Call me a stereotype, but I love 3-match puzzle games. I am not some floozy who will put out for any matching shapes, but if you have got something innovative to play around with consider my ears pricked. When I heard that Nintendo had brought out a new free to play puzzle game which incorporated catching Pokémon, the collector in me couldn't resist but download it and see what all the fuss was about.
At first it seems like any other 3 match puzzle game and it doesn't have any kind of interesting story like HuniePop to string the whole thing together. But it is what all games should be: easy to play and difficult to master. The Pokémon are incorporated smoothly into the gameplay. Each Pokémon has a base attack power and will do double or half that damage based on their strengths and weaknesses just like the main games. Each Pokémon also have varying catch rates which can be improved by completing the level more quickly, either by using less moves or in expert levels by having time left over. Some of these catch rates are annoyingly low. The expert stages, which include legendary and the starter Pokémon, all have a base catch rate of 1%, so mastering these levels is vital, but the rewards are big.
The difficulty in Pokémon Shuffle is injected when the Pokémon fight back. These are called disruptions and come in various forms. The Pokémon can turn certain blocks into metal or wood, freeze over some of your Pokémon or transform your Pokémon into Pokémon that are weak against your target. This all seems pretty simple, but if you don't keep your eye on it, they can soon take over your screen making levels impossible to complete. The difficulty in this one definitely progresses well and you will find yourself tearing your hair out at levels close to Pokémon Shuffle's current 160 level ending. You also need to achieve S ranks on the main levels to unlock the expert levels, so completing levels in a small number of moves really rewards players.
The mega evolutions, one of Pokémon's newer game mechanics, also make an appearance. In order to trigger your mega evolution you need to defeat the corresponding trainer (who can be balls hard) giving you the mega stone, then you need to do enough damage in a level to evolve. It's all worth it though, as mega evolutions all have their own individual effects, which if played right can often whip out whole screens of matches, leading to devastating effects. Levels also vary things up in terms of number of moves allowed and blocked areas, meaning that each level requires very different solutions to complete.
I have seen people complain about the graphics as many Pokémon are represented by disembodied floating heads, but I actually like this new style. While the heads sometimes do feel a bit lazy, others such as Raikou pant and feel more realistic, and the overall look is very polished and pretty. The music doesn't have a huge amount of variety but it's still catchy and adds well to the atmosphere of Pokémon Shuffle.
Ok so let's talk about the micro-transactions. There are three in game currencies: hearts which buy level attempts, coins which buy items to help with the levels and jewels which can be exchanged for the other two. Hearts replenish at a rate of one per 30 minutes and cap at a maximum of 5. You can also gain more from Streetpass. Coins are won at the end of levels, 100 for a first completion, or 30 afterwards. Trainers give out 1000 coins, and if you check for new data daily you get 500 coins per day. As well as changing the Pokémon available to catch, occasionally you can battle Meowth for the chance to win 1000s of coins. Finally, jewels are fairly rare. You get 1 per trainer you defeat and occasionally for defeating legendaries and from Streetpass. You can also purchase them with real money, though I'll be honest that I never visited the shop so I'm not sure how much they cost.
The coins are vital to completing some levels as they appear impossible without some of the purchasable boosts. These include disruption delays, plus 5 moves, starting with your mega evolution, or the most expensive, removing 1 type of Pokémon from the board. These items can be expensive and so requires you to only purchase when necessary. You can also double your catch rate by spending 2500 on the great ball, so this creates the decision of whether to spend a replenishable heart to play the level again or waste your coins to catch now.
You in no way need to spend real money on this game, and having limited resources I believe added more value to your decisions. The fact that I spent 30 hours on Pokémon Shuffle to date and still have a few Pokémon to master speaks of the game's addictive nature, and while nothing incredible, Pokémon Shuffle is a title I can see myself going back to for a while.
You can download Pokemon Shuffle for free from the Nintendo eShop. What do you think of Pokémon Shuffle?