For two decades fans have been doing everything in their power to catch 'em all, but those wily minxes over at Nintendo keep dreaming up new Pokemon for us to chuck our balls at. At first, all we had to worry about were catching the virtual Pokemon, but then the wildly successful Pokemon Trading Card Game came along and brought our favorite 'mons to the real world. Now things have come full circle with Pokemon TCG Online, a virtual version of the tabletop game that trades real cards for virtual decks, terrible graphics, and an underwhelming game experience.

As a Pokemon trainer, it's your job to train your Pokemon so you can be the very best, like no one ever was. As a Pokemon TCG duelist, it's your job to get cards, spend real money, and get more cards. You'll battle other players or the computer, entering leagues in the hopes of ranking up and earning more cards. The meat of Pokemon TCG- the card battles- is virtually identical to the physical card game. You and your opponent have one monster on the field at a time, with a bench of five additional creatures you can swap in during your turn. You'll equip energy cards to each pokemon to enable their attacks, and use support cards to gain special advantages like drawing extra cards or healing your Pokemon. You'll lose the match if your lead pokemon gets knocked out and you don't have any viable backups, or if you lose six pokemon throughout the course of the game.

The Pokemon Company

Everything works, technically, but none of it feels very satisfying. Pokemon TCG Online lacks much of what makes other popular CCGs, well, popular. It's not as strategic or complex as Magic: The Gathering, nor as accessible and aesthetically pleasing as Hearthstone. The abilities of most Pokemon are fairly straightforward damage-dealers, many of which rely on luck more than skill. Cards rarely have any ongoing or interactive effects, so don't bother trying to create custom decks based around special cards, as there essentially aren't any. Battles can rage on for what seems like forever, often going for the pre-determined limit of twenty-five minutes, and even when they go for less time they feel interminably long thanks to the stuttering, laggy, always-online play.

The Pokemon Company

While the cards themselves still have the delightful art found on the physical Pokemon cards, the menus, attack animation and everything else about this game is ugly as sin, looking like a terrible flash game from 2005. Don't expect any music or characters from the game to pop up outside of the virtual cards, either. What little music there is are just generic beats to fill the air, and the tutorial characters and player avatars are either smug-looking, hideous, or both.

The Pokemon Company

The in-game shop offers numerous booster packs, but is so poorly set up that even the most eager Pokemon trainer will have difficulty spending money on the overpriced virtual goods should they so choose. It takes a lot of digging around to figure out how to trade your real money for in-game currency.

The Pokemon Company

Pokemon is an unquestionable, world-wide hit, selling hundreds of millions of copies due to the diligent attention to quality and creativity, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game achieved similar success for similar reasons. Pokemon TCG Online, however, contains none of the creative spark or craftsmanship; outside of the licensed cards this feels like a cobbled-together flash game hoping to make a quick buck. If you want to play Pokemon on the go, play the real games, play the card games, or play a game you've made up in your head, but do yourself a favor and don't bother with this free-to-play pile of Trubbish.

This review was based on a download of Pokemon: Trading Card Game Online for iOS.

App Store Link: Pokemon: Trading Card Game Online for iPad | By The Pokemon Company International, Inc. I Price: Free | Version: 1.0 | 504 MB| Rating 9+

5.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating