I’m a big Pokémon fan. I always have been. Ever since seeing an article in “Contact Kids” about the notorious Porygon episode of the anime, I was hooked on the odd, colorful little creatures whose images littered the article. And when Pokémon finally made its way to America, I was the first person I knew of who started watching the anime and playing the games.
My first game was Pokémon Red. I traded a big pile of NES games at a flea market for the bright red cartridge with a Charizard on the front. No box, no manual. Just the game. And when I got home, I literally played it for nineteen hours straight, captivated by every new Pokémon species I saw and constantly searching each area for ones I might not have seen. It wasn’t long after that when I got a brand new copy of Blue. And Yellow came the Christmas after it was released with all others following as soon as they came out.
But despite my loving every Pokémon species and game that’s come out, I’ve always been trapped in the first and second generations. I had a massive Pokémon collection, and I recently decided to sell off most of my collection and focus on filling in the gaps in my Generation I collection. And there was one pieces that I really wanted more than any other.
I still had the old original cartridge, restarted several times, the top of the labeling worn from being pulled in and out of the Game Boy so many times. And I had every other role-playing game in the series with the original boxes and manuals, some even unopened. So I was thrilled to find a boxed copy of Pokémon Red in a used book store, and it was only $10! I bought it and was so excited to finally complete my game collection. I decided when I got home to put it in my teal Game Boy Color and make sure it still worked. But as I turned the box over to open it, I noticed one little flaw to my new prize. The vintage Sugimori Cubone image on the side looked like it had been drawn on with a red pen or marker. The eye was red, with a red tear trickling down the skull, the base of the skull also covered with red, as though blood flowed down its body from beneath the skull. Oh, well. No matter, as long as the game worked.
My husband went to bed because he had to work the next morning, but I stayed up to play the game. I took the red cartridge from the box and lovingly slid it into my Game Boy Color, then I switched the power on. I was thrilled to see the copyright information come up, with the simple little star animation that had become so foreign to me after having played the new games so much. I pressed Start until I reached the title screen, with Red holding a Pokeball, random Pokémon scrolling by, beginning with the version’s beginner, Charmander. I listened to the lively, regal title music as I watched the Pokémon scroll by. A Gastly… then a Cubone… then another Gastly. It always seemed like certain Pokémon showed up on that title screen more often than others. I’ve always wondered if every Pokémon except for Mew would show up.
I pressed Start, and the game took me to the menu, with only “NEW GAME” and “OPTIONS” being my choice. Either I had had the uncanny luck of finding a game that had never been played before, or the bad luck of getting one with a dried internal battery. I chose “NEW GAME” after switching to fast text in the Options menu. Professor Oak greeted me as always, a Nidorino with a Nidorina’s call representing all Pokémon. I chose the name “Ruiyo” for my character after an OC I used to play as when my friends and I would role-play Pokémon nearly a decade ago. I named my rival “Blue”, since I’ve always had trouble figuring out an original name for him. And the game went from there. I chose Charmander, partly because Ruiyo had been a Fire-type trainer, and partly because I’ve always liked choosing the starter that corresponded to the version. Fire types for the first versions, Water types for the second, and Grass types for the special editions, like Crystal and Emerald. Before taking on Blue for the first time, I tried my luck at saving. And sure enough, the game saved!
I was thrilled to finally have the game complete with the box and manual, and for old times’ sake, I decided to give ol’ Missingno. a visit. I’ve always loved Easter eggs and glitches, especially the freaky ones found in older video games. And Missingno. and ‘M were among my favorites. I turned the Game Boy off, pulled out the game, and stuck it in through the back portion of my old GameShark, which I then plugged back into the console. I looked online and used various codes I found to get all the badges, change my Charmander into a level 100 Charizard, and teach it Fly and Surf. After unlocking all the locations on the map, I flew up to Viridian Forest and talked to the Old Man. After he lost in an unending struggle with Weedle, I flew south to Cinnabar Island and began to surf along the right-hand side.
For a while, there was nothing unusual, just some Pidgey and Rattata, and the occasional Tangela or Raticate. It was just picking up the Pokemon from the little grassy area south of Pallet Town, since I hadn’t gone anywhere else where there were wild Pokemon. Then the screen flashed, and the battle music began. The screen went black for an unusually long time, and I figured I had found Missingno. at last! But I was surprised when instead a Channeler scrolled onto the screen.
