The shock of seeing Pokémon titles on mobile has officially worn off. We’ve seen Pokémon TV apps, official PokeDex apps, and even a mobile port of the Pokémon trading card game. So when match-three / battle game Pokémon Shuffle hit the Nintendo 3DS last winter, we all suspected it’d only be a matter of time before the game shuffled (HA!) onto mobile.
Sure enough, Pokémon Shuffle recently hit iOS and Android. The news is about as surprising as running into a Zubat in a cave.
Pokémon Shuffle feels right at home on mobile, too. The game joins the endless ream of puzzle / battle games up for grabs right now, including its closest inspiration, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons. Luckily for Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, Pokémon Shuffle’s thematic content really helps the game stand out from the crowd. Though visually unremarkable, Pokémon Shuffle’s blend of addictive match-three gameplay garnished with Pokémon mechanics and lore makes for an addictive and satisfying puzzle game.
So what’s the problem? Some pretty rotten free-to-play practices that stink like Garbodor on a humid August night.
See, smart publishers have altered their games’ free-to-play formulas according to comments and criticism. One of the reasons Candy Crush Saga rose above the other free match-three games on the App Store and Google Play is because you can keep on playing for as long as you like — provided you don’t lose. Losses cause your lives to deplete, but otherwise you’re golden.
In Pokémon Shuffle, you lose one of your five lives every time you play a round. So in five minutes, ten tops, you’re stuck waiting hours for a refill — unless you spend hard currency (gems) to get topped-off. Morever, modern developments that ease the sting of waiting, like the option to watch a video in exchange for a life or two, are absent.
It’d be really nice if Pokémon Shuffle was at least marginally fair about its lives system, since there’s a pretty cool game here. Like most puzzle / battle games, it revolves around making matches to attack foes — but with a Pokémon twist. The Pokémon you defeat and capture can be used in subsequent battles, which is important since the series’ famous “Types” come into play here. Going up against a Pidgey? Take an Electric-type (or three) into battle so that their attacks do more damage.
The more quickly you defeat a wild Pokémon, the easier it is to catch them and use them for your own ends. Unsurprisingly, the free-to-play formula rears up here like an angry Rapidash. More powerful Pokémon have a lower capture percentage (sometimes ridiculously low), and you can improve your chances by purchasing Great Balls.
Though Great Balls can be bought with soft currency (gold), they have a hefty price tag. Purchasing gold with hard currency winds up being your best bet. But I’m a bit suspicious of the capture percentages you’re offered. While it wasn’t too unusual for me to nab a Pokémon on a 30% chance without using a Great Ball, I repeatedly failed at catching a Pikachu — the series’ mascot, and no doubt a high-demand critter — despite spending enough to supposedly get a 90% capture chance.
Bad luck? Maybe. Problem is, it’s impossible to be sure.
Despite these trappings, I had a genuinely good time shuffling Pokémon to and fro. Fans of Nintendo’s series will definitely get a kick out of moving around eerie floating Pokémon heads, though the monetization schemes undeniably coat the experience with a thin layer of “ick.”