Many of us grew up playing games from the ever-expanding Pokémon franchise, so I’m sure many will have shared my excitement at the announcement of the free-to-play Pokémon Café Mix. This light-hearted game mixes a soft, stylised art style with a minimalistic backing track, creating the genuine ambience of an independent café.
Instead of the usual Pokémon battling from the main series, Pokémon Café Mix presents you with a much smaller world and small business that you must grow yourself. Initially, you run a small shop with only a few tables and a counter, but as you progress through the levels, satisfying customers as you go, your shop will expand. This can be physical expansion, with the help of some very friendly Timburr, or through unlocking new ingredients, referred to as ‘gimmicks’, such as a Cream Cannister or a Nut Tree. Within the levels, these will add an extra level of challenge, needing specific requirements to break them within the puzzles.
To progress through the drink-mixing puzzles and the game, you must link Pokémon of the same type within the puzzle in a chain, within a given number of moves. It feels vaguely similar in concept to mobile games such as Candy Crush and Two Dots, but the key difference is the lack of structure to the playing board. There’s no grid for all the little Pokémon faces to slot into, with everything happening in free fall, so you can link and manipulate across the whole board without needing two adjacent pieces to start a chain. Personally, I found this freedom to be rather enjoyable, as each puzzle turns into chaos as you swirl and chain Pokémon together.
Gimmicks add an extra layer to the otherwise simple puzzling, as well as adding new items to your ever-expanding menu, all with a reference to a specific Pokémon. The Burnt-Caramel Vulpix Sundae and the Hot Litwick Cocoa are the ones I’d love to try in real life; they look so appetizing! Using my previous examples, Whipped Cream, when found on the board needs to have a chain made adjacent to it three times in order to break it, whereas Nuts need to have Café Skill used on them. On top of this, you can combine two of the same Café Skills to give it an extra boost in power, and increase the affected area.
Café Skills are unique to each Pokémon staff member, who join your staff if they decide they want to help out at the café. These usually involve clearing a specific area of icons and gimmicks, whether it’s a circle, to the left, right, or above, or below. To fill up the Skill Bar, you simply need to create chains! Simple enough, right? I thought so too, but as the game progresses, you find some levels are far more difficult than others.
Don’t despair, because you can pay 900 Golden Acorns to gain 3 extra moves. These are the in-game currency, earnt through play with 50 per completed round with an extra 5 Acorns per extra move remaining at the end of the level. You can buy more Golden Acorns using real currency, as is common with free-to-play games. You can also buy more lives, if you run out of the allocated five, however these do regenerate, one life every 30 minutes. The overall difficulty of the game means it will be quite rare to run into that situation, but it’s up to you if you want to wait to try again.
Fortunately, you don’t need to pay to progress through the storyline, and nothing is locked behind a paywall. The only things you can buy in game are lives and extra moves, so Café Skills, menu items and new staff members are earnt, and cannot be bought.
One aspect that I found particularly annoying was that the game has to be played on touchscreen. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue for me, and I love this game style on my phone, but playing on a Nintendo Switch Lite created an awkward way of holding my Switch and was not the most comfortable. This is hardly a huge issue, but definitely something to consider if you’re debating playing on Switch or smartphone.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this game, I feel that I am not its target audience. As a seasoned Pokémon fan who has been playing all of my life, Pokémon Café Mix feels more like a gateway game into the Pokémon universe, perhaps for a parent or older sibling looking to introduce the younger generation to gaming. This is mostly down to the narration from Leah, the in game narrator, who explains everything very plainly. This can start to get a little annoying, but there is thankfully a skip option for when she talks between levels. The art style also feels reminiscent of the nostalgic style found in children’s books. Despite that, I’m sure I’ll return to the game every so often in future.