You’ve caught Pokémon. You’ve traded them. You’ve battled them. Now, it’s time to shuffle them.
Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS, Android (reviewed), iOS
Release: February 18, 2015
Pokémon Shuffle is one of a million match three puzzle game available for mobile platforms, including the 3DS. Of course, in Pokémon Shuffle, the game pieces are Pokémon rather than candy or jewels or whatever.
There are a few other major mechanics that separate Shuffle from games like Bejeweled and Candy Crush. First, you can move a piece to and from anywhere on the game board, as opposed to being limited to moving pieces one space away like you are in Bejeweled. This gives a relatively new range of freedom and strategy to your moves and encourages you to spend a little more time between moves to strategize. Also, the main line of levels have move limits rather than time limits, so you can afford to spend that extra time to make optimal plays.
The other thing that separates Shuffle from other match-threes is that each level acts like a Pokémon battle. The top of the screen shows the Pokémon that you are battling, and each match you make is an attack that lowers your enemy’s health bar. After beating your opponent, you then get the chance to catch it for use in subsequent “battles.” For each level, you get to choose four “support Pokémon” that act as the game pieces for you to match. Each Pokémon has its own elemental type as well as an ability that activates when you match it.
Much like traditional Pokémon games, each Pokémon has a type (though, unlike the traditional games, they are limited to one type instead of two) and each type has its own weaknesses and resistances. If the Pokémon you match is strong against the one you’re battling, the match will deal double damage. If your Pokémon is weak against the enemy, it will do half damage.
Each Pokémon has its own unique ability as well. These abilities usually activate when you match the Pokémon, and range from doing additional damage to inflicting status effects on the enemy.
As is to be expected from a Pokémon battle, your enemy won’t take its beating lying down. Most enemies show a timer that counts down after each move you make. When the counter hits zero, the enemy will unleash a “disruption” effect on your game board. These disruption effects range from turning some of your Pokémon into another Pokémon with a bad type match-up, to turning them into stone or wooden blocks, to encasing them in “ice,” rendering them immovable. Some of your Pokémon’s abilities can inflict status effect such as paralysis or sleep to delay enemy distractions.
All in all, there are a ton of fun and unique twists to the classic match-three game that’s become almost a staple in casual gaming. It actually does a great job at keeping Pokémon Shuffle fresh and worth playing.
The biggest issue that Shuffle has, though, is that it has taken the freemium bug in some of the worst ways. The most glaringly horrendous freemium BS is that you are limited to five games at a time. You generate one heart every 30 minutes, and it costs one heart to play a puzzle. Keep in mind, that’s not one heart for a retry after losing a puzzle. That’s one heart just for trying. You lose the heart regardless of whether you’ve won or lost the battle. That means you get roughly 15-20 minutes’ worth of gameplay after waiting for 2 ½ hours at a time. Not even Candy Crush was that heartless. Of course, you can spend real money to buy jewels. These jewels will each let you buy another 5 games as well as a few other contextual purchases. This almost turns Pokémon Shuffle into a scratch-off card rather than a video game.
As a casual-focused puzzle game, there is no story whatsoever in Pokémon Shuffle. It really doesn’t need one, though.
The graphics in this game focus on making everything cute, which works quite well. Pokémon have always already been cutesy, and Shuffle somehow manages to make them even more so. Scarier-looking Pokémon such as Charizard or Giratina get the “chibi” treatment, while already-cute Pokémon like Minccino, Togepi, or Pichu look like their usual selves.
Since there are a fair number of Pokémon, and since you tend to play battles according to type, there are occasions in which you may find yourself playing with many similarly-colored Pokémon, which can be a little hard on the eyes. I’ve noticed this can be especially hard to handle when you play with a team of predominately blue-colored ice-type Pokémon. All that blue really messes with your eyes and makes it harder to see potential matches clearly.
The music in this game is an extremely strong point. Each zone in the over world has its own theme song, and so do each of the Pokémon you battle. My favorite is the French-style music that plays when you activate your mega-evolutions. I’ve never jammed out to fruity-sounding French music so hard in my life. It makes me want to air-guitar all over my baguette.
As Pokémon Shuffle loves to remind you each time to start it up, you can technically play the game without spending any money. As such, it is hard to place a good estimate of “value” on a free game. However, you can only play the game for free once every half hour or five times every two and a half hours. If you actually want to sit down and play for any good amount of time, you’re probably going to have to fork over a little bit of cash. It costs one jewel to play 5 games, and about $1.00 USD to buy one jewel, which equates to about 20 cents per puzzle. Honestly, I’d much rather just pay about $5 and have the game to play whenever I want. That said, the game is good fun, and it isn’t really hard to put it down for the few hours it takes to recharge the hearts.
Pokémon Shuffle provides loads of fun twists to the typical match-three game archetype. The use of elemental types, the ability to catch and use new Pokémon for matches, and the ability system all keep the game from getting stale. The graphics are bright, cute, and fun. The music is awesome. Really the only thing that holds this game back is its terrible use of the freemium monetization model and the fact that it limits how much you can play at a time. Everything else about it makes it a strong casual puzzle game.
+Vivid and cute art style
-Limited number of plays at a time
Score: 3 / 5