Like every child who grew up during the height of Pokémon’s popularity, I was really into the Pokémon Trading Card Game. I was never particularly interested in playing the card game, though; my obsession was solely in collecting them. Every few weeks my sister and I would pool our allowances together and beg our dad to take us to the local comic book shop, spending what little money we had on the latest imported packs and figurines from Japan.
Of course, we eventually outgrew this phase of our lives, but for the sake of nostalgia (and to give my sister an excuse to procrastinate on her term paper), she and I went to a different comic book shop the other weekend (the one we had frequented so often in our childhood had, sadly, closed its doors many years ago) and purchased a few new packs of cards. It had been well over a decade since we’d last done anything of the sort, but standing there amongst the comic books and other assorted geekery, it was hard not to think back to those carefree days of when we’d drag our dad out to buy the latest Pokémon merchandise, back when the franchise was still new and exciting. This was a way for us to relive those days, if only for a brief moment.
What was particularly neat about these new cards is they came packed with a special code that could be redeemed on the Pokémon TCG website for virtual ones. These, in turn, could be used to build and customize your own decks for use against AI opponents (and soon against other players around the world), all free of charge. The website even has its own campaign of sorts that allows you to compete in a virtual tournament, working your way through the ranks until you are crowned the TCG champion.
As a relative newbie to the card game, I was glad to see the website also had a sophisticated (and fully-voiced) tutorial that teaches you the basics of the game. The tutorial does a wonderful job of easing you into gameplay, gradually giving you more and more autonomy in the way you clear each lesson. It even rewards you with Trainer Tokens for the lessons you do complete, which can then go toward purchasing new clothes and accessories for your Pokémon Trainer Club avatar (not a particularly compelling reason to play through the tutorial, but a nice little incentive nonetheless).
In fact, it’s almost staggering how robust the Pokémon TCG online game is considering that it’s free to play. Not only can you earn achievements for completing certain tasks (something which most retail Nintendo games don’t even allow), but you can customize and save multiple avatars, purchase new cards (if you so choose; the game starts you off with a liberal amount of free ones to use in the campaign and against computer opponents), and trade with players all over the world (not to mention all of the features that are currently in the works, like the ability to compete against other players, as well as keep a friends list of the people you meet online). It really is a full-fledged game in itself, which makes the lack of a sequel to the Game Boy TCG game a bit more palatable.
If anything, TCG Online can be considered the sequel to this Game Boy classic, as it takes the same basic concept and expands on it with all the flourishes you’ve come to expect from a modern video game. I’m sure many people will still bemoan the fact that it isn’t on a console (as its predecessor was), but TCG Online is, in all honestly, probably better than a retail followup could have ever been, which makes this complaint a moot point (I very much doubt a 3DS version would allow you to import your real purchases into the game, let alone be flexible enough to update each time a new expansion is released).
While I can’t say that our little trip will rekindle that same passion I had for the Trading Card Game as a kid, I’m happy to see the game persist– and flourish– for as long as it has. I’m even happier that I can now casually dabble in it whenever I’m bored (or whenever I want to procrastinate on my own assignments), giving me an excuse to go out and buy more cards in the future. I guess there are some habits we just can’t shake.