Nintendo recently released Pokemon Shuffle, their new “freemium” game for the popular Nintendo 3DS handheld. Previously, they’ve released Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball and Steel Diver: Sub Wars, which while fun in their own way, didn’t quite have the hook that many freemium games have. While it was a nice experiment, it didn’t really make Nintendo seem like the type to really release a game like many of the popular mobile phone games that are played by people worldwide on a daily basis. Pokemon Shuffle changes that. Genius Sonority, a developer that has plenty of experience with Pokemon spin-offs, had previously made the Pokemon Trozei series, which Pokemon Shuffle is based on. Given the experience of two Pokemon Trozei games, this gave them plenty of time to come up with the perfect formula for a freemium game with this franchise.
Pokemon Shuffle is free to download and free to play, and on the surface, it may look just like the other Pokemon Trozei games, it only takes a couple minutes to find that is a much deeper experience…and much more addicting. Players are given the task of capturing Pokemon through a series of puzzle challenges. It’s a simple “match-three” concept, and though players can move any puzzle piece (each in the shape of a Pokemon) to any given space, it will only be accepted if it creates a match with other pieces. There is an exception to this rule however, as the “Expert” stages offer timed challenges that put speed skills to the test, opening up the ability to move any piece anywhere, even without matching. When pieces are matched, they create an attack based on the Pokemon used, and attack the Pokemon in the challenge, whittling down a health bar. On top of this, the player is given the task of completing the challenge in as few moves as possible, as main stages have a turn limit that once reached, players either have to accept a loss, or they have to use a jewel to purchase more turns. Jewels can be earned by playing the game, but Nintendo also gives players the opportunity to purchase them with real money, like many other freemium games.
If a player completes a challenge with turns still available, these turns not only give them a bonus that increases their score (which gives them a ranking), but it also raises the chances for catching the Pokemon in the challenge. Every one of the 150+ Pokemon have a different catch rate and some are easier to catch than others. Players are even given the option to use the in-game currency to purchase a Great Ball and raise the chances of catching the Pokemon. Now some would think this was enough to create an addicting experience, but Genius Sonority took things a step further. Unlike Pokemon Trozei, players are given the ability to choose the Pokemon that would appear as pieces in their challenge. This allows for different strategies, as each Pokemon has a special ability that may affect the way battle, not to mention players are encouraged to use the type that would be most effective against the Pokemon in the battle. As each challenge is completed, these Pokemon level up and get stronger, making their attacks do more damage. On top of this, the game has also included the recent Mega-Evolution mechanic, as defeating a Mega Pokemon in a challenge earns their respective Mega Stone. This adds a Mega Evolution meter to the mix and gives players a more powerful ability to use, making many players focus on matching the Pokemon with the mega stone to gain the ability.
Now with all those elements in the mix, the game offers quite an enticing experience. Then comes the difficult part. Like many freemium games, players are given a certain amount of chances to play the game in each session. Upon starting the game, players are introduced to hearts, one heart required to engage in battle with a Pokemon. Given five in the beginning, players soon find out that using one heart will make a countdown timer begin, thirty minutes till the heart regenerates and gives them another “credit”. Players are given the option to purchase more hearts using jewels, which as said earlier, can be earned in the game, but also can be purchased with real money. Given that each puzzle challenge can be beaten fairly quickly, thirty minutes is quite an agonizing time to wait for more chances. If players have plenty of jewels, they can actually purchase more than five hearts, but unfortunately, the hearts don’t start regenerating until the player gets down to the final five again. While this is a common mechanic in freemium games, many of them offer other options to gain more hearts without spending money. Though the game supports streetpass, it only gives a players ranking from their own game. Spotpass however, does give various in-game events, as well as the ability to “check-in” for bonuses and updates.
Browsing the various reviews of the game, many criticized the game for the use of microtransactions, giving it a much lower score because of them. Despite the microtransactions, the gameplay is top-notch, and super addicting, combining the already addicting ability to catch Pokemon with an incredibly fun puzzler. If Nintendo released this as a mobile phone game, it would be downloaded by millions, and honestly, one can see how many people would actually give in to the temptation of buying more jewels. One could only hope that future Pokemon Trozei games adopt the gameplay, minus the microtransactions, because the current freemium game is incredibly difficult to put down, even when one runs out of hearts. Hopefully Nintendo takes notes on the actual gameplay and not the idea of microtransactions.