It wasn't too long ago that I had a conversation with someone about Pokémon. Interestingly enough, he said that while the Pokémon Game Boy titles were accompanied by a popular card game, virtually no one he knew actually played the cards. The cards were just something on the side—collectibles. To get in on the real Pokémon action you'd really have to get the Game Boy cartridges.
Although this was something of a revelation for me, it wasn't a surprise either. Strictly speaking, the Pokémon card game was an after thought to the Game Boy titles. Still, the conversation made me think. Moving card games onto portable systems seemed like a natural evolution with many benefits. The most obvious benefit would be cost, since it would no longer be necessary to spend a fortune to build a powerful deck... Especially these days, when foil-wrapped card packs cost anywhere between three to five dollars. (When I was a kid, I used to spend a quarter on a pack of hockey cards and it came with a stick of gum too.) Playing Yu-Gi-Oh! on a cartridge basically gives everyone more or less equal access to powerful cards. Another nice bonus is that rare and valuable cards won't get worn out through playing, or, heaven forbid it, lost or destroyed. Just be careful with that cart
Since Pokémon, trading/collectible games have also become a staple for the Game Boy Advance (GBA)—Medabots, Digimon, and Megaman Battle Network, to name some. One of the very best games released on the now defunct SNK Neo Geo Pocket was in fact, an original card game called Card Fighter's Clash. It was only natural that a popular card game like Yu-Gi-Oh! would eventually find success on the GBA. Born from a manga and powered by a popular animated series, Yu-Gi-Oh! is massive. In 1999, when Konami held a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament, fifty-five thousand fans showed up. Some time during the event, riot police were called in.
However, unlike the Pokémon games, the Yu-Gi-Oh! videogames were really secondary to the actual card game. While videogame sales are robust, they are still modest compared to the card sales. Some day, I think card games might be predominantly played on portable game systems, but the Yu-Gi-Oh! games highlight some of the problems with making such a transition. Many of these problems are undoubtedly keeping the bulk of Yu-Gi-Oh! fans playing with paper for the time being.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Worldwide Edition, the latest Yu-Gi-Oh! title released on the GBA, is best described as a simulation of the card game. There isn't anything terribly fancy about it. The playing field looks just like it would if the card game was played on a table. Monsters don't come to life (a la VR technology) as they do in the anime series. But the developers did make a number of good design choices including giving Worldwide Edition a layout similar to that of a fighting game. In the game, card duelists from the anime series are available to duel against and are selected from a location on a map. Each duelist has their own unique decks and when defeated, the player is given a pack of five cards with which to enhance their deck. The meat of the game however, just like a fighting game, is the competition between human players. Playing against the computer is mostly to enhance a deck by gaining new cards, as well as to familiarize players new to Yu-Gi-Oh! (although it's possible to learn the game from just watching the anime series).
As is expected with card games, the vast majority of cards available in Worldwide Edition are close to worthless. Despite this, there are plenty of good cards, as well as enough different card combinations that it's not necessary to continually depend on the same set of cards to win. A player can create a beat-down deck loading up on strong monster cards as well as magic cards that enhance attack strength. Alternatively, one could create elemental decks, or load a deck with traps. It's certainly not the most complex of the card games available, but it does find a nice place in the middle. Worldwide Edition is easy enough that most people will grasp the gameplay concepts quickly, but varied enough that a player can spend a good deal of time trying out different tactics and strategies.
There isn't anything inherently wrong with the game itself. It's fun and there's lots of replay value with link option. The main weaknesses in Worldwide Edition come from the difficulties in moving a card game on to what is essentially a closed game system.
The game features over a thousand cards, but I know that the card game itself has more than two thousand, maybe even three thousand cards available to collect. What are missing aren't just the weak and uninteresting cards either. Some of my favorite cards, like Blast Sphere, are nowhere to be found. It's even more disappointing to see that many of the cards featured in anime are missing as well. What would have been really great, is if Konami at the very least allowed gamers the opportunity to use the much coveted Egyptian God Cards. Even if these cards were available for tournament use in the real card game, it would be very unlikely that many people would even have one since their rarity would be a given. A big advantage to playing videogame versions of a card game is to get cards that would otherwise be impossible to obtain in real life. The God Cards would have been a great selling point and a wonderful bonus for Yu-Gi-Oh! fans that bought the game.
Yet another complication Worldwide Edition has is that it's essentially closed. Perhaps in the future there maybe an option that allows for new cards or game rules to be imported onto the cart, but it's highly unlikely. Chances are new cards and rules would mean a new game, and that would mean having to buy that game and build a new deck all over again. The space capacity of a cart may even require that other cards be removed to make place for new ones. With paper cards, when the rules change, it's not necessary to pickup a new set. And incorporating newly introduced cards into a real-life deck doesn't pose the same kinds of problems as it does for a Game Boy cartridge.
One last problem I had with Worldwide Edition is the odd decision to only allow the player to assemble a single deck. There isn't any option to assemble an alternate deck. Since I started playing the game, I've amassed literally thousands of spare cards and it would be nice to use different decks to keep things interesting. Sadly, the lack of a spare deck option means that I have to discard my current deck and rifle through over a thousand different cards to assemble a new one. The process is so cumbersome that much of the time I don't even bother, but if I could freely switch between different decks, the game would have been that much more fun to play.
Even with just over a thousand cards available, the game is still fun. It also gets quite a bit of extra shelf life with the link option. The problem is Worldwide Edition in no way feels like a complete, definitive version of the card game. Especially with less than half the cards available from the trading card game, it feels more a like a sampler. Though I'm not too keen on spending loads of money on paper cards, buying regularly updated cartridges can get costly as well. And really, what's the point when the cards you couldn't get on paper aren't available on silicon either?
Don't get me wrong, I do like the game. It's just that perhaps I'll wait until a version with playable God Cards is released before I buy another Yu-Gi-Oh! game.