“Channeler wants to fight!”
Well, that was certainly odd. I hadn’t run into this glitch before, and still sitting at my computer, I tried to search for it anywhere else. But there was nothing. No one seemed to have gotten this glitch before. I started up the battle, releasing my level 100 Charizard and waited to see what Channeler had. It said that she had six Pokémon. The first one that came out was a block of green and black glitches, and rather than having a regular Pokémon cry, the game instead began playing just the undertone of the final rival battle music. Normally, that music didn’t bother me, but just hearing what I guess would be considered the “bass” part of it with only silence in between was kind of unnerving. And it sounded like it was slowed down to about half speed.
The rest of the Channeler’s Pokémon were glitches as well, some having cries like Rhydon or Zapdos. One even had the Sing melody for its cry. But each one was easily defeated by my high-level Charizard. After I beat her last Pokémon, she reappeared on-screen like in a normal trainer battle, but said nothing. I got money for beating her, then the screen went black. I was right back where I had been, in the water on the eastern side of Cinnabar. But instead of surfing on Charizard with the generic fish sprite, Ruiyo seemed to just be walking on top of the water. And when I tried to go back onto the island, it kept saying “The door is locked!” like it does if you step up against the door of the gym and the sprite of that man suddenly appears on the roof of the gym. But it kept saying this no matter which way I went. I tried surfing around every side of the island and even to the little islands out in the middle of the two surrounding routes. Every time, it said the same thing: “The door is locked!”
It was all strange, but I just figured it was a combination of the name I had chosen for my character and using all the GameShark codes. I went back to the right side of Cinnabar Island and began looking again for Missingno. I figured if I could get into another battle, maybe when I came back it would be cleared up. But it only got worse.
My next encounter was a level 255 Gengar, fairly common along with Alakazam and Mewtwo when one searches for Missingno. My Charizard only being level 100, I tried to run. But each time it said, “Can’t escape!” The Gengar put my Charizard to sleep then used Dream Eater to faint it. With my only Pokémon fainted, the game said I “blacked out”. But instead of ending up back at Pallet Town or the Pokémon Center of Cinnabar Island, or any Pokémon Center for that matter, I instead ended up on the top floor of the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town where Mr. Fuji would normally be. But Mr. Fuji and the Rockets you have to beat to save him weren’t there. I was just standing where he would have been.
I decided to check and see if my Charizard was healed. But when I pulled up the menu, Pokémon was not an option. I went to my Pokedex, which showed that I had seen and owned all 151 Pokémon, even though I hadn’t used the code for that at all. I exited the menu and moved down to exit the Tower. Perhaps something would happen that would make this crazy game work right again. I figured cutting it off then back on would fix it, but all these strange happenings piqued my curiosity. So I played on.
When I reached the stairs to go down to the floor below, a wild battle was suddenly initiated, much as though I had stirred up a Gastly. But instead, the game said “Wild KANGASKHAN appeared!” My heart froze mid-beat as the sprite came to light. Its cry was long and drawn out, and its image, while in the shape of the large Kangaskhan sprite, looked to be made up of bits and pieces of the Aerodactyl and Kabutops skeleton sprites. If this was a hack, this was well done. It really did look like what I imagined a Kangaskhan skeleton would. Here and there, the pixels were bright red, as though it still had muscle and blood clinging to the white bones. I was at least relieved when my Charizard came back into play, still at level 100, its HP replenished. The Kangaskhan was only at level 25, so I only had to view the creepy sprite for just a moment before it fainted from Charizard’s Surf.
I was about to give a sigh of relief as the sprite fell out of view, but was jostled once again when the game said, “KANGASKHAN was caught!” There was no nickname option, and the game returned to the overworld with Ruiyo at the staircase of the Pokémon Tower’s top floor. I pressed Start, seeing that the Pokémon option had returned, and selected it. My Charizard had disappeared, and in its place was a Kangaskhan, its HP at 0 and its status reading “DCS”. Normally, when a Pokémon faints, it says “FNT”. Did “DCS”… stand for… ”deceased”? I tried to check its stats, but there were none. No options but to cancel.
