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)