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April 2022: Pokemon Trading Card Game (2000)

New month, new game! 

We’re playing Pokemon

Haha, April Fool’s, right? NO! This month we’re playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game for Game Boy! Here’s Yokoi Kids’ own Johnny Ketchum to tell us why:

“When I was a young Johnson Ketchum I loved Pokémon. I loved it so much I consumed every medium I could. So what I’m saying is I was a regular-ass grade school child with an obsession. I was walking around K-Mart with my mom and immediately ran to the electronics section to look at vidiya gamez, and there it was. A new Pokémon game?! Indeed it was, a Game Boy game based on the hit trading card game Pokémon. So yeah, I’m choosing this because I remember really enjoying this game, and it’s been a while since I’ve actually sat with a Game Boy game.”

I didn’t play this one as a kid, but got really into it in my mid-twenties. It’s a great snapshot of the card game in it’s earliest form and you can have all the fun without emptying your bank account on booster packs! I really hope people take the time to get into this one this month and enjoy it. The best part is, this cartridge seems pretty unphased by all the skyrocketing prices and only just recently crept up to twenty bucks. This means with a little hunting most should still be able to get this for around $15, our first affordable cart in a while. It’s also available on the eShop, so if you want it that way get it quick!–IF

Fortified Zone: Hope You Like Backtracking–Pete P.

I admittedly had never heard of Fortified Zone prior to its selection as this month’s game. I was excited at first because I have played very few games from Jaleco, most of those being on Nintendo Switch Online. They were fine. So, I expected another game that was fine. And it was fine.

First, let me talk about some of the game mechanics that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the RPG elements to the game, such as powering up the soldiers and being able to switch between them and that they weren’t just palette swaps but had distinct characteristics. I liked that there was a map system and puzzles, though the puzzles tended to be on the simpler side, especially after you’ve done a few of them. I also like that the game is short. Game Boy was portable and if there isn’t a password or save system then the games need to be short. I also liked the secondary weapons, though I found it hard to find them as the game progressed into the later stages.

What I did not like about the game, sadly, was the gameplay itself. First, and most importantly, there’s so much backtracking. A lot of times you’ll find yourself in a room that can go two different directions. And you can go several more rooms before finding out that you actually had to go the other direction first to get a key before moving in the direction that you had chosen. So you schlep all the way back, go the other way, get the key, and go back to where you originally were, with enemies respawning in every room each time you enter it.

The combat itself, while run and gun, is actually more like gun and run. Too often you’ll find yourself shooting into an open space and then trying to get enemies to move into the path of your shot because you will get hit if you stand in front of them to shoot. It reminded me a lot of fighting the Goriyas in Link To the Past. You know, these guys:

Each time I popped this on (via emulator) I found myself turning it off after a few minutes to play something else. Overall, for the time, it was fine, but it is otherwise not too memorable of a game. I’m glad I played it but I don’t think I’ll ever be revisiting this one. C- –Pete (@dmachetto on Twitter)

May 2022: Fortified Zone (1991)

Hello and howdy from Joshua Tree, California. I’m out here celebrating Walpurgisnacht with the pals in the dry heat. We’ve cooked up food and made a bunch of drinks, but first I need to tell you all about the May game! This month we’re doing Fortified Zone. We picked this one by committee since we haven’t had any new member submissions in a while. If you’re out there, tell a friend!

Anywhooo, This is a real neat little game that combines overhead dungeon exploring in the vein of Zelda with a top down shooter like Commando or the overhead portions of Blaster Master games. You can even swap between two playable characters that have different skills; One has a jump that can be used to avoid things like spikes and pits, the other has all the special weapons, but cannot jump. I liked this game when I first played it, but only played through the first dungeon. I’m personally excited to give it another go! This should be one that isn’t too expensive, so grab the cart, emulate, do what you got to do and join us this month!

PS – It’s May Day. Support some strike funds or buy that Jorts the Cat zine, won’t you?

-IF  

Probably More Fun With Friends–Pete

I grew up playing the Pokémon games. I still have my Red/Blue carts with my original save games on them. I’ve played and beaten at least one game (and usually more) from every main-story Pokémon generation except for generations 6 and 8. I watched the Pokémon anime series through the first film. Despite all of this, I never purchased a single pack of cards for the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Perhaps it was because I was jaded by my experience with Magic: The Gathering, perhaps it was because I didn’t have any friends that played it, or perhaps it was because I would have rather spent my money on beer than booster packs for cards. In any event, I never got into the TCG.

Fast-forward 24 years. My kids LOVE the cards. We have binders and shoeboxes full of them. They ask for GX and VMax sets for birthdays and Christmas. Whenever we go to the local comic book store, they ask us to buy a booster pack to go along with their Dog Man, Teen Titans Go, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. My youngest doesn’t even understand much about them but he damn sure knows who Pikachu is.

That all being said, they don’t actually play the TCG. They make up other games to play with the cards (Pokémon Uno is the best of a mediocre bunch) but by and large they just like the cards with the big HPs and damage numbers or cool artwork/rarity. They got a card in a booster pack once that I immediately could tell by looking at it must have been valuable and a quick search showed it was worth $15. I begged them to take good care of it and put it in a hard case. That card was still ruined two weeks later.