I exited the menu and made my way once again down the stairs of the Tower. All of the NPCs were missing from each floor, and not even Blue was waiting at the entrance to take me on. I left the Tower and continued over to the Pokémon Center, hoping that perhaps that would bring me back my Charizard or at least get rid of the chilling “DCS” status of my new Kangaskhan. I reached the door, but Ruiyo stopped short, bumping into it as though it were a wall. I tried then to head to Route 8, but the same thing happened. And without my Charizard to fly me out, I was trapped there in Lavender Town.
I tried to enter the Name Rater’s house and the PokeMart to no avail. The only other choice was the Pokémon House where Mr. Fuji lived. And for some reason, I was able to go in there. Once I entered, the Cubone that can always be found there turned in my direction, a speech bubble with an exclamation point appearing over its head. I had seen that same Cubone on countless other games, even walked up and talked to it, and it had never done that. At this point, I figured nothing about this weird Red version would surprise me. But I was wrong.
I wasn’t even sure anymore why I was still playing this game. It was past eleven at night, and although I didn’t have to go to work the next day, I was growing tired. My eyes were especially taking a beating from staring into the tiny screen of the Game Boy. But I pressed on, fearful that if I tried to save it and turn it off that somehow it would magically revert to a normal version when I came back to it. The Cubone in the Pokémon House ran up to me, much like Pikachu moves around in Pokémon Yellow.
“Cubone misses its mother. Cubone removed its helmet!”
Was I reading that right? But the Marowak in the Tower had always been treated like that Cubone’s mother. What did this glitchy Kangaskhan I had found have to do with this little Cubone? And when has a Cubone ever removed its skull helmet? I checked my Pokémon again. Perhaps I could somehow select the Kangaskhan, and this would all be over. Charizard was still gone, and Kangaskhan had been replaced by the Cubone as the only Pokémon in my party. It was at level 25, and I selected its stats. Its cry as it appeared on-screen was garbled and low-pitched. And its whole head area except for its eye was glitched. It had the standard moves Growl, Bone Club, and Leer.
I exited the menu, finding that the Cubone oversprite was gone, and left the Pokémon House, not even wanting to find out what any of the NPCs there would say about this incident. I tried Route 8 again, and to my relief, I was finally able to leave Lavender Town behind. The music had never really bothered me at all, but after hearing it for the last half hour, the happy walking music of the route would be a welcome comfort. I was denied, met only with silence once I left the town. All of the NPCs were missing again, and even the bushes blocking the grassy area were gone, which was a relief, since I didn’t have a Pokémon that could cut.
Since I seemed to be stuck with this Cubone, I figured I would try it out in battle. I went to the grassy area and moved around until a wild Pidgey appeared. The screen flashed, and the animations continued, but still with no sound or music. The Cubone appeared, breaking the eerie silence with its low cry, the head of its backsprite also glitched. I decided to try its Growl, but the game said, “CUBONE ignored orders!” Strange… I still had all the badges from using the GameShark. The Pidgey gave a weak Sand-Attack, and I tried again.
“CUBONE used BONE CLUB instead!”
The attack dealt a good bit of damage, and as the Pidgey’s HP bar decreased, I watched its sprite become more and more glitched like Cubone’s. Cubone continued to refuse orders or used a different attack instead, but soon it fainted the Pidgey. Cubone hadn’t taken much damage, so I kept going, taking on a Growlithe, then a Mankey. The same thing happened - Cubone would ignore me, loaf around, or use a different attack, and each time it did damage, the opposing Pokémon’s sprite would glitch until it was just a pile of pixels before fainting. An Ekans was up next, meeting the same end.
Then nothing. No matter how much I stomped around that area, nothing attacked. After a little while, I decided to return to Lavender Town to the Pokémon Center. As I made my way, I began to ponder what was going on. Each time I took on a Pokémon in the wild and beat it, it never showed up again. I felt sad to watch each Pokémon get its sprite damaged by this little orphaned Pokémon. What was happening to them? Was Cubone killing them?
“Why are you doing this?” I asked softly, clutching tighter to the sides of the Game Boy.
