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January 20, 2017

Pokémon Shuffle

You know what? Let’s get those done right away.

Bleh, I hope I won't be stuck all the time with cheap,
weak baby Poikémon.
Last year, I bought Pokémon Sun, on the Sunday after it came out. I’ve already caught all of the species in the Pokédex, all I'm missing is the QR code ones and a few evolutions of those. I have quite a number of points of criticisms about the game (such as, no National Dex?), but this will have to wait until I properly review the game – which could be in quite a while. Hell, I want to review Pokémon X first. But there are two smaller games on the Nintendo 3DS, that were automatically downloaded to it, two Pokémon games that also happen to be of the free-to-play formula. Pokémon Shuffle is your typical “Match 3” game with Pokémon abilities, while Pokémon Picross combines two of my favorite things: Pokémon and picture logic puzzles. You may remember my review of Picross 3D last year.

Why am I reviewing them both right now? Because I decided so. Seriously though, these days I play a lot more on my Nintendo 3DS than on the Wii, so I’m closer to the 3DSWare titles. And I’ve been itching to talk about those for a while now. Just wanna be done with the free-to-play titles ASAP.

It’s a big question: How do you combine the “Match 3” type of game with Pokémon? Such a game needs to take into account special abilities, type effectiveness, Pokémon-catching, Mega Evolutions… So many other things, too! So many abilities can only work in a system like the one that the main series Pokémon games have implemented… can it be done? Well, I can’t say it’s the greatest thing ever, but they did indeed do it. You set up a team of four with the Pokémon you catch, and then swap them around in a 6X6 grid to form groups of 3, 4 or 5, to damage the Pokémon of the current level. There is a level-up system of course, to increase the attack of the Pokémon in your team.

Is there a plot? No, there isn’t, really. Just, here’s a Pokémon, beat it up with your team, try to catch it, move on to the next. The system has been simplified, so each Pokémon has only one type. Yup, sorry, I know you might like your Mawile as a Steel/Fairy, but you can forget the Fairy part when playing Pokémon Shuffle. (Also, there are type strengths and weaknesses, as an example a grass-type Pokémon will deal less damage to a fire-type Pokémon, and a Fire-type attack will deal more damage to a grass-type Pokémon... but there are no type nullifications: Normal-types and Ghost-types can hurt each other, even if they deal very little damage to each other. Ground-types can hurt Flying-types... etc.)

Only had to replay that level five times!
Here, you must deplete a Pokémon’s HP to 0 before you can catch it. No beating it only within an inch of its life before tossing three dozen balls. Then, every Pokémon has a catch rate, much like in the main series – except it’s defined by a percentage. Each Pokémon has a starting percentage, and more % is added depending on the number of moves left when you’ve beaten the Pokémon. Thus, you’re better off beating a level with as few moves as possible. Then you can toss your Pokéball, and hope for the best. Oh, and you get only one Pokéball. You fail, the 'mon flees. You can buy Super Balls, but there is no guarantee of catching even with those.

Remember in Pokémon Go, when Niantic “accidentally” caused a glitch that made a lot of Pokémon a lot harder to catch? I feel like that’s what happens frequently with Pokémon Shuffle. Maybe it’s just my crappy, crappy luck, but it feels as though a lot of Pokémon manage to flee from the Pokéball even when the odds of them being captured were very high. And of course, in this game, you can only toss one Pokéball, after which the Pokémon flees and you must start the level over.

Yay, caught a Mudkip! I suppose that means I have to do
the meme? ......Nah. It's been done to death.
Also yay, Pikachu level up!

Huh, guess Ampharos is closer to its dragon roots than I
As I mentioned, all Pokémon can use a basic level-up system, with the maximum level being 10 and very few, if any, stats are important outside of attack power. Because yes, the amount of damage your Pokémon deal to the opponent are still defined by their attack stat. Adding to this, there are various skills, basically replacing the main series’ abilities; see this list of skills. Most of them have to do with increasing a Pokémon’s power after many successful matches, although other abilities will remove hindrances in the playing field, paralyze the opponent temporarily, or things of the like.

Oh, but wait – the opponents also have abilities! Some enemy Pokémon can transform some Pokémon in your squares into others (usually, by Pokémon that do not deal a lot of damage to them, like an Electric-type Pokémon summoning some on your field to counter your ultra-effective Rock-types). Some enemy Pokémon can summon wooden blocks to take some icons away from you, or worse even, stone blocks. Many, many Pokémon later in the game can also summon ice and freeze some or many of your Pokémon in place, in which case you have no choice but to match three with a frozen Pokémon to unfreeze it. Usually, an enemy Pokémon will have only one of these abilities, but a particularly nasty one can have a combination of those, becoming a real bother; thankfully, if the whole playing field gets frozen by some ice age nostalgic Pokémon, the board will be reset. It’s still annoying when it happens.

Mother and kid, kicking ass even in puzzle games!
Mega Pokémon are also a part of the game; the “bosses”, so to speak, are Pokémon in their Mega forms. Many of the Mega Evolutions from X/Y/OR/AS are there, and many of them are formidable opponents. (As an example, Mega Glalie can freeze the whole fucking board in a matter of a few turns if it wants to.) Being bosses, some of these Mega Evolutions can be extremely hard to defeat in the required amount of turns – although as soon as you beat a Mega Evolution level, you immediately get that Pokémon’s Mega Stone – and so, if you have caught the Pokémon that was Mega Evolved, you can now use Mega Evolution on your board.

