Nintendo is the company that's usually a bit late to the party. Whether it's graphical capabilities or shifts in the industry, Nintendo always seems to be just one step behind. The latest evidence comes in the form of Pokemon Shuffle, a game made to resemble smartphone apps in every way from gameplay to microtransations, but lives on your 3DS. Is it worth checking out even with its free price tag?
Shuffle isn't Nintendo's first ever free-to-play title, as Steel Diver Sub Wars was first to the scene. Where Shuffle and Sub Wars differ though, is that you're able to outright buy all the content for Sub Wars, and play the game with everything available to you, and not locked away behind microtransactions. Shuffle on the other hand has no such option.
Pokemon Shuffle bears heavy resemblance to another 3DS title, Pokemon Battle Trozei. Even their game icons on the 3DS menu look nearly identical. While mechanically similar, they both actually play out quite differently. While Battle Trozei has you scrambling for matches in a certain amount of time, activating skills based on the number of matches you do in a single move, Shuffle instead gives you a limited amount of moves per round, making you play smarter, and think about your moves before actually executing them.
Shuffle certainly has an addicting nature to it, since each round you play, gives you the opportunity to capture that Pokemon. Once captured, you can then make up a party of four different Pokemon that each have unique skills based on their element. Certain Pokemon will also have access to Mega Evolutions, that have powerful abilities like clearing out an entire column, or an area of icons. It's this collectible nature and team building strategy where Shuffle actually succeeds over Battle Trozei. Depending on how many of those allocated moves you use per round, you get a bonus to your overall percentage of being able to capture that given Pokemon. While some scrubs like Pidgey will start off with a high percentage already, basically guaranteeing a catch, there are others like Torchic, who's capture percentage is like %5. That specific round has 5 moves allocated to it, and I was able to beat it in two. The extra three moves translated to an added 30% increase, still only putting me at 35%. Needless to say, I had to replay that level about four times until Torchic was finally caught. Four times doesn't sound that bad if you're not factoring in the waiting time. Then it's brutal. Of course, I also had the option of buying a Great Ball for 2,500 coins, which also equates to just under 3$, which raised my percentage value nearly to the max.
Ultimately it's a smart move by Nintendo to add these various extra hooks, because they will certainly entice players to fork over real money in order to keep the addiction going. This is where Shuffle falters, horribly. I realize that it's meant to resemble games you could find on your iPhone or Android device. The microtransactions themselves also make sense in that way, but the problem is that these kinds of games have no place on the 3DS; a device that can't connect to the internet anyhwere, anytime. The game gives you a measly five hearts, meaning you can only play five rounds at a time until you have to wait for each one to replenish, which take 30 minutes per heart. That means if you want to play a full five rounds, you have to wait two and a half hours at a time. That's pretty brutal. Of course, you can use a gem, which costs $0.99, to replenish your hearts fully and keep going. But what if I'm out of reach of any Wifi signal? I'm simply out of luck. I then have to play the waiting game.
But the Microtransactions actually make their way over to the base game as well. Before each match, you can buy numerous powerups such as giving you extra moves, more Exp to level your currently equipped Pokemon, or even start off with a Mega Evolution right off the bat. While these things cost in-game coins, it's crazy to expect anyone to actually amass these values by simply playing the game. For each round you win, you get a 100 coins. However, for one gem, you can exchange 3000 coins. So in order to buy Complexity -1, which removes one Pokemon icon from the game, essentially making it easier to perform large combos, you'd have to spend $3, if you didn't have any coins on hand. And let me tell you, it doesn't take long before you'll realize that grinding previous levels becomes necessary, or outright buy these helpful items to make beating or capturing Pokemon easier. And if you opt to take the grinding route, well, good luck since you can only keep playing five rounds at a time, or essentially one round every half hour.
Like smartphone games, Pokemon Shuffle employs the idea of special events that will have a limited runtime. Currently, players can take their shot at battling (and possibly catching?) the mythical Mew. For winning the round, you'll be awarded with a 1000 coins, which is pretty great. But after trying my hand at it last night, I realized I need to come back with much stronger Pokemon, or at least spend some coins on power-ups.
There are also Expert levels which actually play out a lot more like Battle Trozei, as they remove the amount of moves you have to win, and instead put in a time limit that you have to beat the Pokemon in. This becomes much less strategic and instead revolves around constantly shuffling around Pokemon to keep matches going.
I love Pokemon Shuffle's gameplay mechanics. I like how this one is more focused on being strategic rather than fast-paced. I enjoy collecting Pokemon to exploit weaknesses of ones I haven't caught yet. I enjoy the Mega Evolution power-ups that have screen-clearing effects. But I hate that I'm constantly behind this barrier of having to pay actual money in order to simply keep playing the game. I'm angry that I can't simply purchase the game for $10, and play it freely. I can tell you this though, if you do download Pokemon Shuffle, and you even mildly enjoy the gameplay, definitely check out Pokemon Battle Trozei on the eShop. It's only $7.99, has hundreds of Pokemon to catch, and has similar gameplay with a stronger focus on fast-paced gameplay. As is the case with free-to-play games, it won't cost you anything to try
A free-to-play take on Pokemon Battle Trozei that doesn't really mesh well with the 3DS.