September 27, 2014

Now I Gotta Catch ‘Em All


Seeing the trailer for Pokémon Go! gave me chills. I can’t even pinpoint one moment, from start to end my viewing experience escalated from “No it can’t be…” to “Oh my goodness yes!!” Pokémon has been in the public consciousness a lot lately with ORAS, the inclusion of Mewtwo in Super Smash Bros., Pokken Tournament, and Shuffle. This tops them all by giving fans what they’ve wanted for two decades; the ability to be the trainer.

With Go available on iPhone and Android this will put Pokémon in the hands of millions of people without having to go buy an up-to-date gaming console. A popular entertainment-oriented website made reference to the fact that this will motivate them to actually go outside. Hilariously, I agree! Being able to explore the real world to catch your very own Pokémon in a virtual reality sort of way is just incredible. I can only imagine and wonder how detailed it will work. So, let’s talk about first the trailer and then some possibilities.

The trailer highlighted only first gen Pokémon as I could see them. The build up showing smaller Pokémon at first was smart and then building up to Mewtwo. It is so interesting how they’re making this thing look. I like the idea that we will be able to see a distance measurement showing that a potential catch is nearby. I loved seeing the people challenge each other and get all excited or disappointed over what was happening. Let’s just say I can’t wait to be that guy with the Snorlax on the bridge. It really felt like one of the RPGs brought to life. I know I’m going to say random things when battles start; it only seems right. And, how about that city scene? That rush when Mewtwo was getting assaulted by so many various Pokémon was exhilarating. Climaxing with his capture was a stroke of genius and such a huge push for the game. At that point there was no doubt: I was getting this game. When “Gotta. Catch ‘em. All” came flying across the screen, I lost it. It was that fanboy-dream come true moment I had been waiting for since I first saw Ash throw a Pokéball.

Now, how about potential? Having the peripheral Pokéball wrist band is a great touch and will add a very real-world-trainer feel to it. I’m also curious to see exactly how the game works as far as the specific individual Pokémon and their types. If I’m in a very industrial area will I see Muk and Magnemite? If I’m by water will I see a million Tentacool? These are the questions I can’t wait to see answered. Imagine actively trying to pursue all original 151 by going outside and pursuing them in different locals. I’m sure specific Pokémon like Mew will somehow be special events and likely held in public places like maybe Gamestop or the like.

Now, as far as battles, trading, and items go, it gives great incentive for in-app purchases, a fiscally smart inclusion on any free app. We all will likely shell out at some point or another to get our hands on a great ball when that pesky Pikachu just won’t be caught. I wonder how relationships will be developed between you and your Pokémon. Maybe a VR, Nintendogs style environment where you can spend time with your little Poké pet and get to know each other?

I’m also super excited to learn more about the inclusions in the game. Obviously, there are so many Pokémon they won’t all be there from the get-go. But, what about evolutions that were expanded on? Like if we catch an Eevee, can it evolve into an Espeon?

Wide eyed and wowed. I cannot wait!

September 27, 2014

Pokémon Shuffle, And My Relapse Into Freemium Games


A few years ago, I developed an addiction to Candy Crush. It started when I was just messing around with iPads on display at stores in the mall, but soon spiraled into me lying awake at 5 in the morning, waiting for my lives to recharge so I could have one more shot at the level I was stuck on. I absolutely refused to buy lives or power-ups, determined to beat these levels the old-fashioned way: with anger and profanities hurled at the game and my own ineptitude. After 400 or so levels of candy- and soul-crushing agony, I did what had to be done and deleted it off my iPod. I was free from the torture at last.

And, then Pokémon Shuffle was released.

Let me tell you, I tried so hard to resist downloading this, and for a good few months I was successful. I would see people rage and cry about it on social media and think to myself, "yep, I dodged a bullet here." But gradually my defenses weakened, and one day, in a fit of exceptional boredom, I could no longer resist the dual selling points of "free" and "Pokémon game" and my formerly steel will crumbled, and I downloaded it. Or tried to, at least, soon realizing my wi-fi router had decided to stop working and go on strike.

I should have recognized this peaceful protest by an inanimate object for the warning it was. Maybe if I had, I would still love myself.

Okay, I realize I am being a tad overdramatic here. Let's talk about the game itself before I tell my full tale.

