Like sand dunes eroding over time, Nintendo is slowing dipping its toes into the free-to-play market in an attempt to see what all the hubbub is about, as well as milk fans for money. Now, I never did download Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, which had a unique take on bartering for cheaper mini-games, but it sounded like, at the very least, a fresh take on giving players something free to play while enticing them to drop some dollar bills for a bit more to experience. I’ve also not given Steeldiver: Sub Wars a look, so I can’t speak for how that submarine-steered competitive multiplayer thing faired. Naturally, the first free-to-play plunge from Nintendo I’m interested in trying out is Pokémon-related.
Pokémon Shuffle is another take on the “match three” puzzle formula, but instead of lining up similar looking gems or flowers or pieces of underwear, you’ll be matching cutesy disembodied heads of all your favorite–and probably some of your non-favorite–pocket monsters. You use the stylus and touchscreen to make this happen, and the game, thanks to its vibrant, colorful look and simplistic presentation, moves at a rapid clip. Basically, you’re matching three or more heads to deal damage to whatever Pokémon you are fighting, and different types of Pokémon to do more damage by way of a weakness system. Once you beat the Pokémon, you get a chance to capture it, and the capture percentage is upped a bit by how many moves you have left by the end of the battle; of course, you could always pay to up that guarantee of a capture. Strangely, some common Pokémon have really low capture rates, which doesn’t exactly line up with the, um, fiction of games like Pokémon Y and Pokémon White 2.
The free-to-play gating begins immediately once you get past the tutorial bits. See, there are three types of currency to pay attention to: Hearts, Jewels, and Coins. The core currency is Jewels, which you can buy for $0.99 each, with a small discount for if you buy in bulk. You can then exchange Jewels for Hearts. Hearts let you play one level one time (win or lose), and you can have a maximum of five total, with one reappearing every 30 minutes. Coins are a sub-currency used to purchase one-use power-ups before a battle begins, and from what I can tell, the majority of the power-ups are way too expensive for what little effects they cause.
I think Pokémon Shuffle‘s biggest misstep is in its Hearts. Also known as the Energy system when it comes to these things. Levels generally take one to two minutes to complete, possibly a bit longer if you are really studying the board for key combos or up against a really tough encounter, like Mew, which is the random event Nintendo’s running for the next three weeks since launch. That means, especially early on, you can use up your five Hearts in five minutes and then end up having to wait two and a half hours to play five more times in a row. Hexic for Windows 8 phones, which I found pretty addicting, was similar to this, but you only lost a chance to play again if you lost a battle/level; if you won, you kept going, riding it like a pro. I once downloaded Candy Crush Saga, but only played it once or twice before deleting, meaning I can’t tell you how it compared to this–but all in all, Pokémon Shuffle seems a little too eager to immediately put the player in a standstill and ask for an investment.
I will never drop any real money into Pokémon Shuffle, but as something I’ll pick up and play once or twice a day for maybe ten minutes at most, it doesn’t offend me. Too much. I can happily ignore all its free-to-play tactics and begs, though I do wish Nintendo took a chance to thank its long-time fans and incorporate some kind of connection with the various other Pokémon games for the Nintendo 3DS. I mean, my copy of Pokémon Dream Radar is collecting digital dust, so it would’ve been nice to keep that train a-chugging. Or, heck, use those Play Coins to help purchase extra hearts or Great Balls.
Again, Pokémon Shuffle doesn’t really bother me too much because I’m not investing anything into it other than a small chunk of my day, but if I really want my match three fantastical animal heads fix, I should probably wait for Pokémon Battle Trozei, releasing next month on the eShop for $7.99. Think about how many Hearts that could buy you in Pokémon Shuffle. Here, I did the math for you–$7.99, due to the odd way they are priced, could get you 6 Jewels, which could then be turned into 30 Hearts. So, the choice is yours–$7.99 to play thirty times or play as much as you want. I know, this is a tougher choice than trying to name an Audino for the umpteenth time.