This may sound crazy, but I was actually relieved to hear the creepy, monotonous tone of Lavender Town’s theme. Anything was better at that point than the silence. I tried to go into the Pokémon Center, but I was met with the same thud sound. I walked south, the Lavender Town theme giving way to silence again. It was time to experiment with this strange game. I reached the area where Snorlax is normally found and went to the left through the guard house and into a grassy area. This time, the victim was a Drowzee. But rather than attacking it to faint it, I tried to run from it. At first, it said “Can’t escape!” and the Drowzee used Hypnosis on Cubone, putting it to sleep. Again, I tried and was unable to escape, but instead of it jumping straight to Drowzee attacking, the game said, “CUBONE’s thrashing about!” Even though it was asleep, it dealt damage to the opponent, fainting it and returning me again to the overworld. I checked Cubone’s stats. It was still asleep.
I continued on, coming across a Spearow. I tried to escape again, but Cubone thrashed around, injuring the bird. It was the worst one yet. Instead of simply being glitched, half of its sprite slumped down a few pixels, as though that side of its body had gone limp. “No… no…,” I whispered, trying to escape again. Cubone awoke from its sleep, and I was able to leave. I wandered through the grass. This was the real test. I gasped as a Spearow appeared. And not just any Spearow. The same Spearow with the same slumped side and low HP.
I couldn’t bear to look at the poor Spearow any longer. I’ve never liked Spearow, but even one didn’t deserve this. “Stop this! Can’t you see you’re hurting it?” I suddenly burst out, overcome with emotion. Tears began to stream down my flushed cheeks as I shook the Game Boy back and forth. “Just stop!” I fell silent as a dialogue box appeared. “CUBONE ignored orders! CUBONE used BONE CLUB!” That finished the Spearow. I hadn’t even given it a command…at least, not in the game.
Once I returned to the overworld, I decided to check something. With trembling thumbs, I opened the menu and selected Pokedex. It now said that I had seen and owned 143 Pokémon. The slot for Charizard was empty. So was the one for Pidgey and Spearow. Each one that Cubone had defeated had disappeared from the Pokedex and the entire game. Strangely, Kangaskhan was also gone.
It was now about two in the morning by the time I discovered this. But I was wide awake, shivering in the cold silence of the night. I was shaken by all that had transpired, and I just wanted to find a way out. What did Cubone and Kangaskhan have to do with each other? They were both Ground types in similar areas of the Kanto Pokedex. And I suppose Cubone looked a little bit like the baby that Kangaskhan usually carry in their pouch. I decided again to consult the all-knowing Internet. Perhaps it had nothing on the Channeler glitch I had found, but maybe someone else had seen this connection.
Then I saw it. Searching Google Images for “cubone”, I began to see images people had made transforming the sprite for Cubone into a baby Kangaskhan. I read further, discovering the theory that Missingno. was originally the baby Kangaskhan sprite, removed from the game and replaced with the blocky mass of glitches. While this may not be true, all of the connections between Kangaskhan and Cubone that I found were undeniable. The Kangaskhan had been killed, and the Cubone seemed to be seeking vengeance.
I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that I had been up so late or the eerie silence of the game, but the idea really got the better of me. An innocent baby Kangaskhan, forced to watch its mother die, waiting for weeks and months on end for the body to decay and the bones to bleach, finally arriving at the day when its mother’s head was suitable for it to remove and wear. But this Cubone had removed its helmet when I arrived with its mother in my party. There was something I needed to do to end this. It wasn’t the Marowak’s soul that needed to be put to rest; it was the Cubone’s. I returned again to Lavender Town and entered the Pokémon Tower. Nothing. I went up each floor, meeting no NPCs or wild Pokémon. I reached the upper levels, but for some reason, I couldn’t go up to the top floor. A dark block of pixels filled the area in front of the stairs. I tried to observe it, and all it said was the same thing it does when you look in the trash can in front of the captain on the S. S. Anne - “Yuck! Shouldn’t have looked!” I could only guess that it was a puddle of blood or the putrid remains of Kangaskhan’s body. It was where Marowak usually attacks in the game.
I thumbed through all that I had done in the town, and one last thing came to mind. The only NPCs I had come across since this whole incident began were the ones in the Pokémon House. I backtracked, my heart pounding as though I were actually descending the great tower in real life. I entered the house. The two regular NPCs were there along with a Channeler. I walked up to the Channeler first and pressed A.
“Why have you brought it back to this place? Don’t you know what it did?”
