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- Pokemon Blue/Red
It’s hard to believe, but while Pokemon Red and Blue were in development Pikachu wasn’t thought of as the face of the series. Instead, Pikachu was given the same treatment as every other of the 150 Pokemon, including having two evolutionary forms. We all know Pikachu’s Thunder Stone-invoked evolution, Raichu, but its planned third form might have changed the history of the franchise as we know it.
In an interview with Yomiuri (a Japanese newspaper), Pokemon designer Ken Sugimori and illustrator Atsuko Nishida talked about the origins of Pikachu and the original plans for the electric mouse. Initially, there was Pikachu, Raichu, and Gorochu. We know the first two forms well, but Gorochu was designed to have bared fangs and horns.
Fangs and horns on a form of Pikachu seem absurd now, but Gorochu almost made it into the game. In fact, it wasn’t the visual aspects of Gorochu that prevented it from making it into Pokemon Red and Blue. The real problem with Pikachu’s third form according to Sugimori was that it created balancing issues.
If a fanged and horned version of Pikachu made it into Red and Blue, would it still be the mascot of the series, or would another Pokemon rose to take its place? According to Sugimori, when the final list of Pokemon was coming together, he printed out the pixel-art of all the creatures and had a popularity contest with Pikachu winning by far.
However, it would be the anime series that brought Pikachu to real stardom. The director of the Pokemon anime, Kunihiko Yuyama, didn’t want to create a situation in which any kids watching the show felt left out. If he had Ash start with Charmander, Bulbasaur, or Squirtle, then the children who chose the other two in the game might not make the same connection with the show. Therefore, the decision was made to have Ash end up with a non-starter Pokemon which ended up being Pikachu.