In-Depth Stories

MissingNo. and the Creatures in the Cracks

Through a well known oversight, the glitch Missingno. can be encountered through normal gameplay in the Generation 1 Pokémon games without cheating devices or tampering, changing the face of the franchise forever.

Taming the Beast

When Missingno. is encountered in a battle, the screen fades to black, hanging for a second as the game tries to process the junk data it was given and treats it as any other Pokémon. The game has no way to know if that data is valid Pokémon data! As a result, its appearance is usually bizarre, a strange pixelated L shaped block – but it sometimes could also appear as a ghost or fossil sprite. Frightened, many players flee after encountering the strange new Pokémon for the first time. After the battle, the player will be stunned to find a glitch quantity of the 6th item in their inventory. When they check their Hall of Fame data later, they are met with a bizarre array of terrifying glitches. Clearly this mysterious Pokémon potentially has incredible power over the entire game state.

Missingno's Pokedex, which is empty
Missingno.’s Pokédex entry is completely empty.

Most players were nervous about possibly destroying their precious save files with their beloved Pokémon companions on them to experiment with these powerful glitches, and so many learned about these bugs through reading online reports of those who encountered the effects of this strange blocky creature directly. These reports were inconsistent about its characteristics. Many reported the familiar blocky appearance commonly known as Missingno, but some were reporting Missingno. appearing as the skeletons of fossil Pokémon, or even as the sprite of the ghost of Cubone’s mother.

Some said the Pokémon was very dangerous and lead to permanent corruption, and images of the graphical corruption were demonstrations of its destructive power. Nintendo simply told players to avoid the strange Pokémon to avoid corrupting their games, leaving players with little information. These frightening images, along with its visible and apparently powerful corruption abilities, were enough to spawn an entire mythos based on their strange powers, but with no other official information to work from, only those brave enough to possibly sacrifice their entire save file on a physical cartridge attempted the unthinkable – capture the creature for further study.

Successfully capturing Missingno. or ‘M was a difficult task. Results were initially mixed. Due to other bugs, the Missingno. may continue attacking after being caught. It might transform into a Ditto or Rhydon after capture if the Pokédex is not set up properly. Actually capturing a Missingno. was initially tricky, but over time, people learned the tricks and were able to look directly at Missingno’s unique characteristics.

Unlike any other Pokémon in the game, it was a “Bird” and “Normal” type, as opposed to the commonly used “Flying” type. It was able to know the same move, Water Gun, twice, which is normally impossible in normal gameplay. It had absurdly high attack, but low stats in everything else. It was 10 feet tall and over 3,500 lbs. Nothing about this Pokémon seemed to make any sense.

Leveling up the Pokémon was strange as well, because it resulted in the Missingno. or ‘M evolving into various Pokémon, or jumping across levels quickly. Most usefully, it could replicate items and make completing much of the Pokédex and training much easier. People noticed the graphical glitches were mostly temporary, and while the Hall of Fame corruption was permanent and caused by simply seeing one, few people seemed to be concerned about such a trivial feature. Over time, its behavior was growing more predictable as these reports shared across the internet, and many players took advantage of its usefulness, despite its strange effects, and more importantly – despite the warnings from Nintendo.

But there’s much more to learn about these “mistake” Pokémon. For example, why are these Pokémon in the game at all? Obviously MissingNo looks like a REAL Pokémon. Was it originally a character that got cut from the game? Is this some sick programmer’s idea of a joke? Did the developers think that 150 (151) Pokémon were enough? Why didn’t it show up in Gold and Silver as one of the 100 NEW Pokémon? CAN you catch MissingNo? Since there are weird glitch Pokémon, accessed only through a bizarre sequence of events, might other strange events (talking to people in a specific order, etc) trigger the appearance of OTHER glitch/high-level Pokémon? – TR’s Rockin’

The Hole in the Wall for Mew

Armed with the knowledge on how to use strange shorelines to find all sorts of Pokémon, the quest for the elusive Mew began. At first, people wondered if it was possible to get Mew with the “Over Level 100 Pokémon” trick mentioned earlier. It didn’t take long for people to realize that it was based on your name input from the beginning of the game, likely using GameShark cheats to help understand the correlation between Pokémon, number and character.

This physical device acted as a new tool to interact directly with game values to experiment with various aspects of the games, and before advanced emulation tools, was the only way to analyze glitches more carefully. Since GameShark was encoded in a highly technical way, and the location of data in memory was still unmapped to players, the only way to test was to experiment with known codes and inserting different values. While these codes could impact the state of the game that can’t normally be replicated, it could provide enough information to then replicate certain game states in a new, unmodified game to exploit specific glitches.

The truck near the S.S Anne where mew was supposedly located
The supposed location of Mew.

Through this and similar devices, it was discovered that many extremely powerful Pokémon, including Mewtwo, could easily be produced with the right name, making the story’s final encounter with Mewtwo completely trivial. Master Balls and Rare Candies could be easily restocked using Missingno’s handy item glitch. As players became more familiar with how to exploit Missingno. and its related glitches, they became far less fearful of the glitch, and even learned how to minimize the annoying graphics issues caused by viewing Missingno’s sprite. However, despite these attempts, Mew remained elusive. As people realized how the list of Pokémon in the game correlated with the way text characters were displayed on screen, they discovered that access to Mew was still impossible.

Due to its consistently elusive nature, Mew was a focus of many rumors at this time, such as the Mew Truck. Famously, this rumor widely shared that pushing over a difficult-to-reach pickup truck with the move Strength would reveal a Mew hiding underneath. Many players were burnt out on trying bogus strategies and were more interested in using a GameShark directly to find their rare Mew. However, within a few years, by a sheer coincidence, a new, powerful trick was discovered. This discovery made it possible to access almost any Pokémon in the game – including many different kinds of new glitches.

