Category Archives: pokemon

Gotta match ’em all in Nintendo’s free-to-play Pokémon Shuffle

pokemon shuffle 287723-FFA1

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.

Checking back in with Pokemon Y and my team of monsters

pokemon y checkin

For the last few weeks, it’s been a mini-game of swap city on my Nintendo 3DS. I’ll play a little bit of Animal Crossing: New Leaf before bed, take the cartridge out, pop in Pokemon Y, and play a little bit of that. Eventually, I’ll remember that I have a loan to pay off and quite an important job to do as mayor of Arni, and so the cycle returns to where it started. It’s not the worst problem in the world, but I am beginning to see the benefits of owning digital copies of these large portable games as, strangely, I find removing carts from the 3DS to be a troublesome process. In my mind, it’s as laborious as lifting boulders over your head. One day, I’ll have to look deeper at this quirk of mine.

When last I talked about Pokemon Y here on Grinding Down, I had played maybe about five hours. That meant starting out slow and perfunctory as has been the case in all previous Pokemon game romps I’ve experienced, taking care of the first gym and doing some story-related stuff that blocked forward progress. Truthfully, it mostly involved wandering around tall grass and collecting as many fun-looking pocket monsters as I could with my limited amount of money and Pokeballs, as that Pokedex simply won’t fill itself out. The jerk.

But now I’ve played for a total of fifteen hours and have gotten the chance to see the Kalos region a bit more. Okay, okay–fifteen hours and seven minutes, for those that must really know. After kicking the butts of four gym leaders and earning their respective badges, as well as providing a swift beatdown to Team Flare to get the power back on in Lumiose City, my team looks like so:

  • Delphox, LV 45 – nicknamed Fenny
  • Talonflame, LV. 43 – nicknamed Flit
  • Blastoise, LV 42 – nicknamed Urtle
  • Roselia, LV. 41 – nicknamed Rosebud

There are two other spots on my team that are, for lack of a better way to say it, temporarily filled. I couldn’t even tell you what two Pokemon are there–as they don’t matter. They are just there to fill the gaps just in case and gain some EXP after battles thanks to the new rules of EXP Share. However, I do hope before the end-game fights start to find better replacements. I’m most definitely, no doubt in all the galaxy, saving a spot for a Garbodor, but the other slot is open territory. I guess I probably need to pick a Fairy-type Pokemon soon and stick with it, as I’m sure a Dragon-based gym is on the horizon, but I don’t have one that I really like just yet. Please suggest something other than Jigglypuff.

I don’t know if the gyms have been designed to feature easier progress-blocking Trainers with fewer challenging Pokemon to throw at you or if I’m a lot better at Pokemon Y than I originally thought, but it’s been smooth sailing since Day 1. I’ve not died once yet, and maybe that means my team is a bit overpowered. My starter Delphox is ferocious, able to wipe an opponent out in a single breath (of fire). Should they all be more around LV 35-37? Well, you can blame the EXP Share for that then, as it helps keep everyone growing, everyone improving. But yeah, it’s been extremely easy, which makes for a very lax gaming experience. I’m not terribly bothered by this, as I found Pokemon Black 2 to be pretty difficult and off-putting in its later half, and maybe Pokemon Y will get there too, though I kind of doubt it. This is the game Nintendo needed to sell a lot of 2DS and 3DS systems, and no one likes a game too difficult to play, unless you’re a sicko and into things like Dark Souls.

So, I’m about halfway through Pokemon Y‘s main story stuff, but after all that is dead and done this might be the first game in the franchise I spend some solid time tracking down all the collectible Pokemon. Granted, I like to think that about each iteration I play, and it never seems to pan out in the end. However, it really helps seeing them in 3D models even if by then I’ll never use them or battle against strangers online. Though I do need to try this Wonder Trade thing out sometime soon. Maybe I can pick up a cool ‘mon to fill that sixth slot void.

Evolving with a new generation in Pokemon X and Y

Pokemon Y early impressions

I haven’t touched a Pokemon game since beating Pokemon White 2 earlier this year, but the unwritten rule in my heart still says that I will purchase every new Pokemon game that comes out, no hesitation. And so, on Saturday, after learning that Sears was booked up for hours and unable to take my car for an oil change and a busted brake light, I swung by the GameStop and stood in a line made up of mostly young kids, trying to decide right there and then which version of the game to get. And then the moment was upon me: Pokemon X or Pokemon Y? I went with the latter because Y not.

