Among this week's new 3DS releases is perhaps the least Nintendo game ever: Pokemon Shuffle, a free-to-play, match-three puzzle game that has more in common with Candy Crush than Super Mario.
There is no more consistently great video game creator than Nintendo. For decades, the company has made some of the best, most inventive interactive experiences ever released, and even with a struggling home console, the company shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, Nintendo even tested the freemium market with Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, a game that showed that free-to-play experiences can actually be a lot of fun — it turned the act of making an in-app purchase into a game itself.
a generic mobile game with a Pokemon skin
Pokemon Shuffle, meanwhile, is like a generic mobile game with a Pokemon skin. The gameplay is entirely familiar: you match three like items (in this case they're Pokemon heads), in order to clear them off the screen and build up your score. There are different modes, with time and move limits, that add some extra challenge, and you'll be able to use some power-ups to make things easier. Each round is framed like a fight against another Pokemon, and clearing gems will wear down your opponent's health, much like in the mobile game Puzzles & Dragons (which also happens to be coming to the 3DS very soon).
But Shuffle also uses the dreaded energy system to limit how much you can play. You get five hearts to start, and you use one each time you play a round. The hearts will refresh over time or, if you don't feel like waiting, you can buy some using in-game currency — which can of course be purchased using real money. It's an annoying set-up that forces you to choose between spending time or money.
This isn't the Nintendo I know
It's also the exact same system used by games like Candy Crush Saga, and it's even more obnoxious in this instance. If I'm pulling out my phone to play a game on the bus, I probably only have time to play a few rounds anyways. But the sheer act of turning on my 3DS means I'm down to play some video games for a while — I'm not going to pull out my 3DS every few hours just to play for a few minutes at a time. I'll just play Monster Hunter instead.
It's not like Nintendo has a flawless track record — I played through all of Twilight Princess, I know — but this release seems particularly heartless. It's a game where the focus is on making money at the expense of having fun, and that's not the Nintendo I know. Just last week Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said that "in the past, I have opposed making smartphone and tablet versions of Nintendo titles," because "prices for content aimed at smartphones and tablets are falling quickly."
Instead, the company brought the worst of smartphone games to its handheld gaming device.