Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)
Many people of a certain age who played video games at a certain time will remember Nintendo Power well. The now-defunct Nintendo magazine was once a main source for tips and tricks for Nintendo games. By the time I started reading it in the late 1990s, it was still a great way to find Nintendo news before the internet rendered it obsolete. But today, I will discuss Nintendo Power’s 1999 April Fools prank, wherein it informed young Pokémon fans that not only was Yoshi a Pokémon, but also that they could, through a convoluted series of steps, evolve their Dragonite into Yoshi. After a brief introduction, I will revisit that April Fools prank – that at the risk of dating myself – I read in the freshly-released issue 22 years ago.
Video Game Magazines in the Late 90s
When I said “of a certain age” and “of a certain time,” I meant those simple video game times before most video game players turned to the internet and the dark web (i.e., Twitter) for their video game news. In the good old days, we instead read video game magazines to stay abreast of the latest news. Many of those magazines died off thanks to the internet. However, I understand that Game Informer is still relatively successful – supported by the unexpectedly resurgent GameStop.
Several game magazines were fond of April Fools pranks, and Nintendo Power was no exception to the rule. In April 1999, the editors of Nintendo Power decided to center that year’s April Fools prank on Nintendo’s mega-hit and best-selling Pokémon Red and Blue.
Some Context on Pokémon in the Late 1998 and 1999
The Pokémon series recently celebrated its 25th anniversary – dating to the release of the original Pokémon Red and Green in Japan. This September will mark 23 years since Pokémon Red and Blue made their way to the United States.
Over the last quarter-century, Pokémon became one of the most successful video game franchises. Given the length of the series, many now-longtime fans had their introduction at different points. Some started with Pokémon Gold and Silver, others with Ruby and Sapphire, and the youngest players may have caught their very first Pokémon with the recent Pokémon Sword and Shield on Nintendo Switch.
Having already dated myself in a 20-year retrospective on the second entries in the series – Pokémon Gold and Silver – my introduction to the Pokémon series was with the very first entries to make it to North America, Red and Blue in late 1998. (I suppose I also dated myself in my story about a long-lost round of Mario Party.)
The Uniqueness of the Era
There are certain things that would be very difficult for people who started playing Pokémon after 1999 to understand. For a variety of reasons that I will explore in more detail in a later article, Pokémon Red and Blue became the subject of many outlandish rumors and legends among young players. Most children were not attached to the internet in those days.
Being attached to the internet did not help, for the late-90s internet was often message boards and incomplete information about Pokémon Gold and Silver, which had been released in Japan but would not make it to the United States until late-2000. These internet sources, such as they were, were the source of the fabulous stories. The games’ myriad glitches were the source of others.
Combine these factors with the unprecedented (by video game standards) popularity of Pokémon Red and Blue among young players, and some interesting and very time-specific phenomena arose. They became only stranger through a proverbial game of telephone.
Nintendo Power’s April Fools Prank: Yoshi in Pokémon
For its April 1999 issue, Nintendo Power posted a short tip for Pokémon titled Hidden Yoshi. Not content to merely trick young children with a series of convoluted steps for obtaining a Yoshi, Nintendo Power even posted purported “screenshots” “proving” that Yoshi really was in Pokémon. It left an impression; I never forgot it after reading it. For those of you who were not lucky (or unfortunate) enough to buy that issue of Nintendo Power, you can find the article below, courtesy of an unknown imgur user who posted it on April 1, 2015.
Suffice it to say, you cannot, in fact, obtain Yoshi in Pokémon Red or Blue – or any other Pokémon game for that matter. The closest Yoshi has ever come to a Pokémon is when he (or she) picks up a Pokéball in Super Smash Brothers. It was, however, a clever April Fools prank for a variety of reasons, which I will explore. First, let us begin with the steps detailed by Nintendo Power.
How to Obtain Yoshi in Pokémon Red or Blue, According to Nintendo Power
Nintendo Power listed four steps for obtaining Yoshi in Pokémon Red and Blue. Here, I will go through each step with reference to the mechanics of Pokémon Red and Blue, explaining why Nintendo Power structured the prank the way it did, what parts were plausible to many readers, and the signs within the structure of the prank indicating that it was implausible. In so doing, I will split a couple of steps up for better explanations
Step 1: Pokémon Red Player Trades Dratini to Pokémon Blue Player
The original Pokémon games came in two flavors – Red and Blue. The games were the same but for minor differences involving which Pokémon were available. The effect of this was that absent cheating, it was impossible for someone playing one permutation of the games to obtain every Pokémon without trading with the other version of the game (someone with two cartridges of the same version could obtain at most 139 out of 150 Pokémon without access to the other version , not counting Mew, which was only given away at special events).
Nintendo Power played on this well-known gimmick, which was central to Pokémon’s emphasis on playing with others, to instruct gullible youngsters to trade a Dratini. However, there are warning signs of what is to come in this first step. Namely, the only reason why it is necessary to trade between Red and Blue is to obtain version-exclusive Pokémon. No Pokémon’s evolution is affected by being traded from one specific version to the other.
