"Much Better Than You've Heard"
I downloaded Pokemon Shuffle with no expectations of greatness. I'd read the negative reviews, read that the microtransactions ruined whatever hint of a good game there was to be had. Add on to that the fact that I've never played a match-3 and I'm not a die-hard Pokemon fan, and I thought it would be terrible. I downloaded it anyway because it was free and I was bored. I quickly found it to be far better than virtually all reviewers said. Please note that I haven't play Pokemon Battle Trozei, so I won't be comparing the two.
Design and Gameplay: 8/10
Like I said, I've never played a match-3, but I really enjoyed myself with Shuffle. Having the pieces you move around be Pokemon that you know and care about from the series is much more interesting than pieces of candy or jewels. But the Pokemon bring a lot more to the game than just aesthetic, the different 'mons add a strategic element which makes the game far deeper than if the pieces had nothing special to them. The main considerations are picking Pokemon that are super effective against the type you're fighting, considering the different powers that the Pokemon have, like a match-4 bonus or getting rid of obstructions, and mega evolutions. If you get the mega evolution stone for a Pokemon, they can mega evolve in battle and unleash some cool special powers, clearing Pokemon in different patterns.
One controversial part of the game is catching Pokemon. Each Pokemon has their own catchability rate, which is increased by how many turns or how much time you have remaining after completing the stage, and you can use a great ball to increase your chances if you have the coins. I haven't played it, but as I understand, in Pokemon Battle Trozei you simply catch a Pokemon once you defeat it. I don't think either method is perfect, and I would prefer a pass/fail system for catching Pokemon. Say you get an S rank, you catch the Pokemon, and if you get under that, you don't, try to do better next time. This seems better to me, because it rewards better play and offers replay incentive to get the Pokemon without being unfair. In Shuffle's system, you can get an S rank and still not catch it, and get a poor rank and catch it. It's an irritating system, which hopefully can be improved in a future instalment.
Pokemon Shuffle offers two different modes: the main mode, with a set number of moves to win in, and timed mode where you have to win in the time limit. I usually split up my play session with a bit of each, since it's nice to mix things up a bit with the stress of timed mode. Aside from the irritating catching system, the gameplay in shuffle is fun, varied and polished. The most important part of any game gets flying colours in my books.
The microtransactions are what most reviews cite as Shuffle's fatal flaw, but I disagree. The way the system works is that you need one heart to play one match. Every half hour a new heart is added for free to your game, with a maximum of five at one time. So you can play five matches, around ten to fifteen minutes on average, every two and a half hours. The game also occasionally gives you a jewel, which you can exchange for five hearts or other goodies. If you want to play more, you can buy a jewel with real money, $1.20 for one jewel. That's where they get your money.
Yes, that price is a rip-off and it's pretty shameless, but I haven't spent a cent on Shuffle, and you don't need to either. I've been very happy playing a few times a day each day, slowly making my way through the game. For a lot of games that would be unacceptable, I could never play Zelda or an RPG like main-series Pokemon that way, with my time broken into small bursts. But with a match-3 you probably wouldn't want to play much longer than that in a sitting anyway, so it doesn't bother me. In the end, microtransactions are completely avoidable in enjoying the game, and splitting up your play time is a small price to pay for a free, really fun game.
Pokemon Shuffle costs nothing, and there's a huge amount of fun to be had. I've played for over 30 hours, and I'm not done yet. There are tons of levels in the main mode, more, harder levels in the timed mode, and special challenges in special mode. There you can fight Meowth for coins sometimes, fight a different Pokemon every day in Daily Pokemon, compete in a high-score challenge against the world, and more. New content is constantly being added, to all modes, allowing players to get even more enjoyment from this free game. A simply phenomenal amount of content for nothing!
This kind of game doesn't need great graphics, and it doesn't have them. The Pokemon look fine, stylized versions of what you see in the main games, but they're nothing special. The backgrounds are terrible, they obviously put no effort into them, and it shows. The graphics, even though they're bad, didn't impact my experience very much, so I don't wait this section very heavily in my overall assessment.
The thing with the music in this game is that it's good, but it's not Pokemon. The songs are all original, light, fun and varied enough to be enjoyable for the kind of game this is, but I can't see why they didn't use some of the great, instantly recognizable songs from the vast library of the Pokemon series. It would have felt more Pokemon and been better music overall. That being said, the music really fits the pace and tone of the game, so all's well that ends well.
So that's my experience with Pokemon Shuffle, and I freely admit it was very different from most reviewers. If you go into it with the right mindset about the microtransactions and are okay with spreading out your play time, then there's a ludicrously large amount of fun to be had at no cost in Pokemon Shuffle. Don't take my word for it, it's free, play it yourself!
Overall rating 4.0 - Good