The mobile and app market is causing long established gaming companies to rethink their priorities. We already know of the sad news of SEGA of America and the plans of SEGA to branch out into the mobile market. But what of companies that have properties that can’t easily be released on an iPad or Android device? This is one of the problems that face Nintendo, and one of their ideas to combat this is to try and recreate successes like Candy Crush Saga for the 3DS. The result? Pokémon Shuffle, a game that decides to use the Free to Play (or “Freemium”) model. But is it worth shelling out real life cash for this title’s in-game trinkets?
Now, a brief comment. I personally have a dislike for the Free to Play model. It rewards those who wish to spend cash, and hinders those who would much rather play the game. In the short time that the Free to Play model has existed, we have seen microtransactions ruin games such as, in my opinion, Plants vs Zombies and Final Fantasy. And the less said about the worst example of this, Dungeon Keeper, the better. But that’s not to say that it isn’t successful. King have practically made their entire company from it. But despite issues such as this, there are some Free to Play games that I really enjoy (I highly recommend Double Fine’s Middle Manager of Justice). So, will Nintendo’s first foray into this murky market be a success?
Well if you’ve seen the score already, it won’t surprise you that the answer is a resounding “No”.
Pokémon Shuffle is a Match-3 game in which you are up against a Pokémon you are trying to catch. You are given a set number of moves to try and whittle the Pokémon’s HP to 0. You do this by stringing together combos and larger matches using the grid on the lower screen. This contains all the Pokémon on your team, alongside any obstacles you might have (like boxes, which take up a space on the board). Run out of moves, and you fail the stage.
It’s a simple thing, but also very basic. Switching Pokémon isn’t like in Bejewelled where they have to be touching. You can move a Pokémon from one side of the board to the other, allowing for a greater array of chains. But the fact that you have so few different Pokémon on the board means that it doesn’t feel like much of a challenge. It’s very easy to have a 4-match or even string a simple combo, so the real challenge is to either overcome the level’s goal or to do it as fast as possible. It just doesn’t feel complete and, up to where I am currently, very repetitive. There are no other modes like you can find in Bejewelled – just a simple Match-3 mechanic that has been done many times before.
Graphically, it’s very basic. It uses the art style from Pokémon Link Battle (a fun Match-4 title that, spoilers, is a much better game than this) and some generic human sprites for the story mode. It says something that opposing trainers are just silhouettes, meaning that you have very limited variety as to what you see. It’s not bad, but it could be a lot better than it is. They don’t even have Pokémon cries in this, which is a huge misjudgement. Speaking of music, the tunes here are instantly forgettable. They’re bland, repetitive and hold little melody to them. Basically, if you play it with no music at all, you’re not missing much.
The USP (Unique Selling Point) of this game is that the Pokémon you bring into the fray not only allow you positive or negative modifiers to the Pokémon you fight, but they can also level up. Levelling up allows your Pokémon to hit harder and clear stages much faster. You can, for certain Pokémon, Mega-Evolve them if you max out the Mega bar to give you extra abilities (such as clearing all rows in which a match involving that Mega Pokémon is on). This adds a little variation, but doesn’t really bring you into it all that much. It’s a basic game, but it is crippled by three words.
Free. To. Play.
Oh boy. As a cheap little title, this could be okay. But as a Free to Play title, it ruins it. The whole thing with Free to Play is that it makes money on little extras. In this game, you can spend real life money on rare items called Jewels. Jewels can be spent on Hearts (giving you more chances to play before stopping) or Coins (used to buy powerups). Powerups are not essential, and can be ignored unless you desperately want to capture a Pokemon. But their pricing is a bit over the top, and with about 20 levels needing to be cleared to break even with a Great Ball, it can get very expensive very quickly. Hearts. This mechanic hurts so much and is the reason why I really don’t like this.
You see, Hearts represent the number of goes you can have. Every time you use one, you need to wait 30 minutes for it to replenish. You can also only have a maximum of 5 Hearts via waiting, meaning that if you want to play for more than 10 minutes, you’re gonna need to pay for Hearts. Now, here’s the kicker. Unlike in some other Free to Play games like Peggle Blast, Hearts are used regardless of if you pass or fail. This means that you have no real rhythm in playing this. It’s just a time killer and there’s little motivation to keep going, as gaming only lasts about 10-15 minutes unless you really want to buy stuff.
But the thing I really dislike? It just feels like a shameless cash-in. It hurts me as I know Nintendo can create some marvellous games. I grew up playing Yoshi’s Island, Link’s Awakening, Super Mario World and more besides. Each game was crafted with such care that, to this day, I still think Nintendo is the company to beat for games. But this? It lacks the soul and joy of Nintendo. There’s nothing here that isn’t just a cynical way to get money. I wanted to enjoy this, but the Free to Play model and the sheer tedium of it ruined it for me.
This game is better than other microtransaction games like Dungeon Keeper, but is certainly not as balanced as other games. And this imbalance is crucial, as if you just want to play it as a vanilla title; it is incredibly boring and repetitive. I know that Free to Play games are serious business (see King’s success in this field), but games also need to be fun as well as a potential money spinner. This is neither, as instead of offering a little boost for those that want to pay; you are crippled unless you splash the cash. I may not have played this to completion (as I’m not falling for the microtransaction ploys of this title), but I can get a good feel of it already. The game itself is very bland and, to be honest, a waste of the Pokémon license. Unless you are a huge Pokémon fan, steer clear of it.
|GRAPHICS||Pleasant enough, but not great. It could have been a lot better however, especially with the (lack of) human models.|
|MUSIC||Forgettable, bland music that just saps your interest in it. Also, why would you have a Pokémon game with no Pokémon calls in it?!|
|CONTROLS||It’s simple, drag and drop play. And it does it very well. But it’s boring, repetitive and it’s been done a lot better in Pokémon Link and other games.|
|REPLAY VALUE||If you’re prepared to pay, then you might reach the end. Otherwise, you’re gonna have to have the patience of a saint to get through it all.|
|OVERALL||This is a deeply unpleasant game that lacks the soul of most Nintendo games. Please, avoid this game.|