Alright let's get the most important bit out of the way. The base set TCG is DOGSHIT. And I'm not playing this up for comedy or anything, it is SO bad. Way, way, WAY too many cards have coinflip attacks that amount to "if heads your opponent can't play the game", a very clear lack of balance even to a fairly casual player, the list goes on and on. Yet I'm coming in here giving the game a really high rating, so what gives?
Well, despite being given the absolute worst lot in life - being a promotional game for such a horrible TCG - this game absolutely KILLS it. Despite admittedly having a fair few problems, barely any of them feel like they're the entire fault of the game and might not really be problems at all if not being held at the whims of base set. It exudes nothing but charm and passion in absolutely every aspect, and is even quite fun to play most of the time!
The gameplay loop is pretty similar to the original, but after clearing enough of your home island, you get to head off to GR Island, which is the real meat of the game. Over here, most of the duelists throw in their own extra rules to change the game up a bit. A lot of the standard ones are simple ones that just force you to change up your deck, but the leaders have rules that play to their advantage more explicitly - one particular example I remember is a rule that causes the energy of defeated cards to go back into your hands instead of getting discarded, and their deck has a lot of energy removals to try to keep you starved while holding an endless amount of their own. It plays with a lot of ideas and it's a really cool concept in itself, though being forced to swap your deck around can be a bit annoying when you don't have any particularly exciting cards of that type to build around.
As well as Base Set, this game introduces the Team Rocket and Vending sets as well. It's definitely a marked improvement over the original because even though there's still a huge saturation of RNG-centred cards, lots of the new cards have really cute mechanics to build around. Even though I played through a lot of the game with a decently-built Do The Wave deck, I had a lot of fun messing around with lots of the Dark cards in particular since those ones really embody the weird batshit creativity of these earlier competitive games. Despite there being cards and archetypes that are clearly better than others, the game is never hard enough to where it feels like it necessitates a strong meta deck. You can go wild experimenting with the weird stuff, and as long as your decks have a strong enough backbone you can get away with all sorts of dumb funny decks. It's kind of a goldmine for messing around with weird bullshit, much more than the original, and I think that's a big part of what made thhis game so compelling to me. That said, you still are limited by which cards you get from booster packs (the game does try to add a way to reliably get certain cards, but it's a bit arcane and doesn't seem all that helpful), and while I like it for the sense of progression and not being able to just meta deck right at the start, it can get a bit stifling when you don't quite have the cards you need to make something work.
The charm of this game is what really elevates it, though. The original already went WAY harder than it had any right to be with its super detailed and accurate card art recreations and absolutely crazy soundtrack. While this game reuses pretty much all the original's assets, they used that to go to TOWN on all the new details in this one. Entire new soundtrack on top of the old one, with way more attention put into the overworld tracks? Yep! Ability to change the skin of your coin, with every boss using a different, unlockable, coin of their own? Sure, why not? Even more detail put into the character designs, with all the trainers getting happy and sad portraits to react to the game state? Of course! Unexpectedly charming writing and some cute overworld cutscenes? Hell yeah!
I hold so much love for this game, despite being based on the worst game known to mankind and despite the few little quirks of its own. Even though I've written so much, I feel like I can't really express just how passionate I am about it. But it's a little bittersweet, you know? There would have been so much potential for a TCG3 based on a better, more modern version of the game. But as long as they have their outlet in PTCGO that they can monetise the shit out of, there's no reason for another one of them to exist. So close to perfection, but it'll never have its chance to get there.