Pokémon TCG: A Hidden Gem from Japan That Never Reached the World

Pokémon TCG had a Game Boy sequel that never released outside Japan - and we’ve played it
Video pokemon trading card 2 game

Pokémania took the world by storm in the 90s, captivating fans with the Pokémon TV show, trading card game, and a plethora of collectibles. While many are familiar with the Pokémon Trading Card Game’s tabletop debut in 1996, few know of its Game Boy Color sequel that was exclusive to Japan. Today, we delve into the untold story of this hidden gem and explore the unique experience it offered.

A World Apart

The Pokémon Trading Card Game video game, released in Japan in 2000, took a different approach. Instead of immersing players in the world of Pokémon, it transported them to a reality much like our own. In this alternate world, the Pokémon card game reigned supreme, capturing the hearts and minds of enthusiasts. The game featured cards from the TCG’s Base, Fossil, and Jungle sets, enticing young collectors with a total of 226 cards to gather.

The Rise of Team GR

Just a year later, in 2001, a sequel titled Pokémon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR! hit Japanese shelves. This expanded edition introduced a captivating story mode that revolved around an evil organization known as Team Great Rocket. Not only did they steal valuable cards, but they also kidnapped innocent people. The sequel included the same card sets as its predecessor, adding the notorious Team Rocket set and a few extra cards. This expanded the available collection to a staggering 445 cards.

The Team Rocket set introduced 'dark' Pokémon cards, such as this Dark Raichu.
The Team Rocket set introduced ‘dark’ Pokémon cards, such as this Dark Raichu. Image: PSA

Breaking New Ground

The Team Rocket set revolutionized the Pokémon TCG by introducing “dark” Pokémon cards. These cards boasted menacing artwork and more powerful moves that came at the expense of reduced HP. Among the standout cards was Dark Raichu, an evolution of the iconic Pikachu that didn’t even exist in card form before the video game’s release. The Team Rocket set also featured a banned Grimer artwork card, which caused controversy for its suggestive content. Overseas, the card underwent alterations, but in Pokémon Card GB2, its original depiction remained unchanged.

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As well as the Team Rocket set, Here Comes Team GR! featured cards from the Vening Machine series.
As well as the Team Rocket set, Here Comes Team GR! featured cards from the Vending Machine series. Image: The Pokémon Company

Expansions and Exclusives

Pokémon Card GB2 not only incorporated sets like the Lugia and Great Rocket’s Mewtwo cards but also introduced the exclusive Intro Pack, featuring 15 unique cards. However, it was the inclusion of the “Expansion Sheet” cards that truly set the game apart. These glossy cards, known as the “Vending Machine series,” were distributed exclusively through Japanese vending machines. With 127 cards in total, this series became a coveted addition for collectors worldwide. Some intriguing gag cards, like Ooyama’s Pikachu, were left out, as were cards with new rules such as the 3 vs 3 Dugtrio Battle card, which proved challenging to implement into the game’s battle system.

The Unfortunate Fate

Despite the wealth of content and exclusive cards, Pokémon Card GB2 never saw an international release. Surprisingly, it wasn’t due to the game’s inclusion of a gambling corner or the Japanese card sets. Instead, the release date of March 28th, 2001, a week after the launch of the Game Boy Advance console, likely played a significant role. The Pokémon Company directed its focus towards the new system’s Pokémon games, causing the last Pokémon release on the Game Boy Color to fade into obscurity.

A Nod to Familiarity

Pokémon Card GB2 bore similarities to the mainline Pokémon games, with players progressing from club to club, defeating Club Masters before challenging the four Grand Masters. The game mirrored the gym leaders and the Elite Four, replacing exploration with a fast-travel system.

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The Epic Conclusion

For those who never had the opportunity to play Pokémon Card GB2, the story is worth exploring. After defeating the Grand Masters in the original Pokémon Trading Card Game, players find themselves embroiled in a tale involving the nefarious Team Great Rocket. Led by King Biruritchi, this villainous group aims to steal Pokémon cards and even kidnaps the Grand Masters themselves. To save them and reclaim their stolen cards, players must journey to GR Island. With 16 bosses to overcome, including Club Masters and Team Great Rocket leaders, the path culminates in a showdown against King Biruritchi in a best-of-three match. Victorious players are rewarded with a Great Rocket’s Mewtwo card, and the credits roll, marking the end of this unforgettable adventure.

Pokémon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR! was the last digital adaptation of the trading card game until the release of Pokémon TCG Online over a decade later.
Pokémon Card GB2: Here Comes Team GR! was the last digital adaptation of the trading card game until the release of Pokémon TCG Online over a decade later.

The Legacy Lives On

Famitsu, a renowned Japanese video game magazine, awarded Pokémon Card GB2 a score of 29/40, and it sold over 65,000 copies. Inspired by the success of the Team Rocket card series, this game marked a significant milestone as the first Pokémon title published by The Pokémon Company itself. However, it also served as the final game in this line, leaving fans wondering if a third installment based on the Gym Heroes set was ever considered.

The Quest Continues

For those longing to rekindle their Pokémon card game nostalgia, the original Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color is readily available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. Alternatively, the Pokémon TCG Online app provides a more modern experience, catering to PC, iPad, and Android users. While it may be bittersweet to contemplate what could have been, Pokémon Card GB2 remains a treasure confined to the borders of Japan. Team Rocket may have emerged victorious this time, but the spirit of capturing fantasy lives on.

Capturing Fantasy