Monday, February 23, 2015

3DS eShop review: Pokémon Shuffle

Pokémon Shuffle follows in the line of Pokémon Trozei and a number of other Nintendo properties that have spawned puzzle game spinoffs over the years. The gameplay is simple enough – line up three of the same Pokémon in order to clear space and allow more blocks to trickle down. Each time a set of three or more Poké-blocks are cleared, it will inflict damage upon the opposing Pokémon accordingly. And yes, Pokémon Shuffle does take typing advantages into account. Optimizing a team’s format to deal greater damage to a Pokémon can lead to faster victories, and any remaining turns that went unused during a match can be factored into a bonus at the end, improving your chances of catching a Pokémon.

What makes Pokémon Shuffle such a distinct release for Nintendo is its role as the company’s first major ‘free-to-play’ release. Players are allowed to tackle five matches at the outset, with each attempt using a single heart, one of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies. The early stretch of Pokémon Shuffle is quite generous, as NPCs reward you with jewels, another of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies, which can be exchanged for either more hearts and thus subsequent attempts at puzzles, or for coins, the third and final of Pokémon Shuffle’s in-game currencies.

As the game progresses, overcoming certain hurdles will reward you with more jewels, which is a welcome substitute for the otherwise thirty-minute wait time it takes for a single heart to replenish. It also lessens the pressure from Pokémon Shuffle’s intended ‘pay-to-win’ formula. Coins, meanwhile, are rewarded in small amounts at each successful conclusion of a match, and can be exchanged to earn a few more rounds in a single given match, a slight boost in the experience points earned by your party members, the chance to start out with a mega-evolution bonus, and more. These coin-based rewards are among the game’s most expensive rewards, and gauging just how much your in-game currency is worth can play a major role in strategizing for matches.

Similar to the jewels, coins are sometimes earned at mile markers, or simply by ‘checking in’ with the network servers on a daily basis. Another of Pokémon Shuffle’s online components comes in the form of special matches, which are only available for short periods of time, but pit you against rarer Pokémon that can make strong additions to your team. Finally, the 'EX' missions pit you against higher-level and even legendary Pokémon, but remove the limited number of turns in favor of a timer countdown that can last anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes. Often, these higher-level Pokémon will dish out attacks of their own in an attempt to hinder your progress or throw off your combo chains.

Of course, given the ‘pay-to-play’ formula Pokémon Shuffle is designed to experiment with, there is the option to exchange real world money for in-game currency, and while I am no less opposed to this formula on the 3DS than I am on tablets and phones, it may be worth noting that the exchange prices in Pokémon Shuffle are somewhat less costly than their iOS and Android contemporaries. That said, Pokémon Shuffle is a refreshing addition to the microtransaction school of design, in that the application is not so much that you are paying to win, rather that should you choose to pay, you will be extending your playtime with the game immediately as opposed to waiting a half-hour or more before your next possible match. If you are taking to this game as a casual title to play a few bouts at a time in between sessions of other, more meaty 3DS titles, it’s a solid product that provides intuitive entertainment for free. For those willing to pay for more jewels and coins, your mileage with Pokémon Shuffle may vary.

My rating: 7 (out of 10)

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