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Over in the Orange Islands, we like to take a break from the competitive scene to focus on the in-game side of things. Not only are we fans of the main series; most spin-offs have a strong following here, as well. For this reason, the OI Players have decided to get together each issue and look over some of our favorite past spin-offs, sharing our thoughts on the music, graphics, plot, and difficulty that shapes some of our favorite games.
So it's only right that we give the Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color a go, no?
Sad to say but I really don't care for the sound here all that much. It had lost of potential in my opinion but the sound for this game seems very choppy and clunky, and lacks the charm the original Red and Blue had. Disappointing, to say the least. That said, the theme against the gym leaders is excellent, a great mix of ominous leading into a nicely melodic tune for a climactic battle. Finally, the theme against the grand masters is truly excellent, its a shame that quality isn't found in the rest of the game.
I found most of the music to be a mixed bag, sometimes wonderful, sometimes downright grating. The overworld theme is your standard fare in-game tune from the era, simple but upbeat. Some of the gym themes repeated, which was a bit of a letdown. The sleepy Water Gym theme is pretty boring, and the Fighting Gym music somehow manages to be simultaneously menacing and dull. The cheerful theme for the Electric Gym is a definite plus, however. I oddly enjoyed the Pause Menu tune; it just gives this sudden sense of urgency that really makes you want to keep playing (convenient, as you often open the Pause menu to save and turn it off). The standout track has to be the Grass Gym's theme, though. Pleasant, catchy, and non-invasive, this little melody would've fit perfectly on a main series Pokemon game.
Unlike Jellicent and Texas, I think Pokemon TCG is full to the brim of awesome music. While I'm not a fan of the overworld's music, most of the other music is excellent. The trainer battle music is wonderful, which is good because you don't want to keep on hearing the same theme over-and-over again if it's not very good! The club master music is pretty good, and unlike the main games, some of the club masters have different music when you face them. The Guildmaster's theme definitely takes the cake as the best theme in Pokemon TCG, though.
Remember, this is the GameBoy Color. To really appreciate the quality here, go listen to the music we had for Pokemon Crystal. That tinny, 8-bit sound doesn't detract from the experience at all. I admit, some of the background music could be a bit better for various clubs, and the variety isn't stunning, but in the overworld, you forget it's there, much like most Pokemon games. The in-battle music however, is the crown gem of the series, if not only because of this.
Methinks Texas is playing the wrong game. The soundtrack to this game is phenomenal; it's easily one of the catchiest of this era of gaming. The Normal Battle theme, for example, in particular is irresistibly enjoyable. The driving shuffle and beat of the percussion line sets the pace for the sweet melody to soar over the top. If you've ever met me in real life, you know that I'm a whistler. This song along would probably peak as one of the top five songs that people catch me whistling; it's simplistic and catch.
Another notable track would be the Club Leader Duel theme. The strident and climatic crescendos of the phrasing really sets the mood for how intense these battles can be. The Pause Menu theme and the Continue theme are two other gems from this game that will always remain stored in the vaults of my mind. If I was asked to describe the soundtrack of this game in two words...
Most of the in-game world looks quite similar to RBY, which isn't too surprising, I suppose. The main overworld map is a bit ugly (I don't even know what the Psychic Club building is doing), but I did find the smoke rings pumping out of the volcano to be a nice touch. All of that is largely unimportant, however, as the game's real focus is on the cards. I have to say, they did a fantastic job (at least by GBC standards) of making the in-game cards look like their real-life counterparts. It really gave the feeling that you were playing a card game, and that's exactly what this game is supposed to do.
Again, technology constraints must be taken into account here. I honestly salute the team that went through all 200-odd cards in the three-and-a-half combined sets and recreated each and every image in pixel form. Some pieces of art must have been hell to do, such as Moltres and Aerodactyl, yet are still pulled off with aplomb. My only qualm is that for cards that are naturally holographic, they tried to recreate the "twinkles" on the pixel art, and that just looks really tacky. The various different character sprites are nicely done, even if you only see them every now and again. The overworld isn't that much of a far cry from the normal RPGs of that generation, but I agree with my fellow players that the club buildings could be explored more. Especially considering they all appear to have the same three-room layout...
