Game: Pokémon Café Mix
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Mobile)
Developers|Publishers: Genius Sonority| Nintendo
Age Rating: EU 3+| US Everyone |AUS General
Price: FREE (In app purchases)
Release Date: 24th of June 2020
Can I take your order?
From the people behind the classic GameCube hit Pokémon Colosseum comes the next phase in the monetization of everything Pokémon. This time it’s the turn of the humble café to become the setting of the pocket beasts ever expanding commercial empire.
Initially announced during the Pokémon Presents presentation of June 17th. The title released a few days later and became available for iOS, Android and the Nintendo Switch. As a lifelong fan of the Pokémon franchise I was sceptical from the images that were shown to me during the game’s initial launch window. However, like all good gamers I decided to give this ‘free to start’ title a chance to woo me.
Mixing it up
The main crux of the game is to build up a Café from a humble one-story shack to a full-fledged Starbucks crushing behemoth. To do this you must complete a range of recipes in order to attract Pokémon clientele in greater and greater numbers. The recipe process is the actual ‘game’ element on offer here. With the decoration and layout of the café left very much to the cartoon story board that unfolds around you. Animal Crossing levels of customization this is not. Each recipe takes the player to the puzzle screen. Using your finger, you must whizz the cute Pokémon faces around the environment in order to form chains. These can then be used to accrue points, as well as to ‘pop’ other elements that might be in play. For example, oil soaked Squirtle heads… I kid you not.
Helping you become acquainted with your new café venture is a young woman called Leah. After a brief introduction we find ourselves running a humble little establishment with only a friendly Eevee by our side. In order to expand we must attract a variety of the monsters to come and buy everything from coffee to pasta to ice-cream sundaes. Leah’s helpful messages help guide you through the early stages of the game and she often shouts out with new pieces of information as needed.
It would appear she is also your rather wealthy patron as she adorns your business with a multitude of new appliances throughout the early stages of the game. Each new appliance opens new recipes that you are then able to complete. This in turn attracts new Pokémon which, when they have eaten to their heart’s content, may decide to join your business. By gaining a range of new Pokémon helpers you also open their respective special skills. These will then allow you to tackle the ever-expanding recipe puzzles in different ways.
The secret ingredient
Graphically speaking the game can’t really be faulted. The cartoon styles on offer and accompanying catchy soundtrack is everything you would expect from a watered-down Pokémon title. If you have ever played Candy Crush or any of the 1000s of other similar titles you will be well aware of the types of SFX to expect here. And whilst the graphics and sound are perfectly lovely. I couldn’t help but feel that the general thought process during development here was one of small investment, large returns. Which leads me into my biggest issue with Pokémon Café Mix.
My Poké problem
My first few days with the game were rather pleasant. Leah kept popping up to tell me I had accrued more acorns (the sickly-sweet version of money in this capitalist wonderland) and I thought all my worries about a free, in app purchase ready game were unfounded. Then came my first recipe failure. And my second. Soon it was my third. By this point my acorns were dwindling. The extra special power icons I had collected had all been used to clear a path of stubbornly placed Jigglypuff heads three recipes earlier. One more go I thought. But Pokémon Café Mix had other ideas.
Gazing over at my remaining turns the 0 flashed at me like a cruel joke. The countdown timer signalling the many minutes before this would refresh. And so, like any strong-willed adult refusing to bow to in-app-purchase pressure I went off and busied myself. It is important to remember here, that if I wanted, I could easily have spent some real life money to fix the entire situation. Leah had already told me all about it, many times in fact. From acorns, to special skills, even a limited-edition Pikachu could be mine if I was willing to open up my real world wallet wide enough. But no Leah, I am a grown man and I can wait.
Munchlax and me
A few hours had passed since my last attempt and I found myself ready to play again with 5 more tries at my disposal. Loading up the recipe that had bested me earlier I noticed the little Munchlax symbol again. These helpful reminders let the player know a good Pokémon to use to complete the task. Only I didn’t have a Munchlax. He had decided to walk out mid-meal when I cooked him a lacklustre waffle earlier in the day and so I hadn’t managed to convince him to join my team. And without any remaining invites, a system that allows you to pick random Pokémon to visit you, I was left with no way of completing the task at hand.
You see, Munchlax has a very special ability that allows him to generate trumpets, because, why not. This recipe required a dizzying amount of said trumpets to be used before the end of your available turns. Without Munchlax or a previously collected sack of trumpet specials, there was simply no way of completing this recipe. Unless of course, I opened my real-world wallet.
It is this moment of realisation that led me to my current opinion of Pokémon Café Mix. Forcing an adult player into the position detailed above is one thing. But when the game is rated as E for everyone the design choice begins to feel rather unethical. Even after restarting the game and forcing Munchlax into café servitude I found my enjoyment of the game had evaporated. Whilst you may find that the initial stages of the game fill you with joy and happiness. Much like that double espresso shot, the dizzying highs will soon be followed by the inevitable crash. My advice; grab a copy of Tetris and sip some water instead.
Final Verdict: I’m not sure