Nintendo felt the original Pokédex toy would steal sales of the Game Boy, fought against its release
Ah, the crazier days of Nintendo
If you’re reading this site, chances are you have a deep appreciation for Nintendo. While we might love Nintendo’s games and philosophies, most of us can also agree that Nintendo makes some odd decisions and has a few strange hang-ups, especially if you go back a few years. One great example of this comes from the days when Pokémon was just getting started.
The Johto Substack had the chance to speak with Chris Nicolella, the former Senior Game Producer at Tiger Electronics/Hasbro Toys, and he shared a nightmare of a story about working with Nintendo. Nicolella was in charge of creating the original Pokémon Pokédex toy, and he unfortunately had to fight Nintendo nearly every step of the way to get it release. It turns out Nintendo saw the device as competition for the Game Boy, of all things.
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.
I focused on the Pokédex because it looked cool and it was in every episode. I finally did get a basic data sheet on each of the original 151 Pokémon so that helped a lot [with] bio information. 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. That turned out to be a big mistake and almost killed the entire toy. 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. We did have Nintendo of America (NOA) and the licensing group 4Kids Production on our side but it was Nintendo of Japan that [got] the final call on everything and final approval. For almost 6 months the project was put on hold. 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 with all licensing parties involved, myself and our owner of Tiger in the meeting. The meeting did get a little heated but we finally came up with a solution. 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.
Nicolella has a lot more to share on working with Nintendo and the Pokemon brand, and you can find the full interview here. There’s also a newsletter you might want to check out as well!
That is WILD! I remember playing with that Pokédex from time to time, but obviously it’s not going to give you hours of entertainment like a GameBoy. I think animations did make it to the final product, maybe not Tiger’s. The toy itself looked really good as a Pokédex prop and being able to look up any Pokémon at the time felt very substantial though it wasn’t really in reality
They may have been more successful getting in contact with Nintendo Co Ltd (NCL) instead of Nintendo of Japan because NoJ is not a thing...
But I'm no business expert...