Title: Pokemon Trading Card Game
Publisher: Nintendo
Features: Game Boy, Game Boy  Color. Battery back up. Link Cable, Infrared port, GB Printer support. 
Format: RPG/Card Battle
Reviewer: Heiss

Inside Dr. Mason's Lab

Travelling on the World Map

The Psychic Club entrance

That's a lot of columns

The card battle begins

Lapras attacks Arcanine

The Water Club pool

Is this a Dance Club?

The special Challenge Cup

Wow--a Surfing Pikachu!

Ishihara wants to trade

Imakuni? does his dance

The moment you've waited for

A strange chamber

A prize worth winning

Mark and his rival Ronald

The 8 Club Masters

The bonus Meowth holo

A sample printout of 2 cards


December 1998: the Pokemon Trading Card Game (TCG) for Game Boy was launched in Japan, but hardly anyone noticed this in the Western world as the Pokemon Red/Blue games were currently gaining in popularity, and the actual card game had yet to be released.

Fast-forward a couple of months in 1999: Wizards of the Coast acquired the rights to distribute Media Factory's card game in the USA and all hell breaks loose. Decks and boosters were in very short supply, pushing the prices up to unbelievable heights.

As the year progressed, and Pokemon transformed from a game into a cultural phenomenon, news involving the cards tainted Pokemon's reputation a bit, as the media feasted on news about kids stealing and committing all sorts of crimes just to get the cards. In short, the card game was a huge hit. April 2000: Nintendo of America releases the English version of the Pokemon TCG for Game Boy. So is it better than the actual card game?


You play Mark, a bandanna-clad Pokemon Trading Card collector who one day overhears a rumor about the Legendary Pokemon Cards, rare cards held by the 4 greatest card players--the Grand Masters. Whoever defeats the Grand Masters will inherit the Legendary Cards, and this motivates you enough to ask help from Dr. Mason, the Pokemon TCG researcher.

Dr. Mason then advises you that learning the TCG isn't enough, it must be mastered as well, and you agree. He then gives you a sample deck and asks his assistant Sam to play a tutorial game with you. Once the tutorial is over, he gives you a preconstructed deck, and off you go on your quest. Unfortunately, your rival Ronald has the same idea...

Card Game Basics

Your objective is to move from Club to Club, battling players and earning enough cards and experience to challenge the Grand Masters. It's a long process though--you must battle various Club members first in order to battle the 8 Club Masters, and defeating a Club Master will earn you a Master Medal.

This might seem familiar to all Pokemon players out there, as the Medals are similar to the Badges that you earn when you defeat a Gym Leader in the Pokemon RPG. The Clubs are slightly different from the Gyms--there's Fire, Water, Grass, Lightning, Fighting, Rock, Science, and Psychic.

Getting all 8 Master Medals will enable you to challenge the Grand Masters, unless of course, you're thwarted by Ronald, who seems equally determined to get his hands on those Legendary Cards.

To battle other card players, you'll need a deck of 60 cards; Dr. Mason will give you one before you set off. There are three types of cards in the TCG: Pokemon cards, Trainer Cards, and Energy cards.

As the match starts both players shuffle their decks and draw 7 cards. Each player chooses a Basic Pokemon card as their "Active" Pokemon and places other Basic Pokemon, if any, on their "bench". Then both players set aside several cards as their "Prizes" (the number of Prizes varies for each match), and a coin is flipped to determine who goes first.

Players draw one card from the deck at the start of each turn, and they may attack, evolve their Pokemon, or use Trainer cards during their turn. Unlike the Pokemon RPG, Pokemon in the TCG can only attack by attaching the right number of Energy cards as specified on their card. Evolving a Pokemon requires that you have the next evolution stage card in your hand, while Trainer cards offer all sorts of assistance and special abilities, from healing your Pokemon to removing your opponent's Energy.

Depending on the kind of attack and type of Pokemon, attacked Pokemon not only receive damage but can either be Paralyzed, Poisoned, Confused, or fall Asleep. Other rules like Weakness, Resistance, and special Pokemon Power are also put into play during the match, and these are always mentioned on the cards.

As the battle progresses, damage counters appear to indicate the points subtracted from a Pokemon's hit points as they are attacked, and once their HP is reduced to zero, they are knocked-out, and their cards are placed on the "Discard" pile. The player who makes a successful knock out then draws a Prize card. In general, the winner is the player who draws all their Prize cards.

Winning a match will give you 2 free booster packs--each booster contains 10 cards, with a rare card in each pack. The type of booster pack varies with each opponent, and you'll continue to get similar cards by battling the same opponent.

Making Your Own Deck

The TCG contains data for more than 200 actual cards from the Base Set, Jungle and Fossil expansion sets, plus several rare Japanese promos, as well as special cards that only exist in the GB version. As you gain more cards with each victory, it's necessary to keep improving your deck and creating new ones to counter specific opponents.

