What I believe to be a hidden gem for the Gameboy Color system, overlooked by the regular Pokémon rpg games of the time, Pokémon Trading Card Game was a great game encouraging strategic thought development using Pokémon cards I didn’t have to pay for.
During a summer break as a kid of which I can’t remember the year, I was fortunate enough after months of checking the local newspaper to find a cheap second hand gameboy colour with a bundle of games that my Dad couldn’t argue against getting. So after an excited tense car ride, I was finally the owner of my first hand held. I can’t remember what exactly came in the pile of games apart from Pokémon Blue, Pokémon Trading Card Game and a knock off Pokémon Crystal that referred to Ratata as Shitbag (much to the amusement of a 10 year old).
At this point, I’d been a fan of the actual Pokémon Trading Card in real life, but never had the money to buy any new cards, instead receiving free cards from my cousins they had to spare. So my collection was meagre and interest waned having to play with the same 36 cards. What a surprise when I decided to try out the Trading Card Gameboy game to find that I could own all the cards for free in virtual space. No pay to win model here.
The game starts you off in Dr. Mason’s laboratory, as he gives you your first 60 card starter deck to play with. You receive basic training from his associates, and then your on your own, competing against players in the 8 themed clubs on the island. Outside of card battles, the game plays similar to the Pokémon RPG, with small 8 bit characters that can be interacted with. Progress at first is slow, as you steadily build your deck by defeating players, who reward you with either 1 or 2 booster decks. The more cards you have available, the more diverse your deck and strategy will become. Your aim is to beat the Grand Masters to obtain the legendary cards and to collect every single card available.
As you customise your deck of cards to tackle hard opponents, this is where you learn the strategies of building strong decks with powerful combos, that target elemental weaknesses and offer high defenses, many times these factors determining moments that turn the tide of battle. By watching the hands that your many opponents play in the game, you take on information of tactics and card abilities you’ll use in future fights.
This game focuses on the first 151 Pokémon for those of us who were a part of this era. So there’s no need of worrying that you’ll have to learn of 600 different Pokémon cards and their stats, though it does help to learn what each card does to counter any plans your AI opponent may be building towards. The game makes great use of the gameboy’s limited range of buttons, with A, B used perfectly fine as confirm/cancel with the game’s well laid out user interface.
These reason this game is a gem on the gameboy system is for its art style and music. The pixel art of the cards is beautiful, the artists somehow managing to digitally capture the image of the real cards and transfer them over to the gameboy screen. I’ve not seen artwork like this in any other gameboy game. Second, the music is very atmospheric and is great for setting the mood. Whilst exploring, it offers a nice melodic soundtrack, in battle, it gets the heart rate rising. Easily just as memorable as the original rpg versions of Pokemon.
There were options in the game to be able to play against real life opponents via a game link cable, but ofcourse those days are now long gone. I’m sure it would have been interesting to play against a real human opponent rather than the 100 AI opponents in the game, who do still put up a tough challenge.
When I originally played this game, I managed to defeat the Grand Masters but was 2 cards from having a full collection. After many years of replaying this game (I don’t even replay the original Pokemon games which I loved), I finally manage to fully complete this game on a copy on my 3DS. Time well spent, and to my delight, I found that there was also a sequel! Having been only released in Japan, there was a fan translation of the second game on the Internet which I am currently playing through on my RetroPie. The exact same charm has been captured and even expanded upon, with the only downside that the new cards don’t look anywhere as good as the cards from the first game.
There’s also a modern online version of the card game which I play on my tablet. It does use newer Pokémon, and there is detailed training for those new to the game, but it’s just a shame that they’ve never released a Pokemon card game since on any other handhelds. The campaign of these games alone is fun enough to complete. Though other card games exist like Yu-Gi-Oh and Hearthstone, the setting for these games doesn’t entice me to learn a whole new card game. PTGC on the other hand is set in a world of Pokemon, which I’ve always been a fan of and can take knowledge from the main series and apply it to the card game.
In an age where we now play 4K 50 gigabyte VR games, a simple 4mb game from 18 years ago still stands against the test of time, offering a fun experience today and for many years to come. Pokémon Trading Card Game has become one of my favourite games ever and I will always have fond memories of playing it in my den in the loft during a quiet, hazy summer break.