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Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) artwork

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) review

"Reasonably fun in small doses."

As a recent 3DS purchaser, I decided Pokemon Shuffle would be a good way to try my hand at this "free-to-play" nonsense I keep hearing about. The game also served as my introduction to Pokemon, which is a bit strange given that I'm pretty much the definition of an RPG junkie, but such is life…

Pokemon Shuffle is a match-3 game wherein you place various character icons next to one another and they cause damage to whatever Pokemon adversary you're battling at the time. If you inflict enough damage to win the match before running out of turns, you can try to capture the creature and add it to your stock. "Gotta catch 'em all" and all that, you know?

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) image Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) image

It's a simple little game that's reasonably fun and, for free, is definitely worth a look. The "free-to-play" junk leaves a bad taste in my mouth, though. You can only enjoy a tiny handful of rounds at once unless you're willing to dump money into buying jewels to cash in for more turns or special items that make it easier to win. If you're not a sucker and plan to focus on the FREE part of the equation, you'll get five turns and then have to wait 30 minutes for each turn to replenish (a total of two-and-a-half hours if you want to have five again). At the beginning of the game, when you're in full-on tutorial mode, you get a free jewel to suck you in. Every 10 or 15 rounds, you'll go up against tougher, evolved Pokemon that serve as boss fights. Those also award a jewel. Other than that, the experience that awaits you is a series of brief gaming sessions each followed by a lengthy wait.

In some ways, that's for the best. This game is simple even by match-3 standards, with a board that's a good bit smaller than what I remember from my brief addiction to one of the Bejeweled titles. Playing one round after another for hours would likely grow very tiresome, but short-n-sweet doses of this game kept me interested for longer than I expected. At the beginning of each turn, you can either manually choose four Pokemon for your "team," or just have the computer pick an optimal group that will cause more damage per match due to elemental resistances and weaknesses.

When each game starts, those four characters are scattered across the grid and you'll use the stylus to drag them around to match three or more of the same type. The opposing Pokemon isn't content to simply watch as you whittle down its health, and will create disruptions every few turns. Sometimes, a handful of characters are turned into forms that cause very little damage. Other times, entire rows are changed to various blocks that become serious impediments as you keep trying to make matches.

After beating bosses, you receive gems that allow a specific Pokemon to evolve -- a feat that is then accomplished within a given match by making a certain number of relevant matches. An evolved character is very helpful, as it will trigger this game's version of a critical hit, ranging from eliminating all surrounding characters to taking out entire rows. A well-timed match of an evolved Pokemon can set up a huge chain reaction capable of winning against virtually any opponent.

As long as you're content to play this game for only a few rounds at a time, it's a fun diversion for much of its duration. Around when I got to the 120th battle -- a boss fight -- I was cursing the "only five tries at once for free" style of Pokemon Shuffle, though. That one is a brutally tough contest against a foe that will constantly make your life hell with disruptions to the degree that it takes as much luck as anything to get past it. My one saving grace was that, win or lose, characters gain experience. It's possible to gradually grow stronger and cause more damage, eventually producing a win in a battle of attrition. And with only five tries in a sitting, the word "attrition" should be bolded, italicized and underlined, because it took forever and a day to get past that thing. There we go. Attrition.

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) image Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) image

I'd also imagine that anyone taking the "Gotta catch 'em all" slogan seriously also will be cursing the free-to-play aspects of this game. When you beat another Pokemon, you don't automatically capture it. Instead, you have a chance to catch that is determined by the critter's strength and the number of turns you spent winning the match. With many of them, capture is a foregone conclusion for any gamer willing to put any effort into the exercise. I mean, if you have a base 70 percent chance to nab one and you fail, it probably won't take many more tries before you obtain it, even if you're cursing the waste of a valuable turn or two. And if you win the game quickly, those 70 percent odds will improve until capture is virtually a certainty.

However, a good number of capture attempts start you off with horrible odds in the 5-to-15 percent range. With those, even being really good at winning quickly might still keep you well below 50 percent. But never fear! This game gives out coins! For every match you win, you get 100, and for checking in online, you can pick up 500 coins once per day. These can be traded in for various goodies. For 2500 coins, you can buy a special Pokemon-capturing thing that will double your chances of catching one. Of course, if you only had a 17 percent chance, the odds are still against you, so that might not be the way to go. Why not really splurge and dump 9000 coins into a simplification tool that will reduce the number of Pokemon in a game from four to three, making it much easier to get matches and, more importantly, large chains of matches that can end a game quickly?

Oh, yeah… micro-transactions. Given the rate of 100 coins per win and 500 per day for going online, it's going to take a while to reach 2500 coins and a really long time to get 9000, so you'll need to spend real money if you want to be the Great Pokemon Collector Of 2015. I guess that's why I have trouble looking at this as anything more than a brief diversion. I'm not paying money to capture Pokemon that I've already defeated, even if they are (in theory) a bit better than the ones the game most regularly picks for me to use. Heck, I have trouble motivating myself to play this game at all now that the challenges have gotten legitimately tough.

That's the thing about diversionary, casual games: they're good, frivolous fun for a while, but they tend to get old eventually. Knowing that I could either be stuck on a tough Pokemon for days or never collect all of them unless I want to dish out cash just makes me lose interest that much more quickly. I mean, kudos to Nintendo for giving this to me for free, as I'd never pay for a game like this. I had a good bit of fun, but there's nothing memorable or noteworthy enough about it to keep me attracted any longer.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 20, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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