Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC) Review
I honestly never thought I’d be sitting here right now and writing a review up for a Pokemon Trading Card Game. Whether new or not, it seems like outside of the physical cards themselves, Nintendo aren’t really interested in doing much with the franchise. Which is why it’s so surprising to see Pokemon Trading Card Game, the much loved video game adaptation of the tabletop game, coming to the 3DS Virtual Console. But as with all games released several years ago, it’s easy to look beyond its flaws or to forget them as time goes by. So, today, fourteen years later, does Pokemon Trading Card Game still hold up?
The game itself wastes no time in introducing the player to the story – and the term is employed very loosely. Players step into the shoes of Mark, though they can name him whatever they want, and are given their very first deck of Pokemon cards by Dr. Mason. Marks’ ambition is to become the world’s greatest Pokemon Trading Card Game player, but Mark’s rival, Ronald, has the same goal leading to the two having to duel it out to work out who is the greater master. Much like any other Pokemon game, Mark must journey to several differently themed “clubs” to earn Master Medals and eventually confront and defeat the Grand Masters, the Pokemon Trading Card equivalent of the Elite 4. The story itself is very mellow, and doesn’t really shove any kind of ideology down the players’ throats like the games in the mainline series – it’s purely about battling and becoming the greatest Card player in the land. It’s nice, it’s unpretentious and it pushes the game along at a good enough pace.
Much like a Pokemon game, Trading Card Game has players travelling across an island, battling other “trainers” while trying to conquer type-specific gyms. Navigating the imaginatively named Trading Card Game Island is much easier, however, with the players merely having to choose which club they wish to move to and then warping there instantly. In each club there is the main room, which houses the “leader” as well as a lounge which houses people who have hints and tips about the game world as well as trading opportunities. It’s a very simply set out game, and it arguably removes a lot of the “filler” from traditional Pokemon games but it also means it’s quite easy to finish everything quickly.
Since the game deals with “cards” instead of actual Pokemon – there’s little variation in obtaining the cards themselves. Instead of capturing Pokemon the traditional way, players can battle trainers, who then give up booster packs containing the cards. There’s no “wild” encounters and there’s no “capturing” the Pokemon either. Similarly, as the Pokemon are all cards, they don’t level up nor do they learn new moves. While this means that there is a lot of depth lost from the overall meta-game, unlike the mainline Pokemon series, it allows for a lot more planning during the actual battles themselves, or at least, when luck prevails.
The battle system itself is probably where you’ll be spending most of your time in Pokemon Trading Card Game, and it’s a pretty simplistic and straight forward system that’s quite easy to manage but difficult to master. To attack, players must attach energy cards to their Pokemon, of which only one can be attached per turn. Most Pokemon are the same here – every Jungle series Pikachu will do the same attacks and bear the same attributes, which removes a lot of the surprises from the battle system. Instead, most of the variation in the battle occurs with the flip of a coin – where heads might denote paralysis occurring or an enemy becoming poisoned. It’s a simple system that means a lot of Pokemon Trading Card Game is determined by chance – which means there are times when it might seem like players have the odds stacked against them. But on the flipside, the moments where the system appears to be favouring the player (even though it’s not, it is chance, after all) become all the sweeter with a system like this.
In terms of difficulty and pacing, Trading Card Game feels all over the place. There were times where we’d get lucky and take out a leader after only just one Pokemon, while there were others where we spent a good hour or two on a single battle. The difficulty spikes are infrequent and uneven, but the challenge they provide is more than refreshing. Most who are well acquainted with the Trading Card Game will be able to easily exploit type weaknesses and the likes to truly dominate, however, making the game overall quite an easy affair.
Regardless of whether you breeze through it or not, most players should take roughly eight to nine hours to complete the main “story” in Trading Card Game. The 3DS virtual console features actually work against the game here, as neither the Card Pop! Feature is functional (and thus two cards are unobtainable) and save states can remove the edge of difficulty from a few late game battles. Although the game does do a sort of “autosave” mid-battle, so that would be subject to abuse whether you’re playing on the original or Virtual Console version. A few side quests, as well as the temptation to collect all the cards in the game, could easily stretch the initial nine hours out to anywhere between ten and twenty hours depending on how thorough you were in collecting cards. With 226 cards spanning the base set and its Jungle and Fossil expansions, there’s heaps to collect.
If you can’t be bothered building your own deck, there’s even machines in the game that will do it for you, but only after obtaining the club medal associated with that deck type. If you’re one who likes to create your own decks, the menu and interface used to build the decks is surprisingly intuitive and it’s very easy to modify, create or dismantle decks from one of the four available slots. Personally, I just kept using one deck and making modifications as I moved from club to club, but the flexibility of having four separate deck slots is great too.
Visually speaking, the game still holds up, largely due to the fact most of the sprites are recycled from other Pokemon games like Blue and Yellow. This is by no means a bad thing – it provides consistency across the games, but most of it is incredibly familiar. The cards themselves look as good as they can on Game Boy Colour hardware too, and none of them are too pixelated to the point of being unrecognisable or cluttered, even when blown up on the 3DS’s screen. The soundtrack is still quite good too, although some more energetic and exciting battle themes would not have gone astray, especially in the battles towards the end of the game. One minor thing perhaps worth mentioning that has been talked about pre-release is that the Jynx card has been slightly modified to be more purple than she previously was. It makes the card look a bit messier but it’s just one card out of the hundreds that’s been adjusted, so it’s really nothing major.
The Pokemon Trading Card Game does an excellent job of holding up today – providing a clean and simple way to start a game of the Pokemon Trading Card game with little to no effort. But this reminder of its existence just brings to light how much this franchise could benefit from today, as online multiplayer and downloadable expansion packs could really help a game like this really stand out from its predecessor. But what we’ve got here, in the original game, is great. It’s fourteen years old, and doesn’t play too slowly nor does it get boring too quickly. The abundance of luck based elements are somewhat off-putting and the erratic difficulty curve are what keep Pokemon Trading Card Game from being truly perfect. At a price of $6.50, the game is a steal, just be warned it’ll probably leave you wanting more and that is by no means a bad thing.