Pokémon has never been afraid to experiment, with many spin-off titles held in as high regard as the main releases. And over the last few years, the series has paid particular attention to smartphone releases to test some especially weird ideas. Well, thanks to the release of Pokémon Café Mix for Nintendo Switch, you can live out your fantasy of running a cafe with nothing but Pokémon for staff, a move I’m not sure is legal but almost certainly keeps the costs down. But is this a recipe for success?
In Pokémon Café Mix, the objective is to deliver recipes for your Pokémon customers. Each recipe is a matching icon puzzle, with a successful matching of icons and gathering of ingredients making a dish for your pocket monster patrons. The title only works in Handheld Mode or on smart devices, so you’ll be using your finger to drag Pokémon’s faces together to solve these recipes in loose gameplay, with icons blobbing together much like in World of Goo. That said, I still found a challenge in meeting each recipe’s requirements.
Koffing up a few of these recipes raises the happiness of Pokémon, who may ask to become a part of your team, with each having a specific culinary speciality. Charmander’s speciality is drinks, Snubbull’s is small plates, and so on. This helps with your score, but also each Pokémon has different powers (called Cafe Skills) you can use in the puzzles, which can help to get rid of bothersome pieces, change certain icons to match the lead Pokémon, and more.
As you only have a set amount of moves to solve each recipe, and more complicated recipes also needed more ingredients, you’ll have to strategise how best to use moves and Cafe Skills to cook the orders in time. And slowly amassing more Pokémon staff, as well as expanding my cafe with more rooms and decorations, was satisfying, and I looked forward to getting some of my favourite ‘mon on the payroll. Also, the game uses a lovely hand-drawn visual style, which, given the design choices of recent games, was a sight for Bulbasaur eyes.
Catching Pokémon sadly also reveals the games biggest problem: an eventual sluggish pace. It takes a long time and a lot of recipes to befriend Pokémon, and failing recipes will cost you golden acorns to buy more moves, or hearts to try again. Both are limited resources, but you can buy more golden acorns if needed. I never feel comfortable about microtransactions in a children’s game, but they’re not very intrusive here.
However, often puzzles felt over a few moves before they should have, with the option to buy more acorns and extend my moves a constant reminder that this is by design. Hearts replenish over time and golden acorns are given with each successful recipe, so you don’t have to buy anything you don’t want. However, it’s frustrating to stop playing because of a limited resource that doesn’t need to be limited.
Ultimately, using the Pokémon branding lifts up a simple puzzle game, which has a few nice ideas but fails to exeggcute them into something meaningful. But surprisingly fun puzzle mechanics and the never-ending quest to catch ’em all brought me back regularly. Pokémon Café Mix is a niche title, and I wish it let me actually play the game more, but there’s more than enough charm here to keep Pokémon fans entertained.
With fun puzzle gameplay, Pokémon to catch and a decent serving of charm and polish, Pokémon Café Mix offers enough to satisfy the hunger of many a Pokémon fan, but it’s slow mechanics and lack of depth may cause others to shop elsewhere.