Learning to Play the Pokémon TCG Through a Game Boy
On January 9th, 1999, the United States was formally introduced to the Pokémon Trading Card Game (PTCG) and parents have been angry ever since. All over the country, kids were begging and pleading with their parents to buy them Pokémon cards and starter decks. These packs flew off the shelves and became more valuable than gold, especially if you were the lucky kid who pulled a Charizard. My younger brother and I weren’t helping, as we constantly schemed and pooled our money together to try and buy a few more packs for the both of us. We just wanted to collect the cards like every other kid we knew! Pokémon card collecting was the “It” thing at the time; all we cared about was who had what card. No one on the playground knew how to properly play the PTCG, and I wouldn’t learn until 23 years later.
When my brother and I would get a hold of cards, there were times we tried to learn how to play. Sadly, we would let one little obstacle ruin our quest to become PTCG masters; the dang instruction booklet. Back in the day with the Fossil and Jungle sets, our parents would buy us both starter decks so we could learn how to play. Yet, when we would open these starter decks and read the rule booklet, there was a line in the beginning that said something like, “These are the ADVANCED rules for the Pokémon Trading Card Game. DO NOT read this book unless you’ve played the Pokémon Trading Card Game a few times.” This had us both stumped because how could we learn how to play if we didn’t know how to play?! We even asked our parents to read it and teach us, but that was futile, as they didn’t understand anything the rule book was trying to tell them. With that, we just gave up trying to learn how to play and stuck with collecting. In our defense, we were young (about 9 and 8 years old respectively) and didn’t have a full grasp of the nuances of Pokémon… yet.
A Look Back At Super Mario Kart
Nearly every gamer alive has a story like this one. You’re at a family function, visiting with relatives you haven’t seen in years. The smaller kids are running around, and while you’re talking with a close cousin, you hear one of the kids say this. “Oh, I’m the best at Mario Kart. No one can beat me at that game!” Both you and your cousin instantly have flashbacks of all those late nights spent playing Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash. You crack a smile, your cousin nods, and suddenly you’re both hooking up a Nintendo console. The kid continues to “brag” about their Mario Kart accomplishments, completely unaware of the severe beatdown they are about to receive from the 2 veterans.
Mario Kart is that grand paradox of a game where practically everyone knows about it, even those who don’t play video games at all. It’s also amazing that the best-selling Mario game of all time (at the time of publishing) isn’t a regular Mario platformer, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. According to Nintendo Fandom Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has sold 55.27 million units. Mario Kart games in the past 3 console generations have either been the number 1 seller or held a spot in the top 3. Looking at Nintendo’s own data, which goes as far back as the Nintendo DS, every console and handheld has had a Mario Kart game in one of the top slots. This series has come a long way since its debut 30 years ago, all the way back on the Super Nintendo.
Super Mario Kart came out in North America on September 1st, 1992 and set the stage for the success of future games. While not the first kart racing game, it was the first to star Mario and his friends. Fun fact, the game didn’t start development as a Mario game, but as a sequel to F-Zero. According to Playing With Super Power: Super NES Classics, fans of F-Zero wanted to play with their friends, but couldn’t since the game was single-player only. The devs at Nintendo had a problem to tackle, as adding a multiplayer mode meant the high speed that F-Zero was famous for would have to diminish greatly due to hardware limitations during split-screen gameplay. So, instead of alien super-craft, the team opted for less threatening go-karts, then eventually decided to use Mario and his friends as the playable characters. The project went from being a true racing game to a party game disguised as a racing game, and that certainly makes sense. How many times have you gone to a friend’s party and someone busts out a version of Mario Kart to play with others?
How has the game aged over the years? I would say it’s like a very fine wine, as in it’s an acquired taste. For a 16-bit game, it still looks beautiful with great pixel art and some decent tracks. There is one small thing I do need to address; if you played ANY other Mario Kart game before you played Super Mario Kart as a kid, then it will show its age and may be harder to enjoy. Not because of the controls, but just how the game feels when you play. It’s hard to explain, but the karts feel looser and overall harder to handle than later entries. Along with that, the screen threw me for a loop when I first tried playing on my SNES Classic Edition. Even for single-player races, the screen is split with a map of the track on the bottom and the race on top. It was hard for me to adjust while playing, as the only time I would have split-screen was when playing with someone else. Even though I could feel the game’s age as I was playing it, I was still having fun. Even when I would comment on something that would be improved later down the line, I was still having fun, and it was great to experience the first outing of one of my favorite game franchises.
Is Super Mario Kart the best game of the series? Not by a long shot, but it set the foundation for something truly special for years to come. The legacy that this game created is unreal. It was the 4th best-selling SNES game (according to Playing With Super Power) and the series is so popular that the main attraction for the Super Nintendo World areas in Universal theme parks is a Mario Kart *ride! In essence, *Super Mario Kart cruised down the highway so the games that followed can zoom past with their 150cc engines. While many have their personal favorite Mario Kart game, we all know that when the franchise is mentioned, people will always be down to play.
Returning to the Stadium May Break You
The N64 games offered through the Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) service should have been the easiest slam dunk for Nintendo. Ever since NES and SNES games became available to play on the service, gamers were foaming at the mouth for N64 games. When the N64 app was finally announced there was much rejoicing, and then the pricing to access these games turned joy into shock, and then emulation problems upon release led to horror and anger. Ever since, Nintendo has been trying to get back in the public’s good graces, and to their credit, they have been fixing the bugs and emulation problems with the N64 NSO app. Nintendo also keeps adding games, which is something players definitely want, but their most recent announcement has me mad. Not because of the game that was announced, but due to a crucial part of the game being completely gutted entirely.
