What's the deal with Pokémon Shuffle's microtransactions?
Nintendo's free-to-play 3DS game scrutinised.
Nintendo today launched free-to-play match-3 puzzle game Pokémon Shuffle on the 3DS eShop - but just how intrusive are its in-game purchases?
Each attempt at a game round (think, a go at a Bejeweled level) costs you one heart, whether you win or lose. Pokémon Shuffle starts you off with five hearts.
Every 30 minutes you accrue one extra heart, up to a total of five. If your total is ever above five - for instance, if you have chosen to buy more using gems (obtainable with real-world money) - then the auto-accrue system prevents you from earning more.
Jewels, which are the things you'll actually pay for with real-world money, can be exchanged for extra in-game hearts and coins, the latter of which is Pokémon Shuffle's other currency. Jewels can be bought in various sized lumps, ranging from 89p for one up to £42.99 for 75.
One jewel is worth five hearts or 3000 coins, enough for a moderately powerful item. The more jewels you buy and spend, the better the conversion rate.
Coins can otherwise be slowly accrued by beating matches (100 per match) or in larger amounts from bosses.
Jewels are also - rarely - found in the game itself. We were awarded one for completing Shuffle's first main area, for example.
Each game round features familiar gameplay, where you must match at least three of a Pokémon to clear tiles. The more you clear, the more damage is done to your wild Pokémon foe. When your opponent's lifebar is empty, the match ends.
Rounds must be completed within a certain number of moves, although if you are struggling you can buy more moves or other help items with in-game coins.
The fewer moves you use the more likely it is you will catch the wild Pokémon at the end, or you can choose to buy stronger Pokéballs to raise the likelihood of capture.
Pokémon you've captured can then be brought along in future battles and levelled up, with the usual type-based stat advantages for causing more damage (bring water-element critters such as Squirtle to fight fire breeds such as Charmander).
You can also Mega Evolve one of your Pokémon squad when you unlock their respective Mega Stone. These super-powered Pokémon will need time to charge up (which means there's a trade-off here, as you're more likely to focus on this and use up more of your precious moves).
Run out of moves altogether and the battle comes crashing to a halt. But there is a way out: you can spend a jewel to buy five more hearts and continue the battle where you left off, or lose your progress altogether.
The first time I got the message - and felt the first tug on my purse strings - happened right at the end of a lengthy battle. I didn't want to give up my progress, but I noticed the game offered no way to buy extra moves using in-game coins as it does outside of battle. Only paid-for jewels can save you here.
Then there are expert stages, where you can make an unlimited number of moves but instead are forced to finish levels within a time limit. Here, you are battling to complete levels within a tight time frame, or you can buy more time using in-game coins outside of battle.
But, just like in normal mode, if you run out of time during the middle of an expert stage, you can save yourself and buy more using paid-for jewels.
Nintendo's press release details there are "hours of fun to be had at no cost" - and there are, as long as you don't want to play for too long at any one time.
Waiting the customary half hour for each extra heart stops your play sessions fairly quickly. I ran out of hearts after around 45 minutes on my first play session - but much of this was me just running through the game's tutorial, which includes dollops of free time and moves to keep you playing. Subsequent play sessions will last a lot less time.
I parted with a £4.49 bundle for six jewels after around an hour's play, prompted by my desire not to wait for my heart counter to refill. I then split the six jewels evenly between a pack of 18 hearts and a top-up of 10,000 coins - enough to see me reach well into the game's second area and buy a couple of helper items to tackle the first advanced stage.
Extra gems can be unlocked via StreetPass, Nintendo has said, although we'll need to have played the game a little longer to see how generous this is.
New content for the game will be added for the foreseeable future, however - starting right now with a launch event where you can nab the original legendary Pokémon Mew.