I’m a big Pokemon fan and have been ever since my cousin let me borrow Blue Version and told me to play. I was as hooked as a kid could be, and to some extent I still am. This extended from the games to the toys, as well as the anime, and eventually it settled nicely in the Trading Card Game. Part of me really just liked collecting cards, but the game itself was kind of cool. Gus already talked about his memories with the card game, so I won’t do the same (also, I don’t particularly have a lot of memories, to be honest). Instead, I’ve recently found the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online in its beta form, and from what I’ve played, I can give you a good idea of what’s going in there. So here is a review of the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online Beta.
Something I’ve always been surprised about is how Nintendo/Game Freaks have yet to capitalize on the TCG craze like they used to. Yes, the cards are very much still around, but while the physical cards were enjoyable, I found the most fun with the TCG for the Game Boy Color. It was so simple, essentially collecting a handful of the TCG cards at the time into one game cartridge and adding tons of AI opponents to play against. This was wonderful for me as a kid because I couldn’t really find people to play against in real life, so it was a brilliant solution.
But we’ve only had one TCG video game, and since then nothing. There’s got to be a market there, so why no new entry? At the very least, the Pokemon TCG is alive and well on the Internet, of all places, and registering is something I highly recommend doing as it’s free and opens up a nifty watered-down version of the Game Boy Color game, to a point. I’ll explain in a moment.
The first thing you’ll notice is how you can create your own avatar, which is par for the course when it comes to online games these days. Once you’re decked out, you can pop on over to some tutorials with a rather upbeat scholar of Pokemon cards and learn everything you’ll ever need to know to play the game. The dialogue and voice work here isn’t amazing, but it’s also not bad whatsoever. I kept reminding myself that this was a tutorial/game meant for the youngest of players, so with that in mind all I can say is the voice work is perfectly sharp and the tutorials aren’t overbearing to the point of frustration. A few refresher courses never hurt anyone.
It wasn’t until I dove into the single player aspect of the game that I started to see the cracks and the glimmers beneath the surface. The basic challenge pits you against 12 opponents in a leaderboard where defeating one will unlock the next. Once you take out all 12, you unlock a new leaderboard of 12, then another, and I’m not sure if there’s anything past that. Right from the get-go you have the option between three basic decks that you can switch between whenever you’d like. They are just basic Fire, Water, and Grass decks, but they’re not the worst. They’re also not the best.
What it took me a bit to understand (and unfortunately for how good the tutorials are at teaching you to play the game they’re terrible when it comes to explaining the interface) is that there are another half-dozen or so specialty decks you can unlock, but the way to unlock them is by buying the physical, real world decks and using a promo code found in the box to unlock them in the online game. So for me, that meant I’m using the loaner three decks.
For being simple single-energy decks, they’re not terrible, but the ability to customize your deck is entirely removed. You are at the whim of the computer presets that determine what our decks are comprised of, and only by beating the first 12 opponents with each deck can you unlock it to your collection of cards, which can be used in multiplayer.
I’ll come back to multiplayer, but first I want to talk about that single player challenge some more. The AI never gave me any problems and usually functioned as competent opponents. The only glaring problem is that most, if not all games were little more than the luck of the draw. Every game seemed to play out by sheer chance as both my opponent and myself are optimizing hands perfectly, but who wins is decided entirely by luck. I’ve had games that last to a nail-biting finale, and a lot more that are over in three rounds or less.
This is more a complaint about the card game’s basic mechanics more than anything, but without the ability to customize my deck to best suit my needs, it really is all chance. If I draw three strong Pokemon, a couple energy cards, and a heavy evolution right away, while my opponent only has one active Pokemon, there’s a strong chance I’ll win pretty quick as long as he doesn’t draw another Pokemon to place on his bench. I don’t particularly feel like a brilliant tactician, but more like an opportunist taking advantage of a good hand. Were I to have the ability to form my own deck, victories would taste sweeter and defeats would sting more harshly. That is sadly not the case in the single player challenge.
Furthermore, the computer has decks that contain dual-types instead of my Podunk single-type decks, so it can put up a much bigger fight, usually only losing due to a bad draw on their part. They also seem to have some utter beasts ready to evolve right away, particularly the Fighting decks. Nothing’s more frustrating than a computer opponent that’s evolved a super powerful Pokemon in the first two moves, proceeding to then wreck your @$%& for the rest of the very short game.
However, these losses aren’t the end of the world, and after unlocking all three basic decks, your collection should have Fire, Water, Grass, and the standard Electric deck as well, allowing for a much deeper ability to customize. Plus, by unlocking those three basic decks, you’ve had a chance to see which Pokemon work best and which just aren’t worth the trouble. What you haven’t been able to do, though, is see which typing works best joined with one another. That will have to come during the multiplayer part it seems.
The greatest bit I’m upset about is the fact that Pokemon TCG Online isn’t on the 3DS at this moment. I would gladly pay upwards of $10 for this free online feature to migrate over to the 3DS as a download. It wouldn’t even need any major tweaks aside from some navigational overhauls (which the online version needs anyway). It’s apparent we’re not getting another dedicated TCG release on a system, but a boy can dream.
For what it is, the experience is enjoyable. Matches go extremely quick, even online, so it’s a fun game to just flip over to and play during a break session. And hey, for free, you can’t go wrong. I highly recommend it, despite the relatively broken game system. Now, go be the very best young Trainers you can be! May the luck of the draw be on your side!