With the MOBA genre still standing on the relevant side of every gamer’s conversations due to the immense popularity of League of Legends and DOTA 2, it seems that every company is still willing to join in on the trend… only to fail miserably such as the likes of Heroes of the Storm, Paragon, and Infinite Crisis.
Originally released on the Nintendo Switch on July 21, 2021, Pokemon UNITE got everyone in the MOBA community curious. How would the game fare against the giants that stood tall for almost a decade? Would it end up another failed game, thrown to the bottomless void, never to be heard of again?
With that in mind, raise those Pokeballs and keep those potions ready, because I’ll be taking a look at the game and seeing what it has in store.
Pokemon UNITE is available to download on the Nintendo e-Shop with a mobile port the following suit in September 2021.
GAMEPLAY – I WANNA BE THE VERY BEST
The gameplay in Pokemon UNITE is surprisingly different compared to your standard MOBAs. The gameplay is still your 5v5 three-lane map that gamers are familiar with, but it doesn’t follow your generic “Destroy all towers, reach the main core of the enemy team type of objective.” You don’t see any of that in this game. However, the objective of the game is to score more points than the enemy team before the timer expires, taking a much more original approach compared to the same old copy-paste mechanics with almost every MOBA entry.
You earn points by either knocking out your enemy or the wild Pokemon that are scattered across the map, and you score these earned points in the goal zones that are placed on each side of the map. The points are earned based on the points each player gathered. The Scoring Mechanic is a great change of pace, and the main objective is enough to encourage actual teamwork to win.
REMOVING MID-BATTLE ITEMS
A unique feature of the gameplay is the lack of mid-battle item purchases, allowing you to focus on leveling your Pokemon instead of relying on item stats, something that most MOBAs have difficulties with balancing.
For me, this removes the main issue I had with MOBAs like League of Legends. Devs have to buff and nerf specific items to balance the game when in reality, they’re only patching up one hole just to cause two or three more in the process. So removing the mid-battle item purchases is a great decision for the devs since it gives focus to earning and scoring points instead of building items for game-breaking stats. You can just focus more on the gameplay without the dead air.
Pokemon UNITE has three game modes: Standard, Ranked, and Quick. Standard is a 5v5 map that splits up to three lanes: Upper lane, Center, and Lower lane. Quick mode focuses on the 3v3 and 4v4 game modes where maps are shortened and the timer isn’t as lengthy as Standard. Finally, Ranked is the same as Standard mode, with the only difference being that you are matched with other players based on the current ranking you’re in. Each game will earn you points to increase your standing based on your performance.
Standard mode is okay, although there were small issues where you match with incompetent teammates. Then again, this is mainly targeted towards children; I let that issue slide since they just want to have fun and play as their favorite Pokemon.
Ranked in Pokemon UNITE is fun since you’re more likely to get a match with players who are well familiar with the MOBA genre when comparing the environment such as League of Legends and DOTA 2. You sometimes get mismatched with new players on occasions, but not as bad as the aforementioned two.
Quick mode is a great feature that I can definitely play from time to time. I was a League of Legends player for 7 years and what I noticed is that the game was starting to lack variety in terms of 3v3 and 4v4 game modes. After playing Pokemon UNITE, it had that feature that players were longing for: a game mode that is an alternative to your standard 5v5 map. And since maps rotate every day in Quick mode, you get more variety when playing. One day, you’ll be playing in a 3v3 game mode, and the next day you’ll be in a 4v4 game mode. It’s something that we old MOBA players finally needed for once.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – FEELS LIKE WATCHING A REAL POKEMON BATTLE
The graphics in Pokemon UNITE feature a similar engine that was used in modern Pokemon games, most notably Pokemon Sword & Shield.
I personally like the graphics because the cartoonish charm behind it is easy to comprehend with all the bright and lively environment. When you move into different parts of the map such as Grasslands, Beaches, and tiny Forests, it reflects well on the wild Pokemon who reside in these locations, which the franchise is easily known for.
The music is another feature that benefits the game since it feels like a real Gym battle with spectators cheering for the winning Pokemon. It gives the immersion of you participating in a real competition alongside your teammates. I also like how each Pokemon kept their distinct voices in their original counterparts, with the main exception of Pikachu. This iconic yellow Pokemon does its recognizable “Pika-Pika” sounds instead of its RPG game counterpart.
Personally, the sound effects are the only lowlight as even though they don’t fully ruin it for me, it’s just that the sound effects could have been done better. Slowbro’s Surf for instance made me think that the waves could have been loud when used for dashing, but it doesn’t sound impactful unless an enemy player is hit.
Additionally, a trainer customization system allows you to customize your trainer’s appearance with the accessories you desire. You unlock accessories through battle passes, completing events, and Aeos Tickets, an in-game currency that allows you to purchase accessories.
I like the customization since you get the option to purchase them without breaking your wallet, and it gives you more reasons to complete challenges. Plus with how simplified the progression system in Pokemon UNITE is, I don’t think you really need to spend money on accessories unless you just want to.
CHARACTER ROSTER – GOTTA PLAY THEM ALL!
The character roster of Pokemon UNITE as of launch has 20 different Pokemon that fans know and love, with some of the roster having evolutions. Iconic Pokemon old fans are familiar with, Charizard, Venusaur, Lucario, and Pikachu, are featured alongside recent additions to the franchise such as Zeraora, Talonflame, and Cinderace, Cramorant, and Eldegoss.
I’m a bit disappointed with how lackluster the character roster quantity is. With only 20, I expected it to go with around maybe 50 or above due to how vast the number of Pokemon there are presently. With 932 types of Pokemon out there, our favorite Pokemon may appear as part of the roster to the point that Pokemon UNITE would potentially have the most playable characters in all of the MOBA genres, and that is something to be excited for.
Each Pokemon has different abilities and roles that fit the Pokemon‘s personality traits. Snorlax for instance is a Defender-type that focuses on Crowd Control abilities while protecting the team with shields that protect from incoming attacks; perfect for those game-winning team fights. Zeraora, the latest addition to the roster, is a Speedster, relying more on Melee attacks while having abilities that provide mobility, giving you several possibilities to sneak up on your adversaries by taking advantage of its dashes and blinks. And finally, you have Eldegoss, who is a Support that mainly relies on buffing and healing your teammates while providing de-buffs to enemy opponents.
I love how each Pokemon has abilities that fit their traits from their RPG game counterparts. Slowbro will have Water Gun and Amnesia since the Pokemon is Water/Psychic. Machamp will have abilities that focus on punching since it’s a Fighting Pokemon. Each has its own distinct ability that sets them apart from one another and it’s great to see them have abilities based on their actual types.
Held items allow your Pokemon to increase their stats. From boosting their maximum health to elevating their damage dealt to other players. Be careful as you are only allowed to use a maximum of three held items per Pokemon, so choose wisely.
I don’t mind the held items since Portable MOBAs tend to do this, but at least it encourages you to make your own builds. Though it felt like all held items I equipped had no effect on the stats of any Pokemon I chose. Then again, the feature does provide some creative freedom. Do you want your ranged Pokemon to have all max health items? You can do so. Do you want max damage item set? It’s possible. Basically, it gives you creative freedom and I don’t mind any of that.
And finally, Pokemon UNITE allows you to purchase skins to use on some Pokemon using microtransactions, which have themes such as Beach outfits, heroic outfits, and Mystical clothing, giving you some style before the match. The skins aren’t too impressive due to the current Pokemon roster that is available to play. I recommend waiting for future updates to see what other skins are in store.
Pokemon UNITE was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.