I’ve been playing Pokemon Shuffle over the weekend; Nintendo’s new “free to play” puzzle game on the 3DS. This game is completely free to download and play, but it does have in-game purchases/micro-transactions. It’s similar to how your typical mobile games are set up. In fact, this feels a lot like Nintendo took their Pokemon Battle Trozei game to King (the makers of all your favorite Facebook “saga” games) and said, “Hey, dumb this down and add in micro-transactions.” Playing a game like this on my dedicated gaming device feels… dirty and wrong; and yet, I’ve actually genuinely enjoyed the game. So, let’s talk about it.
Much like most mobile puzzle games, each new level is presented as a stage that you must beat to advance. I believe there are about 150 stages, not including the bonus ones/daily downloads, but don’t hold me to that. On each level, there is a Pokemon you must face and defeat. Like regular Pokemon games, you must lower the targets HP, which is done by making tile matches. Each stage has a set number of moves you’re allowed to make. And yes, those Pokemon tiles do actually matter. Before each battle, you’ll be asked if you wish to “optimize,” which means bringing in Pokemon with type strengths. If you defeat the Pokemon, you have a chance to capture it and use it for puzzles. There’s a catch probability, which increases the more moves you have left at the end of the stage. The more you use the Pokemon, the more experience they gain, which help them level up. The stage Pokemon don’t just sit there either. They’ll “attack” by freezing tiles, changing them, or setting up blockades. It all makes for interesting gameplay.
But like all F2P games, there’s the downside. Each stage you play takes a life. You have 5 to start off and it takes a half hour for a new one to regenerate. You get in-game coins from winning stages, which can be used to buy various power-ups. And then there’s the gems; these are the real kickers. They drop occasionally in battles, but if you want more, you’ll have to buy them using real money. Gems are used to replenish lives or buy more moves during battle.
Unlike other F2P games though, it’s not inherently evil. I don’t have ads slapping me in the face every 20 seconds, which I didn’t realize was so annoying until it wasn’t happening. I’ve made it to level 50, and thus far, no stage has been so difficult where I felt like I needed to buy anything to win. In fact, when you lose a few times, it suggests going back and playing previous stages to capture Pokemon better suited to winning the level. Most other games would throw the in-app purchases at me.
I should note that this isn’t the first time that Nintendo has dabbled in Free to Play. Last year they released Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball; a game composed of several mini-games, all baseball related. You could download the title for free, and through the course of the game, could haggle for lower game prices. If you did everything right, you could have the whole game for a total of $12. It was an interesting concept that most people didn’t seem to have any problems with. Personally, I didn’t care for the game, so I never ended up playing beyond the initial game. That’s more of my attitude towards sports over the game itself.
Overall, it’s not a bad game. Like I said, I’ve been enjoying it. But it worries me that Nintendo is going to be moving towards this F2P trend. There have already been over a million downloads of Pokemon Shuffle, which boasts a positive note. Of course, that’s not a reflection of how many people have been purchasing gems in the game. Hopefully, they don’t go overboard with this idea and get carried away in the future.