The Other Pokemon Mobile Game

Young children splash noisily below, calling out in one of the multitude of languages that flit and flow like the ubiquitous bikes inhabiting the streets beyond. Only the exhilaration of their high pitched shouts allows me the merest scrap of comprehension; no one needs rescuing. Yet.

This typically muggy Vietnamese morning finds me reclined on our hotel room balcony, savoring the relative cool before it beats another inevitable retreat. Even now at an hour that I’d truly prefer to sleep through the outside world is sauna-like, and as the sun reaches slowly out from behind Hoi An’s chaotic low-rise skyline the city will heat up in earnest. At this moment the playing kids don’t care, and neither do I; there is fun to be had all around.

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In my case the fun involves getting stuck into the Pokemon mobile game that no one else is playing right now. As much as I’d love to be catching ’em all in Pokemon GO, being overseas means paying prohibitive amounts for mobile data and so mine is now a Wi-Fi only existence. This morning’s impulsive fallback plan takes the form of Pokemon Shuffle, a typically polished Nintendo title that was originally released on the 3DS and is now Free-To-Play (F2P) on whatever smart device you own. Based on four or five hours of play time I would describe it as being just like Tetris Attack, if Tetris Attack was populated with Pokemon instead of the Mario gang and had been born into the modern era of microtransactions.

The aim of Pokemon Shuffle is basically to rearrange tiles into matching lines of three or more. In this sense Shuffle is a lot like a single player version of Connect Four. Once you’ve lined them up, the matching tiles clear from the board Tetris-style and detract from the opposing Pokemon’s Health Points, eventually allowing you to win the battle and catch said Pokemon. Your moves are untimed but there is a turn limit that varies from battle to battle and this countdown is your real enemy*. A little of the Pokemon series’ DNA survives in the form of special abilities and battle modifiers, but apart from that Shuffle is wholly dissimilar to the core franchise.

If like me you aren’t in a position to enjoy GO right now, here are some tips for getting the most out of its older, less fashionable cousin.

1. Don’t settle for three tile clears.

Here are some more efficient damage dealing combos to seek out:

  • ‘Swap Clears’ in which the tile movement creates a matched row at each end. In Tetris Attack this was easy as you could only move adjacent tiles, whereas Shuffle requires you to split your thinking across the whole board. Even a basic three and three Swap Clear nets you two damage strikes in a single turn, so it’s roughly twice as good as the basic three tile clear.
  • ‘4-in-a-row’. If you’ve played Connect Four then you already know what to do here. More tiles cleared equals more points, especially if you field Pokemon with the aptly named ‘Power of 4’ ability for a damage buff on these moves.
  • ‘Intersection Clears’ in which you combine a horizontal line and vertical line of matching Pokemon. Look for a potential T-Junction or crossroad then swap in the conjoining tile for points aplenty.
  • ‘Secondary Clears’ in which the initial clearing results in another matched line being formed as the remaining tiles settle into place. This process can cascade into prolonged sequences of five clear, 10 clear or even longer combos which I shall dub ‘Avalanche Clears’. Unlike in real life you can’t really induce an Avalanche as there are a limited number of tiles visible at any given time. Two or three secondaries is skilful; any more needs a dash of luck.
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A 40-clear! Totally planned of course…

2. Note the number of turns before starting each battle.

If it is in single digits and your team doesn’t have a strong typing advantage it might be worth purchasing the ‘Moves +5’ item that, not surprisingly, increases your starting turn count by five.

Otherwise I would stick with buying XP boosters and aiming to keep $3500 in the bank for when you really need a great ball.

3. Don’t fixate on the suggested move.

Every turn three of your tiles (a pair and a single) will be highlighted yellow as if to say “you should definitely clear these”. Don’t believe it. Occasionally the suggested move will be the best or only move you can make, but always use your own brain first. If you can’t see any better combos then consider if there is a better alternative than the single tile they suggest swapping in. Here’s a quick example of finding a superior solution:

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Step 1: Ignore the suggested move (yellow boxes) and look for a something more efficient (red circles). Then all you need do is Exeggcute.

And there you have it – how to become a Pokemon [Shuffle] Master without spending a cent.

If you too are traversing a far-flung land with only Wi-Fi to keep you connected and an overwhelming sense of peer pressure requiring you to play Pokemon on your phone but you feel ethically challenged or just plain underwhelmed by the Game Boy emulator experience then Pokemon Shuffle is the game for you!


*As with all F2P games there are paywalls to be hit, but in Shuffle‘s case they aren’t prohibitive. The half hour hearts recharge (playing costs one heart per battle and you get five hearts with every recharge) and given the longer length of many battles doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re being abused (here’s looking at you Angry Birds 2). Unlike Dragon City, another F2P game I tried for an evening after tiring of ignoring FaceBook invitations, I haven’t felt any need to part with my hard earned cash to progress through this game. That puts Pokemon Shuffle up there with Heathstone: Heroes of Warcraft and Vainglory for mobile user friendliness.

Nice work, Nintendo.

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