For those of you who have never played it, Pokémon Shuffle is a free game of the match-three puzzle variety, released first for 3DS back in February, and released on Apple and Android phones at the end of August. In each stage, you can take up to four support Pokémon with you, whose type advantages and abilities you can use to do damage to the opposing Pokémon of that stage. You have a limited number of moves, and at the end of the stage the number of moves you have remaining go towards increasing the catch percentage of the Pokémon you just defeated. In addition, your Pokémon receive experience points whether you beat a stage or not, and can level up, increasing their attack power.

Every 15 stages or so, there is a Mega Pokémon stage, which is a little tougher than regular stages, but with the bonuses of just getting a Mega Stone instead of having to try to catch the Pokémon.

Unlike Puzzle Challenge/Puzzle League, where you can only swap blocks that are next to each other, or Trozei, where you moved entire lines horizontally or vertically to make matches like some sort of Pokémon Rubik's Cube (that I now wish was real), in Shuffle you are free to swap icons from anywhere on the board to make matches! In addition, you/your Pokémon have no health bar that can go down, so all you need to focus on is how many moves you have left.

At the end of each stage you complete, you are given a rank of C, B, A, or S based on how well you did on that stage. S-rank enough stages and you open up Expert Stages, which exchange your move limits for time limits. True to their name, they are very difficult, many featuring the final evolutions of typical starter Pokémon or legendary Pokémon. But they add the franticness of time limits that I so love and desperately missed in the regular stages of this game. Since moves don't matter in this mode, you can swap any Pokémon icons you wish to set up better combos.

There are also Special stages you can download, that usually are only available to play for a few weeks before they're gone. Because of getting this game so late, I haven't seen very many of them. There are also things called Escalation Battles, stages that I have never experienced because there's only been one, lasting a couple weeks back in June.

There is no multiplayer or versus mode, which may just be one of the most disappointing things about this at first glance, but I grew up playing the multiplayer modes in Puzzle Challenge, so I may just be feeling nostalgic for times past.

Naturally, there is a catch to this game, because this is a free game and free games always have a catch. You get 5 lives to start with, that recharge as time goes by. Every half hour, you get one life back. When you beat Mega Pokémon stages, you get jewels that can be exchanged for lives, or exchanged for coins to buy power-ups. If you have some dollars to burn, you can spend your real money to get jewels.

But, as I may have mentioned earlier, I am cheap. It's how I've lived so long.

The game is certainly fun when you start playing it, and easy enough to get the hang of right away since it basically tells you what moves to make for the first few stages. Don't get too used to that hand-holding, because this game would just as easily push you down a flight of stairs without a second thought.

But, let's get back to my experience with it.

I got the game on 3DS (coincidentally, on the same day it was released for mobile, though I was not aware of it at the time) and within an hour, I was hooked. Though you start with only 5 lives, the game gives you a jewel early on, allowing you to get another 5.

One thing I didn't mention about the lives system is how they're used. In Candy Crush, if you fail to clear a level, you lose a life. In Shuffle, if you start a level, you lose a life whether you clear it or not. In a way I can see why they made it this way. Since catching a Pokémon is not guaranteed upon clearing the stage, you may choose to replay the stage until you catch it. And if you aren't losing the lives, you'll have no incentive to buy more. It's understandable, but that doesn't stop me from being frustrated about it. It is impossible to get into the groove of playing a game if you are literally forced to stop playing it if you can't buy more lives.

That was strike one. But that's just what you expect from a free-to-play-with-in-app-purchases game. Aside from that, the stages were pretty easy, and the game itself was incredibly addicting. I powered through dozens of levels in the first week of playing it. I've woken up in the early hours of the morning to play this game, falling asleep again after I used all my lives. I've taken breaks from writing this every half hour just to play another stage when my lives recharge.

I didn't bother catching all the Pokémon at first. "There's always time to go back when I've reached the end of the stages," I thought. The mistake in that statement was the idea that I might beat all the stages.

There are not a whole ton of stages so far (about half the number of Pokémon that exist currently), but around stage 100 or so, the difficulty curve did some funky algebra nonsense and shot up into the sky. Most stages were still winnable, sometimes taking two or more tries, but the Mega Pokémon stages suddenly became impossible. I spent at least four days stuck on one, going back to replay older levels instead so I could save up coins for power-ups. Finally, I beat it, and burned through the next area in a day... only to get stuck by the next Mega stage.

