Pokemon Café Mix has arrived on the App Store and the Nintendo Switch eShop. The Pokemon Company announced a surprise release on June 23, but the puzzle game neglected to show up until late in the day. This caused Twitter to bang its fists on Pokemon Café Mix's virtual doors while howling "Let us in! Let us iiiiiiin!" It's a logical response. Have you seen the game's graphics? They're so cute, it's disgusting.
Pokemon Café Mix a free-to-play game that combines café building with a Pokemon version of Disney Tsum Tsum. If you're unfamiliar with Disney Tsum Tsum, it's a match-three genre that involves linking stacked "plushies" of Disney characters to clear the screen and score points. Disney Tsum Tsum is based on a line of collectable stuffed toys by the same name, and it's phenomenally popular in Japan. No surprise The Pokemon Company decided to work some Pokemon magic onto the formula.
If you're not immediately repelled by free-to-play games, it's worth giving Pokemon Café Mix a try. Its production values are higher than most free-to-play mobile titles, and it's fun. It's also addictive, albeit in a gentle way: I played for quite some time last night, and I never felt like I was being pressured into buying hard currency. (Of course, that could change with the more difficult levels down the road.)
But as I nestled into Pokemon Café Mix and enjoyed myself, I realized something: Nintendo's easing out of the mobile market because most of its games failed to catch fire, but many of The Pokemon Company's mobile games are genuinely fun. They fill niches Nintendo never considered.
I hardly need to talk about Pokemon Go, which continues to make crazy money even after the summer boom of 2016. Niantic's been hard at work making it more suitable for a single-player experience thanks to the quarantine, but the basic premise remains simple and fun: "Find" Pokemon in the real world, throw a PokeBall at them, and catch them. Pokemon Go uses AR to really capture the essence of what makes Pokemon an endearing experience.
The initial idea was innovative and daring on Niantic's part, and I would've loved to see that kind of forethought applied to Nintendo's mobile games—that same sensible implementation of technology. Does that mean I'd want a "Mario Walk" or "Mario Go?" Not necessarily; I'd just want Nintendo to recognize mobile's strengths as a platform (however disparaged) and apply its properties accordingly.
Sadly, it didn't happen, and it probably never will. Nintendo did show flashes of creativity in the mobile space—I'll stan for Miitomo until I'm in the grave, and I think Super Mario Run was well-constructed but hobbled by its $9.99 price point—but ultimately we wound up with "eh" ports of established sub-franchises like Mario Kart Tour and Dr. Mario World. Some of Nintendo's mobile games also have surprisingly exploitative microtransactions, which the Pokemon mobile games are generally more careful about. (Key word: "Generally.") You can "pay to win" by drawing better drivers or doctors in Mario Kart Tour or Dr. Mario World. In Pokemon Go, it's not really possible to buy items that give you an advantage over other trainers.
Not every Pokemon mobile title is as successful as Pokemon Go, of course. Pokemon Masters whiffed its debut last year, but developer DeNA is working to improve the game. The voxel-based Pokemon Quest likewise struggles to find a large audience. Nevertheless, I believe Pokemon's mobile output is superior to Nintendo's because it dabbles a lot more in genre-hopping experimentation. So far, Pokemon Café Mix is a quality puzzle game. Magikarp Jump, a Survive! Mola Mola! Imitator that challenges you to raise a high-jumping Magikarp, is secretly one of the best Pokemon games on the App Store. Today, The Pokemon Company and Tencent announced Pokemon Unite, a Pokemon-themed MOBA that's going to light up China like Charizard incinerating a Bulbasaur.
Unlike some folks, I don't hate the mobile marketplace with every fiber of my being. I would have liked to see Nintendo get as expansive with its mobile games as The Pokemon Company. I won't mourn for what could have been, though. Nintendo's main priority is the Switch, as it should be. I'll just continue to turn to Pokemon for my fix of Nintendo-related mobile content, and life—and my Pokemon Café—will go on.