I consider myself a diehard Pokémon fan, I have been since I was eight and now I’m thirty. If there’s something to be known about Pokémon, odds are I know it and with every ‘Pokémon Presents’ I sit on the edge of my seat with complete excitement for what lies in store for the near future. Let’s go back to the beginning of Pokémon Unite on the 17th of June 2020, the day of a Pokémon Presents where many things were presented (interestingly enough), the biggest and most exciting being the highly anticipated New Pokémon Snap. At the end of the presentation it was announced there would be ANOTHER ‘Pokémon Presents’ in exactly one week’s time with a “very special announcement”.
This announcement of an announcement made the entire Pokémon community collectively board the hype train. In the 24 years of Pokémon this had never happened before and with reveal of Snap, a fantastic Nintendo 64 game that was never expected to have a sequel 20/21 years after release, all bets were off. Anything was possible! What was this new game that justified its own video showcase? How could it possibly follow up from the already highly anticipated New Pokémon Snap? Could this be the announcement of the Diamond and Pearl remakes? A multi-region game? Maybe even an open world style game akin to Breath of the Wild? All three of those things being high not only on my own wish list, but also on a heck of a lot of my fellow Pokémon trainers.
I counted down the days, hell, the hours until this announcement on the 24th rolled along and our questions were answered with: Pokémon Unite…. a MOBA…. (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) developed by Tencent and free to play on Switch, Android and iOS. It was certainly unexpected; I’ll give them that. I won’t go on about the backlash that followed as it’s safe to say we’re acquainted with the internet. Furthermore, there’s enough toxicity not only within gaming but within the Pokémon community and there is ultimately no need for it. Then why mention all the above in a review? Well, the answer is simply that people were setting out to hate the game before release, without giving it a go. I must confess I was disappointed with the announcement and didn’t like the idea of a MOBA but I was determined to give it a go with as much of an open mind as I could.
Let’s get to it: As expected, the usual suspects are present when it comes to playable Pokémon such as Charizard, Lucario and of course Pikachu. One thing I’m a big fan of is the inclusion of playable Pokémon one may not necessarily expect, such as Crustle, Wigglytuff and Alolan Ninetails to name just a few!
You start each match as the lowest evolution stage of your chosen Pokémon (unless you play Pikachu or Snorlax) and you level up and evolve with point accumulation. You play the game as a team of five against another five. The objective is to defeat wild Pokémon in the arena in order to score points before travelling to the opposite end of the arena to your opponent’s side of and score a goal by what can only be described as performing a slam dunk via charging up. The more points you have the longer the charge takes, leaving yourself open to attack deep in enemy territory.
If you get knocked out, you are sent back to the respawn point and your points are lost and for the taking. Each Pokémon has one of five different roles: attacker, defender, speedster, supporter and all-rounder. They can specialise in either melee or ranged attacks, so creating a balanced team is vital to success. One role I quickly learnt which is essential for any team is that you need the bulk the defenders provide as in every game I have encountered an enemy Snorlax I have been repeatedly pummelled by and sent back to the spawn point by the absolute UNIT in an almost terrifying way.
The range of wild Pokémon you encounter appears at first to be wide but gets repetitive after playing a few matches in a row. You can take on low level Pokémon such as Aipom for a lower haul of points or take on stronger, and in some cases Legendary, Pokémon for much more points. With hundreds to choose from, the continuous slaughter of Aipom, Corphish, Combee and Audino can get stale. I’ve had it throw in a different stronger Pokémon every now and then having encountered Bouffalant and Drednaw on occasion, with them providing a much more challenging encounter where you’ll need to work as a team to defeat them in a timely fashion.
Furthermore, another example of repetition for the standard and ranked battles is there is currently only one arena, but you can unlock the ‘Quick Battle’ mode from level eight where a further three arenas become playable. Hopefully more standard arenas are to come in the near future..
Mentioned above is that one of the objectives is to travel to the opposite side of the arena to score. I should describe it as commuting as that is what it feels like. It is a slow-paced trek, even for the Pokémon designated as speedsters, and I honestly cannot say with certainty that Pikachu runs or merely crawls faster than the likes of Snorlax. This slow pacing makes a standard battle match time, an already lengthy ten minutes, feel considerably longer.
Like nearly all free to play mobile games there is of course monetisation. While personally I am not a fan of this as a practice I can accept the fact it exists, as if a player feels the need to pay then that’s their prerogative. At time of writing I have played around fifteen matches and been on the winning team for the majority of them so I think it’s reasonably safe to conclude that, for the moment at least, the game itself is not “pay to win”.
Paying can of course net you a clear advantage. For instance two of the games strongest Pokémon, Lucario and Garchomp, while not outright locked behind a paywall require a lot of grinding to unlock them making the game theoretically accessible and realistic to those who may not wish to pay. I optimistically hope this stays true throughout the future of the game, with other aspects of the in-game shop like cosmetics and items to power up and support your Pokémon made unlockable through gameplay. While the game is ultimately fun, the slow pace lets it down tremendously. Through the combination of absurdly long match times and the slow movement of Pokémon, it is far from the quick and intense arena battle the opening cut scene depicts it to be. I’d like to think with supporting updates alongside regular new content drops these shortcomings could and hopefully will be remedied. In the meantime, based off my experience with it at launch, I give Pokémon Unite
6 / 10
Thanks for reading, you can follow me on Twitter @LeeLee108 and who knows, maybe I’ll be back with more Pokémon related content in the future!