Right, let’s have a show of hands. How many of you so-called Pokémon fans actually know how to play the original Pokémon card game? I am wagering that there are plenty of you – within a certain age demographic – who once spent their chump change on sparkly Pokémon cards. But what did you do with them? Probably collect them the same way you would football stickers, swap them with pals, engage in unarmed combat in the playground over that precious shiny Bulbasaur. I will admit to being one such philistine, and it wasn’t until the Gameboy RPGs dropped that I looked at my menagerie of cute pocket monstrosities in a different light. Which is a shame, because the original card system is great fun, and represents the last true link to Nintendo’s distant past as a manufacturer of playing cards.
Thanks to the Virtual Console service, veterans and newcomers alike can now check out Game Freak’s fine pixelated approximation of the multi-deck throwdown that started it all. You can’t help but think that Nintendo missed a trick in leaving it until the turn of the new millennium to allow Western gamers to play it. Released in Japan at the peak of Poke-mania, by 2000 the feverish popularity had dwindled slightly.
For the excellently cheap price-point, you get a near perfect version of the GBC classic, that gathers together all of the first three runs of Pokémon cards and presents them in wonderful digital glory. The cards represent the traditional stable of monsters you get to control; there are no instances of randomly generated battles or wild beasties in the field – and there is nary a Poké Ball in sight. This is a pure, stripped back, bite-sized version of what most players will know as a traditional Pokémon game.
Held together by a loose RPG structure, you take on the role of Mark – a boringly named yet pleasingly spiky young chap, who is tasked with obtaining four Legendary Cards. Naturally, in order to do this there is a series of opponents to defeat and a bunch of medals to get your hands on. The plot is merely an afterthought (although it is nice to play a Pokémon game and not be hammered with a series of lectures on love, life, ecology and all that jazz), and the meat of the game is the addictive series of card battles, as you look to win booster packs, create your own customised decks, and fine-tune your arsenal of critter cards to match the surprisingly varied playing styles of the many Masters and NPCs you encounter along your travels.
The combat system is a nice mixture of tactical nous and coin-flipping chance. Deciding which Energy cards to employ and which types of Pokémon to add to your deck, you eventually earn the right to use pre-organised decks that are obtained by taking down the Club Masters. The pre-ordained decks are themed after the elemental properties of said Master, meaning you can switch things up depending on who you are involved in a fracas with. The scope for tinkering with decks of your own creation is scary – if you really put your back into it you could end up creating a card selection so finely-tuned that it would be capable of destroying pretty much anyone.
Sadly, some of the features included in the original are absent here. The link-up and Card Pop functions – which enabled GBC owners to engage in incredibly entertaining one-on-one battles, and even earn two very special cards – are nowhere to be seen. This means that the release is two Pokémon short and, although that isn’t exactly a deal breaker, it also lacks a multiplayer aspect that even 16 years down the line would be fun to try out again. Look at how ace the online capabilities of X and Y were!
VERDICT: All told, you are looking at a cool 8-10 hours of fighting fun, the charming old-school sprites and bonkers ditties you know and love, and the warm feeling of being in the Poké-verse again. The Color was a wonderfully charming bit of kit when you look back on it, with some real under-the-radar classics. This is one of them.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.