Pokémon! If you were a kid in the late 90’s, you probably lived and breathed Pokémon. At the time, there was nothing quite like it: combining a relatively simple RPG gameplay style with an addictive collection system, Pokémon caught on in a way we never could have anticipated.
Though it came out in 1998 in America, Pokémon was first released in 1995 in Japan, with the Red and Green versions. The games were a massive hit, spawning an animated series, toys, albums, and even entire STORES. By the time the games made their way stateside, Nintendo was promoting the franchise full force. Even if you didn’t own a Game Boy, there was no avoiding it: wherever you went, you were assaulted by commercials, ads, and store displays. Pokémon. Pokémon! POKÉMON!!!
The Game Boy Link Cable enabled you to not only battle your friends, but trade your Pokémon between games as well! “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” was the game’s tagline, and kids bought into it. Everyone had Pokémon… if you didn’t, you were ostracized. To hell with Mario, Kirby, and Legend of Zelda… Nintendo had a worldwide phenomenon on their hands, and at the height of its popularity, there was literally nothing we cared more about.
But if there was one thing we cared about nearly as much as the games, it was the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Published in America by Wizards of the Coast, the same company responsible for Magic: The Gathering, this little card game was really something special. Easy enough for kids to learn, the Pokémon TCG served as a friendlier alternative to Magic, the complexity of which still has a tendency to turn off new players. The TCG was easy to learn, easy to play, and even easier to get hooked on. At this point, many schools ended up banning anything Pokémon related… there was nothing harder than trying to focus in class when someone had brought in the ultra-rare holographic Charizard card.
But the TCG madness didn’t end there, oh no… it wasn’t long before the Game Boy Color received a video game adaption. Yes, that’s right… a video game of a card game of a video game. You may laugh, but this is actually a sound idea: you could use the game to practice and hone your skills, and if you didn’t have many friends, the game might be the only way you could actually play the TCG. I know I played the game a lot, and it’s still pretty darn enjoyable to this day. But let’s take a look, shall we?
Much like the main Pokémon games, you get to name your character. I went with “Fidel”. That sounds about right.
So, believe it or not, the game actually has a plot. You see, you’re a dedicated Pokémon card collector. Upon hearing about the ultra-rare legendary cards, you decide to start actually playing the game so you can claim them for yourself. So naturally, your first stop is Dr. Mason, the… Pokémon Card Researcher.
Yes, apparently within this world, “Pokémon Card Researcher” is an actual thing. See, now I feel like I picked the wrong college major. Anyway, he gives you a practice deck, and you’re put in a battle against one of his scientists.
You’re given no real freedom in this battle, as it’s only there to teach you how to play. Unfortunately, it’s unskippable, which is a real pain in the ass because I do indeed remember how to play. This is a problem lots of games still have to this day: mandatory tutorials. For example, pretty much every Pokémon game forces you to learn how to catch a Pokémon, and most of the Kingdom Hearts games force you to re-learn EVERY ASPECT OF THE DAMN GAME. Ugh. Moving on…
I’ll give a basic crash course for those of you who don’t know much about the TCG. There’s three card types: Pokémon, Trainer, and Energy. Pokémon is self explanatory. Trainer cards have various effects, from healing damage to drawing more cards. Energy enables your Pokémon to use attacks. To start with, you need to place one un-evolved Pokémon as your active card, and you can put up to five others on your bench.
You can only attach one energy card per turn. If your Pokémon has the necessary energy, you can perform an attack to damage your enemy’s Pokémon. Attacking ends your turn, so it’s important to save it for last.
You can also evolve your Pokemon, if you have the evolution in your hand. This, of course, makes them more powerful, while also increasing their HP.
Some attacks and trainer cards require you to flip a coin, represented by this adorable Pikachu head.
And if you defeat your enemy’s Pokémon, you get to pick a prize card. The number varies, from two to six, but if a player gets all of the prize cards, they win the game. You can also win if your opponent has no more Pokémon available.
After that’s over, you get to pick your starter deck. I picked the Charmander one, because hey, Charizard. Finally, I’m able to actually play the damn game.
This is the map screen. There’s 8 different “clubs”, much like the 8 Pokémon Gyms in the main games. Unlike those, however, you can go to these in any order you choose.
You also have a rival, named Ronald. Ronald, of course, is an asshole. He leaves without battling the first time you encounter him, but you can bet your ass he’ll be back.
Basically, you go around, challenging people to battles. Some are easy, but some can be quite difficult, especially with your starter deck. Of course, as is the nature of a TCG, luck plays a big part too. So if you lose, it can be helpful to just try again: you might draw better cards next time.
Upon defeating an opponent you receive booster packs, containing 10 cards each. Nifty. This is how you go about getting new cards in this game… though certain events also give you cards, you’re mainly going to be battling enemies for booster packs. Once you’ve got some good cards, you can start building your own deck.
You’re given 4 deck slots, and it’s handy to have different decks for different situations. For example, if you’re going up against the Water club, having a Fire-based deck would naturally be a bad idea.
A typical beginner mistake with deck building is to just throw all different types of Pokémon in there. This is a very bad idea, as you will have a hard time drawing the right type of energy for your Pokémon. It’s best to focus on two types, like Fire/Grass or Water/Psychic, with some Normal-type Pokémon thrown in as well.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
That’s almost all there is to discuss about the game, really. Your goal is to defeat all of the Club Masters, and then go to the Pokémon Dome to battle the Grand Masters. There is one more thing I’d like to bring up, though.
Randomly, you’ll find this creepy little bastard lurking in the club lounges. Who is he? Well…
Allow me to explain. Imakuni is a singer and spokesman of sorts for Pokémon in Japan. He wears a bizarre leotard-like costume which has varied over the years, this being his “classic” appearance. Despite being a pretty big part of the Pokémon franchise in Japan, he was completely unknown in the US… so his inclusion here just perplexed us at the time. Heck, even knowing who he is doesn’t make things any less creepy. HE IS A SPANDEX-WEARING MAN HIDING IN THE CORNER.
“Strange Life-Form” is a pretty accurate description. Imakuni is remarkably easy, possibly the easiest battle in the game. Why? Well, part of that is due to his unique card:
Imakuni has a card that confuses his own Pokémon. That’s all it does. Really. There is no benefit to it. So Imakuni basically kicks his own ass until you put him out of his misery. He also apparently likes to go around asking children if he’s cute. That’s…. that’s special, alright.
Still, he’s worth tracking down… upon beating him, he gives you four booster packs before running off. You’ll be able to find him again, so battle him whenever you get the chance. Also, after defeating him, he gives you his Imakuni card. Thanks? It’s kind of like winning a nickle in the lottery.
So that’s the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Since then, the TCG has evolved and is still played to this day. To people who play it now, the game must seem pretty outdated. But I stopped playing the TCG shortly after the Gold/Silver expansion, so this game recreates the TCG as I best remember it. If you have fond memories of going to Toys ‘R Us and competing in tournaments, I recommend giving this game a try. It’s a little slice of early Pokémania that just can’t be replicated today.