The Nintendo Resolution: Pokemon Trading Card Game

pokemon trading
Console: Game Boy Color (via Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console)
Start Date: March 15, 2015
End Date: March 30, 2015

I have close to zero experience with Pokemon, whether it be the physical card game or the video game series.  The entirety of my experience with the franchise is as follows:

-Owning the original Pokemon Blue for the Game Boy when I was a kid, and playing it for maybe an hour cumulatively
-Playing a handful of spin-off games – most of them of the “Match 3” puzzle variety, but most notably the excellent Pokemon Snap, which I really wish they’d make a sequel to
-Getting really high with my friend Lloyd when we were in college, and going to see the first movie, only to find that we were the only two people in the theater
Super Smash Bros.

So yeah, I’ve never been particularly into Pokemon.  I am, however, way into deck-building card games – my favorites include Thunderstone, Dominion and (of course) the DC Comics Deck-Building Game.  But I’ve never really played the collectible games of this nature, such as Pokemon or Magic the Gathering – not because I don’t think I’d like them, but just because of the collectible aspect.  I prefer to just buy a box and have everything I need for a game, rather than having to spend a zillion dollars and hours buying packs and constructing decks.  Luckily for me, a video game translation of the Pokemon Trading Card Game was developed for the Game Boy Color way back in 1998, and since it’s available for the 3DS Virtual Console, I decided to give it a try.

One concern I had prior to playing was how poorly the game’s controls and user interface might have aged.  I play a lot of card games on my ipad, and have gotten really accustomed to that type of user-friendly touch-based interface.  I was afraid that a Gameboy Color game of this genre would have a painfully archaic UI.  Mostly I envisioned lots and lots of menus, which I would have to slowly shift through one D-Pad press at a time.  And, well, that’s not entirely inaccurate, but overall I applaud this game for offering a fairly intuitive and simple system that I was able to use pretty efficiently after a brief getting-used-to-it period.

The game is structured sort of like an RPG – from a top-down perspective, you guide your little character around various locations, talking to non-player characters and challenging people to card game matches.  The world is pretty small but absolutely adorable, and the whole thing reminds me a lot of the portable Mario Golf games that Camelot makes.

Pokemon Trading map

At the beginning, the game offers you one of three pre-made decks to start off with (I chose “Bulbasaur & Friends”), but from then on you must accumulate cards on your own by winning them in matches.  For people like myself who are unfamiliar with the trading card game, there isn’t a whole lot in the way of intuitive tutorials, but it’s easy enough to figure out.  Where I really hit a snag was the game’s expectation that you already understand the relationship between the different “types” of Pokemon.  I did not.  I mean, some of them are just common sense (fire is weak to water), but I had to eventually figure most of them out through blind experimentation, which took way longer for my stupid brain to do than I’m comfortable admitting.

The game’s learning curve is also kind of weird.  My lack of knowledge made me feel really nervous about attempting to construct my own specialty decks, so I just held on to my beginning “Bulbasaur & Friends” deck for as long as I possibly could.  Unbelievably, I managed to win 6 out of the game’s 8 medals this way!  This was a mixed blessing because at that point, the game suddenly becomes completely impossible to play by this method, and you are forced to reevaluate your strategy.  I wish the difficulty had ramped up in a more incremental way, easing players (especially n00b players) more gradually into the skills that will be expected of them later on.  As it stood, when I suddenly had no choice but to put together my own decks, I was a little lost babe in the woods.  I ended up doing a lot of googling for powerful deck configurations, and then doing my best to approximate them using the cards in my collection.  I also must confess that I made liberal use of the Virtual Console’s “save state” feature, usually creating a save-state safety net before every important match in the campaign.  Because of this, I technically didn’t lose one single match during my playthrough.  Even though I actually lost, like, dozens.

Using these methods, and lots of trial-and-error, I eventually triumphed!

Pokemon Trading Ending

My official stats declare that I only spent 13 hours and 22 minutes playing this game…

Pokemon Trading Profile

…but because of all my save state shenanigans, it was actually significantly longer.  Frankly, for this 15-day period, I became pretty obsessed with the game, playing it everywhere and anywhere.  Here’s a particularly embarrassing example: my friend Chris had a birthday party at a bar on March 27th.  I was playing the game during my subway ride to the bar, and as I reached my stop, I was still deeply involved in the battle for the game’s 8th and final Master Medal.  So… I ended up sitting in a Dunkin Donuts across the street from the bar for another half hour just so I could finish the match.  Not my finest moment.  Sorry, Chris!

So yeah, this game is fun as fuck, and I recommend it to any card game enthusiast who has the patience to tackle a somewhat outdated interface in order to get their deck-building fix.  The experience made me really curious about finally giving the real card game a try, so if anyone has any advice on methods by which I can do so without sacrificing all my time and money, please share!


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