Pokémon Shuffle (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Adam Riley 26.03.2015 14

Review for Pokémon Shuffle on Nintendo 3DS

Does the world really need another Match-3 puzzler? Most would strongly scream no at the top of their lungs due to the cavalcade of budget releases that have 'graced' the Nintendo DS and 3DS since launch. However, looking with more of a critic's hat on, there have indeed been some true greats amongst the cheap PC ports and shoddy efforts aimed at cashing-in on the more casual market that lapped up the Brain Training and Wii Sports titles in the previous generation of systems. One such 'cream of the crop' product was that of Pokémon Link from Nintendo-owned Genius Sonority, which was followed up initially by Pokémon Link Battle! on 3DS eShop, and now this, Pokémon Shuffle, a free-to-play release, also on the online store of the 3D portable. Whilst Cubed3 ponders how to approach the 'value' section of this review, read on to find out how well the game plays.

Match-3 puzzlers are rather self-explanatory. There is no ambiguity in the genre heading, so nobody could ever be in two-minds about the idea of 'match three to win' - but for those uninitiated out there, the goal is to swap avatars of Pocket Monsters around a grid-based field in order to match between three and five of the very same type, thus making them disappear, only to be replaced by other critters above them, with the field never emptying due to more Pokémon being drip-fed in from off the top of the screen. It is an endless flow of matching lines horizontally or vertically and watching as more shapes come raining down from above.

In the Nintendo DS iteration, and subsequent 3DS update, everything was done against the clock, yet in this free version kindly offered by Nintendo, there is more emphasis put on tactical play, not only being given a set number of moves rather than a timer system, but also allowing any two tiles to be switched, as opposed to only adjacent ones, as found in other games of this ilk. At first, it can be quite disorientating for anyone used to the panic-stricken moments of flicking blocks on either side, above, or below, as quickly as possible to work down an enemy's health, overcome a set score target, or even clear a set number of a particular tile shape-colour-face (or whatever, dependent on the game).

Screenshot for Pokémon Shuffle on Nintendo 3DS

However, very quickly the tactical element comes to the fore and Pokémon Shuffle becomes a lesson in how to permeate addiction amongst the gaming community. Attempting to make that key tile swap to trigger endless chains and rack up the highest possible score, thus dealing the largest quantity of damage to the Pokémon, is simply exhilarating. Sure, there are pitfalls, such as the AI being rather foolish at times - a primary example that springs to mind is when a battle was won without even making one move because the opposing Pokémon instantly changed some tiles around, which triggered an almighty barrage of chains, wiping itself out almost instantly - and how the difficulty yo-yos around, but all that means, at the end of the day, is that extra care and attention is imperative.

Experts can opt to select a grouping of three or four Pocket Monsters to bring into the battlefield - dependent on stage requirements, some only allowing three - but newcomers can merely use the 'Optimise' button to auto-select the best team to face-off against a particular Pokémon adversary. As in the mainline RPGs, each Pokémon has its own specific type (Bulbasaur is Grass, Pikachu is Electric, Squirtle is Water, Charmander is Fire, and so on), and choosing the correct monsters to face-off against opponents is vital to have success in the lowest number of moves. As the game goes on, Pokémon will reveal their special abilities - freezing the opposing Pocket Monster temporarily, causing more damage in different situations, causing random status effects - plus they also level-up the more they are used, increasing their attack ability over time, gaining experience even if a battle is not won. Additionally, some Pokémon can Mega Evolve once the corresponding Mega Evolution Stone has been obtained after key fights. Simply set them as the first in the selection of four (or three, as mentioned) and once enough of that particular avatar has been cleared in a level, their evolution is triggered and the devastation can commence, clearing large chunks of the playing area in one go, horizontally, vertically, in a V-shape, and many other ways.

To help even more, there are support aids that can be purchased for a set number of in-game currency, such as increasing the experience gained by the player's Pokémon team after each puzzle battle, the addition of five extra moves in a stage, preventing the enemy from countering (switching tiles to weaker Pokémon, ice, or even solid blocks), and more.

Screenshot for Pokémon Shuffle on Nintendo 3DS

One element that will prove to be highly frustrating, though, is the 'catchability' of each Pokémon. Once a puzzle battle has been successfully overcome, there is a gauge that fills up to indicate the percentage chance of capturing the defeated combatant using an infinite supply of standard Pokéballs (or a Great Ball, offered only after a failed capture and bought using coins collected so far) - the gauge being filled by factors such as the number of subsequent combos made once energy has already been depleted, how many moves were left after the battle, the general rarity of a critter, and so on. The issue comes with how the percentage bar is near enough completely meaningless and catching a Pocket Monster ('currently' - since who knows, it may well be patched) seems to be sheer pot luck. During the review process there were many instances where there were a massive string of post-battle combination moves triggered and a near enough full bar that still resulted in the Pokémon escaping, and yet barely registering 10% in the catchability stakes after another encounter led to an almost immediate snagging! Obviously this becomes advantageous in later levels where if unable to surpass a particular Pokémon the game gives a suggestion as to which other creature would be specifically effective against it, and being able to quickly pop back and mop up earlier stages where a catch was not possible at the time. However, it does take away some of the enjoyment because, as said, it all feels too random.