I knew she was referring to Cubone. I spoke to her again, but I just got the same message. I went to the woman in the house and talked to her.
“Even Mr. Fuji was unable to calm the monster’s rage. It killed him. It will kill us all. Why? Why?!”
Things were becoming increasingly fuzzy. My heart pounded in my ears. I was afraid to even look at the clock. Time no longer mattered. All I wanted was to be out of this nightmare! At that point, it had become much more than just a game. I felt like I was the only one who knew about this murder mystery, and I was the only one who could solve it. Why would Cubone kill Mr. Fuji? And why would it join me and kill all the other Pokémon? All because its mother was dead? What did more killing prove?
I turned to the last NPC, a male character.
“You. You released it. You showed it which ones to kill. One by one, you led it out. And now, it’s your turn to feel the pain that they have felt.”
“I’m sorry…” I whispered to the console.
A dialogue box appeared.
“It’s too late. It’s out, and you’ll never be able to get it back in. Unless…”
The game paused. I sat for a moment, at the edge of my seat. After a moment, I yelled, “Unless what? Tell me!” I violently shook the Game Boy back and forth, tormented by all of this. It had stopped being a game long ago. Now, it was personal. I was being blamed for what the Cubone had done. No matter if this was some sick hacker’s practical joke. How could I have done anything? I was just as much a victim of this psychotic Cubone’s game as Mr. Fuji! And all the wild Pokémon! I never even liked making Pokémon battle. I hated forcing them to fight to level them up. All I ever wanted was to befriend them, to befriend it.
“What do you want of me! I’ll do it!”
I stopped shaking the handheld and looked at the tiny screen. It seemed like it was getting smaller and dimmer the more I played. Another dialogue box showed up. I could hardly read it for my eyes being so tired and filled with tears.
“It wants… you. You care about it. And it never wants you to leave.”
“I won’t! I just want to love it and care for it! I promise I won’t make it battle anymore! Please! Just make it stop! All this fighting… this killing… it’s just wrong! You don’t have to do this!”
The Cubone reappeared in the overworld beside Ruiyo. It just turned and seemed to stare at me through the screen.
“CUBONE regrets what it has done.”
I sniffled and gave a weak smile. “It’s okay. I’m sorry you had to go through all this…” I whispered, caressing the little pixelated creature. That’s when I realized why it was so hard for me to see. The low battery light was shining like an angry red eye. I had played for so long that the batteries were failing. But I hadn’t saved since before all of this had started! It couldn’t end just because of a dead battery!
I fumbled with the controls, trying to open up the menu to save. I pressed Start until my thumbs throbbed, but to no avail. Another dialogue box appeared.
“CUBONE knows you still love it. It will wait for you.”
“Good…” I whispered, thinking that by some supernatural means the memory would be saved and I could come back and visit this virtual friend I had made. The Cubone sprite moved, but it was an odd movement. It seemed as though only its head moved from side to side. A line of red pixels appeared below its head. One final dialogue box popped up.
“CUBONE killed itself!”
A horrible, static-filled scream wracked my ears as the Game Boy died. It was Cubone’s cry, but drawn out and badly garbled, and the volume was tremendous, more than I knew a Game Boy was capable of. I was left in silence then. True silence. Unlike any I had ever experienced. It didn’t seem to have mattered if I had tried to save. Cubone wouldn’t have let me.
What transpired after that is only a vague memory. I remember feeling so wracked with guilt, so sad for Cubone and just wishing I could be in the game there with it. The next thing I remembered, I woke up in the hospital. I couldn’t speak for the horrible gash in my throat. My husband said he had found me passed out over the bathtub, a santoku still grasped in my hand, my neck slit and blood splattered all over the inside of the tub. It had been a miracle that I had survived through all the blood that I lost. To this day, I still have the scar across my neck and have to speak using an electrolarynx.
Even if I could talk, I would never have told anyone what had drove me to suicide that night. I wasn’t even sure myself. Maybe I couldn’t take the sudden silence after the game died. Maybe I just wanted so badly to be with Cubone and comfort it that I wanted to join it. In any case, I didn’t want to take any chances of anything like that ever happening again. I put the copy of Pokémon Red back in its box, and I haven’t played a Pokémon game ever since. But I still think about Cubone from time to time, and I do still love Pokémon.