Pokemon Trading Card Game
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy Color
  • Developer:
    • Hudson
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 12/18/1998
    • US 04/10/2000
    • UK 12/08/2000
Score: 75%

This review was published on 07/12/2014.

Pokemon Trading Card Game is a role-playing game developed by Hudson Soft and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Color. It came out in Japan on December 18, 1998, North America on April 10, 2000, and Europe on December 8, 2000. A sequel got released in Japan on March 28, 2001, and it was called Pokemon Card GB2: Here Comes Team Great Rocket! Strangely, the sequel was never released outside of Japan. Maybe it was that title. Pokemon started off as a video game that revolved around catching and training monsters for combat against each other. The games sold millions of copies and spawned all kinds of relating material, such as an animated television show, comic books, collectible toys, and even a tabletop trading card game. This review is about the video game adaption of the tabletop trading card game, aptly named Pokemon Trading Card Game. Basically, it's a video game based on a card game based on a video game. They sure went full circle there. It's actually not a bad idea, because this is a good way to get people who are interested in the tabletop game to learn the rules. On its own, it's a solid card based RPG.

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Somewhere in the vast world of Pokemon is a place known as TCG Island. TCG stands for Trading Card Game, in case you couldn't figure it out. The island is named as such because its denizens are obsessed with Pokemon trading cards. There aren't many actual Pokemon on this island, but it does have Pokemon themed cards to fill in the void. You play as a boy who lives on TCG Island and has been trading cards for quite some time. Despite trading cards with people, he never played the card game itself. One day, the boy decides to actually make use of his miniscule card collection to play the Pokemon Trading Card Game. To learn how to play the trading card game, the boy goes to Dr. Mason's laboratory, a place where scientists oddly spend all their time researching trading cards. After learning the rules of the game, the boy then decides to take on the best card players on the island for a chance to win the legendary cards. In that vein, the boy must win eight Master Medals from the eight Elemental Club Masters and then defeat the four Grand Masters at the Pokemon Dome. If this quest sounds familiar, it's because this is basically the same thing as the Pokemon League challenge from normal Pokemon games, just with cards. It's not too exciting of a story, but hey, at least there's no animal violence.

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The play mechanics of this game are essentially a simulation of the real life Pokemon Trading Card Game. All duels start with a friendly coin toss to determine which player goes first. Each opponent has a deck of sixty cards that they draw from on a turn-by-turn basis. Both players draw seven cards into their hand on their first turn, but only one card every subsequent turn. Cards that represent Pokemon must first be placed into the play area before they can be used in a duel and up to five Pokemon cards can be placed on the bench for later use. Once a Pokemon card has been put into play, it can then start using attacks on the opponent using energy cards. Every Pokemon card has a few moves it can use and each move will cost a certain amount of energy cards. There are seven types of energy cards, with each type representing a type in the Pokemon games. These types are kind of like elements in an RPG, and they include stuff like fire, water, lightning, and so on. Different moves will require different types of energy cards and some even require multiple types of energy cards. Depending on the move used, attached energy cards will either remain or be discarded. Also, attaching energy cards to Pokemon doesn't waste a turn, but you can only attach one at a time. That's a quick rundown of the basic rules. In a nutshell, this is like a simplified Magic: The Gathering, though it's still considerably more complex than the actual Pokemon games.

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Before each match begins, a few cards from each player's deck are randomly selected to be prizes. In real life, the amount of prizes is agreed upon by the players before a match, but in this game, the quantity of prizes is always decided for you automatically. There can be anywhere between two to six prizes, with four being the most common number. Every time a player knocks out an opposing Pokemon, he or she can take a prize. It should be noted that the prizes players take into their hand come from their own decks, not from the opponent's. Victory is awarded to the player that claims all prizes. Additionally, players can lose if all their Pokemon are knocked out or if they run out of cards. The whole thing with claiming prizes from your own deck is awkward, but it's a way of preventing the matches from going on for too long, so it's ultimately a good thing. Unfortunately, even like this, matches can still drag on forever. It can't be helped, because this is a simulation of the real life game, and real matches can take awhile.