The graphics of this game are so-so, in my opinion. It's certainly inspiring that the spriters were able to recreate the card designs on a cartridge. The battle effects are subpar; the way they flash on and off the screen doesn't exactly scream "work of art" by any means. Essentially, the graphics get the job done. They get the message across and leave it at that.
For a Game Boy Color game, the graphics are quite impressive. The overworld map is simple but pleasing, except for the buildings that you can barely make out what they are, and so as the various clubs. The cards are also quite impressive; GameFreak did an excellent job at replicating the real-life counterparts.
Fortunately the graphical standard is quite nice for the capabilities of the Game Boy Colour I found. The graphics are pixelated, of course, but retain a smoothness to them especially on the overworld that can be quite surprising. The character head shots and the Pokemon cards themselves are also well rendered, easy on the eyes and quite clear. Unfortunately the game can become text-heavy due to card information.
Good one. The plot isn't anything special but it's Pokemon: it doesn't need a plot to be great.
DURR I'M YOUR RIVAL AND I'M A JERK DURR YOU'LL NEVER GET LEGENDARY CARDS BY BEATING CLUB LEADERS DURR OH YOU GOT LEGENDARY CARDS DURR
The plot of the game...is pretty much your standard Pokemon, collect 8 badges, fight the Elite Four and then a Champion. In this formula it stays faithful and, although linear, still remains a solid progression. The standard form is pleasantly interrupted by the randomness of Imakuni, however, as well as the side-diversions of Challenge Hall, which only add to the plot.
I was tempted to write "What plot?" and move on, but I'll expand a bit. The basic premise is that you want to obtain some legendary cards, though no real details are given about the cards, other than the fact that they're "legendary". So, you go battle 8 gym leaders and then the Elite Four to prove your worth. Unlike RBY, however, you don't actually travel from gym to gym; instead, you just press a button and you're there. You have a rival (I think his name was Ronald?), but the only reason I could tell he was my rival was because he was just generally a jerk. Everyone else seemed devoid of thought other than "I love playing the Pokemon TCG!" It gets a little eerie after a while, actually...
Jellicent shouldn't question himself: the rival's name is indeed Ronald. The NPCs in this game really don't have any defining personalities, which lead to extract me from immersing myself in the game. Also, the lack of travelling from one gym to another stands out as a mistake; the game feels more like gym-hopping than an actual journey.
Probably the biggest issue I take up with the plot is with the cards themselves. You simply don't have the comradery that is created within the canonized Pokemon games. I remember being greatly moved when my Pokemon Silver team was entered into the Hall of Fame when I was just a young kid. It was a powerful moment to see my teammates accomplish something great. This game, unfortunately, doesn't have any of that, from my perspective. The cards are more or less tools that I'd use to get the job done. While I enjoyed the decks I used, a strong bond was never formed between the cards and myself.
As my colleagues have mentioned, if you don't know what you're doing with the cards, then game can be very daunting when you come to build your first deck. However, in terms of actual gameplay, the tutorial walks you through very nicely, and even lets you explore a bit to get comfortable with the UI. Fortunately, there is indeed a difficulty curve in the game; some club leaders are easier than others due to the nature of their club, and some can't even be accessed until later. Of course, finding this out is part of the fun of the game as you get mercilessly wrecked by Rick of the Science club early on, and wonder why it took so long to battle Ken of the Fire Club, who was a pushover. The initial deck you choose also affects this. On the other hand, if you know what you're doing like I do, you can do what I did and grind early on to build the infamous DO THE WAVE deck and reap all the poor souls who cross your path.
