Pokémon is still big and a large part of the conversation today but it was the conversation in the late nineties and early aughts. The anime, games, collectible cards, plush toys, cereal, theatrical releases, and everything in between were simply inescapable.
Pokémon was everywhere and wasn’t going away. Everyone knew what Pokémon was, whether they were interested or not. Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow sold millions of copies globally and was even recognized as the best selling RPG of all time by Guinness World Records in 2009.
The series has only continued to grow more popular in the years since but it isn’t something that just happened. Nintendo and Game Freak pushed for a variety of games to pull more people into the franchise’s powerful gravity.
The mainline RPGs were the most popular but unique ideas, like Hey You, Pikachu, and twists on existing formulas, like Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, gave fans of Pokémon more options for games when looking for ways to enjoy the franchise on their Game Boy and Nintendo 64.
One idea in particular that was especially brilliant was Pokémon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color. This built additional awareness around the already popular card game. It also provided yet another revenue stream for Nintendo while also giving fans another way to enjoy Pokémon.
The card game was already ridiculously popular. Pokémon cards were in schools across the world. I remember my school even banned card trading and battling after having to diffuse arguments and deal with trader’s remorse after recess. It didn’t stop us though. Nothing could stop Pokémon.
The Game Boy Color spinoff served an important purpose though. It showed people how to play the card game so card collectors could become players, if they weren’t already, and people only involved with Pokémon outside of the cards could see what they were missing.
I was part of this group. I collected the cards. They were cool. I liked looking at them, collecting them, and referencing the visuals when playing the graphically limited RPG entries on my Game Boy Color. But I didn’t know how to play the card game. It looked complicated when I tried to learn through reading the instructions included in boxes of cards.
It felt like too much to learn and take in, and that was before strategies and winning against other players was taken into account. The Game Boy Color’s Pokémon Trading Card Game cartridge changed all of that.
Pokémon Trading Card Game was released in Japan in 1998 and came to Australia, Europe, and North America in 2000. The game featured digital versions of cards in a brand-new universe for players to conquer with their Pokémon. It was cards instead of actual creatures this time but the trading, collecting, and battling were just as addictive as before.
The game has a fairly simple story, even compared with Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow. There are no villains to worry about in the game’s story. The story starts with the player character, known canonically as Mark, as he learns the rules of the game, picks his first deck, and decides to try to become the Champion.
Mark will need to defeat the eight Club Masters and then win against the four Grand Masters to become the Champion. It’s a lot like the Pokémon Gym Challenge in the RPGs but with a few changes. Club Masters have themed decks though, like the different types of Pokemon Gyms in the main games.
One big difference though is they’re all available right from the start. The card battling Game Boy games don’t feature world movement like the main games. You walk in and around locations but they’re selected off the world map screen. Once you finish the opening tutorial, you can go wherever you want.
Some areas and events, like battling the Grand Masters, are locked until progression allows access but it’s still neat being able to just go wherever you want and see what’s waiting for you up ahead.
Being able to tackle clubs in any order replaces a potential difficulty curve with customization and adventure. The player can select any club they want and earn cards along the way to customize their deck and even build new decks. This makes for a more personalized experience and allows players to change course if they get stuck.
There are no items to purchase in this game. There are only decks to build and cards to earn. Every time you beat someone you get more cards and you don’t lose anything when you’re defeated. There are a few instances where you might miss out on specific cards that can be won but there’s no pressure overall.
The player can go where they want after selecting their initial grass, fire, or water themed deck from Professor Mason at the beginning of the game. Rival battles occur at specific points too, with Mark and Ronald both trying to become the champion.
The relationship feels a lot different than the rivalry with Blue in Red, Blue, and Yellow. It’s not mean-spirited and there’s no “smell ya, later!” coming from Ronald. It’s all about pushing each other to get better while working toward the same goal.
Pokémon Trading Card Game was a refreshing experience with a fun card game at the center of it. Variety, replay value, and the random elements that come with any card game help keep things fresh and interesting in a fairly simple experience. Pokémon Card GB2: Great Rocket-Dan Sanjo! expanded and improved on everything when it released in 2001 but only in Japan.
The first game’s simple premise was good enough and functioned as the thread running through the gameplay but there wasn’t much to it outside of that. It got the job done. Pokémon GB2: Great Rocket-Dan Sanjo! changed this completely. The game begins with Team Great Rocket capturing the world’s Club Masters and stealing most of the cards in the world.
