Pokemon Cafe Mix is a physics-based puzzle game that takes the classic match 3+ rule set and shakes it up a bit. You open up a quaint cafe that Pokemon begin to frequent, and place orders.As you fulfill orders, you slowly expand your cafe and grow your staff, adding new features and decorations that attract various new Pokemon. The art design for this mobile game is so eye-catching and endearing, it matches the concept of the game to a T. The visuals capture the essence of "owning a Pokemon cafe" full force. To be honest, the main reason I kept with the game in the beginning is the art style and all the wonderfully designed Pokemon-themed dishes that you can unlock and serve.
The main mechanic is simple: connect as many alike Pokemon as you can to make a Link, while meeting certain requirements in a specific amount of moves. The kicker is that the Pokemon are not confined to a grid, they are free floating! So as you swipe around to collect more Pokemon and increase your Link number, a lot of the pieces will move and be relocated, and it can be a bit hectic. As you progress through more levels, you get introduced to what the game calls "gimmicks", which are non-Pokemon icons that usually require special circumstances to be removed. The removal of gimmicks are often required to beat levels, i.e. remove 5 whip creams, 6 vegetables, 10 pieces of honey, etc. Various gimmicks are added gradually and work to add a long-term challenge to higher levels by combining them in assorted ways.
In order to help you beat the levels, you can select a leader Pokemon that aids you in the order. Each Pokemon has a specific dish type that they specialize in, and when you connect links in the level, you fill up a bar that eventually gives you a skill to use. Pokemon of the same dish type as the order fill up the bar more efficiently and quickly, which can make a big difference in some cases. The skills can be a variety of things, but the most common one is an icon you can set to remove a large portion of Pokemon and gimmicks in a specific direction (above, below, to the left or right). Depending on the Pokemon, the skill may only point in a specific direction. More advanced skills later get a bit more creative and will remove icons in diagonal or X-shaped paths.
As you progress and complete orders, you gain stars that work to befriend the Pokemon ordering the dish and eventually allow them help out at the cafe and be chosen as a lead for the levels you play. As well, you obtain new cafe supplies and decorations that unlock new dishes for you to prepare and new Pokemon to see.
As new gimmicks get introduced, it causes the level difficulty to fluctuate pretty drastically in my opinion. The first level or two after a new gimmick is added feel particularly easy, a little too easy, compared to the later ones that start to combine the new obstacle with all the previous ones. I understand they want to ease the new gimmicks in but it almost makes the later levels feel a bit too difficult by comparison. After some extensive playing I've more or less come to expect it so it doesn't seem as harsh but in the beginning it was very noticeable and I thought it was worth mentioning.
Outside of your numbered orders, every day you have an invitation you can set out to a preselected set of Pokemon, inviting them to the cafe specifically to increase your friendship with them. This allows you to play two levels, specifically for these two Pokemon, allowing you a small boost to being closer in having them on your staff. If you don’t want the two selected Pokemon, you get one free reset allowing you to switch those two Pokemon out for another two. After that initial re-roll, you can pay the in-game currency to roll again.
The game uses a currency called Acorns (which are.... actual acorns) that you can get in a variety of ways. You are rewarded a small amount of them when you complete a level, and have moves left over. You can also purchase various amounts of them with real world currency. They are also acquired by completing a number of Cafe Challenges to get a more significant amount than the post-level rewards.
Acorns are used for a lot of things in Pokemon Cafe Mix. Each level gives you a specific number of moves to try and beat the level with, and if you don't succeed in that endeavor, you can choose to pay 900 acorns for an additional 3 moves. Acorns are also used in re-rolling your daily invitation as I mentioned in the Mechanics section above. After your free reset, it’ll cost you 200 acorns for each.
As someone who has played many free-to-start mobile games and a couple of gatchas, the acorn currency feels very easy to spend, and thus very easy to dump money into. I'm not someone who gives way to spending real money on in-game progression and advantages easily but if you feel that you are, I think this honestly might be one to avoid or at least be aware of. It feels effortless to just buy a couple more moves to beat the level and keep playing. It's not impossible to progress long-term without it, but it'll just take more time. You can hold 5 lives max, and anytime you fail a level you lose a life (which replenishes every half an hour). On more difficult levels, or a level that you might not have the most ideal Pokemon, you can clear those lives out pretty quickly and your current play session will come to an end. It can be inconvenient if you want to sit and play for a while, and that is where the acorn spending can look really tempting.
It seems how the long-term gameplay will work is that they will incrementally add new levels to the cap (first cap was #100, as of July 1st, they added #101-120). The addition of the 20 orders was accompanied by a new cafe upgrade and specific Pokemon I could unlock, and eventually befriend. While you are in that limbo of waiting for new orders to be added, your establishment enters Master Cafe Mode (MCM). While in MCM, the stars you collect from completing Pokemon's orders are accumulated and exchanged for master points. Those points can be exchanged again in what seems to be called the Swap Shop, but there is a popup that appears when you select it saying "The swap shop is in the works. Please wait for an update." so it seems that this will be implemented at a later date.
Once new orders are added to the cap, it seems you leave MCM automatically and resume your place at the last order # you completed. Depending on what will be in the Swap Shop, it seems like it's worth it to eventually reach the cap and continue to play during your chance to be in MCM.
Overall, I'm really enjoying my time with Pokemon Cafe Mix! Early on I realized that this isn't a game that is designed for you to sit down and play extensively unless you are very good at it, or plan on spending a little bit of money. I'm excited to see how the later gameplay continues to develop and what new additions they'll add in the future. As of July 1st, a new timed event was added inviting the lucrative Scorbunny as a special customer! You have until the 15th to serve him enough times and befriend him, making him a permanent member of your staff!
If you are looking for a fun, light hearted, simply-mechanized puzzle game to occasionally whip out while in transit or on break at work, or are just a fan of Pokemon in an adorable art style, I can say that I do definitely recommend this endearing cafe puzzle game!