I’ve been quietly following Yokoi Kids for a couple of months now and when this month’s game was Pokémon Trading Card Game, I initially considered passing on it but then decided to fire it up. Not owning the game, I emulated it. I initially started it as monochrome to keep in the Yokoi Kids spirit but decided since this was technically a GBC release to play it in color and was rewarded with a much more visually enjoyable experience. The intro and mandatory training took forever, but they were important because the game is a little complicated in its rules. Being forced to sit through this helped me learn the game I never had the patience to sit and learn on my own. Finally, I understood the way this game worked and I was on my way.

The story mode is designed so that there are eight “fighting clubs” similar to the eight gyms you would encounter in a main-story game, with a competition against four “grand masters” similar to the Elite Four you would encounter in a main-story game. It also has a rival who is always just a step ahead of you, just like you would in the main-story games.

The problem with the story mode is that it is just too easy. Because every player you duel against (not counting your rival) has a deck of a very specific type, you can always modify your deck to counter that type before you play against them. As you progress in the game and start getting better cards, this advantage becomes even larger. Exeggutor, in particular, is an absolute powerhouse as long as you aren’t playing against someone with fire. The Big Eggsplosion attack does up to 160 damage depending on energies attached to it (double-colorless FTW) and your luck flipping coins.

With the exception of the Legendary Articuno Grand Master, I plowed through the game using a deck featuring Exeggutor, Kadabra (Super Psy) Kangaskhan (fetch/comet punch), and Dragonair (hyper beam). But since you can edit your deck before each grand master, a quick switch to an electric deck made quick work of the Articuno Grand Master. Just like that, the game was over. I’d say what my actual playing time was but it’s not accurate since I have a bad habit of leaving the game on and walking away. Even with that, the game said it was just a shade over 10 hours. I’d guess it was closer to 6.

So, to sum up, It was a fun tutorial on how to play the actual card game. Knowing which decks your opponents are using and being allowed to edit yours beforehand makes the story mode a bit easy, but still enjoyable. I’d give the single-player version a B-. If you are grind-hungry you can grind out the full amount of cards available to you without multiplayer.

And that’s where the true fun of this game probably lies. In addition to special “card pop” cards, you can only get through trading with others, playing against other people who can have decks that you do not know before you play would probably be a lot of fun. And having it on a pre-set universe of cards as opposed to rewarding those who spend more money does quite a bit to level the playing field. Unfortunately, this being 2022 and not 2000, I don’t think I’ll have much success finding someone to play against. But I can imagine that if you had a few friends with this game, it was probably a lot of fun setting up decks to play against each other.
–Pete (@dmachetto on Twitter)

Muddy Mishap – Shayne Warden

My daughter was wrestling with her brother today which promptly got me worried someone was going to get hurt; they groaned at me for breaking it up. That’s when I decided to draw this picture of Muddy and one of his kids being reckless. My daughter thought it was cute, I thought, “Can’t you see this is what it feels like to be a parent!?” -_-

Hopefully I never have to save my kids from an irate farmer. The dairy farmer down the road mean-mugs us whenever we go for a walk though...
Twitter @JazzyJazzerton

Mole Mania – Shayne Warden

I only discovered Mole Mania last autumn while watching a video that was showing in-game footage of various titles. It took a little sleuthing for me to find out what it was, but I was persistent; what I saw of this game reminded me of Adventures of Lolo (which I love) and had me wanting to know more.

Once I’d decided that I needed Mole Mania in my life, the hunt for a complete copy began which took quite some time. See, just as I had never known about this wonderful oddity from Nintendo and the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto, so too does it seem like it didn’t sell in any notable number that would make this hunt easy.

Months passed, but finally (unbeknownst to me), a complete copy turned up.

My wife worked out a deal on my behalf (I didn’t know she was also looking 🙂 and when it arrived, I started to play. Lo and behold, a couple of weeks later – and to my surprise – it became the game of the month for March here on Yokoi Kids!

So, what – in my estimation – makes this a special game filled with charm and the right amount of challenge? The total package really. The graphics are bright, the characters adorable, the puzzles clever (especially since the player has to consider both an upper and lower plane + objects + enemies), the boss fights interesting, and the auto saves via battery backup after every screen are all standout features. The little animations – upon rescuing Muddy’s children and wife – are cute and make for a great driving force to complete the game; the Mole family is too cute to be apart!

Aside from those triumphs, there are two niggling things I’d like to address:

1 – The soundtrack loops are far too short. As a world would ware on (especially the later stages that are larger with more complex puzzle screens), the songs would really start to get grating as they would repeat too quickly.

2 – Some of the late stage difficulty balance varies too wildly: From one room to the next, a puzzle can go from total head scratcher to 15-seconds-and-done. Don’t get me wrong, a nice softball of a puzzle makes for a good breather after a string of really tough ones, but it did strike me as the devs possibly running out of puzzle ideas?

