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Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) artwork

Pokémon Shuffle (3DS) review

"Not something I'd have chosen for myself, but it evidently chose me. And it's free. It's SO free."

The match 3 genre and I don't get along particularly well. The basics I grasp. The importance of making combos of more than 3 at once, or two different matches with one move, or the combination of the two if you can, sure, I get that, though as often as not I don't really see them. Then there's Pokémon, of which I've played some games, but never really felt I got "into" it either, advancing through the games and even beating one, but never coming close to the kind of player expertise seen on some forums. And so, a combination of these two concepts was not something I was ever likely to buy. So...Nintendo didn't make me. The game just kind of slipped onto my 3DS while I wasn't looking. Maybe I did click Ok on an eShop message about it, I don't remember. I do know that either way, it downloaded itself to my system with very little prompting, and suddenly there it was in all its freemium glory. Every day it prompts me to check in on the server for free coins, and on Mondays, for new events and sometimes software updates adding more levels or challenges.

The meat of the game lies in stages on which you challenge one specific Pokémon, some of which I even recognized, but most of which mean nothing to me (though this is not the game to blame, but me and my sketchy knowledge of the Pokémon world). The challenge consists of taking this Pokémon on with three or four of your own, and rather than attack and pick skills as in the main series, your Pokémon appear as tiles on the game field and every turn you swap two Pokémon with the stylus to make matches of 3 or more of the same Pokémon in a row. Make a match, they disappear, deal damage, and new ones fall in. The challenge then is to deplete the opponent's HP in the turn limit you get, which varies from precious few to a whole lot depending on the stage. Especially later on in the game, there are never *quite* enough, so matching wisely is required.

If you do beat an enemy Pokémon's stage, it's not over comes a random chance to capture it, and the more moves you had left to use, the higher that chance. Fail, and the stage is cleared anyway, but the Pokémon eludes you unless you choose to try again, and again. Succeed, and not only is that Pokémon now available to use on later stages, but you're one little step closer to that apparently vital objective of catching them all. Enemy Pokémon can often hinder you with dropping solid blocks, frozen tiles and other fun stuff onto the battleground to hinder your matchmaking. To compensate, the Pokémon you send out on each stage can have their own special abilities to help deal more damage or clean up the messes the AI randomly chooses to make. There's also, of course, elements to consider and certain types of Pokémon strong against others, but those like me who have no patience for that can just have the AI pick "recommended" Pokémon for each battle to do the work for you.

The freemium aspect of the game shows itself in two ways. First, you can only play a certain number of rounds before you have to either wait for your permission to play to recharge (half an hour per round), or you pay a little, just a tiny little bit, to have it recharge more quickly. The other thing is special power-ups that can be bought with coins, letting you make just a few more moves on a match, raise your chances of capturing a Pokémon afterwards, increase the damage you do, or make the opponent slower in mucking up your battlefield. These things cost coins, and they accumulate slowly as you win and check in to the server each day, but again this can be hurried up by spending real money.

Such spending to play is something I've never allowed myself to do on any game, figuring that once I start, there is no end in sight. Notably, restricting myself on this never really hindered me on this game. It just made Shuffle more of a "sometimes for a while" kind of game than one I play for long stretches. Coins accumulate slowly, but they do accumulate, so if I run into a particularly difficult stage I need power-ups for, all it takes is time to get the coins together. Nothing is available only for purchase. This has kept me playing: over the half year or so I've been on this game, doing just a little bit most days, I've passed 30 hours by now and made it all the way to and past stage 210, which at the time was the last one. Then this morning, as I downloaded the offered software update, up popped stage 211. And after I cleared it a little while ago, 212 appeared. It just keeps on going.

For those with skill at match 3 beyond my own, there is a smaller set of Expert stages, which have a time limit rather than a set number of moves, and have you frantically making matches in what little time you get. Also there's the occasional tournament where you do this trying to win a prize by being in the top X players at the end. I suck at this, only ever getting a consolation prize, but hey, I'll take them. And that's my position on Pokémon Shuffle as a whole. Not something I'd have chosen for myself, but it evidently chose me. And to quote the good folks at Penny Arcade, it's free. It's SO free.


sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (August 17, 2015)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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