How an Underrated Pokémon Spinoff Changed My Relationship With Video Games
Today, there seems to be a never-ending cascade of Pokémon merch. You can easily find games, books, toys, apparel, and anything manufacturers slap Pikachu’s adorable face on. But in the late ‘90s when Pokémania was just getting started, pocket monsters fanatics were left without a lot of options.
As a kid born at the start of the Clinton administration, I devoured Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow, and then proceeded to make my mom buy anything related to the original 151. That, of course, included the Pokémon trading card game, which launched in the States in 1998. I collected hundreds of pieces of holographic cardboard featuring iconic art of series staples like Mewtwo, Venusaur, and Charizard that could have probably paid my rent today if I hadn’t thrown them away in a college-age stupor. But collecting was my only goal because none of the kids around me wanted to play and learn the actual game.
All of that changed during one fateful trip to Blockbuster when my eyes caught a glimpse of an unusual title: the GameBoy Color’s Pokémon Trading Card Game, released 25 years ago on December 18, 1998. The only other Poké spinoff at the time was Pokémon Pinball which was always rented out to some other lucky kid. So I rented the virtual TCG and began a lifelong addiction to trading card games like Hearthstone and Marvel Snap which dries my wallet to this very day.
The TCG Gameboy title was truly a marvel at the time, collecting the first three sets of the physical card game and boiling down its rules incredibly well. Players create a deck of 60 cards consisting of items, energy, and, of course, pocket monsters. Your goal is to be the very best player and earn legendary cards by defeating eight gyms based on different types like fighting, psychic, and water. As you defeat other players, you’ll earn new cards allowing you to augment your deck and constantly get stronger.
On the Gameboy, you could take the time to learn how these cards work and what decks were the best to play. The hordes of NPCs you need to beat also put up a fight, making some of the matches with later enemies an actual struggle. I would lose constantly, forcing me to experiment and come up with new strategies to progress and get more cards. It’s a gameplay loop that is still endearing decades after its initial release.
Modern online trading card games are nearly always an online service, constantly updating with new mechanics to learn and cards to buy. Having a set amount of virtual cardboard to mess around with that doesn’t cost real-world money is honestly something I wish we’d have more of, but then the corporate pika-overlords couldn’t keep farming for cash.
Getting your hands on the Pokémon Trading Card Game has never been easier. In August, the Gameboy game was added as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Service, alongside another oldie that still holds up, Pokémon Stadium 2. You don’t even need a Link Cable to play with your friends now that it’s all done through the web.
All you need to play is a subscription and the Gameboy app on your Switch to immediately get thrown back to a time when the pocket monster was just starting to boil up.