That son of a bitch has already frozen half of
the whole fucking board.

For a Pokémon on your board to Mega Evolve, you must make enough matches of that Pokémon to fill a gauge for that Pokémon. Mega Evolved Pokémon on your board will usually clear out a lot of Pokémon, whether it’s by clearing the Pokémon around the match (as Audino does) or clear them in a pattern on the board (like Mawile, who deletes diagonal lines of Pokémon, or Sableye, who clears a circle shape on the field).

You got two minutes to beat up and catch
fan-davorite Lucario! Go!
There’s also Expert Levels, which instead use a timer and you must deplete the enemy Pokémon's health before the timer runs out. But, you’ll tell me, this is a free-to-play game, no? And I still haven’t mentioned anything about the free-to-play part. Well there it is. You can pay real money to buy jewels, which you can use to add 5 moves to a level you’ve just failed, giving you a better chance to beat it, or you can spend them on coins or on extra lives. As for the coins, you can use them to buy lives or various kinds of power-ups to help you with a tough level:
-Increase the starting number of moves in a level by 5;
-Add 10 seconds to the starting time of an Expert Stage;
-Get 1.5X the amount of EXP you get from a level;
-Start the level with your Pokémon Mega Evolved;
-Start a level with one less Pokémon in your team;
-Delay the disruptions an enemy Pokémon can create;
-Or increase the attack power of your Pokémon in Expert stages.

If you have enough money, you can also pay for a Super Ball to try and catch a Pokémon if your regular Poké Ball fails. It’s expensive as Hell, though.

While we’re on the topic of EXP… You see, one issue with this game, and in my opinion the biggest, is that level-grinding your Pokémon is a pain. To beat the later levels, you need a high-level team. Which, granted, a max level of 10 doesn’t seem like much… until you remember that the Pokémon you use to beat a level only gain EXP equal to the amount of moves that could be done in that level. It can take extremely long to grind your Pokémon. And since you spend one life every time you play a level, and you only have 5 lives at most unless you’ve bought some more… Yeah. It’s tedious, and a time will come where you’re gonna have to grind Pokémon of a certain type to face against the latest challenge… whether it’s a Pokémon with not many moves in its level, or opne using too many disruptions, or a particularly nasty Mega Evolution. And if you didn’t grind any Pokémon of that type before… Have fun starting them all from Level 1. Can't just bring them to the Victory Road with a fully-leveled Pokémon and get them from Level 1 to 13!

Want jewels? Pay!
This is another case where the usual limitations of the free-to-play game are a major hindrance, something that prevents the player from getting anything done fast (after all, one Life is given every 30 minutes only). It takes away most of the fun that the game could be – but then again, don’t underestimate the addictive qualities of Match 3 games. You’ll be coming back for more – for a while, at least. Or until you encounter an opponent that you can’t beat no matter how many times you try. (Motherfucking Mega Glalie…) I can at least admit that a lot of thought went into game, into giving every Pokémon a special ability related to the gameplay, giving the player many options to face the challenge behind each level. The Mega Evolutions’ abilities are pretty creative too, though their usefulness varies greatly depending on the level.

Of course, there’s an option if you want to get more money quickly, you can “Check In” (connect your 3DS to your local wireless Internet) once a day, to get some free coins. Offering rewards if you come back every day, another staple of the freemium “genre”.

These mission cards add a nice dimension to the game.
After a while, you will have caught quite a number of Pokémon, so picking support for the new level can be complicated – thankfully, there’s an Optimize option that will immediately give you a team with type advantage over the latest Pokémon to defeat. It will usually go for higher-leveled Pokémon, but if all the Pokémon with a type advantage against the new enemy are Level 1… get ready to do some grinding. Yep. There’s over 500 stages, so you should spend quite a while playing the game.

You can also find some Special Stages to play, over limited time periods. One of the more recent additions is a set of missions that you can complete to get some more rewards – mostly some free power-ups. Those Mission Cards will often require particular Mega Evolutions in your team, or particular stages to play in. Of course, with the large selection of stages in the games, you can quite likely find the perfect stage to play in to complete every mission.

Want hearts? Want money? Fork some cash over.
Gotta say, the music isn’t half-bad, and the art style is pretty neat. Trying to picture every Pokémon as a more-or-less circle, that’s also a clever move. I do think some Pokémon look too much like each other this way (as an example, Slowpoke and Slowbro), which can lead to confusion on the 6X6 grid, but it’s not a big issue. I guess that’s all I really had to say about this one… I don’t entirely hate it, but treat it for what it is; a free-to-play game where you pretty much need to waste hours grinding for EXP or spend money to get through some of the later levels. I can’t deny just how addictive this game is – I mean, I’ve played it for as long as it’s been on my 3DS, so it has to be doing something right. Then again, I even get addicted to clickers, so maybe the problem is me.

Next Friday: Pokémon Picross, because there's that one too.