So pervasive was Pokemon in the late ’90s and early 2000s that it’s easy to assume the franchise was an immediate hit right from the outset–but that wasn’t exactly the case. As it happens, the original Pokemon Red and Green versions actually got off to a rather inauspicious start when they first launched in Japan in 1996, two years before the property made its international debut. Initial sales were so sluggish that developer Game Freak worried that the games might have missed the proverbial “last train”–and that could very well have been their fate were it not for a secret Pokemon hidden within their code.
Development on Pokemon Red and Green began in 1990, only one year after the Game Boy itself had launched, but their gestation was infamously protracted. The games would take nearly six years to complete, and by the time they were finished, the Game Boy was verging on obsolescence. Making matters worse, Red and Green missed the all-important holiday release window and slipped into the early part of the next year–a traditionally slow period for game sales.
“We originally completed the titles in October  and wanted to release them quickly. But we missed the end-of-year sales season and finally released the games at the end of February of the following year–the very worst time of year to release games!” Pokemon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara recalled in an with late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata.