Pikachu was almost a tiger with huge breasts in America
“They turned Pikachu into something like a tiger with huge breasts. It looked like a character from the musical Cats.”
Tsunekazu Ishihara, CEO of The Pokémon Company
I love Pikachu. Everyone loves Pikachu. You can't not love Pikachu. The electric rodent is universally adored for its friendly personality, animated expressions, and the sparks that radiate from its red cheeks. Like Mickey Mouse, Pikachu is a wholesome icon. Pikachu also could have been a tiger with big boobs.
You can file this under "WTF" and "thank god this didn't happen." According to the latest episode of Did You Know Gaming? which explores all the ways Pokémon was changed in its regional releases, Tsunekazu Ishihara, the CEO of The Pokémon Company, said Nintendo of America wanted to make major changes to Pikachu before the original Pokémon games were released in the U.S.
Nintendo of America suggested the change would make Pokémon more appealing:
...At the time, it was widely believed that American kids would never want to play games with a lot of text, (so) we thought Pokémon only had about 10% chance of success outside Japan. [...] The first time we showed off some Pokémon in the U.S., we were told they were "too cute."
(…) The staff in America submitted their ideas for replacement designs, but we just couldn’t believe the kind of stuff they were proposing. They turned Pikachu into something like a tiger with huge breasts. It looked like a character from the musical Cats. When I asked "how is this supposed to be Pikachu?" they said "Well look, there’s its tail right there" ... Seriously, that was the kind of stuff being proposed.
Can you imagine? A bunch of suits sitting around a boardroom table thinking this cute yellow character would be better if it was more menacing and had huge breasts. It seems unthinkable today when developers and gamers are demanding more inclusivity and less sexism, but in the '90s using "huge breasts" to sell games was the norm; everyone was trying to find the next Lara Croft.
No sex, no problem — In hindsight, Pokémon did just fine without needing to cater to horny little boys. The game's addictive collecting and role-playing elements helped turn the franchise from a video game into a global phenomenom with lasting appeal. Pokémon has raked in over $90 billion since it was unleashed on humanity in 1996. That's more than Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse.
Raichu had an evolution that was cut — The whole episode has some really interesting tidbits on Pokémon localization, including the fact that Pikachu's evolution, Raichu, had an evolution that didn't make it into the game because it couldn't fit on the cartridge's limited storage.