Despite being at the perfect age when Pokémon fever pitch hit in 1999 and having since spent more combined hours in the Poké-lands of Kanto, Johto, Sinnoh, Unova and Kalos than I’d care to recall, adapting the Trading Card Game into a videogame always seemed like a bizarre choice to me. This is arguably true now more than ever, with the actual card game, created and designed by Wizards of the Coast, maintaining more of a cult following with specialist tournaments superseding the usual ‘got-got-need’ world of collectable cards.
This Virtual Console re-release of the 2000 Game Boy Colour original has over 200 cards to collect with designs taken from the first three sets of cards that hit stores in the west. Developed by Hudson Soft, this digital recreation of the tabletop card game borrows the overarching structure of the main RPG series as you’re tasked with conquering the eight leaders before tackling the trading card game masters. Beating any of the numerous challengers rewards you with booster packs, used to build the 60 card decks necessary to outwit the opposition.
With energy, evolution and item cards thrown into the mix, the intricately strategic gameplay converts surprisingly well to the pick-up-and-play style of handheld gaming. Throwing out a risky Professor Oak shuffle card and finding that Blastoise evolution you were praying for is still satisfying 14 years later. Despite a colour palette that is limited for a Game Boy Colour game, the character and card sprites are a nostalgic treat with enough animation to counteract the reams of informative text.
Unfortunately, in spite of machines that can automatically create serviceable decks, the level of micro-management required to create a truly formidable hand may be too much for some. Equally, the game’s solution of re-fighting the same characters ad nauseum to gather better cards does little to break down the frustration factor of random card selection that can often leave you with zero chance of victory.
With link cables obsolete and no option for online battling the game’s spartan world of AI combatants strangely feels more like an artefact today than it did when it was released on a cartridge. While fond memories and a solid foundation make Pokémon Trading Card Game a pleasant, addictive diversion, it’s difficult to shake the idea that it would be better suited to a full-fledged remake with a sparkly new deck rather than a direct port with a few frayed edges.Reuse content