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Progression in this game is a little strange when compared to conventional Japanese RPGs. There are no random encounters, no boring dungeon crawls, no boss fights, nothing. Instead, you're given a map of the island with a list of selectable locations. Most of these locations are the aforementioned eight card playing clubs, and selecting a location instantly takes you there. The objective of the main game is to beat the master of each club in a duel, but the masters are usually not around when you first enter a club. In order to get the master to appear, you must first attain victory against a certain number of club members. Sometimes you'll have to do other stuff, but generally, it almost always consists of beating people in matches. There are times when figuring out how to challenge a particular master can become a scavenger hunt. One of the club masters wants you to beat three of his pupils, but his pupils are located at different clubs all over the island. None of this takes very long, though. In fact, if you're good at the card duels, then you can probably finish the game in less than seven hours. While it's cool that the game puts almost nothing between you and its core game play, the whole thing feels a bit barebones. The lack of exploration takes out the adventure and makes this nothing more than a series of card battles.

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Only basic Pokemon cards can be put into play or on the bench immediately; cards of evolved Pokemon require additional steps. Evolved Pokemon cards can only be placed on top of their basic forms, so the basic form must be present before an evolution can be used. Stage one evolutions can be placed on top of basic Pokemon forms and the second stage of evolution must be stacked on top of stage ones. You also can't evolve the same Pokemon twice on the same turn. Not all Pokemon cards have evolved forms, so this is a feature that only certain ones can make use of. Some Pokemon also only have a single stage of evolution instead of two. On top of all that, Pokemon cannot be evolved on the same turn they're played. Evolved Pokemon cards are almost always superior to their previous forms, having increased hit points and powerful moves. A lot of the end game revolves on how fast you can evolve your Pokemon in comparison to your opponent. Finding opportunities to actually be able to use evolved forms is pretty annoying, but given how much more powerful evolved Pokemon cards tend to be, it makes sense.

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Trainer cards are single use cards that have a wide range of effects, most of them of the support variety. They're basically item cards that allow you to do things like heal your Pokemon, increase a Pokemon's attack or defense, get back discarded cards, etc. You can use as many trainer cards as you want during your turn, so there's not much of a penalty for doing so, other than those cards being discarded. Another use for trainer cards is to cure status ailments. Many moves have a random chance of inflicting a status ailment on the defending Pokemon, and a coin flip is used to determine whether the negative ailment sticks. Sometimes trainer cards can feel like cheating, especially the ones that let you search your own deck for a specific card, or the ones that let you fully evolve a Pokemon. All fair's in love and war, though. Not every trainer card is that useful, but some are quite handy to have around. Trainer cards add a fair amount of strategy and unpredictability to matches, so they're pretty neat.

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There are a total of 226 cards in the game, which comprise cards from the first three sets of the real life game and a few cards exclusive to this game. Building decks is an important part of the Pokemon Trading Card Game, both in the video game and the real thing. At the start of the game, you can choose one of three starter decks based on the starter Pokemon from the original games. Additional cards can be gained via booster packs won from duels. Up to four decks can be saved at any one time and only four of the same card can be placed into the same deck, with the exception of energy cards. The game can automatically build themed decks for you, but only if you have the necessary cards and Master Medals. The difference been victory and defeat can fall down to what deck you build, especially since different Pokemon cards have different resistances and weaknesses. For instance, a deck consisting of lightning Pokemon will easily demolish a deck of water Pokemon. The tricky part is figuring out the right balance of Pokemon, energy, and trainer cards. Pairing differently typed Pokemon can also be tricky, as doing so makes the deck more varied, but makes it more difficult to actually accomplish anything, since the energy cards must match the Pokemon's type. Deck building is this game's customization and its complexity will keep card enthusiasts occupied for quite a while.

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Pokemon Trading Card Game succeeds in being a somewhat accurate simulation of the real thing. It's a great way for beginners learn the rules of the tabletop game and is fun on its own. The core card mechanics are presented very well, and the game automates all the tedious parts from the real life counterpart. Unfortunately, there isn't much else here other than the core card game. The sense of adventure and exploration that permeates other Pokemon games is completely absent here. This is also a short game. Once you beat the game and collect all the cards, neither of which takes long, there isn't anything else to do. This game has the potential to be something much bigger than it actually is, but most of this potential goes unused.

Word Count: 1,895

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