Developer: Genius Sonority
Genre: Match 3/Puzzle
Release Date: 18th February 2015
Regardless of how you feel about the genre, free-to-play titles or Nintendo’s previous stance on the matter, Pokemon Shuffle is an incredibly smart move on their part. Occupying a complete vacuum in regards to free to play 3DS games, it also capitalises on the rabid Pokemon fan-base. Possessing gameplay that’s immediately accessible alongside Nintendo’s traditional welcoming touch, you’d think it would be hard not to succeed.
Unfortunately, just because it’s on a different platform doesn’t make it immune to the numerous pitfalls of the price structure and genre.
It’s difficult to discuss the gameplay mechanics involved in a matching puzzler without making it sound rather dull. You swap tiles to make lines of three or more, triggering cascades and combos whilst future levels introduce various obstacles and move limitations. Obviously, I’m aware that previous sentence could describe roughly half a million games in the same category but Pokemon Shuffle does have a few little tricks to make it feel more creative than most cynical efforts.
You can swap any two blocks on the grid with each other, which helps differentiate it. Additionally, there’s a meter that transforms certain pieces into more destructive specials once filled. Adding a Pokemon flavour to the mix is the ability to capture and level the monsters for your team. Sadly, these features are hugely under-developed and ultimately add little more than a cosmetic coat of paint, barely disguising a tired formula.
Each level represents a wild Pokemon and completing them lets you attempt to catch them. The odds increase depending on your performance though the more popular creatures tend to be harder to tame. Once snatched, you can put them into your team but it does little more than change the appearance of the blocks you match. Types are taken into account with appropriate strengths and weaknesses but it’s little more than a distraction. Most players will simply hit the “optimise” button rather than pick their favourites and level them into a competent team. It undermines the whole ethos behind the franchise, removing the pride and love you feel for your band of pocket monsters.
Spirit of the game aside, there is still a competent matching game underneath the surface. You’ll quite easily draw a few hours of enjoyment from the game initially; the rewards come thick and fast in the form of new catches, quick levels and new mechanics. However, around the fifteenth level, it stumbles. You no longer have any hearts to use to play another level. You’re conveniently doled out life-giving crystals just as they start to run dry but once they’re used up you’ll be waiting half an hour for one heart to fill. It’s an unusually long wait and with levels lasting between 30 seconds to two minutes, you’re really not getting much game-time for your money.
It’s difficult to imagine someone enjoying the rather mediocre gameplay enough to invest in the IAPs involved. For 89p you can buy one crystal that grants five plays, so essentially you’re paying nearly a pound for a maximum of ten minutes of gameplay. Of course, larger purchases give you better ratios but it’s a bitter pill to swallow that I doubt even the most passionate fan will want to invest in. More likely, you’ll accept the timers as a necessary evil and play when the game allows it. In my personal experience though, I found the 3DS to be poorly suited for these kind of drop-in, drop-out sessions and so found myself playing less and less. Smartphones are faster to dip into spontaneously whilst the Nintendo handheld better fits lengthy periods of play.
In all honesty, I wanted to love it. I’m a casual fan of Pokemon and a huge supporter of Nintendo. I stuck with it for a week, hoping that the addictive nature of both the franchise and the genre would sink its fangs in. Sadly, it’s toothless; lacking any kind of edge to satisfy or entertain. I’m sure some will find it passable and stick with it long enough to feel too invested to let go but Pokemon Shuffle succeeds at being the one thing a developer wouldn’t want their game to be. Forgettable.