The Pokemon Trading Card Game Video Game Mouthful Review
Also known in Japan as Pokemon Card GB, this was the first of a short-lived line of games based on the original Pokemon TCG for the Gameboy Color. I had the, as some would call it, pleasure of playing this game recently on an emulator, and while it isn't entirely what you think of when you hear about a video game based on a trading card game, the game mechanics themselves function almost exactly the same as in the regular TCG, the only differences being three game-exclusive cards and more randomization since the game can afford to do so as opposed to in the physical game.
In a lot of ways, this game attempts to mix three elements—the original Pokemon series, the trading card game, and real life. The basic story within it is based upon the Pokemon games we all know in love, but of course with a twist. You are a young boy who one day wakes up and decides it's time to once and for all play the Pokemon Card Game, meeting up with Dr. Mason at his laboratory to learn how to play. You can understand the parallel, of course, though a question about why exactly they need to research pokemon CARDS in a laboratory is raised and never actually answered, or at least not in a way that is properly explained. The only possible explanation I could give would involve the “Legendary Cards”, but I'll get to those in a bit.
Dr. Mason doesn't really come off as having too much of a personality when you first meet him, except that for some reason he finds it very important for children to play the Pokemon TCG. Upon hearing of your interest in playing the game, he directs you to one of his lab mates, who promptly begins to teach you how to play the game using unshuffled and pre-planned decks. Now, I had actually forgotten how to play since the times I had Pokemon Cards probably ten years ago, and of course now I had to mess with the interface of the game on top of that, but it's actually quite simple. Even so, they tell you to read your TCG manual while they teach you. (If you already know how to play the Trading Card Game or don't want to learn how to, I've kindly placed the following into a spoiler)
The only gripes I have about this brief tutorial is that they don't teach you about Poke Powers that certain cards have, and the moves they tell you to make are absolute. If you do your turn in any order but the way they tell you, or play a card they didnt say to, they make you start your turn all over again. That, and the moves they tell you to make don't make complete sense for in a regular game (which as it turns out, is also called a duel)--telling you to set up your Staryu to evolve before you have Starmie in your hand to evolve it when you have a Pokemon on the bench without any energies.
After you win the duel (you literally can't lose since you're playing on rails), Dr. Mason says that he will help you build your first deck since you don't have enough cards to make one on your own, letting you choose between a “Bulbasaur & Friends”, “Squirtle and Friends”, and “Charmander and Friends” deck to build just as you would pick between a Bulbasaur, Squirtle, or Charmander in the original games. Of course he doesn't tell you anything about how the decks work or what cards will be in them, which would actually be pretty important if you're trying to learn to play the game. He then mentions these things called the Legendary Cards out of the blue, which are supposed to have some kind of power, and explains a little bit about the “Pokemon Clubs” in the game, telling you to defeat them all so you can battle in the Pokemon Dome and win these legendary cards. This means that Pokemon Clubs (which include Rock, Fighting, Grass, Electric, Water, Psychic, and for some reason “Science”) are the equivalent of Gyms, and the Pokemon Dome is basically the Elite Four.
Science-Types abound! (Not really)
Then the game throws you right out on your ass from here. They don't really give suggestions for what to do first, and unless you talk to every single person in the lab you are probably going to miss out on quite a bit. The first file I made I chose the Squirtle & Friends deck and immediately walked out of the lab towards the closest gym, the Rock Gym, to have my first duel. I thought it would be quite easy, but I got my butt handed to me extremely quickly, as I had no idea what strategy I was supposed to be using, and I kept drawing into completely useless cards. After losing, I tried to edit my deck, only to learn that I had an extremely small pool of cards, even less than I had expected. For the most part all of the “good” cards had already been put into my deck, and the ones that I wanted to put in I simply couldn't because I didn't have enough energies of the different kinds of energies to support them.
Thinking I might have just been having bad luck, I dueled another in-game player... and promptly lost. I tried another player, and lost again, and again, and again. The only game I'd managed to win was the one where you can't lose, and that made me almost delete the game. However, I figured I'd give it another chance and started another game, this time picking the Bulbasaur & Friends deck. I also played it smart this time and decided to duel the instructor again, who lets you either do a practice match or a regular match against him. Funny thing is, the practice match and regular match are exactly the same, the decks unshuffled and coin flips pre-determined, except that he doesn't tell you which moves to make. That means as long as you remember the moves he had told you before, or you aren't stupid, you will win against him every time, and as it turns out, win a pack from him for it. Every time you beat someone in the game you get these randomly sorted packs and the basic idea is to duel people who give you the types of packs you want to make your deck better. Sadly, the instructor gives you packs with only energy cards in them, but even that much is helpful.
He will hammer you repeatedly with his Hard Pokemon Deck.
