After being revealed last week, Pokemon Cafe Mix released today on Switch, iOS, and Android. Like many of Nintendo’s mobile games, Pokemon Cafe Mix is a free-to-play title, and the Pokemon branding is sure to pull in a significant number of players. I sat down with the game for a while this morning, and after playing through a number of puzzles and recruiting a few Pokemon to come and work in my cafe, I thought I’d share my first impressions of the game.
If you missed the announcement last week, here’s a quick synopsis: you play as the owner of a new Pokemon cafe that you’ve opened with Leah, who guides you through the process of opening and expanding, and Eevee. The game centers around completing puzzles to fill customer orders. Those Pokemon customers can even come and work for you after returning a few times, and each Pokemon employee has its own area of expertise and special power that can be used to give you some kind of advantage on the puzzle field.
First, I have to say that the trailer we saw when the game was first announced didn’t really do the puzzle mechanics any justice. In the trailer, it looks like your goal is just to circle the screen with your finger and link as many Pokemon icons as you can. At first blush, that hardly seems like a puzzle, but it turns out the mechanics go a lot deeper than that.
Each puzzle you attempt to complete will have at least one goal, but it could have more. Some puzzles may require you to get a certain score, or get a number of combos containing a certain number of icons. Others might have you clear “gimmicks,” which is the game’s name for objects that appear in the playing field but aren’t Pokemon icons. For instance, making a tea drink for a customer might involve getting a certain score and clearing all of the sugar cubes from the field before the puzzle is complete.
Complicating matters is the fact that once you begin a move, you’ve only got a small amount of time to finish it. If your combo isn’t as big as you’d like it to be when that timer runs out, tough luck – the icons that you’ve managed to link are counted and disappear from the playing field. You’re also limited in the number of moves you have to complete all of a puzzle’s goals, so you definitely need to plan out your moves ahead of time.
Add to that the fact that you get bonus golden acorns – the game’s premium currency – based on the number of moves you had left over when you complete a puzzle, and there’s even more reason to make every move count.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a connoisseur of puzzle games or anything, but so far, Pokemon Cafe Mix‘s puzzles seem relatively unique and I’m having fun with them. When you’re watching a video of the game being played, it really just looks chaotic and random, but once you’re in control and actually trying to complete all of a puzzle’s objectives, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to it.
Being a free-to-play game, there’s a limit on how much you can play. That limit comes in the form of hearts – you can keep a maximum of five hearts and they regenerate at a rate of one every 30 minutes. The good news is that you don’t use hearts as you play; instead, hearts are only consumed when you fail a puzzle. Essentially, you’d have to fail five puzzles in a half-hour before you can’t play anymore.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to wait for your hearts to replenish, as you can spend your golden acorns to replenish one right away. The cost of replenishing hearts via acorns seems to be pretty steep; it costs 900 acorns per heart and I’ve found that you earn anywhere from 50 to around 90 for each completed puzzle depending on how many moves you have left over. Just as well, when you fail a puzzle you have the option of spending 900 acorns to get three extra turns.
This is where the microtransactions enter the picture. There are a number of different packs that are available for purchase in the in-game shop, and all them include some amount of golden acorns. Many of them also include a collection of items that give you special abilities while completing puzzles.
The shop looks more or less like what you’d expect out of any free-to-play mobile game, with packs ranging in price from $0.99 all the way up to a whopping $79.99. There also seems to be limited-time packs that include special Pokemon – at this point, I’m not sure if the Pokemon included in these packs are Pokemon you’d also be able to obtain just by playing, but the cynic in me assumes they aren’t.
As far as progression is concerned, I’m still pretty early on in the game, so it isn’t clear just how difficult the puzzles get. Even at this early stage, I’ve failed a couple of puzzles on my first try, but it’s hard to know how often I’ll bump up against that five-heart limit. If other mobile puzzle games are anything to go on, I’m guessing the puzzles get pretty difficult and will require multiple tries for all but the most grizzled puzzle veterans.
One thing that struck me as strange is that Pokemon Cafe Mix doesn’t feature cross-platform progression, meaning I can’t play the same file on my Switch and my iPhone. This seems like a major missed opportunity, as Nintendo could have easily allowed users to link their Nintendo Accounts on multiple platforms and have progression carry over. As it is, I can link a password or a social media account to my game, but that only seems to be for account recovery and transfer purposes.
As with many of the mobile games I’ve played, I’m iffy on Pokemon Cafe Mix so far. The game itself seems fun enough, and I have to say that I really love the artwork and music, but after seeing that in-game shop offering a pack that costs more than a $60 retail game, I can’t help but feel that this is just another vehicle for microtransactions. I’ll keep playing the game for a few days, but if the puzzle difficulty gets to a point where progression slows to a crawl without spending money, I don’t see myself sticking with it for very long.