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Developer: Genius Sonority Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: February 18, 2015 ESRB: E for Everyone Oh Nintendo. My poor, sweet Nintendo. What have you done? Genius Sonority, developers behind the Pokemon Trozei games (also known as Pokemon Link in Europe) are back with Pokemon Shuffle, a free-to-play title with microtransactions for the Nintendo 3DS. To date, I believe this is only the third free-to-play model game Nintendo has released, with the other two receiving generally positive reviews. Well I guess that streak was bound to end sometimeâ€¦ Much like Pokemon Trozei and Pokemon Battle Trozei, Pokemon Shuffle revolves around match-3 mechanics, using the stylus to match the cute widdle faces of various Pokemon in order to deal damage to your opponent which is, you guessed it, another Pokemon. Like its spiritual predecessors, the game also gives you the chance to catch the Pokemon you face, adding them to your party in order to take advantage of type advantages in future matches. Though types are simplified (dual-type pokemon count only as their primary type) it“s certainly a staple the Pokemon franchise is known for. This time around, though, matches are not timed, with opponents attacking you as well, but are limited to a certain number of moves before you simply fail to take a Pokemon down. It“s a design choice I“m certainly in favor of, especially considering I wasn“t exactly a fan of Trozei“s timed battles. Pokemon Shuffle“s merits don“t end there. Also new is the ability to select up to four Pokemon for your party, making type effectiveness a much easier goal to achieve in this game. This makes battles far more approachable, especially when combined with another great inclusion. Pokemon you use in battles actually earn experience and â€œlevel upâ€ which in turn raises the damage they deal when you match three or more of them! Shuffle certainly isn“t the first match-3 title to do this, but most of the best ones do. What does this mean? Well, players who have a hard time with certain matches can always level those Pokemon up in order to make their next attempts a bit easier. Basically, so much win. Pokemon Shuffle also features Mega Evolution, which fans of the series will recognize as the major new mechanic added in the mainline Pokemon games of Generation 6. Here, it“s a tad different, though. If you acquire a mega stone for a particular Pokemon through special battles, you can move that Pokemon to the first spot in your party. As you match that Pokemon, a mega evolution bar will fill up, and when it fills, that Pokemon will be in it“s mega evolved form for the rest of the match, granting an increase in damage and adding special effects like taking other Pokemon with it to increase the combo count, making it a pretty awesome and indispensable feature. I mean who doesn“t love themselves some super-OP Mega Kangaskhan shenanigans? No one, that“s who! Sadly though, as great as the gameplay and mechanics are to this point, there is one very obvious element which I“ve not discussed—yup, the microtransactions. Because every game has to make money, right? Right, and that“s totally understandable, but what players for F2P games loathe more than anything is unbalanced and unfair microtransactions. While the game is (so far) entirely single player (eliminating the possibility of those dreaded pay-to-win scenarios), what Pokemon Shuffle does ask you to pay for is ridiculous. The game allows you to have five hearts at once, with one being needed to start a match. Once all five are gone, you“re going to have to wait 30 minutes for a single heart to regenerate. Yup, that“s two-and-a-half hours for all five. Considering matches rarely last more than two minutes that means you“ll be spending 10 minutes on and nearly three hours off. Seems a bitâ€¦ unbalanced? AYUP. It“s like being given the keys to an expensive sports car but only having enough gas to get out of the driveway. The frustration really kills the mood more than realizing a hot redhead only wants to make out with you so she can break a curse. So with those limited matches in mind, how well do they really add up? Completed matches net you coins and experience if nothing else, so if you“re having trouble catching a particular pokemon, the game will allow you to spend those coins on a Great Ball which (I believe) doubles your catch rate. Great balls can be expensive—2500 coins a piece—so the game allows you to also spend gems on coins as well. Coins can also be used before matches to enhance EXP, add moves to your move total, start the match with a full Mega Evolution meter, stuff like that. The problems is the coins don“t come as easy as you“d like, creating another opportunity for you to be tempted to buy jewels, so you can in turn by coins. Oh, and if you fail a match? Well, you can add another five moves if you pony up a jewel. And jewels themselves? Those will cost you a buck a pop, with â€œbonus jewelsâ€ for those who opt to buy in bulk, with 75 jewels for just short of $50. I should mention that you can get jewels by playing the game, but in nearly 50 matches and nearly 3 hours of play time I“ve only managed to get three. I“m not liking those odds. For every positive this game has, it“s a shame that there is only a single, glaring negative that brings the entire game down as a whole. The microtransactions were implemented so poorly, in fact, that it ends up creating a perfect storm of how not to develop a free-to-play game. It“s honestly so upsetting that it“s hard to have any fun here at all, which is a complete shame because there is really so much going for it otherwise. Pokemon Shuffle even has a daily check-in feature that will net you 500 free coins and the occasional special event, but even with that the game remains a very obviously money-hungry blight on Nintendo“s current track record of decent free-to-play games. As it stands, Pokemon Shuffle is really hard for me to recommend, even to fans of match-3 games because even at the price of â€œfreeâ€ it still seems to cost way too much. Pros: +Clever puzzle gameplay that could easily become addictive +150+ Pokemon to catch, level up, and use +Cute Pokemon designs Cons: -Terrible reload timer for hearts stops the fun just as it begins -IAP is on the more expensive side of F2P Overall Score: 3 (out of 10) Poor Pokemon Shuffle does plenty to create a great puzzle experience but suffers from outrageous in-app purchases that ultimately prove to be its downfall. Disclosure: This title is free-to-play and was reviewed on the writer's own time.