Let’s start with a quick history lesson. Pokémon Stadium was the main reason I wanted an N64 in the first place. Not Mario, not Zelda, but Pokémon. Those little monsters had me constantly begging my parents for the Nintendo 64 and a copy of the game when I saw a commercial for it on TV. Why was I begging my parents for this game? To me, the best part of Pokémon was the battles. Playing the original Game Boy game, I constantly searched for trainers to battle and stomp on. When I saw that there was a game where all you did was battle AND there were 3D models of my favorite Pokémon, I knew I had to have it. Even when the N64 games were announced for NSO, I hoped they would bring in the Stadium titles. Especially now, since a loose cart of Pokémon Stadium 2 will cost you around $71 according to Pricecharting. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But Ben, Nintendo DID announce these games. Both of them are coming next year, why are you upset about this?” I’m upset because these games will probably be nigh unbeatable with just the rental Pokémon available, and you won’t be able to transfer your Pokémon into the games.
Nintendo does what SEGA...does
In 2001, many die hard SEGA fans cried out in sadness. SEGA announced that they would no longer be making consoles of their own, but instead would become a third party developer and would make games for all consoles. This included their former arch rival Nintendo, and veterans of the 90’s console wars shuddered. “Sonic on a Nintendo console!? Blasphemy,” they would say. Over 20 years have passed since SEGA’s decision and Sonic has had a very interesting ride on Nintendo systems. Some have been great (Sonic Advance), others have not been so good (Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric). To be clear this piece is going to focus on games that were initially released on/for Nintendo consoles ONLY. No compilations (sorry Sonic Gems) or titles that were released for all major consoles (again, sorry Sonic Mania). With that in mind, let’s look at Sonic’s first outing on a Nintendo system, the Game Boy Advance.
To Hype or to Not Hype?
This past week, the Pokémon Company finally released a more in-depth trailer for their upcoming games: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. While this trailer has taken the internet by storm and the announcement of some new Pokémon certainly has people excited, this old trainer still has some doubts. The core Pokémon games haven’t really changed much over the years and it’s still too early to tell what Game Freak will do with this new entry. Thus far things seem promising, but there are a few elements that may make gamers a bit upset.
It was New alright.
Turing 16 is a big deal for some people. It’s when teenagers can get their driver’s licenses, earn more freedoms from their parents, or throw the biggest party they can get away with. While Mario isn’t a stranger to big celebrations, one series has been quietly hanging out on the sidelines. The series in question is New Super Mario Bros and while the sequels aren’t really regarded with the highest of praise, it’s the first game of this franchise that is still regarded as the pinnacle.
Much Color. So Space. Wow
It seems when Nintendo isn’t giving fans what they’ve been dying for, indie developers step it up. Undertale did it for the Earthbound fans, Hollow Knight did it for the Metroidvania fans, and now *Astrodogs * is attempting to help out the *Star Fox * fans. While this game gives a valiant effort, there are still a few problems that more casual fans might not be so keen on.
Lighting The Way 19 Years Later
It might be hard to believe, but Nintendo’s first upgrade to the GBA is nearly 20 years old. March 23rd marks the 19th anniversary of the GBA SP’s release in North America; a platform that launched just 2 years after the GBA itself. Since its release, the GBA SP has become the go-to handheld for those who want to revisit the Game Boy Advance library, and thanks to backwards compatibility, it’s perfect for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, too.
In honor of the GBA SP’s 19th anniversary, let’s take a look back at this amazing upgrade to an already amazing handheld.
Shining Gem or Dull Rock?
Tactical games have seen a big boom as of late. This year we’re getting Triangle Strategy, Metal Slug Tactics, Advance Wars 1+2 Reboot Camp, and a remake of Front Mission, all for the Switch. However, if you aren’t in the mood for a story-heavy tactical RPG, then Keith Burgun’s Gem Wizards Tactics could be for you. It has some great pixel art and crazy-looking characters, but there are some glaring issues with the game, especially in the Switch version.
Let’s start with some of the good. Aside from nice-looking pixel art and a more pastel color palette for the genre, Gem Wizards Tactics (GWT) twists the tactical aspect by having an out of bounds. All battles take place on a randomly generated field with different terrain. If you manage to knock an enemy unit off the map, then they’re done for. GWT also moves away from the Fire Emblem approach to losing units. Here, if a unit dies in battle, you get them back in the next fight. There are several different factions and each one is unique. Each faction design has a ton of character, and each unit offers a specific set of skills. There’s a faction full of sentient potatoes (yes, you read that right), business-suited demons, punk rock-loving skeletons with a flair for activism, and a cyber punk group of hackers. There’s even a faction with knights and mages found in a traditional fantasy setting, but the world of GWT is anything but traditional.
The game modes of GWT consist of a Tutorial, Campaign, Mission, and Derby’s Story. If you were looking for any sort of storyline to this game, then Derby’s Story is where you’re going to find it. Unfortunately, the story is super short, and the writing isn’t the best. There are some decent jokes in there that gave me a small chuckle, but other than that, it fell flat. Outside of the opening cinematic and Derby’s Story, there really is no storyline.
The campaign mode is a single player match where you control 1 faction and complete missions to control the Omni-Gem (the main Gem in the game). You have to complete 8 missions or so to access the Omni-Gem mission, and once you beat it with one faction, you can try again with a different faction. While playing these missions, you can save other units and they’ll join your fight. There are also treasure chests to collect on the maps that offer both gold and items. However, if you fail a mission in the middle of a campaign, you’ll have to start the campaign all over again, and you lose everything. While the missions are short, this can get annoying, especially when you’re close to the end of a campaign.