Every time a new Pokémon generation is announced, clever tricksters online manage to fool us all by designing “fakemon” — fake Pokémon that look real enough the community is convinced they’re actual leaks.
Some, of course, are more believable than others, but inevitably there are at least a few that fool people with every new set of games. But apart from obvious tells like Japanese text that doesn’t actually spell anything, what makes one set of fake Pokémon designs more believable than another? Well, one “fakemon” artist recently took to Reddit to break down exactly what makes a Pokémon look like a Pokémon .
The post is lengthy and worth reading in its entirety, but to summarize, u/Xelshade breaks down Pokémon design into four components: Color Count, Level of Detail, Anatomy and Proportions, and Relatable Features. While there are exceptions to each of these rules (Ditto comes up a lot), Pokémon essentially have roughly around 2-4 colors in their designs, a moderate level of detail (not overly complex but not too simple either), stylized anatomies but not exaggerated (somewhere between Digimon and Yokai Watch), and two or more of the following: eyes, mouth, and limbs.
Okay, yes, some of that sounds a bit silly. But when they break it down, it makes a lot of sense. Most Pokémon have one or two dominant colors, and then maybe one or two more for supporting details like eyes or patterns. Very few Pokémon have super intricate patterns or rows of tiny spikes and details, but are generally (Ditto again excluded) more complex than an amorphous blob. They use relatively simple shapes (Xelshade compares Charmander to Agumon, for instance) and largely respect size ratios for bodies, heads, and faces. It’s all relatively balanced. And yeah, most Pokémon have faces, and exceptions like Staryu tend to be depicted as bipedal so people can anthropomorphize it better.
Much of this design situation exists largely because of the limitations of the original games — with a limited color palette and only 56×56 pixels to work with, you couldn’t get too crazy with detail. Capabilities have evolved since then and allowed for more color and detail, but designs still largely remain consistent.
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Having read this far, you’ve probably thought of a bunch of exceptions, but Xelshade takes things a step farther to explain why those exceptions work. Ultra Beasts, for instance, mess with faces and proportions to make the creatures feel alien and unnerving, while Mega Pokémon use extra levels of detail to feel more complex and dramatic.
Overall, Xelshade explains, the key to designing a fake Pokémon is balance. These four factors help explain a quote from designer Ken Sugimori about creating creatures that are both fighters and friends:
In terms of how we decide which ones make the cut…hmmm. Well, in the games, Pokémon serve two roles. They fight for you, but they’re also your companions. So a Pokémon needs to seem ferocious enough to be potent in combat, while also looking endearing enough that you’d want it as a friend. It can’t be too ferocious. It’s difficult to strike that balance, so that’s probably the biggest criteria we’re looking for.
So next time you see a potential ‘fakemon’ in the wild posing as a leak, consider running it through this acid test to see if it conceivably could be a Pokémon. Or, you know, just wait for official reveals like everyone else.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.