What do you get when you cross Candy Crush, an extremely popular game on Facebook and mobile, with Pokemon, one of Nintendo’s best selling franchises? Pokemon Shuffle, a “freeium” puzzle game on the Nintendo 3DS, that’s what. Does Pokemon Shuffle offer anything different from other similar puzzle games aside from cosmetic differences? Let’s take a look.
Forgive me for using Candy Crush to describe Pokemon Shuffle, but it really is easier to compare Pokemon Shuffle to the popular Facebook/mobile game to illustrate its basic mechanics. Like Candy Crush, Pokemon Shuffle is a puzzle game where you have to make matches of three or more puzzle tiles, but instead of having candies of different shapes and sizes you have Pokemon icons. Controls are limited to the touchscreen – all your puzzle solving and navigation are done using the stylus.
Pokemon Shuffle also involves limited plays. You need to spend a Heart in order to play a stage and you can only have up to five regular Hearts. These Hearts will replenish themselves over a period of time – one Heart for every thirty minutes. You can spend real life money in order to purchase Jewels, which can then be spent to buy more Hearts or to buy in-game Coins that you can use for buying in-game power ups (just like in Candy Crush).
Pokemon Shuffle’s similarities with Candy Crush end there though. Staying true with the core goal of Pokemon games, your objective in Pokemon Shuffle is to fight and catch different Pokemon. However, instead of the turn-based RPG style battle system of the original Pokemon games, battles are presented in “match three” puzzle form. In each stage of Pokemon Shuffle, you’re trying to beat and capture a Pokemon. To beat the stage, you have to knock that Pokemon out before you run out of your alloted number of moves. You need to select a team of three or four Pokemon to help you with this objective, and these Pokemon are represented by the puzzle tiles in that stage (so it’s not just random candies). Matching the puzzle tiles results in an attack that drains the opposing Pokemon’s life bar. If done correctly (or if you’re lucky), you can string together multiple matches with just one move.
This sets Pokemon Shuffle apart from other “match three” puzzlers – the strategy involved is not limited to the puzzle, it extends to thinking about which Pokemon to bring to each stage. These Pokemon aren’t just differently shaped tiles – they have individual characteristics like Types that add a rock-paper-scissors element to the puzzle (e.g. Water-Types do more damage against Fire-Types). Each Pokemon has different Attack Power ratings that represent how much damage they do, and they even have different Abilities that result in advantageous effects that trigger whenever you make matches of that certain Pokemon. Pokemon Shuffle even has the Mega Evolution mechanic from the more recent Pokemon games.
Puzzle-solving is almost second to team building in Pokemon Shuffle. You can beat most of its stages with basic puzzle-solving know-how as long as you’ve brought a team of effective Pokemon. On the flipside, even the best puzzle-solvers will have a tough time beating a stage if they’re working with a team of ineffective Pokemon.
Another big difference that Pokemon Shuffle has over other puzzle games is the different aspects of progression that you can get for beating stages. Aside from the opportunity to catch more Pokemon, you also gain Coins, experience points (EXP) for the Pokemon that you used in the stage, as well as Ranks. Coins, as mentioned earlier, are used for in-game power ups. EXP makes your Pokemon increase their Level, which in turn make them more powerful. Finally, attaining high ranks (S-Ranks) will unlock more stages and in turn, even more Pokemon to catch.
In addition to this, Pokemon Shuffle gets regular updates weekly which keeps the game fresh. These updates may involve the addition of new permanent stages or limited time events like Mega Events with Mega Stones (needed to enable Mega Evolutions) up for grabs or events that involve special stages like Pokemon Safari or Escalation Battles. I actually look forward to the Pokemon Shuffle update every Monday just to see what the developers have in store for us players for that week. This is bad news for anyone who didn’t get this game when it was released since they already missed out on several Pokemon that were offered on a limited time basis, but thankfully the developers have rotated several of their events so we’ve seen some of these Pokemon become available again.
Of course, just because Pokemon Shuffle is a puzzle game doesn’t mean we can ignore presentation completely and just look at its game mechanics, so let’s talk about that. In terms of graphics, Pokemon Shuffle really doesn’t offer more than it needs to – there’s no use of 3D models or vivid backgrounds here, and there isn’t even any use of the 3D functionality of the Nintendo 3DS. The different Pokemon icons in this game are actually ripped directly from Pokemon Battle Trozei, a similar game that came out for the Nintendo 3DS in 2014. There’s nothing visually impressive but this is a puzzle game so graphics aren’t really that vital. I do have to mention the neat detail of using different Type-based effects for attacks, like splashes of water whenever you match Water-types or purple globs of liquid when matching Poison-types.
What’s notable in the game’s presentation is the music as Pokemon Shuffle has some really good tracks. I especially like this particular tune that invokes images of Italy for some strange reason – my girlfriend also likes this track, I’ve caught her humming along to this tune more than once as she’s playing the game. As for the story, well, there’s none, but Pokemon Shuffle doesn’t really need a plot for it to work.
The final point that needs to be addressed with Pokemon Shuffle is it’s “freeium” aspect. People sometimes automatically react negatively at the mention of microtransactions, and while it’s true that Pokemon Shuffle has them, let me assure you that you don’t really need to spend any money to enjoy this game. Aside from having regular Hearts that replenish over time, Pokemon Shuffle also uses the StreetPass feature of the Nintendo 3DS in order to allow players to gain free “bonus Hearts” that are counted separately. You can now opt to not use these bonus Hearts and save them for later, and still have your regular Hearts replenish themselves.
As I mentioned, you can also earn Coins just by beating Stages, so the only time that you may want to spend real money is if you want to get your Coins and/or Hearts right away. I’ve been playing Pokemon Shuffle since it was released, and I’ve managed to catch every single Pokemon that came out as of this writing on both my New Nintendo 3DS XL and my girlfriend’s Nintendo 2DS. With that said, I think people shouldn’t be deterred from the “freeium” aspect of Pokemon Shuffle.
Having all of these things considered, I think Pokemon Shuffle is a game that can be highly addictive to a certain type of gamer. Personally, the amount of progression is what really hooked me on this game. I like the fact that everytime I complete a stage, I’m actually gaining something that gives me a sense of accomplishment – either because I earned more Coins, because I’m able to unlock more stages and capture more Pokemon, or just because my Pokemon became stronger by gaining EXP and moving up a Level. All this and I didn’t even have to spend anything, not just on microtransactions but on the game itself because it’s free!
This is not a game for everyone, though. There will be some people who will be turned off by the Hearts restriction and would rather pay for a game that they can play as much as they want. Or those that just want to play a puzzle game and not have to think about which Pokemon to use and train and all that. Or even those people who don’t like puzzles at all. If you like puzzle games and own a Nintendo 3DS, you should at least give Pokemon Shuffle a try because it’s free. It’s definitely worth the effort of downloading it onto your 3DS.
And if you don’t have a Nintendo 3DS? Well, there are plans for Pokemon Shuffle to be released on iOS and Android devices, so I think anyone who likes puzzle games should keep an eye out for it. I’m sure that version won’t be exactly the same as what we 3DS owners have, but the core mechanics should remain the same.
Have you played Pokemon Shuffle on 3DS? What did you think about it? Will you give Pokemon Shuffle Mobile a shot when it comes out? Drop us a line in the comments section below!