Trade THIS!


    It may have started life as a Game Boy cartridge and found wide popularity as a cartoon, but what truly launched Pokémon as a mass-media phenomenon was the "trading card game." The game was both a creative and a commercial bonanza - it allowed Pokéfans to design their own decks and search for rare cards, and children that could only own a scant few Game Boy cartridges could beg their parents for new cards every time they went to the store. Soon enough, the success of the card game warranted a Game Boy version, bringing the concept full circle and its popularity to yet another level. While sales have remained steadily high, don't mistake Pokémon Trading Card for a mere marketing ploy; the game is a solidly constructed and entertaining alternative to trying to collect and play with actual cards.

    As a college-age Pokémon fan, I dabbled in collecting the cards for a short time. After a great number of uneventful boosters, I managed to find a pair of holographic Charizard cards in consecutive packs, but even good luck couldn't make up for the large amounts of time and money that a card game requires to play. It was also difficult to find other Pokémon fans of a similar age, and while they are certainly out there, we are all equally discouraged by the thought of climbing over 12 year-old kids in order to play.

Yes, Mew is in the game

    Luckily, Pokémon Trading Card Game's (TCG's) incarnation on the Game Boy solves all those problems and more. After a mandatory tutorial battle, the new Generic Teenage Collector is off on his quest to become the greatest Pokémon card collector in the world. If it sounds familiar, that's because it is a search/replace version of the original Pokémon's plot. Anyone who plays Pokémon for the gripping story will be disappointed, but the rest of us will enjoy the expansive version of the card game offered within.

    For those uninitiated in the world of Pokémon, the game steadily eases you into the concepts involved. Like the original game, the trainers each have a Pokémon fighting each other with up to five more in reserve on the bench. In the TCG, however, Pokémon need energy cards to attack, with the player only allowed to attach one such card per turn to any of their Pokémon. This draws out the strategy by making players build up to their strongest attacks, and by allowing for a wide range of different attack effects and costs. Pokémon now belong to come any of six basic types (Water/Fire/Lightning/Grass/Fighting/Psychic) or the generic "colorless" type. When you combine the strengths and weaknesses of a Pokémon's type, the strategy of providing them with energy to attack, and the different types and elements of those attacks, it all makes for the kind of easy-to-learn/hard-to-master experience that strategy-minded gamers crave.

This is a robbery... give me the Charizard and no one gets hurt.
Virtual shopping - MUCH cheaper

    Even though this is a review for a trading card game, the graphics do deserve a brief mention. Pokémon TCG does a markedly better job with the color graphics than any version of the original game, and all the little super-deformed people look generally the same as they did in the RPG. Most importantly, the interface is about as good a two-button translation of a card game as can be expected. After a scant few battles, sifting through your options and playing the right card will be second nature.

    The popularity of a something like Pokémon is a double-edged sword; accepted fans will buy almost anything, but attracting new fans is seemingly impossible when everyone in the market has already passed their judgment. Pokémon TCG may seem like a simple cash cow, but it does a very good job of bringing you all the complexities of the game while sparing you the burdensome nature of collecting actual cards. In fact, it just may be time for Charizard to hit eBay.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA
Pokémon Trading Card
Developer Game Freak
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Card Battle RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform Game Boy Color
Release Date  12.18.98
Pokemon Card U.S.-bound
18 screen shots
World map / 11 character portraits / Hero and rival
North American box art