One complaint that Nintendo gets a lot is that they tend to be very slow to adapt to the changing market. Personally, this has never bothered me all that much, especially since much of the AAA market nowadays tends to lean heavily on the cinematic experiences and lots and lots of paid DLC, two things which I don’t mind in theory, but what I find many companies don’t use well in practice. Over the last few years, though, Nintendo has been testing the waters with some games, whether it be the paid DLC in Mario Golf World Tour, Mario Kart 8, and Hyrule Warriors, or the other ‘freemium’ titles that they’ve offered on the 3DS, like Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball or Steel Diver: Sub Wars. Personally, I think they’ve done a pretty good job not falling into the trap many other companies have sank into. On the DLC side of things, you’re virtually guaranteed a substantial amount of content for the amount you pay, and the ‘freemium’ games have been, at the very least, an interesting way of doing it, with players getting a small chunk of a game that they can play indefinitely, but requiring a little money to unlock more things to do. And even though I’m not particularly interested in Steel Diver or Rusty, I can at least say that they’re unique in a world chock-full of imitators.
With all that said, Pokémon Shuffle leans a little more into what I’d call dangerous territory for a ‘freemium’ game, but overall, it’s still not that bad.
Dammit, Mew, stop being such a pain in the ass to catch.
If you’ve played any of the Pokémon Trozei (Pokémon Link! in Europe) games before or pretty much any Yoshi’s Cookie clone, then Pokémon Shuffle will likely feel quite similar. Pokémon heads pop up on the bottom screen in a 6×6 grid, and you can drag and drop them to other spaces on the grid in order to match three or more, though you have a limited number of moves. After they clear, the ones above them will drop, possibly making new combos and getting you more points. Every combo you make will deal damage to the Pokémon you’re fighting against, with the type of Pokémon you match determining the type of damage you do, using the type matchups from the regular Pokémon games (though Pokémon only have one type in Shuffle, with no dual-types). Once you defeat the opposing Pokémon, you’ll be able to throw a Pokéball at it to try to catch it, with any extra moves you have remaining adding to the capture chance, and catching new Pokémon gives you more additions to your four-Pokémon team.
It’s just like every other puzzle game released in the last fifteen years, but with Pokémon!
As you progress through the stages, you’ll be introduced to Pokémon that can affect your board in negative ways, either by sealing some Pokémon away, changing them to different Pokémon entirely, turning them into solid blocks that impede progress, or limiting your team to only three. You’ll also find Trainers along the way, who fight you using Mega-Evolved Pokémon, and defeating them nets you both the Mega Stone for that Pokémon and a Jewel. You’ll also earn Coins for every stage you beat, and you can spend them on various power-ups before a stage starts, or use them while trying to catch a Pokémon for twice the capture percentage. There are also Expert Stages you’ll unlock along the way, where instead of being limited by moves, you’re limited by time. Taken on its own terms, the game is simplistic, but certainly rather addicting, and you’ll want to keep playing just to catch more Pokémon and see what else you can unlock.
Some Pokémon only have a base capture rate in the single digits, so you’ll either need to be really good in order to catch them, or spend the Coins on a Great Ball.
And that, in my opinion, is one of the major failings of the game, even though it’s pretty obvious as to why it was done. Your attempts to beat any stage are limited by the number of Lives you have. By default, you have a maximum of five, which really isn’t much when nearly every stage can be beaten in less than two minutes, and some in less than 30 seconds. While your lives do regenerate over time, it takes 30 real-life minutes to restore just one, so you’re generally limited to only ten minutes of gameplay or less before you get to wait for over two hours to play for ten more minutes. Of course, you can use the Jewels you get from defeating Trainers to get more Lives, but Trainers are few and far between, so if you want to keep playing in more than ten-minute spurts, you’ll have to buy Jewels using real money. A single Jewel costs $0.99 / €0.99 / £0.89, but buying in bulk will get you significantly more, up to a maximum of 75 Jewels for $47.99 / €47.99 / £42.99 . While that’ll certainly get you plenty of extra playtime (as 12 Jewels will give you 80 Lives), in the end, they’ll run out, and it’ll be time to get more.
At least it’s not quite as bad as some other freemium games?
In my opinion, this hurts the most at the very beginning of the game, since the tutorial stages are ridiculously simplistic and very short, but still cost lives to play, so by the time the game really starts, you either have to stop and wait, or buy more Lives to keep playing. With a bigger maximum Life count, say 7 or even 10, it’d be easier to feel like you’re getting a decent amount of enjoyment for the time you have to wait between playing. You can also use Jewels to buy more Coins, and since you only get 30 coins from replaying a stage you’ve beaten once, it does feel like the game is really trying to drain some of your money away, just to make things a little easier.
Even Pokémon spinoffs have great Pokégirls.
As a game, Pokémon Shuffle is arguably harmless. Rounds are short, but enjoyable enough to keep coming back for more. The music is decent enough, if nothing spectacular, and with 150 stages plus 20 Expert stages along with the free DLC stages that are released periodically, it’s a game that’s easy to jump into a few times each day just to progress. I do have a hard time recommending it, though, since it does seem to be grabbing for your wallet more than some of Nintendo’s other entries, and not paying for some things will make parts of the game more difficult, along with severely limiting the amount of time you can play in one sitting. With that said, the game is free to download and play, so if you’ve got a 3DS, you may as well give it a shot regardless. Just keep a firm grip on your bank account.