place called Charizard Island
"Look Chris, I don't care if you say your uncle works at Nintendo and can get me to Charizard Island if I lend you my Game Boy for a week. Go away and annoy someone else."
And a few others courtesy of Reddit
Mrs_Saturn: "The rumor in my school was there was a hard to find character who would only say 'I love magikarp'. If you talked to him enough times, he would trade you a mew for a magikarp. And if you competed the whole pokedex, bill would open an area behind his house where you could catch togepi and marill... I was pretty disappointed when I only got a certificate."
xXFlavorsXx: "Another evolution of charizard, had to be lvl 70 holding an item called charcoal (before it became an actual item later on) then give it a rare candy, the description of it looks exactly like mega charizard y"
buttercupisevil2: "I remember one like, talk to mewtwo and immediately turn your gameboy off and on and do this 100 times and the next time you talk to mewtwo it'll become mewthree."
eddmario: "Charcolt, Rainer, and Sapsaur, which were gotten by using a Mist stone on Charizard, Blastoise, and Venusaur."