The 1997 backup sprites largely overlap with the ones seen in the Japanese Space World demo, with some unseen designs thrown in. Some of the more interesting ones are a koala (predating Komala by over 15 years), a ninja flying squirrel (possibly reworked into Emolga at some point) and what looks to be a skeleton dinosaur. Natu also had a middle stage between itself and Xatu, which is seemingly the only addition to an existing evolution line in this batch of leaks.
With these lost sprites, we can see how long certain ideas were bounced around until they were included. Leafeon and most of the design of Canalave City were present in Space World beta, then eventually included in Diamond and Pearl almost 10 years later. One design has the exact body shape of Cherrim, there's a bagworm family that resembles Burmy and Mothim, and Farfetch’d finally got a more majestic evolution (albeit with a completely different design) in Sword and Shield. Some of these lost designs found here could be reworked in the future to create new Pokémon.
The more interesting part for me comes from the 1999 leaks. A lot of the sprites aren’t fully drawn, so they're clearly in early stages of development. By this point, the concepts for the 100 new Pokémon are solidified and match the final batch. Their designs, however, are not solidified. Larvitar is smooth and lacks details, Forretress is a big red Pineco and Wobbuffet’s sprite is literally just a white blob with eyes. Azumarill’s Silver sprite is a silhouette with a question mark in the middle of it, with that silhouette not even remotely resembling its final design. Its Gold sprite is a big, angry and yellow Marill without its tail, possibly explaining why its Shiny form is yellow. Wooper was a blobby cat-like creature and I love it.
As well as designs that aren’t fully drawn, some are drawn properly, but feature completely different designs. Kingdra, Delibird and Sneasel are examples of this, and they strongly resemble their Space World counterparts. More subtle changes had yet to be made too, like Jumpluff having two extra arms and Feraligatr being on all fours in its beta Silver sprite, and honestly these are more cool than their final versions. Pichu’s Silver sprite is a mix between its older, rounder design and the final one, which is used for its Gold sprite. Even between the two versions there’s some progress.
Some Pokémon added after the Space World demo still went through some radical design changes. Dunsparce’s leaked Gold sprite has it curled upwards, almost looking like a leaf. It’s also got different eyes and patterns. The Silver sprite is less finished and has different eyes both to the Gold sprite and final design. Aipom looks almost cat-like in its Silver sprite like its Space World design, but it’s more like a monkey in its Gold Sprite. Lanturn’s face and patterning is different, almost resembling Spheal, who debuted in the next games, possibly influenced by early Lanturn.
Beta leaks are fascinating because they allow you to see how the games we grew up with came to be. Pokémon Gold and Silver must have had a hectic development compared to a lot of other games considering the Space World demo presented an almost entirely different game to the public. Like Pokémon themselves, the games evolve behind the scenes to become the polished and refined versions we know. The final versions of Gold and Silver became some of the most loved entries in the Pokémon series, it's crazy to see how different they could have been.
Featured Image: Twitter (Gameiversary)