Anyways, I’ve already dropped about four to five hours into the colorful beast, defeating the first gym leader with ease and waking up a sleeping Snorlax and learning a bit about the mysterious O-Powers that reside deep within me. My team currently consists of mainly a Fennekin, a Squirtle, a Fletching, a Farfetch’d, and two spots filled with random Pokemon that I’m giving a trial run, to see if they are interesting enough to stay. Not yet sure of what my dream team is going to look like in the end, but I know that the Fennekin and Squirtle are definitely staying. Sure, it’s early on and Fletching’s just a bird, but pretty cool-looking if you ask me.

This won’t surprise any of you: Pokemon Y is a Pokemon game, and if you’ve played one before, this is all that and a bag of chips, with a few new minor twists to either enhance your experience or detract from it. You pick your starting Pokemon, get handed a Pokedex, and are asked to fill it full of data while exploring the Kalos region. There’s also a mystery about mega evolutions to investigate, but it’s this iteration’s throwaway sub-plot that pops up frequently in these adventures. In Pokemon White, there was a whole bit about treating Pokemon ethically, and HeartGold has members of Team Rocket chasing after you. I’m sure it won’t come to much, but that’s okay, as battling and collecting pocket monsters is continuously a joy, and the graphical overhaul really makes the fights come alive. Seriously, Fennekin’s flame attacks look absolutely stunning, helping you forget that you simply just pushed a button to make it happen.

Your mileage may vary, but some enhancements to me are that you get rollerblades (instead of a bike) very early into the adventure, and they are always on and usable via the circle pad; if you want to walk, use the d-pad. Also, let’s give it up for the refined EXP Share, which is now a key item that you can turn on or off. Here’s a tip: never turn it off. Before, you had to give this item to a specific Pokemon to hold, and they’d gain a percentage of EXP after a battle, even if they didn’t participate. Now, with the item always on, every Pokemon in your party gains EXP after each battle, which helps keep your team balanced and roughly around the same levels. I’ve already seen some folks online crying foul over this, that it makes the game far too easy, but I don’t see a problem with it. Trainer customization seems neat, too, but there isn’t much available to select from just yet besides a new hat and maybe a different shirt; I can’t wait to dress like a true lumberjack pretending to be a Trainer.

Because I entered Pokemon gaming fandom fairly late in my twenties, not counting a few times I tried to play the TCG or watch the TV show, I recognize very few of the critters that pop out of the grass, save for the most iconic ones, like Pikachu and…um, that other one. A lot of people are excited for Pokemon X and Y as it shows off the original generation over some of the more recent incarnations, but they are all mostly new to me, which I’m loving. I mean, from what I can tell, my teams have all been strikingly different across the various ‘mon games in my collection, and I’m hoping to find a really cool Fairy type to use down the road (sorry, Flabébé), as they are humanity’s only hope against a Dragon-based gym.

Still haven’t messed around with the new mini-games like Pokemon-Amie or whatever else they have hidden in some city building. These are generally decent distractions, but I only ever got really invested in Voltorb Flip from HeartGold, which was an addicting mix of Picross and Minesweeper. Still haven’t had a sky battle, but I did experience a horde battle, which felt a little underwhelming. It’s only been a day or two, but haven’t connected with anyone online to battle or trade, and have always found this process to be overcomplicated in previous games so I’m genuinely curious to see if the 3DS is able to make interactivity easier. Also, still haven’t found a Garbodor yet. Sigh…

All in good time, hopefully.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #4 – Pokemon White 2

pokemon white 2 beat

Capture Pokemon
And level them up for keeps
Was there a story?

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

Readying myself for the Elite Four in Pokemon White 2

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If you’ll recall, I finally, after stuffing myself full for the time being from the daily puzzle buffet that is Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask‘s bonus features, removed the cartridge from my Nintendo 3DS and replaced it with…well, at the time, I wasn’t exactly sure. There were many choices. But I can now say I settled on Pokemon White 2, as I was fairly close to the “end” when I last left off, having finished the eight main gyms, but still doing story-related stuff before moving on to the Pokemon League and taking on those dastardly Elite Four.

Well, that story-related stuff, which involved rescuing Hugh’s stolen Purrloin  and and fighting the legendary White Kyurem from threatening the realm and some other points that I kind of glossed over because, well, this is a Pokemon videogame, not the latest and greatest China Miéville novel, is now done, and I’ve crawled through Victory Road, finding myself and my small team of pocket monsters on the Elite Four’s doorstep. However, I don’t believe I’m ready for them just yet. Truth be told, I don’t even remember how I was able to beat them in Pokemon HeartGold. I couldn’t get through them in the previous Pokemon White, where the only solution seems to be grinding, which I won’t do now that I’m on the sequel.