Step 2: The Pokémon Blue Player Evolves Dratini into Dragonite
“Dragon” was one of the original Pokémon types. It was, however, a bit underrepresented in Pokémon Red and Blue. Only 3 of the original 151 Pokémon were dragon-types, and they were all from a single evolutionary line: Dratini–Dragonair–Dragonite. But these three were cool because, you know, they were dragons. But the cool factor was enhanced because Dragonite had a cool episode early in the Pokémon anime, and the penultimate trainer the player must defeat is a dragon-type master, all of which made the three dragons stand out.
Before continuing though, I must note that Nintendo Power clearly chose Dragonite for this prank in order to afflict suffering on its trusting readers. I will explain the suffering aspect below, but here I will note that, in light of the fact that Yoshi is known for a long tongue, it would have made far more sense to tell readers that Yoshi evolved from another one of the original Pokémon similarly endowed – Lickitung.
Why Not Lickitung Instead of Dragonite?
Why not Lickitung then? The innocent explanation is that Lickitung is just weird, while Dragonite is cool. I do not think the innocent explanation is the best explanation, however. The best explanation is sadism.
In Red and Blue, Lickitung was obtainable via an in-game trade with a non-player character. The player would be able to catch a Dratini before completing the in-game trade for Licktung, but trading for a Lickitung is ultimately far less work than raising a Dratini until it evolves into a Dragonite – as I will explain below.
I suspect that Nintendo Power wanted to put its loving, trusting audience through a bit more suspense and pain than basing the prank on Lickitung would allow.
Obtaining Dratini in Pokémon Red and Blue
In Pokémon Red and Blue, there were two ways to obtain Dratini. It was not possible to obtain Dragonair or Dragonite other than through evolving from Dratini.
First, the player could fish for one in certain parts of the Safari Zone and catch it there. This, while far from impossible, requires a bit of patience – I will have more to say on the subject of dragons in the Safari Zone in a later article. The second way that one could obtain a Dratini was by using coins at the in-game casino, a task likely beyond the patience of many young players. For whatever it is worth, I did not acquire a Dratini in Pokémon Red during my first play-through.
The Long Road to Dragonite
Dratini only becomes available in the middle of a Pokémon play-through, and by the time a player can obtain it, it will be at a lower level than the rest of the player’s Pokémon. All you have to do is catch up, right? Well therein lies another problem. Different Pokémon level up at different speeds. Dratini and its two evolutions happen to be in the slowest level-up group, meaning it takes more time to raise their levels than most other Pokémon. I never obtained a Dragonite in the original Pokémon games until I made a point of raising one in Pokémon Yellow (a remaster of Red and Blue released in November 1999) for an ultimately successful battle against my New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo. It took a while.
To add insult to injury, Dragonair evolves into Dragonite at level 55. For one, that is the highest level that any Pokémon evolves at in Pokémon Red and Blue. For two, some, if not all of a good player’s party may not attain level 55 by the time the player defeats the Champion in the final battle to become the Pokémon League Champion him or herself.
There is no special skill in obtaining a Dragonite. It simply requires patience and work. It does not help one get through the main game at all, for he or she will likely be in one of the last five battles by the time all of the unnecessary work needed to obtain a Dragonite pays off. To the best of my recollection, I do not recall any of my classmates at the time having gone for a Dragonite in their own playthroughs.
Step 3: The Pokémon Blue Player Trades His or Her Dragonite Back to Pokémon Red
There are, in fact, four Pokémon that evolve through trading in Red and Blue. However, those Pokémon evolve instantly upon being traded – that is, the trade itself is the trigger. None of the four cases depend on which version the Pokémon is traded from or received in.
Thus, Nintendo Power played with a known mechanic from Pokémon Red and Blue but stretched it in a way that went beyond how it was actually employed in the games.
Step 4: The Pokémon Red Player Takes His or Her Dragonite to Where Mewtwo Was
After defeating the final trainer and becoming Pokémon Champion, the player unlocks one post-game area. This was most commonly known as the Unknown Dungeon back in the day, and today is often known as Cerulean Cave. The Unknown Dungeon featured higher level wild Pokémon than anywhere else in the game. The true prize of the dungeon was, however, at the end. Waiting for the player was a level 70 Mewtwo – not only the most powerful Pokémon in Red and Blue, but the most powerful Pokémon relative to the alternatives in any of the games.
Mewtwo stood alone on a small island at the very end of the dungeon. There was nothing to do in this area other than catch Mewtwo. But it looked cool. I am sure that it was the subject of many myths and rumors, although I do not remember any specifically. Nintendo Power took advantage of the mystique of Mewtwo to direct the player to needlessly spend a few minutes (or longer, if he or she was directionally challenged) to descend to the bottom level of the Unknown Dungeon where Mewtwo once waited.
