Pokémon Shuffle is a spinoff match three puzzle game in the Pokémon franchise available for Nintendo 3DS and mobile devices. I’ve played some of the mobile version, but this review is primarily based on the Nintendo 3DS version which, as far as I know, only differs in some of the coin costs and gets content a week ahead of the mobile counterparts. I also want to preface this by saying that I haven’t 100% completed the game, but that’s because it is constantly updated with new content and I haven’t spent any money on this free-to-play game to catch up. I also haven’t played all of the modes, so this is mainly going to be about the main, expert, and special modes.
In the main mode you’ll learn the basics of the gameplay. Each stage is a different Pokémon that you battle. Every Pokémon is represented as a circular head of that Pokémon and is simplified down to a single type for convenience. There are no type immunities so instead these are treated at not very effective. You start by selecting the Pokémon you want to bring into battle with you. Most of the time you’ll bring four but sometimes you’ll only be allowed to bring three. Each stage also displays the number of total moves you have available. Failure to complete the stage in that number of moves will result in a loss. Once in the battle you’ll have a six by six grid of Pokémon heads randomly populated with the Pokémon you chose. You use the stylus to tap and drag one head and let go of it on top of another to swap them. You can only swap their positions if doing so will make a match of at least three identical heads vertically or horizontally in either spot. The heads in the match will then disappear and the heads above it will fall down as more random heads of your selected Pokémon fall in from the top to fill in the gaps. Any additional matches made from this falling effect will create combos. The damage dealt to the opposing Pokémon depends on the power of the matched Pokémon, their type effectiveness against the opponent, and the number of heads in the match.
Pokémon also have skills that can be triggered by making matches. Some of them are guaranteed with every match while others only have a possibility of triggering. Some are dependent on conditions of the grid or the types of Pokémon in the puzzle area. Some even affect the enemy Pokémon directly. This is because the enemy Pokémon will have the ability to create disruptions either due to being attacked in a certain way or on a countdown based on the number of moves before the next disruption. Disruptions can be a number of things. They can be rocks that are cleared by making matches adjacent to them. They can be steel blocks that cannot be swapped or destroyed by normal means but will fall as Pokémon below are matched and disappear. They can be ice that freezes the current tile in place and requires a match to thaw. They can be clouds that block visibility of tiles. They can even be other Pokémon! However, there are Pokémon skills to counter all of these disruptions to various degrees. If you manage to take out all of the opponent’s HP, you’ll win and be taken to the capture screen. Here you’ll see the catch rate of the Pokémon which will be boosted by the number of moves remaining when you defeated it. Tap on the Pokéball to try and catch the Pokémon. Sometimes you’ll fail and, if you have enough coins, will be given the opportunity to try again with a great ball which will further boost your catch rate. Either way you’ll get coins for the victory, but if you catch the Pokémon you can then use it just like the rest of your Pokémon. You’ll also gain experience points for clearing stages. Get enough XP and your Pokémon will level up, increasing its attack power. The coins you get from winning battles and doing daily logins can be used to purchase powerups before a battle like adding five moves to the move count, disrupting the enemy at the start for a few turns, lowering the complexity of the puzzle area by removing one support Pokémon or a disruption that is normally present as part of the stage’s preset, boosting XP gain, boosting attack power, and starting the match with your Pokémon mega-evolved. To get a Pokémon to mega evolve you must capture that Pokémon from their stage and then beat their mega-evolved form’s stage in order to get their mega stone. Then, place them in the first slot in your party and make enough matches to fill up the mega meter. Once it mega evolves it will be able to use its mega skill. These are usually much more tactical or powerful. Using other powerups collected through playing the game you can decrease the amount of matches it takes to fill the mega meter. You can also use other similar types of powerups to increase level caps, grant immediate XP, change a Pokémon’s skill, instantly raise a Pokémon one whole level, and even increase the level of their skills which increases the likelihood of their success when making a match.
Another currency in the game is jewels. These can be obtained at certain points of progression, from daily login bonuses, and via the in-game shop where you can spend real money. Jewels can be used to purchase item bundles and coin bundles, unlock special stages for repeated play during their play period, and to get an extra few moves at the end of a failed attempt at a stage. You aren’t required to catch Pokémon to keep progressing through the stages but you do have to at least beat the stage to continue. You’ll also get ranks on each stage based on how many moves were remaining. You unlock expert mode stages gradually by getting enough S-ranks for each one. Expert mode is played fairly similarly to the main mode except that the powerup for extra moves is now for extra time because these stages are timed. You have unlimited moves but the timer goes constantly and the boost to the catch rate is based on time remaining rather than moves remaining. Special stages are rotated in and out periodically. Many of them give you opportunities to get some extra coins, extra XP, or some other handy powerup items. Some stages feature exclusive Pokémon only available when they appear here or access to Pokémon that appear in stages you may not have unlocked yet. Competition stages show up here where players assemble their best team to try and get the highest score on the stage. The prizes awarded at the end of the event period are based on the tier your rank falls under. There’s also usually always a Pokémon Safari stage that has a range of possible Pokémon encounters and requires you to pick a team to use knowing it could be any of them. There are usually a few extra rare stages that require coins or multiple hearts to attempt as well. Hearts are consumed when attempting most stages typically only one at a time. They take thirty minutes each to replenish and you can only hold a max of five replenishable hearts. You can get more hearts through some progression and login bonuses that are separate from the ones that replenish. There are some other modes and features of the game, but I never found the time to explore them because of how much has been continually added. Also note that changes after this review will not be reflected because… I’m not playing the game anymore.
I like Pokémon Shuffle more than I expected to. The puzzle mechanics are interesting and applying things like type advantages and leveling up makes it more appealing than other games of this genre. It has a lot of content to try out and the strategy element does allow for some interesting solutions to beating stages effectively. I also really like the way the heart system works. I usually play for about 20-45 minutes and then I put the game down for the day. I can come back multiple times a day if I feel like it but it also naturally keeps me from playing it too much to get sick of it. If you want to play more you can pay real money and be as addicted as you’d like, but I never felt like it was really nagging me to spend money to play. Plus, it’s free to play so it’s a nice game to have on the go between other, more substantial games.
The downside is that this game is damn near impossible to complete without paying money. Maybe if you were playing every day since it launched you’d be okay, but if you started it even a month later you’ll be lagging behind while more and more content comes up. There’s also the feeling of repetition and recycled content after a while. It ends up boiling down to type, attack power, skill, and mega evolution ability. It doesn’t matter what the name or look of the Pokémon is. Just pick the attributes you need and don’t worry about the set dressing. Which also makes it annoying to get more Pokémon of the same type that have the same skill. It just doesn’t feel exciting. Many of the skills are variants of the same thing too. There are only so many types of disruptions. It all just starts to blend together into a forgettable grind. And holy shit, how many fucking variants of god damn Pikachu do they need to add before they finally say enough is enough!?
Pokémon Shuffle is a fun and interesting game to tide you over between your significant gaming experiences. It’s a decent free to play game. But it’s really not doing anything that will keep you invested for the whole thing. Check it out in your spare time. Play it for as long as it’s fun. Then just stop once you’re tired of it and enjoy it for what it was to you… otherwise you’ll look back at your playtime in your 3DS game log and lament all the time you pissed away grinding in something that really wasn’t interesting enough to demand so much of you. Still better than Pokémon Go… but… what isn’t?