The problem is, as always, I have four very powerful Pokemon on team, one spot-filler, and then an empty spot altogether. Not the most balanced party. For the Elite Four, which you have to fight one after the other with the only chance to heal up and recover taken from items, I need all six Pokemon on my team to be in great shape. Here’s what I’m rocking currently:

Genesect (no nickname) – LV 70

genesect pokemans_649

Munna (nicknamed Mona) – LV 62

munna pokemans_517

Terrakion (nicknamed Akion) – LV 53

tera pokemans_639

Emboar (nicknamed Hamstring) – LV 55

emboar pokemans_500

And that’s it. I have a low-leveled bird Pokemon as a spot-filler who I dumped both Fly and Surf on to help get around the map faster, but it’s no fighter. Now, I was able to get Genesect so high at a much faster rate due to two tricks: one, since I got him as a special download from GameStop or whatever, he is considered “traded” and thus gains bonus EXP from each fight and two, I gave him the EXP Share item to hold so that he is constantly gaining the stuff. I’ll probably take that item away from him and put it on either Hamstring or Akion to help get them up into the high 50s or low 60s.

But now I’m not certain who I should get for the final two spots. I have the following types covered from my main four: Fire, Fighting, Rock, Psychic, Bug, and Steel. Some websites suggest a Ghost type, like Chandelure, or creating a special Eevee through evolution. I’m kind of looking for a faster solution, maybe a decently leveled wild Pokemon that I can capture via a Pokeball that can still be useful. If you happen to know of a good one, please let me know. I doubt I can take on the Pokemon League with just the above four, and it seems like you really only gain access to better Pokemon and legendary types once you beat the game, which helps me not.

Hmm…maybe I should look into how to transfer previously caught Pokemon in other games, like Pokemon White, as I’d love to get Garbodor (nicknamed Trashy) into the action, as well as Victini (nicknamed Snape) and Serperior (nicknamed Snape); so far, after thirty-some hours, I’ve only ever come across one or two Garbodor, and they were being used by Trainers so I couldn’t steal them away for myself. The nerve. I love me some trash monsters. Hopefully it’s not a complicated process, but I suspect it just might be. Will report back.

Outernauts and the nature of the human being to face challenges

It seems like, once a year now, I try another Facebook game. I gave The Sims Social a go for a decent bit back in late 2011, eventually moving away when my house full of trees and bushes took forever to load, as well as the fact that I was running out of complete-able quests. Before that, in 2010, I enjoyed my short time–and I do mean short–as a chocobo rancher. I don’t really desire gaming on Facebook other than the occasional round of Words With Friends, and I’m totally aware of its constant trappings and never-yielding plot to annoy my online friends, fill my wall up with ridiculous claims, and attempt to have me spend real cash-money on things like Sim coins and star gems and poodle bucks.

And so, here we are in 2012, and I’m just getting into Outernauts. It’s got some good and some bad, and, for the time being, I’m willing to overlook the bad to embrace the good. But I can’t see this experience lasting for very long though.

Right. So, Outernauts. Basically, it’s Pokemon in space. And there’s nothing wrong with that. At all. In fact, it’s a stellar idea, and I’m somewhat surprised we haven’t seen it yet; if a game like this already exists, I missed it or it didn’t shout its premise loud enough for the world to hear. I mean, there are plenty of Pokemon clones out there–Digimon and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, for instance–but neither of those focus on space critters and traversing different galaxies. Outernauts does, and it makes much more sense when you realize that Insomniac Games is behind it. Yes, more from the creative minds behind all the zany weapons, monsters, and planets in the Ratchet and Clank series. That’s actually what grabbed my interest first before the whole “gotta catch ’em all” aspect.

For a free-to-play Facebook game, surprisingly, there’s a story. I can’t remember the specifics or names, so I’ll just use this generic text from Insomniac’s website for Outernauts:

As a member of United Earth’s elite Outernaut force, you’ll encounter both friends and foes as you uncover the riddle behind the mysterious “ancients” while battling pirates and evil corporations seeking to control the galaxy.

All in all, you’re looking for a thing, and so is an evil corporation, and to stop them from getting the thing, you need to battle and beat them with a team of exotic beasts. You level these beasts up by battling them and tweaking their abilities.

