This time last year, I had a bit of a rant about Nintendo jumping onto the free-to-play bandwagon. I suggested that Pokémon Shuffle was an example of “the worst model of free to play, where the user is constantly nagged to spend money”, and I suggested that the upcoming Fable Legends “gives a good example of how f2p should be done”.
Well, what a difference a year makes. Fable Legends has now switched from being “upcoming” to being “never-coming” after Microsoft pulled the plug and shut down Lionhead Studios for good measure (boo!), while I’ve spent a good chunk of the past 12 months sinking a surprisingly huge amount of time into the very game that I singled out as “the worst model of free to play”. I’ve just checked, and in total I’ve been playing Pokémon Shuffle for 39 hours and 12 minutes, making it the fifth most played game on my 3DS.
I suspect I’m not alone in sinking so much time into this fairly slight game. Apparently Pokémon Shuffle has been downloaded more than 4 million times now, and judging by the amount of people I see playing it on Streetpass, it’s a fairly full time hobby for a lot of people. But I wonder how many of them have shelled out actual money for the game’s features? Even if it’s just a tiny percentage, I suppose it will still lead to a tidy profit for Nintendo – you can see why the company wants to pursue f2p.
And to be honest, after all my ranting, Pokémon Shuffle really isn’t all that bad in terms of demanding your money. I’ve managed to play through most of the game without paying anything, and unlike many other free to play games, it doesn’t scream out for your cash every five minutes. Plus I’ve been impressed with the regularly updated content and competitions – the designers have certainly made an effort to keep the Pokémon flowing, as it were.
It’s also a very well-made game – it’s home to the expected level of Nintendo polish, and the central mechanic of collecting Pokémon is as addictive as ever. Without the hook of attempting to capture the beasts after successfully beating their puzzles, it wouldn’t be half as compelling – attempting to fill out the Pokédex is still a major draw. Plus the music is excellent, and I found myself humming along to the accordion-soaked mega-evolution tune quite happily.
The game also proved perfect after my son was born last year. Suddenly my gaming time dwindled to near zero, but I often found myself with five minutes to spare here and there – often at 3am in the morning – and Pokémon Shuffle was the perfect game to fill the gap. The fact that you are limited to five goes before you have to wait for your hearts to ‘recharge’ didn’t really matter, as by that point there would more than likely be some sort of baby-related business to sort out – or I would have fallen asleep. It also helps that you can play the game one-handed with the stylus, for the times when a baby happens to be asleep in your other arm. And the fact that it’s all pretty simple and requires little brainpower or dexterity is also a bonus, as severely interrupted sleep has tended to rob me of both of those faculties.
However, I think I’m pretty much finished with the game now – by this point I’m up against opponents that seem impossible to defeat without buying items or levelling up my Pokémon to obscene levels, and I just don’t have patience to spend hours grinding, or the willingness to throw money at the game. I suppose its simplicity is both its brilliance and its curse – its lightweight charm was perfect for filling a niche in my life, but this lightweight nature is also the reason that I don’t feel justified in investing any money into it. Perhaps if it just cost a couple of pounds to start with I wouldn’t have had any qualms about buying it – but then again Nintendo probably made far more money by making it free to play.
Either way, I’ve hit a wall – and I don’t feel like paying to climb over it.