Some of them look nightmarish and scary, too. The opening scene shows them stealing cards with a Team Great Rocket airship shooting beams down on clubs from up above. It’s pretty cinematic for a Game Boy Color title.
The sequel introduces a lot of features, including almost all of the cards from the Jungle, Fossil, Team Rocket, and base card sets. The Team Rocket set works really well within the fiction too since it injects the present and lurking evil of Team Great Rocket into the decks themselves.
It’s rather brilliant and it’s even handled in a fun way. A character remarks on how Team Great Rocket is using their own cards they created, which they don’t think is fair. It isn’t fair but it’s evil, clever, and delightful both from a story and development perspective.
The game also allows you to choose your gender, which is nice; the first game only allowed you to choose Mark. The female character’s canon name is Mint, which is awesome. It’s like she’s sweet but formidable and capable of overpowering those around her, just like the mint flavor in cooking.
I don’t know if there’s a specific reason they chose Mint or if they were just looking for a single syllable name that started with ‘M’ but that’s my head canon for her name. The difficulty is noticeably higher too. I’m not sure if this was just from wanting to make the sequel harder or if it’s because of the inclusion of Team Great Rocket; regardless of the reason, it’s much harder.
I found myself losing way more often than my runs through the first game. It might have been to increase the time it took to finish the game but that isn’t really necessary since there’s so much more to do this time.
The game allows the player to unlock different decks and challenge coins (to flip for card effects) as club masters are defeated and then necessary collectibles are also needed for gaining access to Team Great Rocket’s base. It can only be accessed by riding their airship which is only possible after collecting the necessary GR coin pieces.
These are earned by beating members of Team Great Rocket and they’ll only battle you after certain conditions are met, like beating club masters in the clubs they’re inhabiting. It’s interesting that the game runs with the idea that you’ve already become the Champion. You don’t need to do it again.
This was the first direct sequel for a Pokémon title. Even Gold, Silver, and Crystal featured a different playable character so while they took place after Red, Blue, and Yellow, it was still a new journey for the character. I like that Pokémon Card GB2: Great Rocket-Dan Sanjo! just has Team Great Rocket test you while trying to put obstacles in your way while going through with their evil plans.
It feels like they didn’t think the player character would reach them anyway. It’s like they thought they were swatting away a fly instead of witnessing their destruction in slow motion as your deck and power grow stronger. You’re also rewarded with Rocket booster packs when Team Great Rocket members are defeated.
This is super cool because the fiction already establishes that these are cards created by Team Great Rocket. It lets you collect their power and use it against them, while also giving you new, cool cards. It’s like leveling up but with some attacks from the enemy side to fight back against them with their own tricks.
Also, it’s funny having cooperative enemies that help you gain access to their base if you’re strong enough. Mini-games and a cinematic-feeling conclusion await on Team Great Rocket’s island. It already feels like a big deal arriving but leaving after defeating them feels even better.
I don’t know why this game wasn’t localized. I can only speculate since information is so hard to find on it. I’m hoping development, marketing, and sales data information continues to improve as video game preservation efforts have increased over the years.
My best guess is that The Pokemon Company didn’t think the sales numbers of the original justified the cost of localization or that it was just too close to the release of the Game Boy Advance. The game released a week after the new handheld’s launch in Japan and the localization work probably would have caused it to come out months after the system’s release in other regions.
It’s a shame though because it’s a really great game with near limitless replay value. Players can build several different deck configurations found in the game, create their own custom decks, play mini-games on Team Great Rocket island, and battle dozens of different characters in the addictive and fun Pokémon Trading Card Game.
There’s a fan translation that allows you to patch a Japanese version of the game if it sounds like something you’d like to play. You could always watch a playthrough online as well but you won’t want to deprive yourself of the hands-on experience after seeing it for yourself. At least you can experience the amazing soundtrack either way though.
WayForward is releasing the original Shantae on Nintendo Switch, which was originally a Game Boy Color game released early into the Game Boy Advance’s lifecycle. Maybe if it sells well enough, The Pokemon Company will make Pokémon Card GB2: Great Rocket-Dan Sanjo! officially available for fans all around the world to purchase.
I just finished replaying it and can’t stop humming along to the songs or thinking about different strategies for future card battles. I’d love for everyone else to have the same problem. Pokemon fever always feels great.