This game has a significant amount of grinding, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing; we are Pokemon players, after all! Normal battles aren't particularly overbearing, so it's fun to pull out with a win over them on a regular basis. However, the gym leaders are significantly more difficult. It usually takes me a few tries before I can successfully beat one. The chance element of this game definitely ramps up to frustrating levels on significant battles. I'd recommend playing this game in spurts for the sake of your sanity. Otherwise, you might be tempted to rage when your paralysis coin flip check fails for the fifth turn in a row.
It is difficulty, I think, where Pokemon Trading Card Game really manages to excel, as the game can be as easy or as difficult as you choose to make it. Should you attempt a speedrun, with only minimal deck additions the game can hold quite a high level of difficulty. Conversely, if one spends time to collect cards and create strong decks the game takes a decided turn towards the easier scale. This is a major selling point in my opinion. Also, Rapidash breaks the game <3
This game does a marvelous job of quickly teaching you the basics of TCG so you can start playing instantly. I had no idea what I was doing when I started it up, but I quickly had a firm grasp of how to play. The actual difficulty of the gameplay is a bit trickier to judge, however, as a huge amount of this game comes down to luck. A single draw or coin flip can easily change the course of a duel. Minimizing luck, by putting together a strong deck with good synergy between all of the cards, is your best bet for avoiding unfortunate situations. Also, avoid energy-hungry cards, such as that Zapdos you start off with if you pick Charmander and Friends. You're just asking to start with Zapdos as the only Basic Pokemon in your hand, and no Electric energies to properly utilize it. If you stick to simple but effective cards, such as Hitmonchan, you'll be set. Unfortunately, even the cards you obtain for your decks come from the luck of the booster packs, so despite winning consistently, you still might never get those perfect cards that would fit your deck like a glove.
If you don't know what the hell you're doing like I was when I first started playing, then yeah, the Pokemon TCG is pretty hard. Once you start learning the basics and start collecting some good cards, the game suddenly becomes quite a lot easier. Think of collecting good cards to beat a Club Master in TCG like grinding Pokemon to a level high enough where they can beat a Gym Leader or catching new Pokemon for the same purpose in the main games. The game is pretty easy if you collect a lot of cards and modify your deck to beat the gym leaders, although often whether you win or lose is in the hands of the rng.
Although I've doled out a fair bit of criticism, I do absolutely adore this game and recommend it to my fanatic Gameboy friends on a regular basis. The soundtrack is, by far, the greatest draw for me to play this game. The simplistic battling system and tactical effort required to make a deck also make this game a treat to play. If you have not already tried out this game, I highly suggest that you do so at your convenience!
On the whole I quite enjoy the TCG for GBA. It is a faithful and accurate rendition of the card game in real life and manages to keep interest quite easily by following the formula of a traditional Pokemon Game. It is not overly long, at an average playtime of around 7-9 hours, which makes it a nice diversion. A solid spin-off, as a whole.
Pokemon TCG is a blast. From battling to collecting cards to building the optimal build, you'll have a ton of fun. For some reason, collecting cards is much more fun than collecting Pokemon for the Pokédex. If you haven't played Pokemon TCG yet, I recommend you try it out.
While I might have come off as pessimistic towards the plot, overworld graphics, and some of the music, this game doesn't actually need any of those things to be enjoyable; the fact that they were added in are just pleasant perks. Ultimately, this game just needs the joy of card collecting, deck building, and duels to be fun, and it delivers flawlessly on those aspects. The fact that you can beat it in about 7-9 hours just makes it a perfect game to pop into your GameBoy and pass away a lazy day.
Playing this game gives me a great sense of nostalgia. A time when the TCG was a simpler game, dominated by who got luckier with coin flips, not who was running more Mewtwo EX or Darkrai EX. As a game in and of itself, it provides a nice side-track to the normal RPG games in terms of both gameplay and experience. It's a rather short game if you go through it all in one sitting, and often you'll be stuck trying to grind for the right cards from the right packs to beat a certain Club Leader. So there are similarities between this and the RPG after all.
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