A few weeks ago, a mysterious event happened in Pokémon Go. At the tail end of a community Chikorita Day event, Pokémon suddenly started disappearing from the map. The nearby Pokémon radar picked up on hundreds of repeats of a strange silhouette, one that no one had ever seen before. All 300-odd Pokémon currently in the game had vanished, replaced with a strange, silvery blob no one could identify.
For all the players out in droves for Chikorita Day, it was madness. Whatever this weird Pokémon was appeared with only question marks above its head. If players caught one, it turned into a Ditto and didn’t register in the Pokédex. Was it a glitch? A bug? Something going wrong with Niantic’s servers? Did any Pokémon experts recognize it? Was it foreshadowing the release of Kecleon? Nobody knew what was going on.
Shortly afterwards, Niantic officially unveiled Meltan (not Nutto, Boltergeist, Incogditto, Missingnut, or any of the other nicknames fans had lovingly bestowed upon the strange creature) as the first ever generation 8 Pokémon, and kicked off the first in a series of videos explaining Meltan’s existence in the game’s lore. Those videos are still coming out, but fans know the gist of what’s happening and some of the details of how Meltan will be unlocked properly once Switch games Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! are out.
What makes Meltan special, though, isn’t anything that can be found in those details. Fans have already started combing through the game and have a pretty good idea of how the Pokémon will be caught. No, what makes the little nut-shaped Pokémon special is something that has been missing from the Pokémon series for a long time—an air of mystery.
It’s not rare for Pokémon to appear before the games they’re in are out. In fact, it’s actually pretty common. The very first episode of the Pokémon anime included a cameo of Ho-Oh, a legendary Pokémon that wouldn’t be released until an entire generation later. The Pokémon movies are a common way for new Pokémon to be introduced. When a new game is close to release, leaks are so common that fans expect to see new Pokémon designs in early scans of Japanese gaming magazines. Most new Pokémon are discovered, dissected, and have dozens of pages of fanart long before Nintendo officially declares they exist.
While this can be done well—Lucario’s appearance in the Pokémon: Lucario and the Mystery of Mew movie comes to mind—it does remove a major element of discovery from the games that attracted many fans in the first place. Wandering into a patch of grass and not knowing what could come out of it, or (for those newcomers to the series who joined on with Pokémon Go) seeing a silhouette in the distance and not knowing what it could be is a huge part of the games’ charm, and discovering a Pokémon in a blurry magazine scan doesn’t compare to suddenly coming face-to-face with one for the first time. Blame the current state of the spoiler-filled internet for some of this if you will, but Nintendo also shares the blame. At the launch of Pokémon Sun and Moon, Nintendo released a series of videos detailing dozens of Pokémon fans could find. Each new video garnered a little bit more hype for the game before it was out, yes, but each also removed one more thing fans could discover in the game itself.
But I’m not here to rant about spoilers, or, at least, not entirely. I’m here to talk about Meltan. Particularly, I want to compare Meltan’s reveal to that of Zeraora, the previous “newest” Pokémon.
Zeraora is a mythical Pokémon, the last of the Sun and Moon generation to be revealed. It’s a legendary. It’s got a “cool,” wolflike design, like Lucario or Zoroark. It released with a special television segment. By all accounts, Zeraora’s reveal should have been huge. However, that wasn’t the case. You see, Zeraora had already been discovered by fans long before. There was already fan art. Heck, some people had already made cosplay. Hardcore fans who had followed all the data mining knew everything about it, learned in a slow trickle of information over time. And Nintendo sat on it, and waited, and months passed. When Zeraora was finally, officially, revealed, nobody cared. Word of mouth was at such an all-time low that even now many fans don’t even realize that Zeraora exists.
Now, compare that to Meltan. It was weird. It looked glitchy. It appeared right when a lot of Pokémon Go players currently had the game open for a different event. Given Niantic’s history with glitches, no one knew if it was actually something that was supposed to be in the game or not. And so this crazy looking blob with a wire and a nut for a head sparked a huge spike of attention. Was it real? Was it a hack? A joke? What was it? Did anyone know anything about it? Nope. The questions spread like wildfire. And so, one of the weirdest-looking, most expressionless Pokémon we’ve seen yet became wildly more popular and well-known than what was supposed to be the cool electric wolf mythical beast.
Now, the Pokémon games are always going to rely heavily on nostalgia, reusing the old Pokémon designs, and revisiting older areas. It’s been happening since the original Gold and Silver, and it’s still happening now with Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! going back to Kanto. But the strange, sudden, weird appearance of Meltan gives me some hope. The genuine confusion and chaos that occurred over questions of “what is this thing?” did more to bring the community together and spark discussions about the game than any reveal videos of Pokémon in Sun and Moon. Now that Meltan is here, we know that generation 8 is definitely on the way, and we can likely expect all the regular magazine scans and leaks that come with a new generation to start appearing. But perhaps, Nintendo can learn from the Meltan experience, and do its best to leave just a few things a mystery for fans to discover.