"I cannot remain stuck here forever"

I don't know if I can find the words to describe how frustrating this stage is. Every three moves, some in-game disruption is thrown my way. Three or more of my Pokémon are turned into a type that is not very effective on the stage's Pokémon, a few are encased in ice so I can't move them, a fairly large cluster are just turned into unbreakable blocks that I can't move. I use all my moves and find I've only gotten the opponent's health bar down to half. I feel like I challenged this stage at least 30 times, and soon decided that I needed to save up coins for power-ups again.

In the process of doing that, I've now caught all but one of the regular stage Pokémon I've encountered. And at last, I've saved up enough coins to get all but one power-up for the stage that has quickly become the Bane of My Existence.

And, yet, I can't bring myself to challenge it again. What if I fail again, and all 13,300 coins I saved up were useless, and I have to save up all those coins again? Would I be willing to do it again? Or would it crush my spirit in the same way Candy Crush had all those years ago?

I have to try.

I cannot remain stuck here forever.

It's time to do or die.


(Two minutes later)

Okay, that was way easier than I expected. (see: the number of moves I had left. I started with 28)

Anyway, here are my final thoughts. It's a good enough game. It's challenging, though I'm not sure if it's in a good way. The 3DS version definitely seems to be much better than the mobile version, as from what I've seen (I've only played a few stages of that version myself) it's been made intentionally more difficult. It costs more coins for power-ups, Pokémon hit points are increased, and the capture rates are decreased, making it much harder to beat a stage or catch a Pokémon without spending a little real money.

It's a shame this is a freemium game though. I would gladly pay for this if it was just a regularly released game like Puzzle Challenge or Trozei or--

Wait. What's this? Pokémon Battle Trozei? A Trozei game released in 2014, containing 718 Pokémon, with similar game mechanics of Shuffle, local multiplayer for up to four players, on the 3DS eShop for only $8?

Why on earth are we all not playing this game instead?

Overall Rating: 7.8 out of 10, too much suffering.

September 27, 2014

Everyday I’m Shufflin’


Pokémon Shuffle Mobile is such a fantastic game that is addicting and interesting. While following the same formula as so many freemium games before it, it adds its own twists with Pokémon types and Mega Evolutions. Unlike any similar game on the app store, Shuffle Mobile has actually moved me to break down and use real life money to buy something, gems, in the game.

I agree with Fex that this game would be so much better if you could buy it outright, even for $20.00 or so as long as that meant not having to wait for hearts to regenerate. I’m always checking my phone to see if I even have one heart available. But, aside from that constant nagging temptation to buy jewels, the game is otherwise flawless. You’ll skate through the first few levels and catch every Pokémon and be like, “where’s the challenge?” and then you’ll waste all of your hearts on one Pokémon and that’s it. So it’s good to get used to and then the challenges come.

I really want to praise three things and then put in a couple of requests.

First, I want to say I love the designs and the artwork. It’s adorable and really a lot of fun. The way everything looks is crisp, clean, and bright and makes for a lot of visual eye-candy while you’re playing the game. I think it’s well-suited to be on a phone, for the shape of the screen and its cascading nature. There are a couple of lemons in the bunch, but the majority is just gorgeous.

Second, I feel the inclusion of expert stages being the final evolutions of starters and pseudo-legendaries was a great idea both in-game and marketing wise. It makes sense that those Pokémon would be extremely powerful as well as being harder to catch. The anticipation on both the main and expert stages as to who is next is a lot of fun.

And, finally as part of that last sentence, I love the silhouettes that show you the next few you’ll be playing. It’s a (not-so?) subtle nod to the infamous “Who’s That Pokémon?” from the anime series and does build up some excitement from my inner child. Try it, it’s fun to try and guess who they are since the slightly different art style can sometimes throw you off.

The one request I have is not that obscure I don’t think. To put it plainly I don’t want it to end. This is the sort of game they can just keep adding and adding to. So once they round out the 700+ Pokémon from the franchise I think they should start adding Shinies. That doubles the roster right there, not to mention getting into variants and Shadows later. We shall see.

Anyhow, 9 out of 10: I love it and highly recommend it for some free fun on your phone or tablet.