Thursday, November 20, 2014

Yes, I Play a Children's Card Game (In Video Game Form)

It's finally out!

After school, my friends and I would take our Pokémon binders up to my treehouse and marvel at our collection. Mainly buying packs to look at the pretty pictures, we hadn’t the faintest idea how to actually play the Pokémon Trading Card game. Usually we’d put down cards and yell out attacks without any regard to energy costs, evolutions, or prize cards. For years, I’d continue to buy packs just to look at the pretty pictures until Pokémon released TCG Online back in the Black and White era. Realizing how much fun the actual game was, I quickly gathered my stockpile of old cards to build decks. Needless to say, there aren’t many players that stick to the old base set. The best place to get my old-school fix was with the Gameboy Pokémon TCG game, but was more elusive than Mew thanks to its rarity and unusually high price. That is, until now thanks to its release on the 3DS Virtual Console this past week.

Pikachu, the Science Pokémon.
The story of the Pokémon TCG game is pretty simple. You’re a card player sent on a journey to collect the 8 medals from club leaders to challenge the 4 grandmasters and eventually defeat your rival to inherit the legendary cards and become the champion. Wait…isn’t this basically the same story as Red and Blue? At least there’s no evil team trying to steal people’s cards, but Imakuni’s creepy enough to be considered evil in my opinion. And what the heck is up with the Science Club? Every other club is based on a Pokémon type, but I can’t wrap my head around why they would have a science-themed club. Don’t tell me they plan to release a new Science-Type Pokémon.

Navigating the menus takes some getting used to.
The Pokémon TCG game serves as a decent intro for the card game. At the beginning, Sam the lab assistant plays a practice duel with you. The practice duel goes through the basic steps of how to win, but since I played the card game before I just breezed through it. One thing I noticed was that the tutorial wasn’t as thorough as I’d expect. For instance, the practice duel doesn’t go into details about special conditions like paralysis and poison. There are some guides outside the practice duel that you can read in-game, but who wants to do that! The practice duel is mainly handy to familiarize yourself with the interface. The Gameboy can’t fit the entire play area onscreen, so it’s somewhat harrowing to navigate through menus without some practice.

Like my adventure in Pokémon Red, I started my journey by picking Bulbasaur…or in this case the Bulbasaur and Friends deck. Fun fact, this deck contained Venusaur, my all-time favorite card. I mentioned it on a past post but I have a Base Set Venusaur in real life that I got from the same friend I use to have treehouse battles with. Originally, the idea was to get Venusaur out as quickly as possible and abuse Energy Trans to switch Grass energies around. Unfortunately, evolution wasn’t the solution as setting up took way too much time. I’d find myself on the receiving end of Blastoise’s Rain Dance infused shenanigans before I could even evolve to Ivysaur. I’d have to adopt a new deck, and that meant abandoning Venusaur.
It's not me, it's you. Sorry buddy.
You can't escape my Special Punch!
A while back, I remember reading about a “Haymaker” deck and thought about building one for myself. Basically, Haymaker decks consist of big basic Pokémon like Scyther, Electabuzz and Hitmonchan. While it might seem like an odd combination with no real type synergy, a Haymaker deck is quite devastating thanks to its quick setup time. Pokémon in a Haymaker deck feature strong attacks with very little energy cost, so Hitmonchan can start hitting right off the bat for 20 damage. While that might not sound as impressive as Charizard’s Fire Spin for 100, keep in mind it takes a minimum of 2 turns if you got all the right cards in hand. By the time your first Charizard is ready to go, Hitmonchan knocked out 3 other Pokémon and you now trail significantly behind in the prize card count. Because of their aggressive playstyle, Haymaker decks pretty much shut down every other strategy. The early metagame of the TCG was dominated by big basics, which is kind of a reflection of today’s metagame with cards like Mewtwo-EX. While there are better cards and new rules to help counter big basics, the early metagame certainly wasn’t balanced. Pretty much every Pokémon was Hitmonchan’s punching bag. And to think, back in the day I had every card needed to make a formidable Haymaker deck in real life!

You're lucky you have a good theme, jerk!
After cutting the competition with Scyther, clobbering my way to the top with Hitmonchan, and (insert dumb electric pun) with Electabuzz, I managed to beat the 4 Grandmasters when SURPRISE SURPRISE, my rival Ronald already beat them and I have to defeat him to inherit the legendary cards. I used to think Gary was a jerk, but this guy takes it to a whole new level. Seriously dude we’re playing a children’s card game, no need for the smack talk. I kicked his sorry butt anyways thanks in part to his wide array of Normal-Types that are extremely weak to Hitmonchan. After about 10 hours of my weekend, I claim the overhyped legendary cards for myself and my journey is over.

Looking back, Pokémon TCG felt a little too easy. Granted, a Haymaker deck really is overpowered, but I just didn’t feel satisfied with my victory. With Virtual Console titles on the 3DS, a lack of multiplayer features means you’re stuck challenging the same computers so there’s not much variety in battles. Still, it was a joy to visit this blast from the past. I gained an appreciation for the fun, albeit broken, origin of the Pokémon TCG.