It’s almost surreal nowadays to think that there was ever a time where portable gaming didn’t have Pokémon. When Red and Blue first hit Western shores in 1998, those 151 legends would bring with them a wave of merchandise, cementing the series in history as the cultural epidemic it really was. Airplanes, cars, buildings; all were infected by the pokévirus, but none were quite so potent as the powerhouse that was the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Wizards of the Coast first brought them to the US in 1999, and the rest is school playground history. Can a Game Boy Color title truly recreate the ferocious rivalry and friendship-destroying power these cards held?
Hudson Soft was tasked with adapting the table top card game for Game Boy, bringing things right back to their roots with another RPG-style Pokémon adventure. For all intents and purposes the main experience appears very similar to Red and Blue, as you take on the role of a budding champion who collects badges to challenge the final elite four, but exploration is stripped down to a bare minimum. There are no towns or routes to travel along, no Pokémon centres or item shops. You move straight from club (this game’s version of a gym) to club, collecting medals with no messing around in between. The whole appeal here is the card game itself, battling other collectors and earning booster packs to assemble the ultimate deck. It may seem limited by comparison, but it’s an extremely competent adaptation that couldn’t possibly feel any more streamlined and accessible.
Chances are, even avid collectors at the time weren’t quite sure exactly how to play and remained perfectly content to just throw cards at each other, create their own rules and horde the holographics like they were sacred relics. Anyone in possession of a Charizard knew it was amazing, but some probably couldn’t care less about energy cards or anything other than the fact it did 100 damage. ONE HUNDRED DAMAGE!!! Thankfully, the game provides an excellent tutorial that explains how everything works, even suggesting a few basic tactics once you’re up and running. The ability to bypass these tutorials is also a welcome feature for the real veterans, who can launch straight into the meat of the game.
You’ll start by selecting one of three different decks, each representing either Squirtle, Charmander or Bulbasaur, and consisting of 60 different cards in total. As you progress, you can create your own deck of 60 cards entirely from scratch, with the ability to save them for use anytime. Much like the main series, Pokémon come with their own list of elemental strengths and weaknesses, and can even evolve if you draw the required card. Every time you remove an opposing monster from play you earn a prize card, and the goal is to claim each of them – usually either 4 or 6 – before your opponent does to win the game. Additionally, trainer cards act as items, allowing you to heal your team or search your deck for specific cards, while energy cards are placed on your Pokémon to allow for more powerful attacks. Grass Pokémon need grass energy for example, and HP-blasting attacks like Solar Beam require as many as four.
Like many other table top games it’s extremely easy to learn but can take much longer to fully master. You’re given every opportunity to improve, however, as there’s absolutely no consequence for losing; you’ll quickly amass a large enough selection of cards that entire strategies can be changed on the fly. Unfortunately this leads to what is perhaps the game’s biggest misstep. Predictably, each of the 8 club leaders base their decks around a certain element, wearing their weaknesses on their sleeves; this is also the case in the main series of course, but here it’s a lot easier to exploit. Taking on a water-loving opponent with a deck filled to the brim with electric pokémon feels more like bullying than a tense challenge, and since you don’t need to catch and train pokémon at all, it’s easier than ever to do so.
Get lucky with a few booster packs and you could be opposing Squirtle with a Zapdos right from the beginning. There’s no incentive to build up a constant ‘team’ of Pokémon, so players can build custom decks just to win against specific rivals. This is an unavoidable limitation of facing predictable AI opponents of course, and some could rightfully argue that it merely rewards those who are fully aware of their deck, constantly customizing to meet the task at hand. Lacking the option to play online however, this exploit only shortens an already brief experience.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun, because it absolutely is. The real-life cards are recreated in game with some nice clear visuals, and battles are made more lively by fun attack animations. Characters are surprisingly memorable, with cameos from Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara and total weirdo musician Tomoaki Imakuni who gives us serious Tingle vibes… Even the ‘professional’ Dr.Mason sends you some cheeky little winky faces in his emails. The lack of outdoor environments and the uninspired club designs are admittedly a disappointment, but if you’ve come for the gameplay – and you should – then there’s no shortage of duel opportunities here. You can challenge the same people multiple times, and a special area named Challenge Hall provides a nice mix of much more unpredictable opponents.
