With Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! on the horizon, Nintendo has released a new map showing Kanto in all its glory. It’s nice and pretty and shiny, not to mention high resolution.
But if you look at the map a little closer, there’s a problem. See it?
Look a little closer. There’s the Cycling Road, looking good for all the problems it has with Snorlax blocking the way of tourists. There’s the Safari Zone, with all of its rare Pokémon (and the Warden’s missing teeth). There’s the S.S. Anne, the ship said to sail around the world and come to dock in Vermilion City once a year.
And… hold up, is the S.S. Anne landlocked?
If you look closely at the map, it’s clear that the S.S. Anne is actually stuck in that harbor. It’s boxed in by Vermilion City to the North and East, the Cycling Road to the West, and the Safari Zone and its surrounding routes to the South. It’s doubly funny since the artists took the time to draw the S.S. Anne itself in the harbor, but also drew in the boulders, grass, and ground that make it absolutely, unambiguously clear that there’s land surrounding that harbor on every side.
So, what’s going on? How did the S.S. Anne suddenly end up in this awkward position, 22 years after the launch of Pokémon Red and Blue? Why didn’t anyone ever notice this before? The answer, as it turns out, lies in Cycling Road—and it’s a problem that Nintendo has inexplicably solved, turned back into a problem, solved again, and forgot about again on and off through the series’ entire history.
Cycling Road is that long, straight, route that, in the map above, runs directly North-South and completely blocks off the Western side of the harbor. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Take a look at this map of Kanto, from the olden days of Pokemon.com when Red, Blue, and Yellow were the only games we knew.
Here, we can clearly see the S.S. Anne in the harbor again, and we can see Cycling Road as that bridge blocking off the bottom of the harbor. There’s one important difference, however: the Cycling Road in this case is raised above the water, presumably to give ships enough room to pass underneath. (We’ll ignore the fact that the S.S. Anne, in this picture, is way too tall to pass underneath and would still be trapped, unless the sailors of Kanto can pull off some sweet Motocross-style jumps.)
In fact, other official maps of this region, from Generation II to Generation IV, all show the Cycling Road as some sort of raised bridge. As generations pass, though, it starts to sit progressively lower and lower in the water. (Thanks, Bulbapedia, for collecting the maps.)
What’s most interesting, though, is that while these maps start the trend that would eventually landlock the S.S. Anne, the actual Cycling Road as depicted in-game follows a different pattern.
Here’s the Cycling Road as it first appeared. Its appearance is a little ambiguous, but hey, Nintendo didn’t have much to work with graphics-wise in those days. The road has some grass and flowers growing on it, implying that it’s on land, but those fence posts off to the side are ambiguous enough to be bridge supports or a floating dock of some kind. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, and assume the earliest version of the Cycling Road took a leaf out of the New York City High Line‘s book.
When Red and Blue were remade into FireRed and LeafGreen a few years later, we got a better look at the bridge in-game. However, things have gone backwards. The bridge is clearly sitting in the dirt, with plants and flowers and grass growing right into the water line. It’s not much of a “bridge” at all. The Cycling Road seems to have been built on a perfectly straight strip of dirt that just happens to cross the harbor.
Then, suddenly, we get to HeartGold and SoulSilver. These DS-era games are remakes of Gold and Silver, games set in the Johto region. Once the game is beaten, however, players can return to Kanto. And it’s here, inexplicably, in this tiny post-game portion of a remake of a second-generation game where Kanto isn’t even the main focus, that a designer at Nintendo noticed the problem with the Cycling Road and actually fixed it.
It’s beauty. It’s grace. It’s a bridge that actually looks like a bridge. And most importantly, it’s very clearly sitting on support pillars that raise it out of the water and leave enough space for a boat to pass through beneath. This version of Cycling Road looks like it was designed with both boat and foot traffic in mind, not as a variant of a garden path.
So far, we haven’t seen what the Cycling Road in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! looks like. If we’re going off the map, the “bridge” will have huge boulders and wind turbines on either side that would completely stop a ship from passing through, no matter how high up the bridge is. As Nintendo has shown, though, what we see in-game doesn’t necessarily correlate with what we see on the official maps.
We won’t see Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! until November 16th, when they release on the Nintendo Switch. When the games release in full, we’ll be sure to go take a look at the route. Maybe the S.S. Anne will be free to sail the world once again, or maybe, the legendary ship will be recommissioned into short trips around the harbor, like the Tom Sawyer Pirate’s Lair cruise at Disneyland. Only time will tell.