Welcome to Exp. Share, Kotaku’s weekly Pokémon column in which we dive deep to explore notable characters, urban legends, communities, and just plain weird quirks from throughout the Pokémon franchise. This week, we’re looking at how Spinda, an unassuming critter from Generation III, went from a novelty to an apparent nuisance for The Pokémon Company to work with because of its multiple forms.
27 years after Pokémon Red and Green, alternate forms and designs in Pokémon have become a mainstay in the series. From Shiny Pokémon to event ‘mons like the spiky-eared Pichu, most Pokémon can look a little bit different from their original versions. However, there is one Pokémon that has more forms than any other one else in the series, and that’s Spinda. Because of how its designed is determined, it can have somewhere around four billion different forms.
Spinda is a normal-type Pokémon introduced in Ruby and Sapphire for the Game Boy Advance. While the swirly-eyed little bear seems mostly unremarkable on the surface, it has a gimmick in its appearance that’s resulted in its own a cult following within the Pokémon community. The character has a spot pattern on its coat that, similar to shiny odds, is entirely determined by background math that can give it up to four billion possible variations. It’s a mainstay of its Pokédex entries across the games, with several saying that no two Spinda have the same spot patterns.
Spinda’s appearance is determined by its individual personality value, or encryption constant in more recent entries, which is a 32-bit integer ranging from zero to 4,294,967,295. This number is assigned the first time you meet a Pokémon in a save file, and where it lands determines the placement of its spots, as well as other things like gender and nature. On top of this, each of these variations could be Shiny, doubling its variations. This is a neat idea that has helped Spinda stand out among its third-generation contemporaries and has made it a centerpiece in its own Pokémon community.
Because Spinda’s possible forms are so vast, communities such as the Spinda’s Cafe subreddit are dedicated to documenting every variation of its spot pattern. There’s even an in-browser app called Spinda Painter that lets you test different personality values and shiny possibilities to see the resulting spot patterns. While it’s a strictly cosmetic change, it’s the closest Pokémon has ever gotten to replicating how different real-world animal fur patterns can look from one another.
But that variation is why Spinda has been an issue for Game Freak and The Pokémon Company in terms of transferring the character and all its variants to future games. Pokémon Home, the app players use to transfer and store Pokémon between games, can’t transfer Spinda to and from Pokémon Go or Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes because they’re inconsistent with how other games determine the character’s spot pattern. Pokémon Go only has nine predetermined patterns rather than the several billion found in most games, and the Diamond and Pearl remakes have a glitch associated with how it reads the numbers that determine Spinda’s forms. This means that the value these games assign to Spinda could result in a completely different spot pattern being assigned to the same Pokémon. As a result, Spinda is the only Pokémon obtainable in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl that can’t be transferred to and from these games.
While it’s unclear if these billions of possible designs are responsible, Spinda has notably not been obtainable in a new game since Game Freak retired the National Dex that allows players to transfer any and all old Pokémon to new games. Spinda was conspicuously absent from Sword and Shield and Scarlet and Violet. Given that The Pokémon Company is running into compatibility issues with Spinda on several fronts, it will be interesting to see if Spinda appears in a mainline Pokémon game ever again. But even if the dizzy bear doesn’t show up in a new Pokémon game any time soon, at least there are corners of the Pokémon fandom that are taking steps to ensure what makes it special isn’t forgotten.