Screenshot for Pokémon Shuffle on Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo is so far ensuring that Pokémon Shuffle lasts as long as possible by adding all sorts of free extras to keep 3DS players popping back in from time-to-time, from the likes of random Pokémon battles, to gaining as many coins as possible from a shockingly generous Meowth (must be a mistake on his part, and admittedly seems so, turning tiles into more coins when attacked), to the most recent (at time of writing) event where players can test their mettle against those across the world, aiming to get the best score. Some might wonder why that last example was not included in the main game, but it needs to be remembered that this is indeed a completely free piece of software, with the only money changing hands when desiring a few extra turns or more support items…

…which brings this review nicely onto the matter of this being 'free to play' and the limits imposed. There are five hearts that can auto-replenish over a period of 30 minutes per heart, meaning that after two-and-a-half hours waiting time, another five stabs at a battle can be had. In the early stages this basically means moving five levels ahead, but eventually all five may be used on one tough level, or for going back to try to catch Pokémon that were impossible to grab first time round but are pretty essential for escapades further into the game. It all comes down to the mindset of a player - be satisfied with the five turns, switch off and play something else for a few hours or even go do something completely different, or slap down some cold, hard eShop pennies to keep on trucking. The same is true for items; want to add five extra moves, boost experience gained, reduce the complexity of an encounter, and so on? Well, simply use coins garnered for free during previous battles…or, if desperate and short on coinage, cough up the cash.

Thankfully, there are restrictions in place to prevent people going crazy with purchases of Jewels and the like. First off, only 150 Jewels can be held at any one time, and only 10,000¥/$100/£80/€100 can be spent per month (1 Jewel costs 100¥/$0.99/£0.89/€0.99, and going up to buying a lump of 75 Jewels is 4800¥/$47.99/£42.99/€47.99, to give an idea). Through the main game, there should not be too much temptation to over-spend, yet the problem may creep in when tackling the EX stages, since even experts will have a tough time completing them against the clock without numerous retries. Maybe Nintendo should issue an advisory message, "Warning: Play Sensibly!"?

Screenshot for Pokémon Shuffle on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

What Nintendo has done with Pokémon Shuffle is hook gamers with the free-to-play model in a far better way than it did with Steel Diver, choosing a genre that appeals to a wider audience. Not knocking Vitei's impressive submarine-based title, but Match-3 games in general, especially one branded with the Pokémon label, are always going to hit that wider demographic target, meaning that Genius Sonority's puzzler had the advantage right from the off. The fact that it is an exemplar of how to craft an engaging puzzle effort is an added bonus. Despite a few foibles, basically the 3DS has its new killer app.

Developer

Genius Sonority

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10 (3 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I've been playing this one daily, even unlocked the Lucarionite during the community event. Had this been a typical game release, I would still want it, found it to be more enjoyable than either of the Link games.

Shame that in game money drops are so small, (30 coins for repeating a level), but items purchased with them can cost several thousand each. Gets to the point that you will need to spend real money to have a chance at harder challenges.

I'm enjoying it but I've reached an impasse in the form of one of the Mega Evolution stages. It's a shame because I feel like it was designed specifically to get me to spend money which is a pretty shady practice.

Currently I'm quite satisfied with using 3-4 of the free hearts for attempting to progress through the normal stages, and using the remaining 1-2 for a special event or EX stage.

I know what you mean, but the way it is currently suits my busy schedule - I have just enough time to squeeze in 5 quick plays before going off to do some work, and then by the time I'm free again, I've got another 5 attempts to use.

Those with more time on their hands might indeed get really annoyed and end up spending money due to sheer frustration of wanting to progress quicker.

JunkSnail said:
I'm enjoying it but I've reached an impasse in the form of one of the Mega Evolution stages. It's a shame because I feel like it was designed specifically to get me to spend money which is a pretty shady practice.

Which stage is it? As I mentioned in the review, I found myself going back to earlier stages to catch key Pokémon I couldn't get first time round, and then going back to make further progress. I've not dropped a penny on the game so far.

( Edited 26.03.2015 22:12 by Adam Riley )

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Adam Riley said:
Which stage is it? As I mentioned in the review, I found myself going back to earlier stages to catch key Pokémon I couldn't get first time round, and then going back to make further progress. I've not dropped a penny on the game so far.

Mega Glalie. I've heard online that that's the point where most people gave up and paid to win.

Luckily with a bit (a lot) of perseverance I spent the last couple of weeks saving up coins to buy items and finally got past it. It's not impossible, but when progress grinds to a halt like that it makes the game feel a lot less fun than usual.

I got to stage 147 - Togekiss - before finishing up the review...and I'm still motivated to do more, especially since the total on the Pokémon list is now 199 Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

I managed to beat the Megas up to Mewtwo and get the Lucarionite with the free gems turned into cash when I hit 12, but can't earn more without beating nearly impossible Megas. D:

Really enjoying this game, haven't spent a penny yet either. Though the week and a half I've been stuck on Mega Gengar is frustrating. :/

I know what you mean, Shane - but that sense of satisfaction when you DO overcome those toughies is superb Smilie

Have any of you had that crazy situation I mentioned in the review, where the opponent killed itself without me needing to make even one move? I can't remember what stage it was, but I just laughed. Daft AI!

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Not quite. Only one move needed after they hurt themselves though.

Have you seen today's update?

Thanks to the support of fans like you, Pokémon Shuffle has reached 2,500,000 downloads!

To express our gratitude, we would like to share Disruption Delays with all of our players - and we have 1 for you to enjoy!


Not bad at all - the previous announcement was for 1 million downloads, so it's spreading quickly.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Got that one a couple of days ago.

Since I can't beat Onix, I've been working on S Ranks. Just unlocked Ex Stage 19.

I keep trying to capture Gengnar - but despite beating it pretty much every time now, it seems impossible to catch. SO frustrating when some others have been caught with as low as 6% catchability Smilie Oh, and I still can't get past Mega Mewtwo Y (Stage 150) Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

Does the music after capturing a Pokemon remind you of Citizens of Earth at all?

I'd need to listen to it closely! Can't say I'd noticed before...

And wow, this is now at 3.5 million downloads...with Celebi up for grabs as a special treat Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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