Developed by: Genius Sonority
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), Mobile
Release Date: Out Now
One of the many nice surprises out of the first of the two recent Pokémon Presents was the reveal of Pokémon Café Mix, a new mobile and Nintendo Switch puzzle game about running a Pokémon-themed Café where both the customers and the employees are Pokémon! Whilst built on a reasonably simple idea, there is a decent amount of depth and longevity to this game to match up to the charming aesthetic.
A Link to the Café
As I say, the set-up is quite straightforward; together with *the only other human you see* Leah (is this a Poké-apocalyptic world?!), you set up a new Pokémon Café. As you’d expect, at the start of the game, you are running quite a basic operation with limited supplies. The main section of the game is the 150 orders to complete, which took me around 10-15 hours to get through and into the postgame. New facilities are set up as you work your way through the orders, opening up new sections of the Café and enticing more Pokémon to visit and subsequently work with you.
First, though, you have to get through said orders! The core gameplay of Café Mix is essentially a refreshing Pokémon twist on the icon-matching so often found in puzzle games. Presented with a screen of icons of the different Pokémon currently in your game, you use the touch screen to connect them up in a way that will complete the conditions of your order. Once an icon is selected, you hold your finger on the screen and drag it around to connect it up with matching icons within a period of time; at the end of the timer, or if you release your touch, those icons then satisfyingly disappear (and can affect those surrounding it). You score increases as you link more icons together in one go. Furthermore, once you connect enough icons, the Café Skill of your Leader Pokémon is made available.
These Café Skills act as extra tools for clearing levels, and are essential for progressing through the game. Before tackling an order, you must select a Leader Pokémon, and this decides the Café Skill available, with different Pokémon having different Skills. As an example, if the order requires you to make a high number combo, then Togepi – who can make icons transform into those of the icon appearing the most at that point – is helpful to set you up. Before each order, the game does inform you of the most suitable Pokémon, though it is possible to power through with another if you do not have access to them. At moments such as these, I often used other resources to help me through.
As a game for both Switch and mobile, these resources are where the mobile influence is very noticeable. For starters, you have 5 Hearts, and every occasion that you retry an order uses one up. If you run out, you can no longer attempt the order; these refresh over time, or you can pay for another go through Golden Acorns. Whilst you do earn these – and the other seven items that can help you complete orders – through playing the game, you can also purchase them with actual money. As Café Mix is free-to-play, this is the way the game generates revenue; however, when it actively feels as though a pay wall is put up in front of you it leaves a negative vibe.
This was most intrusive to me when I didn’t have the Pokémon with the suggested Café Skill for the next order, and it felt as though I either had to wait, or purchase items that would enable me to push through. I did not pay in my time with the game, and this meant I had to wait at several points – sometimes, until the next day. More side modes where you can work towards getting Pokémon to join your staff would have helped this; there is only the once-daily party that gives you two orders with random Pokémon (you can refresh the two invited Pokémon once for free, and then with Golden Acorns). Pokémon Masters is a great example of how to have plentiful modes that give the player options.
A barrier to gameplay such as this suddenly stops your flow and can be very jarring. It doesn’t help that the game is all over the place in terms of the difficulty curve; through the 150 orders, most of my troubles came with specific orders around the 50 and 90-100 mark. When I finally cleared these problematic orders, I would find that the next 10 or so are a breeze in comparison, whereas you would expect a more gradual overall rise of difficulty from 1 to 150.
A Mixed Bag
Personally, I reckon a reason for this is that the game sort of resets whenever new Café facilities are introduced. For example, the Whipped-cream dispenser causes blobs of cream to appear that take several hits of nearby combos to complete; the Nut tree brings nuts that can only be cleared by Café Skills; and the Honey pot introduces blocks of honey that multiply unless you remove them quickly with nearby combos. With the new type of gameplay mechanic, levels suddenly feel easy before then jarringly returning to being challenging again. Café Mix doesn’t hit the right balance of teaching the player whilst also understanding your rising skill level.
Pokémon Café Mix is entirely touch-controlled (and on Switch, this means handheld play only), and whilst the touch control is responsive, the occasional moments where you select the wrong Pokémon as a starting point, locking yourself into those icons for that move, are not ideal. With icons so close to each other, it is very easy to select the wrong one. Once you get to the trickier, more complicated orders, every move can be crucial; the general inaccuracy of moving icons around with touch can be counter-intuitive to that.
The highlight of Café Mix is the presentation of the game. The Café itself, and the artwork for the Pokémon, have a colourful and trendy artistic appeal that befits a game about a modern Café. The game has a really warm, welcoming tone, and seeing Pokémon happily spending time in a Café and then wearing adorable outfits as staff is wonderful. The music is not intrusive, yet provides an undercurrent of soothing background tunes. I also recommend spending time going over the details of the orders you serve up; there are some brilliant and creative designs, from the Nutty Buneary Frappé to the Combee Waffles with Honey and beyond. Mmm, this makes me hungry and thirsty!
My main complaint would be that there isn’t that many Pokémon currently in the game, with 17 at launch and 19 currently; the additions of Scorbunny and Sobble (and you would guess Grookey) from Sword and Shield suggest that they may be adding more over time, which would be great to see. In addition, as of writing this, tomorrow more orders are being added to bolster the 150 in the game at this point, which is another sign of how there are plans to support this game.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of content within Pokémon Café Mix. A very unrefined difficulty curve and issues with how the game puts up pay walls are my main problems with it; yet, I can see myself loading this game up regularly into the future, especially if they continue to add new content. This is mainly due to the varied levels and the delightful look and feel the game has. The name of the game – Pokémon Café Mix – is suitable considered how mixed it is, but overall I would recommend putting time in and seeing if you enjoy it; especially for Pokémon fans!