Nintendo Power should have specified that it was necessary to battle and/or catch Mewtwo first. I mean what if a player was lazy and had not gotten around to it yet? Technically speaking, the instructions seem to suggest that confronting Mewtwo is not necessary. Slackers.
Step 5: Evolve Your Dragonite With a Fire Stone Where You Found Mewtwo
Several Pokémon in Red and Blue evolve through exposure to one of the four evolutionary stones. In each these cases, using the stone on a qualifying Pokémon will instantly trigger the Pokémon to evolve. If a Pokémon cannot evolve with the stone in question, it will say so on the in-game menu when the player selects the stone.
For its part, Dragonite cannot evolve at all, much less with a stone. Dragonair, which evolves into Dragonite, evolves by achieving level 55, not via evolutionary stone. Thus, if one selects any evolutionary stone, the game will indicate that it does not work on Dragonite.
Nintendo Power knew this, of course, but told readers to worry not. Ignore the game’s prompts. Use that Fire Stone on Dragonite!
Aside – why fire stone? Yoshi does not breathe fire under normal circumstances. Maybe after eating a chili pepper? I would have suggested a Moon Stone over the alternative Fire, Water, and Thunder Stones that were available in Red and Blue. But I was not in charge.
Step 6: Bemoan the Many Hours You Just Wasted
According to Nintendo Power, the game would “glitch” after using the Fire Stone at the promised place on the correct Dragonite. “Glitch” is clever here. Pokémon Red and Blue were notorious for their many glitches and other programming snafus, many of which were the source of rumors themselves.
After this, the player would have a Yoshi! Note that “Yoshi” would still be called Dragonite and have the same stats and moves. The only changes would be that Dragonite would now appear as Yoshi with a more colorful character sprite than any other in Pokémon Red and Blue and that Pokédex number for “Dragonite” as Yoshi would be 999 instead of 149. Did someone say 999?
Of course, while I never tried myself, I can confirm that this would not happen. Any poor child who jumped through all these hoops would still have a Dragonite and a Fire Stone. I hope that he or she at least needed a Dragonite to catch them all.
What Made Using Yoshi in Particular Clever?
Above, I discussed what made Pokémon pranks work generally in terms of how the games were perceived in 1999. I did not note, however, that there were several factors that made use of Yoshi effective.
For one, Pokémon in the television show spoke by saying their own names. This is a television-exclusive phenomenon. In the games, the Pokémon, save for Pikachu and Eevee in a couple of instances, have growls. That is, they make sounds like animals. Children, however, understood Pokémon in an audio-visual way through the TV show more than through the games. Yoshi, unlike Pokémon, was often portrayed as saying his or her own name.
For two, a few astute observers who were interested in video games generally would have been aware that the very first video game Yoshi appeared in, in 1991, Yoshi, was created by Game Freak. Game Freak is, more famously, the studio behind Pokémon, and in fact had begun developing Pokémon in 1990. The director of Yoshi, Satoshi Tajiri, was the director of Pokémon Red and Blue and the man behind the entire Pokémon series. Yoshi’s composer, Junichi Masuda, was the composer for Pokémon Red and Blue and was later Director for several of the main entries in the series.
Of course, none of Game Freak’s work on Yoshi had anything to do with Pokémon. Game Freak received the Yoshi assignment from Nintendo. The first Yoshi game, a simple falling-blocks puzzle game, is mostly a historical curiosity. But its connection to Game Freak was not unknown in 1999, so this added an extra element to Nintendo Power’s prank.
My Own Memories of the Prank From 1999
I distinctly remember reading the Yoshi prank in that April 1999 issue of Nintendo Power at the time. Like many unfounded accounts of Pokémon Red and Blue, it was the kind of thing that I would have wanted to be true, but I knew deep down that it was not. For that reason, I think I came around to the idea that it was not true even before seeing Nintendo Power’s admission. I certainly did not ask an of my classmates who had Pokémon Blue (I only had Red at the time) to trade a Dratini to me.
(Furthermore, despite some accounts suggesting otherwise, I doubt that many players went so far as to actually try to obtain Yoshi.)
My classmates and I had previously speculated that Yoshi was a Pokémon, with the main Pokémon-rumor source of the bunch saying so outright. With that being said, I was the only person who read game magazines. For that reason, the Yoshi April Fools prank did not catch in in my class.
I always remembered the prank, but I thought going into the article that it had been Electronic Gaming Monthly instead of Nintendo Power. Furthermore, I did not remember all the steps and particular details of the prank. Finally, while I had narrowed down Yoshi’s pre-evolution to Dragonite and Lickitung, I could not remember exactly which Pokémon Nintendo Power used. (I maintain that my failure on this point is the fault of Lickitung making so much more sense.)
Writing this article was a fun trip down memory lane. If you have any memories of reading the April 1999 issue of Nintendo Power, be sure to let us know in the Guestbook.