Tuesday, November 25, 2014

[REVIEW] Pokémon Trading Card Game (3DS / Game Boy Color)

Pokémon Trading Card Game
Platform: 3DS (Virtual Console) / Game Boy Color
Genre: Card game, RPG
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Nintendo

Considering the larger Pokémon continuity, Game Boy Color's Pokémon Trading Card Game is a bit of an oddball. It's clearly a spinoff, with game mechanics that are significantly different from the main series. On the other hand, it retains the "one kid trying to catch 'em all" vibe that tends to be absent from other spinoffs, making it a much easier sell if you're a fan of the gameplay found on regular Pokémon games.

Like the main titles, Pokémon TCG has you begin your journey by choosing between a water, grass, or fire starter; only in this case you're choosing card decks, not the cute little creatures themselves. There is even an old guy standing in for professor Oak, a card-playing rival, and eight different clubs that are obviously inspired by regular Pokémon gyms.

Basic gameplay consists, like the title suggests, of matches using Pokémon cards. After an introductory battle that does a great job teaching the basics, you'll wander around clubs dueling different characters. Every victory awards you with booster packs, which provide new cards for your collection. Of course, new cards mean new strategic possibilities, and the process of battling, winning packs, tweaking (or building new) decks, and battling again can get quite addictive.

Pokémon TCG used "incredibly addictive gameplay". It's super effective!
The card game itself is very pleasant, successfully translating the basic mechanics of a pokémon fight (including items, type weaknesses, and evolutions) to a card-playing environment. If you're experienced in other collectible card games, such as Magic: the Gathering or Hearthstone, it's gonna be quite easier to get a grasp on better cards and strategies to succeed.

One thing sorely missing from the game is more exploration possibilities. The overworld is very simplistic, and you can only really interact with other characters inside the eight clubs and four other buildings. Of course, this is probably due to the fact that card matches take significantly longer than regular pokémon battles, but there have been similar games that managed a larger sense of scope (namely, MicroProse's excellent 1997 Magic: Shandalar title).

Not as much of an overworld as a stage select screen.

Perhaps the most disheartening thing about playing Pokémon TCG is the fact that, aside from a Japan-only Game Boy Color sequel, the concept has gone largely unexplored on Nintendo platforms since. Currently, there is a virtual client for playing the card game on Windows and iPad, but it's kind of generic and doesn't really capture the essence of the Pokémon series like this game does. A new version of this title, with the same light-RPG elements, for 3DS or Wii U could be quite a good idea, especially with the recent success of Hearthstone and Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers (the latter even available for consoles). Of course, the second screen on both Nintendo platforms could be a great asset to make card playing more fluid.

While that doesn't happen, though, getting the original on the 3DS Virtual Console is a great deal. Offering many hours of quick-burst gameplay, Pokémon Trading Card Game is the perfect little title to keep in your pocket. Just make sure you don't miss your bus stop, though, because it's gonna be hard to get your eyes off the portable's screen.

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