There are over 220 cards available in total, with legendaries that are still exclusive to the game itself. Though your enjoyment does weigh somewhat on your investment in the Pokémon series as a whole, fans of the card game genre will find an enjoyable diversion here, even if their chosen rock has hidden them away from any knowledge of the subject material.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game successfully shows newcomers the ropes while providing the initiated with a slick, faithful adaption of the table top experience. It’s all the fun with none of the clutter, and the ability to save multiple decks allows for both experimentation and control over your play style. The main story would benefit from having some more unpredictable AI opponents, but overall we’re definitely ready for a new sequel. Let’s put those AR card readers to use, Nintendo!
This needs to come to North America ASAP
@AdmiralThrawn I couldn't agree more.
One of my favourite games ever, I remember it came with a limited edition shiny Meowth card.
Every time I think about re playing this I remember how painfully slow it is in the beginning.
I think you guys used the wrong banner image here...
I actually just bought a copy of this from a yard sale a few weeks ago, but I haven't played it much yet. I should probably give it a go sometime!
@ColdingLight @AdmiralThrawn It breaks my heart that you guys don't have it yet, it really does. So many good memories of when I played it as a kid came back.
At least take comfort in the fact that Ireland is severely lacking Shovel Knight...
Its decent, but I'd rather play the Neo Geo Pocket Color's Card Fighters Clash.
This makes me want to find my old pokemon cards i collected across the years of my life.And just look and see how many i have.
This game successfully teaches new players how to play the Pokemon Trading Card Game. This game is how I learned how to play the game, I was never able to learn from reading the instruction manual.
This was such a fun game way back when. I hope it comes to NOA VC.
@AdmiralThrawn Agreed. This was one of my favorite GBC games.
I've got $5 in my eShop account waiting for it to hit the USA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sadly I have never played this little jewel, I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!! Also...could @Squidzilla maybe find a better banner???? I know it may seem trivial, but this game came out way back in Gen I, the banner in question is from Gen III... I don't know it just...bugs me...
Best gbc game.
Really hoping this comes to NA eshop soon. Never played it as a kid and I want to experience it =<
I never knew this game existed. The spinoff I have always wanted and never seen in the VC is Pokémon Pinball.
Come on over to Canada
Maybe i missrd it, but can you do Card Pop on this version?
ive never played it either but i would buy it if it comes to N.A.eshop
@bluecat Unfortunately not. Online was entirely disabled for me. Card pop was a little bit flimsy anyway if I remember right.
One of the best Pokémon spin-off games out there. Already had it for my GBA SP but I had to get it for 3DS too. I hope we'll get TCG2 too. It was only released in Japan. I think it's time to grant everyone access to this game in a language they can understand.
@Late Heres hoping, but its a bit unlikely seeing as this would be the first release outside Japan. The Team Rocket expansion was my favourite though!!
I think I'll get it only for the chance to actually play the card game. So many years as a child collecting the cards and I never got someone else who knew the rules to play with :/
Um why is may in the banner? Could say the same about treecko
@Squidzilla Awww well it was wishful thinking anyhow. Thanks.
Love. This. Game. An essential Game Boy Color purchase.
Been going back to play this again and again for years. It's a shame there's never been another western sequel. Lots of nostalgia here for old time Pokemon TCG players.
The current Pokemon TCG Online is great but it can quickly become expensive.
@Phantom_R @kingston589 It's likely just a placeholder banner that we never replaced. I don't remember there being a whole lot of official high-res art for this one back when it came out.
It was so much fun to destroy everyone with Haymaker. It's a shame they haven't released other TCG videogames other than the Japan only sequel. You can still play the newest format online though.
That's how it used to be for me too when I was a kid. Later I realised it's pretty much the easiest TCG there is.
This is an awesome game and the one I immediately wanted when I heard of the 3ds vc.
I'm amazed this never saw a sequel.
There's the Japan only sequel.
It would be a lot more awesome if this didn't look like a way to dodge the GB/GBC titles... but still, it's a great game on its own.
Awesome game, didn't manage to buy it as a child and finally after 14 long years I got my chance and the waiting was worthy ^o^ Plus it was such nostalgia trip to see all those cards; I used to play exactly with those sets as a kid
Still I'm kinda surprised the review is so positive, the game is good, but now got really outdated, some rules are different in the modern game and the 200+ cards was outstanding as number at the time, but feel almost too small nowaday.
Not complaining, it's an old game, of course it's outdated, just saying that VC games can be evergreen classics or titles that unfortunately show their age and this is definitely the latter case.
Anyway great game and great review; can't avoid to hope that Nintendo will consider to publish a new title like this one day even if it's very unlikely >.>;
@HylianJowi oh ok. Sorry wasnt trying to be rude.
