I’ve never wanted to eat a Pokémon more than I do right now
A few years ago, I wrote a review for The Pokémon Cookbook, an instructional book designed for kids that teaches you how to shape your food into Pokémon. It did not go well. I didn’t make edible Pokémon so much as I created food so horrific looking that even Andrew Zimmern wouldn’t touch it. Turns out, making food art is, well, an art.
Making dishes that look like my favorite pocket monsters is certainly out of my reach in real life, but it’s something I excel at in Pokémon Café Mix.
Pokémon Café Mix (Android, iOS [reviewed], Switch)
Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Released: June 23, 2020
MSRP: Free-to-play w/ Microtransactions
There is no getting around that Pokémon Café Mix is one of the sweetest looking games available on mobile platforms. It opens with a decadent looking video of a Pokémon café from your past before you set off to start your own restaurant. Helping you along the way will be Leah, who’ll introduce the puzzles that stand between you and operating the best damn Pokémon cafe on the planet. Soon enough, adorable looking Pokémon will start lining up to try your goods, and if you impress them enough, they’ll join your team and bring their special skills along with them.
Initially, the actual puzzle mechanic behind Pokémon Café Mix doesn’t look all that complicated. You touch a Pokémon icon and then move it around the puzzle board, linking it to matching icons as you try to go for big combos. Each puzzle manifests itself as an order at your café, and there are certain requirements to clearing each one successfully, such as clearing a certain number of a specific Pokémon or reaching a specific score. You only have a set number of moves to complete each puzzle in and once you touch an icon on the screen, you only have a couple of seconds before whatever combo you’ve amassed clears from the board. Successfully clear a puzzle, and the Pokémon rewards you with golden acorns based on how many turns you had left.
If you ever come across a puzzle you can’t immediately solve, and you will, there are special skills that can help you out. Each Pokémon has a unique ability, Leah drops megaphones onto the puzzle board from time to time, and there are café skills you can use to clear entire lines of Pokémon and gimmicks or immediately unlock a Pokémon skill. It’s very intuitive, though, with fat fingers like mine, I preferred playing the game on my iPad or Switch rather than smaller Pixel 3a. Speaking of the platforms, know in advance there is no universal login for Café Mix, and the mobile and Switch versions currently do not link up to one another.
The challenge in Pokémon Café Mix comes from the various menu items and gimmicks the game slowly adds to the puzzle formula as you progress. For the first few orders or so, your only concern is linking as many Pokémon together as you can. Soon enough, the game introduces sugar cubes, which you can clear with a megaphone, a café skill, a Pokémon skill, or by clearing linked Pokémon three times while they touch the cube. From there, it introduces more gimmicks, including honey, which respawns if you don’t clear it all, ice that freezes Pokémon and gimmicks in place, and the most annoying of them all, bubbles.
You can clear all these gimmicks with a skill, megaphone, or clearing linked Pokémon that touch them. However, some require a different strategy. Tomatoes, for instance, must be moved to the baskets at the bottom of the puzzle screen. You can only clear nuts from the puzzle board with megaphones or skills. Some of the puzzles can look daunting, but knowing how to use the puzzle formula to my advantage kept it from feeling overwhelming.
Throughout my journey through the first 100 puzzles, I’ve only had two massive roadblocks on my progression. Order 64 and order 88 took several attempts and required a lot of waiting for my hearts to refill. You’re able to play Pokémon Café Mix as long as you want so long as you’re winning. Each time you fail, you lose a heart, and each one takes a half-hour to refill. You have five hearts to work with, but on these two puzzles, I ended up putting my phone down as I did something else to pass the time until I could tackle them again.
The gimmicks I can deal with, but there is one aspect of Café Mix that proves far more irksome the further I get into it. As stated above, satisfied customers will eventually start volunteering at your café and each helper Pokémon has a unique skill. Charizard, for instance, will clear Pokémon and gimmicks to the right of his skill icon. Combine two of his skill icons, which you can do for all characters, and it is even more powerful.
Now, the game will recommend which Pokémon are best suited for the puzzle challenge at hand, even if you don’t have that Pokémon. One of the puzzles I struggled with had a recommended Pokémon of Munchlax. For whatever reason, I’d only served Munchlax once at that point in the game and was still a few visits away from them joining my squad. Every three or so fails of this puzzle, the game would recommend I switch to the Pokémon best suited for this challenge, a Pokémon I did not have. Thankfully, I was able to add Munchlax to my roster not long after using party invitations that invite two customers to your café for two dishes. It’s an easy way to build up your rapport with the Pokémon, but it’s limited in how many times you can throw a party and who’s invited.
As this is a free-to-play game, there are microtransactions you can purchase and it does sporadically encourage you to do so, mostly when you run out of golden acorns. You can buy these acorns with the cheapest price starting at 99¢ for 1,200 all the way up to $19.99 for 24,400. You can use acorns to refill hearts, swap invitees to your parties, and to give you an extra three turns on any puzzle. Just know those extra turns start at 900 acorns and that price goes up with each subsequent use on the same puzzle. There are also item packs available for purchase that net you acorns as well as café skills. These packs start as low as $3.99, and go all the way up to $79.99, which the game considers a “good value.” Spoiler alert, but paying $80 for an item pack in a free-to-play mobile game is neither a good value nor a good idea, and frankly, it’s gross the developers present it as such.
Those microtransactions are easy to ignore right now, but I have a feeling going forward, they’re going to become a lot more tempting. Genius Sonority has already updated the game with new puzzles and dishes, and currently, there is a Scorbunny visiting your café for a limited time. Just like with all the other Pokémon, if you impress them enough, they’ll join your team. But as more challenging puzzles are added, getting these limited-time ‘mon will arguably become a more trying affair. If your favorite is only there for a week or two, I can see how that could push players into dropping real cash on fake acorns.
Right now, however, it has not reached that point of player exploitation where I’d recommend deleting it off your phone entirely. Pokémon Café Mix is currently in that sweet spot where it’s mostly harmless with only a few bits of frustration. The puzzle formula is entertaining enough to bring me back two or three times a day to try and get past those roadblocks, but really, I’m firing the app up far more often than that just to get a look at those delectable Pokémon dishes.
[This review is based on a retail version of the free-to-play game.]