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Pokémon finally launches on iOS, kind of

An official Pokémon game has finally arrived for mobile, but it's not quite what fans have been asking for: it's a digital trading card game.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

The Pokémon Company

If ever there was a hugely popular franchise that would work perfectly for mobile, it's Pokémon. The top-down perspective would work beautifully with a virtual D-Pad and the turn-based combat system would easily adapt to touch controls. In fact, we've seen several clones already that work really well, such as Kairosoft's Beastie Bay and MinoMonsters -- but they're never going to be as good as the real thing.

But it's an uphill battle: the Pokémon Company was partially founded by Nintendo (alongside Creatures and Game Freak), whose stance against making games for the mobile platform is legendary. It seems, however, that the games giant is releasing its hold on its previously exclusive properties, just a little: The Pokémon Company has just released its first-ever Pokémon game for iPad.

It's not, however, the title most wanted by fans -- that is, one that features travelling throughout a region, collecting Pokémon, battling fellow trainers and working to foil the machinations of an evil faction who want to somehow ruin Pokémon for everyone. It might be the next best thing, though: a port of the online Pokémon TCG, which you can log into using your Pokémon Trainer Club account.

The game has its roots in the original tabletop TCG launched in 1996, and contains the same gameplay: Pokémon cards for battling; trainer cards; energy cards to give your attacks extra power; and potion cards to heal or boost your Pokémon.

Like Hearthstone, it's free to play, and players can add to their decks by winning matches against other players to get Trainer Tokens. As an additional pot-sweetener, if you purchase physical Pokémon cards in the real world, you'll receive a digital code that gives you the same card in the game, redeemable in the in-game shop.

A notice that the game offers in-app purchases on the iTunes page also implies that players can purchase Trainer Tokens with which to buy cards and avatar items, but we've yet to figure out how this is accomplished; the interface is a little counterintuitive and crowded, and not very pleasant to look at -- a stark contrast to Hearthstone.

The game needs to be played online so that you can battle other players, but does have a single-player "Trainer Challenge" campaign so that you can avoid other people if you're the sort of person who likes to play alone.

A quick play indicates that the game isn't without quite annoying problems, but one could consider the fact that it exists at all something of a breakthrough. It might not be the Pokémon game we want to be playing on our mobile devices, but baby steps are better than none at all.

Download it free from the iTunes app store.