Hope it makes its way over soon, this game is addicting and I loved it.
This game is certainly on the buy list... But I bought YuGiOh Millennium Duels a few days ago.
Can't wait to play this again.
I could buy a brand new copy of this a few years ago, but the battery died only a few months after.
It was still a great time while it lasted.
I still have this game and it was one of my favorites as a kid. Really hope they bring it to the US so I can finally play it again.
A sequel to this game on 3DS with AR cards would be awesome!
@FilmerNgameR There kinda IS a sequal, thought not for 3DS - Pokemon TCG Online for PC.
It has CPU opponents, multiplayer and support latest cards.
And if you ever buy real pokemon boosters or decks, they all have code inside to give same cards for digital game.
A great game this was.
@TuppuP the boosters come with a digital code for the kind of booster, not for the exact same cards.
I'm sure this will come to America soon enough, considering it must be doing so well in Europe... Please Nintendo!
Ooh perfect, this could teach me how to play.
I could never manage to figure out how to play the card game until I got the original GB cartridge for this one. If it comes to NA, I'll definitely get it. I'm not a terribly big fan of card games, but I love Pokemon, and I have a lot of fond memories of this game, despite never even getting halfway into it. I'd love a sequel on the 3DS. The PC game sounds okay and all, but I like the RPG aspects of this one. I'd really like to see the Gen II sequel get localized, too.
I played this in my GBC a lot. My favorite card was the game-only Zapdos which hits random Pokemon for tons of damage.
Last year I got the itch to play this (or something similar) again after PortsCenter did an episode on it which led to my watching a playthrough of the sequel which led to my testing the waters of the Pokémon TCG website. But that, unless it's changed since, is a surprisingly poo Flash thing for a Nintendo product. Few months later, one of the Magic games popped up on Another Format for free which is fine but, like the TCG website, is moar-decks-as-DLC.
So yeah, I'd appreciate the chance to play the sequel or a new, largely self-contained game as well. Reliving this in the meantime.
@TuppuP Oh yeah I forgot about that game but it would be more interesting with AR Pokemon cards on 3DS.
Really liked this game as a girl. I'd buy it again if/when it comes to NA.
Man, I LOVED this game as a kid. I loved how you could just build all the decks you wanted and store them in the computer. I remember having every card but the Balloon Pikachu and trying the last challenge over and over again endlessly without getting it. Then a few years later I picked the game up and scored one in one try. A good day.
The only problem was that it was too easy. All you've got to do is walk into a gym with a deck that's strong against the type you're up against and there's basically no challenge. It's sort of like with Pokemon, except you don't have to take the time to "train" your decks.
This cartridge was genius, it proved to me the pokémon cards together formed a great addictive little game and weren't just some collectible passing fad. If anybody hasn't played this yet, I heartily reccommend that they do so.
I've been hoping for a 3DS version with all the current cards, and all future cards through updates or even DLC. Loved the GBC version though.
I just want to say I love your icon. Thrawn was the best thing to happen to Star Wars.
@tom_q Sick profile pic terranigma rocks.
Dunno about "collectible passing fad" since Pokemon TCG still has World Championships event every year.
sign....... pssst......Nintendo....... NORTH AMERICA PLEASE??
Never played this when I was younger though I did play the physical version. Was looking for a copy of this on ebay a few weeks back when some kind wind of fate put it on the eShop. I'm hooked on how easy it is to just pick up and play.
There's something really freeing about the limitations (knowing it won't take over your life is a big bonus for me) but it's left me longing for an updated, online version like @KnightRider666 has mentioned. I'd imagine that would become a not so pocket sized monster though so I doubt they'll do that with an online version already on the go.
My only complaint, as @pepsiplunge pointed out, is that the tutorial at the start is painfully slow. Especially, or maybe only, if you already know how to play.
@Squidzilla May Shovel Knight come and bring peace to you. I shall await Pokemon tcg with rose tinted goggles in hand.
Just got this amazing gem along with Pokemon Puzzle challenge or w/e for GBC R/S Pinball and duck hunt and 2 3ds themes!
This is the closest thing we will get to Gen 1/Gen 2 Mainseries Pokemon games on VC
Man, I suck at this game! Seriously, I can barely even beat the very first opponent! Not a bad game though.
Finally actually playing this game after picking it up in the sale months ago. Really enjoying it, it's a great way to learn how to actually play the card game too!
Not as good as Cardfighters Clash for the NGPC but up there with the best card video games.
Wholly agree with the review and the 8/10.
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