Right now, my cosmic team of battling beasties consists of these:

Note that those are the nicknames I gave my beasts, not their actual names. I think my leading one is a…Pumasear? Scorl is a Scorling. Can’t tell you what the other two are. I don’t remember. I have too many ‘mon names in my brain to differentiate this from that and that from this. Anyways, Purrburn is my strongest beast, mostly because I used all my Star Gems on it, not knowing that those are the “FarmVille bucks” of the game, limited and then only acquirable thereafter with real money. Oh well.

The music and artwork and design of everything is great, classic Insomniac charm. Colorful and inventive, with the gusto of space opera and pomp of Buzz Lightyear. Everything is easily explained and clear, and there’s lots of carrots on sticks to chase after. However, as with all Facebook games, the most disappointing and distrusting element is…energy. To battle, use 3 energy. To clear a path, use energy. To gather fuel, use energy. Need more energy? Pay up or wait awhile. The point is, you run out of energy real fast, and so playing Outernauts quickly becomes a game of management over experiencing, and that’s not too much fun. But I’d rather do as much as I can at once rather than blow my time on a wasted fight, which ends with my beasts being knocked out and unable to battle any more.

I’ll keep logging in for now to give Outernauts ten or fifteen minutes of my attention each day, but eventually I’ll walk away. Too many strange limitations in how many beasts I can have in my party and what I can actually do in a certain span of time, and I can just easily go back to my copies of Pokemon HeartGold, Pokemon White, or Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker to fill in the gaps.

Monster Rancher EVO is for circus freaks only

I’ve never been to an actual circus before; all I know about circus life comes from secondary materials, such as the fantastic Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine or those few hours I spent wandering around the Circus Circus Las Vegas when I was 17 and on vacation with my family. In my mind, a circus is all of this set to accordions and applause: tumbling, dirty floors, spotlights, smoke and mirrors, tents, tension, colorful costumes, and gasping. Freaks of wonder, too, but I’d never call them monsters and raise them as my own. Not in real life, at least.

Well, Monster Rancher EVO is a videogame based around a group of circus performers. Don’t worry, I was just as confused you most likely are now. Granted, I went into this game totally innocent, completely untouched. Through all my years of gaming, I’ve managed to never play a Monster Rancher game. The franchise’s hook was always appealing–use CDs/DVDs to create random monsters for your farm, meaning a seemingly endless amount of user-created content–but the lack of a story or overall goal, other than raising an animal with love and care, kept me away. In fact, I didn’t pick this game out while perusing the local GameStop for my sweet, succulent Suikoden III; Tara found it and so it went with my buy pile. I didn’t give it a try right away.

It’s a rough first hour, full of bad dialogue and way too much information. You get to name the protagonist, but are given no solid indication that it is a he or she, and thanks to the anime-esque look to the majority of circus freaks it’s honestly kind of hard to tell. Naming him Pauly, I lucked out to discover he’s a dude. After that, you meet the gang at the circus and learn how sad the protag is over his latest monster’s lackluster performer. In walks a mysterious woman–I think her name is Marlene–and she teaches us how to make monsters. I put in my copy of Parklife by Blur and get some kind of weird pumpkin beast. Another guy talks about schedules and how to train to put on a great show, and then I’m given direct control of the protag. Tried to read the menus, but it was just an overwhelming amount of data and stats and things to come. Another character gives me a quest: she needs a cake, and even hands over the money to pay for it. Something like 500G, which seems excessive, but I don’t know much about this world; maybe that’s a good deal. I hurried over to the village in search of cake and made a beeline right back, but was told that I took too long and she no longer needed said cake. Eff you, and eff this stupid game. Power switch…OFF!

The cover for Monster Rancher EVO does convene its circus-ness, but I bought the game pre-owned from GameStop in one of those dummy boxes, which is void of pertinent details like that. Lastly, the artwork on the game’s CD limelights a woman in a slutty outfit. Do you equate fishnet stockings with monster-raising?

Also please note that she’s only wearing one fishnet stocking, with the other leg bare of such sexual dressing. Simply boggling. I don’t even know who this character is as I don’t think pointy-haired Pauly met her during the opening hour. I’d like to believe I’d remember something like that.

Right. Monster Rancher EVO. Don’t think I’ll be going back to this one, but if I could find one of the more traditional titles in the series I’m willing to go again. I mean, what else am I going to do with CDs like My Own Prison by Creed and Fairweather Johnson by Hootie and the Blowfish? Throw them out? That’s unheard of.