The trick almost sounded like yet another bogus routine: You have to battle a certain Trainer, open the menu before they can challenge you, and Fly away. Then, you have to battle another seemingly random Trainer, and Fly to yet another route. Afterwards, the Mew should appear. It was so absurd that it would be ignored for almost a year until it was discovered, to the shock of more experienced players at the time, that it really worked. The Mew Glitch (also known as the Trainer Escape Glitch), works because it used the enemy’s Special stat to set the species encounter value for a later battle by exploiting how the game starts a Trainer battle. One can imagine it like carefully stacking a deck to make sure you draw the correct card – but instead of moving physical cards, you take careful actions in the game that “stack” the parts of memory used for generating wild encounters, such as encountering Mew.

At this point, the mainstream Pokémon games have moved far beyond the glitchiness of Red and Blue – this newly discovered Mew Wild mew appears in battlewas unable to even be traded to the newest Pokémon games at the time – but the glitch reignited interest in the search for many people. Not only could the glitches create bizarre strange creatures, but they could be extremely useful. As soon as people started to understand how the Mew Glitch actually worked, variations were made that used an enemy using Transform to load a specific value into the encounter, allowing for almost any Pokémon in the whole game to be encountered. But not just normal Pokémon could be found – new Glitch Pokémon were discovered through this method, game breaking glitch Trainers, and even extremely powerful memory corrupting glitches could be now accessed.

This new glitch presented an example of what was potentially possible with glitch execution in these games. Unlike simply using a cheating device to force the game into submission, these glitches were all a result of the game’s natural state being manipulated through edge cases, becoming a means to explore the full potential of the game beyond what the developers could even imagine.


Super Glitch and Other Powerful Forces

With new glitch Pokémon readily available, the glitch testers were capturing them to discover what strange abilities they may have. People were starting to realize that glitch Pokémon, by themselves, were generally not dangerous. Specific cases where game crashes would occur were isolated and identified, and people learned how to handle and train their Missingno, ‘M and other strange oddities with relative safety – and the corruption of the Hall of Fame was considered a minor cost in comparison to the benefit of infinite Master Balls and Rare Candies. But some of the Pokémon discovered were notoriously capable of corruption.

Using a special stat of 194 in Pokémon Red and Blue results in encountering a mysterious PokeManiac/Glitch typed Pokémon simply known as “ゥ .4“. Unlike many other glitch Pokémon, which had access to valid moves, it knew a move that contained such a powerful glitch that it was simply known as “Super Glitch” among the players. Many glitch moves with strange names are known to exist, but Super Glitch moves were uniquely devastating.

Facing pidgey with a Super Glitch move.
Super Glitch moves cause major graphical issues.

This type of glitch was seemingly so dangerous that simply viewing the move’s name could completely corrupt your game’s memory, and even possibly crash it immediately. Repeatedly viewing it furthered the corruption, and it seemed to have different effects in different places. Sometimes these bugs changed how many Pokémon appeared in your party or giving you hundreds of strange glitch items, giving players a direct means to corrupt huge portions of memory through manipulating the menus.

Some Pokémon, when encountered or captured, create horrifying noises, sometimes in a never ending loop made from the collective calls of nonsense spout from the sound bank. Others would corrupt memory so much from trying to unfold an invalid sprite that it would quickly corrupt the entire RAM. Pokémon were different from Red/Blue to Yellow, and as the West started to hear rumors of the glitches found in Japan, it was clear that there was a whole world of horrifying creatures to be found. Even different emulators would see different glitches because of emulation errors. For each game, creatures were pressed out of the creature machine, bits and pieces spreading out in all directions at once, thanks to these new exploits.

Many times when a glitch is encountered, its effects are borrowed from unstable parts of memory, leading to extremely unpredictable effects. For example, the subtle code and data differences in Yellow made some glitches far more unstable than their Red and Blue counterparts, because of Pikachu’s cry modifying sound banks and various other changes in the RAM state. In the original games, some glitches were so unstable they were patched before international release. A few glitch Pokémon are so unpredictable that some behavior has only been seen once, despite miners being used to attempt to replicate the behavior millions of times.

Zzazz glitch triggered in battle, causing many grapihcal effects and transforming your pokemon into a level 153 exploding bulbasaur.
The ZZAZZ Glitch and its powerful corruption.

Strange effects were frequently encountered when battling glitch Trainers when a high Special stat was used when trying the Mew glitch. With some very high Special values like 248, they would trigger a glitch called the “ZZAZZ glitch” – a glitch that copies the characters “ZZ” across the memory hundreds of times, causing extensive corruption through the game. Saving the game at this point was unthinkable, as the game would detect the broken save and completely erase all of your data. In some cases, a screen of bars would result from particularly powerful game crashes, and had real potential to destroy save files. To the average glitch enthusiast, this revived the previous fear that many had over the potential of these powerful glitches to potentially destroy your game. As most players moved on to more modern Pokémon games, there was little connection to the creatures in the original cartridge anymore outside of possible nostalgia, but the value transferred to the cartridge itself as it became more valuable over time as a physical machine – risking its integrity for glitch hunting became less and less reasonable over time.

Many continued to fiddle around with these strange bugs in emulators instead, and occasionally would replicate the results on a physical cartridge. Slowly, the community moved away from Game Shark and rumors and started to pull apart the structural pieces of the game itself.