Right out of the gate, Pokemon Unite makes it abundantly clear to the player that it isn’t attempting to upstage popular MOBA titles like League of Legends or DOTA – instead, it wants the player to settle in comfortably and have a far more casual yet enjoyable experience. The game doesn’t bother itself with a hilariously cluttered UI and stat counters and units for every bit of ground covered or damage done – instead, Pokemon Unite puts the majority of its chips in the favour of simplicity and accessibility.
Simply put, the game is inviting in a way that most other MOBA titles are not and precisely because of that, the game might have a far easier time getting through to its targeted audience. To a casual mobile player, Pokemon Unite is an easy sell on the back of its massively popular brand name, and because of how simple the game is to pick up, understand, and play – they’re going to have a good time.
To the hardened MOBA fan, Pokemon Unite is casual and rudimentary and best, and typically not something worth their time. Yet, the intention of the devs is clearly not to turn League of Legends players into Pokemon Unite fans, but simply, introduce a whole new crop of Pokemon fans, both new and returning, to the franchise’s foray into the MOBA genre.
Pokemon Unite – A MOBA for everyone
Full disclosure – Personally, I don’t exactly know my way around MOBAs, given that I haven’t dabbled all that much in the genre. Regardless, Pokemon Unite met me at the gate with open arms and invited me in to have a look at everything in store – without once making it seem overwhelmingly complex.
The tutorial does a great job of letting players know the core gameplay loop which is fairly simple and easy to grasp:
- 2 teams of 5 players each begin the match on either ends of the map.
- The map is divided into 3 lanes populated by continuously spawning NPCs (Wild Pokemon, in this case).
- Players must score points by capturing wild Pokemon (by defeating them using attacks and moves) and scoring them in the opponent’s towers.
- Player’s Pokemons evolve over time, depending how many wild Pokemon are captured. Players can also try and eliminate other enemy players for more points (Aeos Energy).
- A Zapdos will appear in the middle of the map towards the end of the match, which can be defeated to gain a massive load of Aeos Energy.
What makes Pokemon Unite distinct from its MOBA brethren such as DOTA is that the matches only end when the timer does. As opposed to the destruction of a final tower, the match in Pokemon Unite ends when the timer expires, and the team with the maximum amount of Aeos Energy wins.
If it sounds simple – that is because it is. Of course, there are plenty of moves at the player’s disposal, and each Pokemon comes with their own unique set of skills, moves, and peculiarities. While some are far more Agile, they can be easily compromised against stronger Pokemon that can deal more damage per hit. Thus, players will need a lot of time with each type of Pokemon to understand exactly how to get the best out of them and use them in the match.
The aim could do with a little polish
While the game is fairly easy to pick up and understand, the biggest factor working against players in Pokemon Unite is the lack of a proper targeting system. Targeting in a match often comes down to what seems like blind luck, and the settings are often a little too obtuse for my liking.
It happens way too often that the player character will instead lock-on to a wild Pokemon as opposed to the enemy player, and in clutch moments, that can often be the deciding factor between games. Another major complaint arises towards the latter stages of a match when Zapdos descends from the high heavens to give one team a very “Dumbledore giving Gryffindor 5000 points out of nowhere” type of moment.
The appearance of Zapdos in a match means that a losing team can often turn the tables on their opponent in a matter of seconds. The team that defeats the legendary Pokemon is essentially granted a boatload of Aeos Energy which they can proceed to slam dunk at one of the opponent’s towers. While the mechanic itself might be useful in balancing the match, its execution leaves a lot to be desired for, as it is often unclear as to which team did the most amount of damage, which can result in an unfair amount of points being given to a certain team.
Plus, it can often devalue the rest of the game as the matches are often decided during these final moments only. Thus, depriving players any incentive of being aggressive through the early stages of a match.
Despite its flaws, Pokemon Unite manages to be consistently entertaining and fulfilling, all the while maintaining a great sense of challenge. The matchmaking remained consistently fair throughout my time with the game. The Practice game mode deserves a shout-out as well, as it carefully breaks down the 6 main elements that players will need to master in order to get better at the game, and providing players with a great structure to stick to.
That doesn’t mean that Pokemon Unite does a lot of handholding, it simply means that the barrier for entry is quite low, but not to the point where it becomes far too casual or bland. Even at its blandest moments, Pokemon Unite remains effortlessly charming. The targeting system might need a bit of tinkering and the Zapdos needs to be examined quite closely, but other than that, there is no reason for Pokemon fans to not jump right in and experience this absolutely charming and engaging MOBA.
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