The Now-Available Pokemon Shuffle is Easily Nintendo’s First Real Free-to-Play Game

Nintendo released Pokemon Shuffle this week on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, and the game is certainly a different kind of package than what Pokemon fans are used to.

Featured above, you can view a trailer for the game that showcases its core puzzle mechanics. This is not a “traditional” Pokemon game, in the sense that it’s a free-to-play. You traverse an overworld map and go through a single stage each, which boils down to a Pokemon battle of some kind.

I played the game for roughly 30-45 minutes, which basically equates to the entire tutorial, as well as the optional battle for this week, the legendary Mew. In the game, you use the “hearts” currency to fight battles, with each Pokemon battle costing one heart. After using up all of my hearts, I quietly put the game down.

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You start off with five hearts, and unless you’re a completely brain-dead or unlucky gamer, you won’t run out of hearts in the tutorial. There are two other forms of currency, “gems” and “coins”. Gems will let you either buy more hearts or coins, and coins will let you buy things that will aid you in battle, like a Great Ball (worth 2500 coins). It’s worth mentioning that should you run out of turns, the battle is over as well.

I only had issues with capturing only a few Pokemon (like Mew, for example). You don’t get the opportunity to capture Pokemon until after defeating them in battle, upon which you get a rate of catching the Pokemon in the form of a percentage. If you have turns left over, your percentage of being able to catch the Pokemon increases.

So while I did hit a paywall (or rather, a wait time) for more hearts, they refresh over time. I’d say that it takes at least two hours to get a full five hearts back, and yes, they cap out at five hearts. In a way, Pokemon Shuffle functions a lot like the Mii Plaza games in that you can get more coins and hearts by trading gems you get via StreetPass, so you have options to get more.

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What gives Pokemon Shuffle somewhat of an edge over its free-to-play puzzle cousins is the benefit of capturing more Pokemon. As you amass your own collection (like in the main series) you’ll get more advantages in battle, both in elemental prowess and special abilities, like doing more damage when lining up 4 blocks.

I haven’t played the game a lot, but I certainly had a more pleasant experience than I did with other similar free-to-play games on mobile, or other platforms. If you’re having major issues with capturing a difficult Pokemon, I think it’s probably that you’re making some bad moves, or you’re just plain unlucky. Honestly, I think it’s more of the former than the latter.

Pokemon Shuffle is definitely “yet another free-to-play” game, but it has something going for it, whether it’s the StreetPass functionality, the fun usage of the Pokemon IP, or perhaps the fact that it just taps into that addictive connect-three formula. While this is certainly not a review, if you own a 3DS, I encourage you to give the game a shot.

Brandon Orselli


Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer. Also an IT guy.