Regardless, the game has been an absolute treat to play, and making it to the end was a blast!

My man, Muddy, having a well-deserved hot chocolate after a hard fought journey to rescue the family; I celebrated with a Coke Zero”

So, is this really the end for Mole Mania? Unfortunately, it seems that way for now. I can only hope that – someday, somehow – someone in one of the R&D groups remembers they have this in the catalogue and says, “Let’s revisit this!”

I can only hope.–Shayne Warden

Hopefully I never have to save my kids from an irate farmer. The dairy farmer down the road mean-mugs us whenever we go for a walk though...
Twitter @JazzyJazzerton

Mole Mania: A Game That NEEDS A Sequel –D’Arcy Briggs

Mole Mania was released in 1996-97 and developed by Nintendo A&D. In this addictive character-puzzler, players take on the role of Muddy the Mole. Your wife and children have been kidnapped by the farmer. On your way to defeat the farmer and save your family, Muddy must puzzle his way through boulders, obstacles, and various enemies. 

The real fun from Mole Mania comes from this perfect mix of gameplay and presentation. First off, the game’s mechanics are super unique. As a mole, you can travel above and below ground. This means each level requires you to think, literally, on two levels. Enemy in the way? Go underground! Underground blocked off from exit? Head on up! There’s a really addictive feedback loop for this one. No one level is ever too difficult to figure out and it feels like a comfortable ramp-up in difficulty.

This pairs immensely well with the graphics and overall presentation. Sprites, environments, and music all blend together to make something that fits the Gameboy perfectly, but also still feels so fresh that it could easily be released today as a retro-throwback game. And this really brings me to my biggest thought while replaying this game for the month: Mole Mania needs a remake / sequel! 

After running through the first level and soaking in the overall experience, I had the immense draw that this is a game that NEEDS to be made available elsewhere. I don’t just mean on something like the 3DS eshop, but the sort of game that would benefit so much from a new coat of paint and repackaged, or something that surely deserves to be included if Nintendo ever decides to include Gameboy on the Switch Online service. More so than most other games I’ve played for the old brick, Mole Mania hits as something of a formula that’s had a small comeback in recent years and would be amazing to see done in the style of the Link’s Awakening remake. From online level sharing to more bonuses and collectables and tunes, my mind wanders with the kind of game that could be.

And this is all to say that Mole Mania is a massive success in what it tries to accomplish. I haven’t completed it yet- the later levels are pretty tricky- but it really somes up that whole ‘just one more try,’ feeling that few puzzle games capture, and it does so in a package that is really endearing and engrossing. Mole Mania is a game that not only needs to be played by Game Boy fans, but Nintendo fans of any ilk.

D’Arcy is an program coordinator and gamer from BC, Canada. He’s been gaming his entire life and enjoys both new and retro games. His consoles of choice are Game Boy, PS3, and Switch.You can follow his gaming online @darcyska_gaming

March 2022: Mole Mania (1997)

My friends, it is March! What’s the saying? In like a lion, out like a lamb? As a kid growing up in Buffalo I always thought that was a bunch of hooey. We didn’t get any lambs until at least April, sometimes May! We’re changing all of that this year, though. March is for moles. In like a mole, out like a mole. Be a mole all month long with Josh Nickerson’s choicest of choices, Mole Mania! Here’s what our guy had to say:

“A late-era Game Boy release (1996, two years before the juggernaut known
as Pokemon would hit North America and revive the stagnant handheld
market), Mole Mania is a fun action puzzler that asks the question “What
if Lolo could dig?” It plays very similarly to HAL’s Adventure of Lolo
series, with the player taking the role of Muddy, a mole on a quest to
rescue his family from an evil farmer, having to rely on his wits to
avoid enemies and solve puzzles.

How does Muddy solve these puzzles? By digging, of course! As long as
he’s standing on soft earth, Muddy can dig underground. The screen swaps
to an underground view, which more often than not has its own layout and
hazards. The key to solving each screen is to figure out how best to
maneuver using both the above-ground and underground areas. There are
also gadgets such as weights and huge iron balls to toss at enemies as
well. The game presents it all with a cute visual style and a peppy
soundtrack.

Famously one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s least-known creations (famously
un-famous, you could say), one has to wonder if he thought of the idea
while tending the same garden he would dream up with Pikmin a few years
later. It’s too bad it never turned into a series, a DS entry would have
been a no brainer, with Muddy zipping between the two screens… sadly
that never came to be.

A side note: I had no idea how expensive the game had gotten over the
years! Fortunately, it’s available in the 3DS eShop for a mere three
bucks.
You won’t get the sweet Super Game Boy enhancements, but you can
use the suspend/resume feature for the game’s trickier bits. No matter
which way you play it, you’ll have a good time!”
———-
I once had two copies of Mole Mania, but I gave one to a person who ended up being a jerk. Even worse, I thought I had given them the one with the dead battery (they said they were happy to replace it), but it turned out I gave them the good copy! This gives me the swift kick in the cheeks I need to fix my copy and finally finish the dang game!
–IF