Lots of features are available that lets you customize your decks, like modifying, dismantling, saving and naming your new deck configurations. You can carry 4 decks at a time, and more of your creations can be saved in the Deck Save Machine located at Dr. Mason's Lab.

Also In Dr. Mason's Lab are 8 Auto Deck Machines, which can only be activated by inserting the appropriate Master Medals. These machines can build you 5 types of preconstructed decks, provided you have the necessary cards in hand. While this might be helpful to others, I still prefer to build my own deck, but as always the choice is yours.

Other Game Features

What good is a GB version of the Pokemon TCG if you can't play with other human players? The game provides a Link Battle mode for that purpose where you can hook up 2 Game Boys with the Game Link cable; just proceed to any Club lounge and speak with the receptionist to activate this feature.

The TCG makes good use of the infrared port on the Game Boy Color to trade cards or deck designs with other players--no Link Cable needed. There's also a unique Card Pop! feature that makes both players receive a new card; no trading is involved, but this feature only works once for each Game Boy Color so you'll have to find other players to Card Pop! with in order to get lots of different cards.

A PC in Dr. Mason's Lab and in each of the Club lounges will let you read e-mail that Dr. Mason sends you occasionally; always read these, as they don't only contain valuable tips but there's usually booster packs attached. The PC also provides you with a Card Album that records every card you've received at least once, and there's also a handy glossary with all the TCG-related terms.

If you have a Game Boy Printer, you can print your cards, deck designs, and your entire card list. The print quality leaves much to be desired, and you'll need an extra-powerful magnifying glass to read the tiny printed letters, but hey, it works.

From time to time special matches will be held at the Challenge Hall, with rare cards as the prizes, so it's a good idea to visit this place often. In one of the houses there's a card collector named Ishihara (probably named after Tsunekazu Ishihara, one of the game's producers) who offers rare cards for trading, if you have the cards that he needs. And lurking in random Club lounges is Imakuni?, a strange mouse-costumed man who's actually the one who sings and dances the PokeRap in Japan. Beat him in a battle and you get to win 4 booster packs!

As a special bonus for card collectors, a Lv. 13 Meowth holofoil promo card is included in the game--this unique card is only available with the purchase of the game, and can't be found in booster packs or through ordinary retail. Hmm...I really wanted an Imakuni? card, but maybe next time.

Controls, Graphics, Sound

On the World Map, move by pressing the direction pad and button B to dash; button A lets you talk to people or check bookcases for useful information. During card battles, pressing Select lets you view the play area, Start lets you see your Active Pokemon's card in detail, the direction pad lets you move the cursor to make selections, A confirms your selections and B cancels it.

While all the rules might seem overwhelming at first, the excellent tutorial game at the beginning makes the controls and menu screens become intuitive later on that using them becomes second nature as you master the game.

Graphics are colorful on the world map but disappointingly become muted and almost monochromatic on the character and card screens. There's simple but adequate animation during battles, and the developers have done a good job in translating the actual card illustrations by Ken Sugimori and others to the Game Boy version.

If I have one complaint about this game, it's the font they used for the text--a teensy-weensy, narrow typeface that will make those with poor eyesight go blind if they try to read it. This is probably understandable considering the enormous amount of text data crammed into this game, but still... It's also quite jarring to see your name in a much wider and different font than the typical text used; maybe they wanted your name to stand out but whatever the reason it doesn't look good.

Sound is very good, and the all-new music by Ichiro Shimakura is delightful, ranging from jazzy battle tunes to relaxing melodies, all done with a whimsical flair (my favorite is the wonderful ending credits theme--don't miss this one!). Overall, the music sounds fuller and richer than the bland beep-like tones of the Pokemon RPG.

Other Comments

The developers of the Pokemon TCG for the Game Boy, Hudson Soft, have done an excellent job in translating the card game to a handheld game format, integrating the numerous card battles within a simple RPG-like storyline. The English translators should also be commended for surprisingly retaining minute Japanese touches that make the game unique, like the rare promos, Ishihara's name, and the appearance of Imakuni?, who I think has gained many non-Japanese fans as a result.

The seeming intricacies and rules of the TCG can be subject to debates among players in a real card game, but everything is automatic in the GB version, no need for checking the rulebook yet another time. There's also no need for hauling off your bulky card collection wherever you go, no fear of them being stolen or lost, and you can play either with computer opponents or stage matches with real people via link cable; no mess, no fuss--everything's here in one cartridge.

There's lots of replay value here; the game doesn't really end even after you've achieved your main goal, and you can try to get all the cards. More importantly, the Pokemon TCG succeeds on several levels: drawing non-card players into playing the real card game, and drawing card players into the Game Boy market, while at the same time subconsciously letting players master the game rules effortlessly.

I'm not really a card game player myself, but playing the GB version has renewed my interest in the actual TCG. Now, if only they'd make future updates to include the newer expansion sets like Team Rocket, Gym Leaders, and Neo boosters...

[ Back To Game Reviews ]

Home & Email Menu