I also went around in the lab and talked to the people there, who explained these “Deck machines” they had which let you look at and build decks you have played against as long as you have the cards for them and have won the Pokemon Club Medal for that person. In some ways this is helpful, as it lets you see other decks and perhaps try them out yourself, but you will rarely have all of the cards required to build someone else's deck unless you've been grinding again and again (people will let you duel them repeatedly and you get the same type of pack each time). They also don't give you tips about the decks or anything, you're supposed to figure them out all on your own.
That is, again, one of the major downfalls of the game in my opinion. If they're trying to teach you how to play, they should at least give you some helpful hints about deck strategies and deck building. Dr. Mason messages you along the way through computers located at each of the Clubs, but for the most part he just tells you what Pokemon Type is strong against the leader of the Club, and nothing else. At one point near the very end of the game he does give you some advice about how many energy cards and Basic Pokemon should be in your deck, but this is far too late, and while extremely helpful doesn't help you as much as you would wish. He also gives you card packs with most of his messages, which is cool and all, but it does raise the question of how he's doing so through the computer. Most of his messages also end with an emoticon, which I personally found hilarious.
I'm just a little bit creeped out.
After a bit of grinding with the instructor and another person within the lab, I had enough energy cards to hopefully customize my deck a bit, and I had a better idea of what cards to play and what my deck was about. Sadly, when I went in to edit my deck, it seemed that pretty much all of the cards in my card pool had changed, even ones that weren't placed in the Squirtle & Friends deck, which I found a bit strange. Either way, I was more prepared now and felt more confident that I could win, and indeed when I challenged that Rock Gym player I somehow managed to win and get a pack of cards! It was pretty easy from then on, and now that I was winning cards I could better customize my deck and take out all of the ones I deemed worthless.
One thing I found strange was that in this game, some of the Club leaders let you duel them after beating only one of the other Club members, and having the others there only serves for grinding purposes. Some of the member's decks don't even make sense for the theme, such as a fire-based deck in the Water club. You also don't get any kind of penalty for losing a duel, and if you're cheap enough or having a hard enough time you can build a new deck specifically to counter the deck of someone you've already played. For the most part, though, you'll be only able to make two different decks with the small number of cards you get, unless you do some hardcore grinding.
At some points you will be forced to duel your rival Ronald, who is kind of a jerk and forced his rivalhood upon you because you said you also wanted to get the Legendary Cards. However, for the most part he is very easy to beat, though that comes down to the luck of the coin flip. I suppose I should have mentioned sooner this dark creature that you'll learn to hate—the coin. Half of the card game is based on flipping coins, and that means half of the time you will praying for a certain flip, and getting the wrong flip can screw you over to the point of genuine rage. You want your coin flip to land on heads and deal that extra 10 damage that will make you win the game? Nope, you get a tails. You want your opponent to get tails on their String Shot so you won't be Paralyzed? Nope, he gets heads five times in a row knocks out your Pokemon before you can make a single move. It can be quite frustrating, but it can also help keep you on edge as you play and keep it from being overly methodical.
There are some other features in the game I could mention, such as the Pokemon Stadium where you can duel for prize cards, and a guy who will sometimes trade you cards, but the only thing I feel is worth mentioning before talking about the legendary cards and the end game is a little character known as Imakuni?. If you speak to certain characters in the game they will trigger the appearance of Imakuni? In a random Club within the game. When you walk into the same room as Imakuni? A different music will begin playing, and you're met with the sight of this strangely dressed figure dancing around in the corner of the room.
That's confusing alright.
He is pretty much a gag character, based on a real person who is greatly involved in the Pokemon franchise in a number of ways, though mostly known as a comedian and a musician who wears a strange outfit. He plays a Psychic deck based around Psyduck and Slowpoke, who can't really do anything without evolving, so he's really easy to beat, but he makes it even easier to defeat him by playing his very own exclusive card “Imakuni?”, which has no function besides confusing his own Pokemon. When you beat him, he'll give you a hefty haul of one of each pack in the game, and if you beat him enough times throughout the game he will reward you by giving you the Imakuni? Card, which is only useful to you if you're a perfectionist or just want it as a novelty.
Once you've beaten all of the Clubs you are given permission to challenge the Pokemon Dome and win the Legendary Cards, again working pretty much the same as the Elite Four. You duel each of the holders of the Legendary Cards in a row, starting with the user of Moltres (whose ability lets you add up to FIVE Fire Energies from your deck to your hand when he's put into play), then Articuno (whose ability can paralyze the opposing Pokemon when put into play), then Zapdos (whose underpowered ability damages a random Pokemon in play, possibly your own), and finally Dragonite (who heals all of your Pokemon when he is played). Once you managed to defeat them, lo and behold, Ronald reveals that he had beaten them before you, and attempts to hog the Legendary Cards for himself. The card holders decide that in all fairness, as both of you are worthy, you should have a duel to decide who will gain possession of the cards.
Overall, I would say for what it is, the game is quite enjoyable, and if you're interested in trading card games, especially if you were planning on playing the Pokemon TCG or had when you were younger, it's definitely not going to hurt to give it a try (especially if you plan on emulating it like I did).