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Credit where credit’s due: Nearly two decades since the franchise debuted, Pokémon still has momentum. The Pokémon Company, a subsidiary of Nintendo, has put out 47 Pokémon games in the past 18 years, but the most recent iteration — Pokémon X and Y — moved a whopping 12 million copies as of April 2014.
It’s only natural, then, that Pokémon will lead Nintendo’s first foray into the App Store, with a videogame based on the Pokémon Trading Card Game coming to the iPad later this year. That’s a fairly big deal, since the company has long resisted mobile, but has also turned in three consecutive annual losses, the first three since 1981.
Bringing the videogame, based on the physical card game of the same name originally
created published in the U.S. by Wizards of the Coast, to mobile also makes some sense. Activision Blizzard, which is also pushing into mobile, found a hit earlier this year with Hearthstone, a virtual-only trading card game starring Blizzard characters. Other digital card games based on franchises like Adventure Time and Star Wars have charted well in downloads and revenue.
That’s two points in the Pokémon TCG videogame’s favor: It has a built-in audience, and others have proven that the genre can work on iPad.
It’s also a little underwhelming.
If you want to see the new game, you can basically play it right now. A downloadable PC and Mac version has been available for years, and its mission is clear: To buttress the now-Nintendo-published physical card game, much as Wizards of the Coast uses videogames based on its Magic: The Gathering card game to remind players that hey, Magic: The Gathering is still around.
Putting that game on mobile will expose it to a potentially much bigger audience, but it’s not really the sort of Nintendo experience some fans have been waiting for. The creative efforts that serve its desire to be different are still clearly focused on its troubled home console, the Wii U, and its bundled touchscreen controller.
If this is more than a one-off fling with mobile and the company is really changing its tune on the App Store, it had better act fast. A game “inspired” by the original Pokémon games, Micromon, took over the app charts last week and is still a top-50 downloaded title on iPhone and iPad.