Pocket Power: Pokémon Trading Card Game

Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.

67975-Pokemon_Trading_Card_Game_(USA)-2If you were a child of the late 90s, you were guaranteed a seat on the Pokémon hype train. You had the games, cards, lunchboxes and possibly even underwear. There was no escape from Pokémon. The cards in particular made people go insane. Stores would charge $2.50 for a single Nidorino and up to $60.00 for a holographic Venusaur, and we all heard legends of kids who struck it rich after pulling a Charizard. Opening a fresh booster to find a rare card was a thrill only matched by stumbling across a shiny in the grass.

Hardcore fans of the trading card game studied the manual religiously to learn how to play, but more casual players had a Game Boy cart to teach us. Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy offers a crash course in the dynamics of the card game. It presents itself as an RPG similar to Pokémon Red and Blue, but instead of a team of six Pokémon, you challenge gyms with a deck. After winning each battle you’ll receive booster packs from your opponent which you can use to fine-tune your deck. You can build whatever you want as long as it contains 60 cards and at least one basic Pokémon.

Playing Pokémon Trading Card Game teaches you when to reshuffle and how to evolve your Pokémon, but most importantly it teaches you what all the words on the cards mean. Terminology like “Pokémon Powers” can be a little tough to keep track of, and some trainer card effects are downright arcane. This game lets you learn exactly how they function by trial and error. The computer calculates effects and handles things like coin flips for you, and after playing for a while you should be able to extrapolate what cards you haven’t seen before mean.

67975-Pokemon_Trading_Card_Game_(USA)-4No combination of Pokémon, Trainers, and Energy cards is perfect, and generally you’ll have to reconfigure your deck before each gym to serve as a hard-counter to its core strategy. Like in the main series games, gyms use decks themed around specific types, but you shouldn’t expect all the same type matchups from the games to work here. Pokemon types have been reshuffled to fit into six broader categories for the sake of simplicity – for instance, all flying-types in from the games are now normal-types with fighting resistances, so an all-fighting team will get wiped pretty easily by the normal gym.

While we’ve gone through numerous generations and expansions since Pokémon Trading Card Game was first released for Game Boy, it still serves as a great way to learn the basics of the TCG. Nowadays at tournaments most of the cards in the game are obsolete, but it’s more or less straightforward to adapt new strategies once you understand the fundamentals. Pokémon Trading Card Game is considered one of the best Game Boy games of all time, and is still the gold standard for digital adaptations of TCGs. If you’re feeling nostalgic, or you’re like Lee and you want a better way to connect with the grade schoolers in your area, you can now play it on the 3DS Virtual Console.