Hands-on with Pokemon: Trading Card Game Online for iPad

The very best? (Like no one ever was?)

Hands-on with Pokemon: Trading Card Game Online for iPad
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At my school, Pokemon cards were the only item to ever be banned from the playground. Heck, yo-yos were still allowed even after Tony pinged a pocket pro stinger into Tom's eye during a failed three-leaf clover manuvere.

There was something about the feverous demand for the cards - the shiny ones, the powerful ones, the ones with the coolest critters on the front - that drove prepubescent children to lie, cheat, steal, start black markets, and fight.

I'm certain it's still happening today. Schools are banning Moshi Monsters or what have you, and teachers stand idly by while other kids are being decapitated by loom bands.

Anyway. The Pokemon ban (or Pokeban) worked. One kid suggested we just move to Digimon cards but was quickly stuffed in a locker and had his PE kit thrown into a bush. Unlike all other prohibitions in history, this one stuck.

Pokemon TCG

So what I'm trying to say is, I haven't thought about Pokemon cards in about 15 years. But this iPad rendition of the trading card battle brought it all back with stunning Technicolour clarity.

The energy cards! The little damage stickers! The terse descriptions and glorious artwork! First editions and god damn Manky lovin' shinies!

I subscribed to a Pokemon TCG magazine that taught you how to keep a Poker face (not PokeFace) when you had a good deck. I binged on the Game Boy game in a caravan in Bournemouth. I forced my dad to drive to every shop in town to see if they had booster packs.

And in one of my most regretful moments of my life, I traded a fake Mewtwo card for a younger child's shiny Charizard. The cardboard was a bit flimsy and the ink was a bit runny, I said, because this was a prototype from Japan. My uncle worked there as a janitor, naturally.

In retrospect, I probably caused the ban, didn't I? Whoops.

Pokemon TCG

But yes, the game. The iPad game. It's a lavish recreation of the original one-on-one game, which is a fun and feisty card battler that has built up quite the collection of cards over the years.

During play, you have one active Pokemon, and a bench full of backup critters. You attach energy cards to critters so they can pull off moves, and you can drag more powerful beasties onto cards to evolve them mid-battle.

It mainly follows the rules of the game, so water attacks do double damage against fire Pokemon, and sleep abilities send a rival monster into a deep slumber until they wake - by flipping a heads on a little red coin.

The goal is to knock-out your opponent's Pokemon, which lets you put a prize card into your hand. When all six are in your hand, you've won the game. It's not terribly complex, but there's enough depth to keep you engaged and addicted.

In some cases, the game is perhaps a little too reminiscent of the physical game. Like how cards get little '10' and '50' damage stickers on them, and - in the zoomed out view - you have to add up the damage and subtract it from your total HP to figure out your health.

You can zoom in on a card to see your current HP, but I think we could live with a dynamic health meter on the cards themselves without sacrificing the authenticity of the port.

Pokemon TCG

The game's got a lot going on. There's a generous single player campaign where you can unlock more cards for your decks. And there's online play with friends and strangers, plus time-limited tournaments.

You can of course build a deck, and either trade cards or buy cards to get more. And it's here where Pokemon makes a grave error.

In most games, buying a card pack would treat you to a lavish animation where you see the foil packet tear open, the cards spill out one by one as you see what treasures you've just unlocked. In Pokemon, you simply see your new cards laid on a menu.

Look, Hearthstone is a tough act to follow. Blizzard has poured everything it has into that game's interface, artwork, and tactility. But it casts a long shadow over other iPad card battlers, and rival games can feel a little shonky in comparison.

So hopefully The Pokemon Company will use its soft launch to iron out the creases in this iPad game. To fine tune the game and make it as responsive, intuitive, and lavish as we've come to expect for table top tablet games.

Pokemon TCG

Because if you were a child of the 90s, and you have fond(?) memories of getting a playground beating for refusing to trade your Machomp, Pokemon TCG will be bigger than Hearthstone. Better than Magic. And feature 100 percent more Jigglypuff.

The game is currently in limited release in Canada, and will launch worldwide sometime later this year. If you're dying to play right now, check out our guide on making foreign iTunes accounts.

Mark Brown
Mark Brown
Mark Brown spent several years slaving away at the Steel Media furnace, finally serving as editor at large of Pocket Gamer before moving on to doing some sort of youtube thing.