Backlog Battle Week 8
Pokemon’s Mobile Madness
Pokemon Shuffle and Pokemon Picross
Nintendo has only recently become involved in the mobile game industry. As franchises like Mario and Animal Crossing slowly dip their toes in the water, Pokemon has comparatively taken a swan dive in. Most of Nintendo’s mobile games are Pokemon games, and what’s neat is that some of these games have appeared on Nintendo systems. Pokemon Shuffle, while currently available on mobile devices, was also free to download on the 3DS up until the system’s online store closed. The other 3DS game I’m looking at today, Pokemon Picross, is technically not a mobile game, but it has some similarities to them. Mobile puzzle games feature short bursts of gameplay that limit players with a stamina or heart system. Stamina can replenish slowly or can be refilled by paying real world money. This means that players will take a while to get through the game’s multiple levels. Pokemon Shuffle and Pokemon Picross both feature fun puzzle gameplay, but they’re held back by the “freemium” model of some mobile games. These are games that are free to purchase but heavily encourage in-game purchases to make progression easier. Call me a skinflint, but I’m not paying an extra cent for either of these games. The mainline Pokemon games are expensive enough.
Why I Bought These Games: Only a few weeks remained until the 3DS online store closed. I made all of the purchases I wanted to, but there was still some free content I could get my hands on. Quite a few Pokemon games, including these ones, were free on 3DS, and being a fan of both Pokemon games and free things, I certainly couldn’t complain.
What Took Me So Long: Here’s where I unfortunately had to break a rule of mine. I knew these games were going to take a while to get through without paying, so I had been putting time into these games while writing reviews for previous weeks of Backlog Battle. Don’t worry, this week is an exception, not the rule.
Pokemon Shuffle is reminiscent of “match 3” puzzle games such as Bejeweled and Candy Crush. Every level features a pokemon that you must try to catch. You select a team of your own pokemon to battle. If you’re not sure which pokemon will be the most useful in a level, there is a button you can press to optimize your team. Icons of your pokemon will appear on a grid, and you must move the icons around to match three or more of the same pokemon. Once you do, that pokemon will attack the opponent and deal some damage. The goal of every level is to defeat the opposing pokemon by making enough matches. You have a limited amount of turns to win, and any turns you have left over after clearing a level will increase your score. When you beat a level, you get a chance to catch the pokemon you defeated. The higher your score, the higher odds of a successful catch. A caught pokemon can then be used on your team whenever you like. If a catch is unsuccessful, you’ll have to beat the level again to get another chance.
Here is where the “freemium” part of the game rears its ugly head. Every level, win or lose, costs a heart to play. You usually only have five hearts at a time, and it takes half an hour to get one heart back. You can also use coins earned from completing levels to earn power ups that make it easier to clear levels and catch pokemon. Coins and hearts can be bought with gems, which are in turn bought with real-world money. Gems are also used to give yourself five extra turns if you run out during a level. In the 100+ levels I’ve played, I was only given ten gems for free. Ten. As fun as the gameplay of Pokemon Shuffle is, I’m not sure I can recommend it due to its use of microtransactions. You can get through the game without spending in-game or real world currency, but it will take a while. It’s fun for a few minutes at a time, but it’s not worth breaking the bank for a slightly longer play session.
Picross is a grid-based logic puzzle. The goal of each puzzle is to use the hints in each row and column to figure out which squares should be filled in and which shouldn’t. If done correctly, a picture is made from the combination of blank and filled squares. I’m not the biggest fan of puzzle games, but I’ve always enjoyed Picross, or nonogram puzzles, as they’re more commonly called. Nonograms are a perfect example of “easy to learn, hard to master.” The “pokemon” part of Pokemon Picross comes in whenever you solve a puzzle. Unlike Pokemon Shuffle, you’ll always catch a pokemon when you clear its level. Caught pokemon have abilities that make beating later levels easier, such as automatically filling squares in, fixing any mistakes you make, and slowing down the clock. Every level tracks how long you take to clear it, and you’ll get extra in-game currency for clearing some levels before a certain time.
The in-game currency for Pokemon Picross is known as “picrites,” which makes this game’s progression arguably worse than Pokemon Shuffle’s. Levels can give you anywhere from three to six picrites depending on how many level challenges you can clear. Level challenges include clearing the level in a certain time, using certain pokemon or their abilities, or clearing a level with a limited number of pokemon on your team. You can also get around ten picrites every day for clearing daily puzzles. Levels are organized in areas that must be unlocked with picrites. The amount of picrites required will gradually increase until new levels cost hundreds of picrites to unlock. If you don’t want to pay real world money for picrites, you’ll have to use picrites earned from levels or the daily puzzle. You can go days or even weeks without seeing new levels, only to clear them relatively quickly and have to suffer another drought of content. Did I mention there are levels that can’t even be attempted until you spend 300 picrites to unlock them? Did I also mention you have stamina that drains after every puzzle? Stamina slowly recharges over time, but you can refill it instantly with, you guessed it, picrites. It’s unfortunate that Pokemon Picross barely lets you play its puzzles. I would’ve happily paid ten to fifteen dollars for this game if it had the same core levels and mechanics but better progression.
Summary: The worst aspect of these games is the fact that they’re free to play. The problem is that most free games want you to pay for them. The freemium model rubs me the wrong way because it can bog down an otherwise fun game. Here we have two games that I would love to play if it weren’t for the games themselves stopping me. The gameplay is solid and the pokemon are integrated pretty well. There is a variety of pokemon from the mainline games, but it can take weeks to discover them due to how long it can take to access new levels. The strategies these games employ to try to drain players financially are predatory, especially towards Pokemon’s core demographic of children. The puzzles are fun, but it’s hard to recommend these games when the fun is held prisoner behind a relentless cascade of microtransactions.
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