Modern gaming is heavily centered around competitive play nowadays. Most people are able to play battle royale games on their phones, and mobile gaming has shaken up accessibility as a whole. Wild Rift has proven that MOBAs can be moved to mobile with great effect, and shorter game times help alleviate a lot of the stress associated with the genre. Pokémon Unite is in the same space, with time locked games and interesting mechanics that set it apart from other MOBAs in general. While a lot of these changes are for the best, there are some terribly glaring issues that plague the game currently, and have players worried about the game’s future.
Pokémon Unite is a textbook 5v5 MOBA featuring Pokémon as playable characters. The main aspects that set it apart are the “towers” being goal zones that have a certain point threshold, and the games being time locked to 10 minutes. The main gameplay loop revolves around farming wild Pokémon to gain points and experience, and scoring those points in the goal zone in order to get closer to the home base. At the end of the 10 minutes, the total points scored are tallied and the team with the higher score wins. This is simple in both concept and execution, and really easy to understand in general. Of course there are other MOBA mechanics in play like last hitting, secondary objectives, target priority and the like. What’s most important about Pokémon Unite is that it achieved what it set out to be. It is by far the most accessible MOBA for beginners, with manageable times for games and easy to grasp mechanics. Frankly I don’t think there’s another MOBA better to teach mechanics on than Pokémon Unite, but this falls apart when you delve a bit deeper. This game’s version of “builds” is a set of items that you unlock as you play, and that you buy with in-game currency. Now baseline, everyone gets only three items and these dictate what bonus stats you will have in game. Where it gets bad is the fact that these items can be upgraded up to level 30. Normally, this is just an absolutely glacial grind, the amount of tickets necessary to get a single item to level 30 is in the thousands, and three items make a build. There’s an option to pay with the premium currency to get tickets instantly, immediately upgrading your items even at the earliest points in the game. What this does is create a pay-to-win environment even for people starting the game, which can turn them away. Unfortunately as well, this isn’t just standard stat-stick and beat down pay-to-win either. Certain characters synergize incredibly well with certain items, making it so that the early game is almost impossible to fight against them if you don’t have items at equal levels. Again, it isn’t impossible to play for free and level up your items, but the process is incredibly grueling and there’s a solid chance you’ll get outmatched on items alone early on.
Pokémon Unite has quite a few playable fields, with three rotating on a daily timer. These are hyper-casual maps that are time locked to five minutes, and scale players quicker so there’s a sense of rapid progression. The variety is cool, and every map looks different enough to warrant at least a single game. The game’s attack effects are really cool, and the controls on Switch feel responsive most of the time. It really takes a lot of getting used to in order to launch skills correctly and at snap timings, and sometimes it feels like you’re fighting the game to launch any skills at all. The inconsistency is arguably the most frustrating part, and if you’re playing without a LAN cable this is a much more pronounced issue. A huge part of Pokémon Unite is the peripherals with which you’re playing, without a Pro controller or a LAN adapter you’re having a totally different experience.
I’ve spent a massive amount of time on Pokémon Unite, and really want to be able to give it a good score and call it a day. Issues with pay-to-win tendencies and character balance are hampering that to a large extent, and at present only very minor character changes have been made. The game has a decent development pipeline for character releases, with quite a few on the way. There is a massive amount of potential for growth, with almost a thousand Pokémon in the case to pick from. While the game is fun at the most casual of levels, and is pretty good for learning about MOBAs, watch out for the slippery slope. This is a game that takes a relatively significant investment to have a consistent experience playing, anything more substantial than casual play would be hard.
Score: 6 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch