Did you ever think that there would come a time when you’re slam dunking orbs with a pokemon to score? No? Me neither. Fortunately, as strange as it sounds, Pokemon Unite allows you to do that and more.
Released for mobile devices in July 2021, Pokemon Unite entered the world of multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBA). Despite this game being Pokemon’s first entry into the MOBA genre, it also serves as a good entry point for those players who haven’t found a footing with games such as League of Legends and DOTA. This is massively different from the famous Pokemon Go game that took the late 2010s by storm.
Pokemon Unite takes the basics of MOBA in terms of two teams facing off against each other in an arena. However, the game has its unique twist on the game’s finer elements. It’s these little nuances that truly endear you (as a beginner) to Pokemon Unite.
There’s a lot to unpack here. So, let’s get started.
If you’ve been gaming for a while, you’re well aware that graphics do not determine how good the game is. Games may have the most hyper-realistic graphics but fail to deliver on their core gameplay. However, every gamer is also aware that good graphics add a layer of depth to the game.
If you’re playing a shooter game, trying to be stealthy in the dead of the night as you head towards your target, it helps to have the right amount of shadows. The lighting must be on-point to set an atmosphere of dread as well. Each game comes with its unique aesthetics – for a franchise like Pokemon, sticking to the visual style of the beloved anime is pretty much mandatory.
Trip down nostalgia lane
It wouldn’t help the franchise suddenly create a new visual style without keeping the fundamental essence of what made it so loveable. Keeping this in mind, Tencent Games’ TiMi Studios has done a fine job bringing an era-defining franchise into the new generation of hardware.
Pokemon Unite is a good-looking game, but only if you’re able to appreciate the aesthetic appeal of bringing to life two-dimensional characters from the mid-90s into the third dimension. The signature visuals of Pokemon remain. The visuals are updated for the shift to the new generation of games.
Make no mistake – the game still looks cartoonish, with the visual style of the anime very much present. However, it keeps itself in line with what we expect from iPhone games today.
If you’re a fan of the original Pokemon anime, you’ll find little to complain about how the game looks. The visual fidelity adds to the core gameplay, making you feel like the Pokemon Trainer you always wanted to be.
Like graphics, audio plays an integral part in making the game immersive. Some games can’t quite catch the correct feel with their sound production.
Imagine firing a gun in PUBG Mobile, only to find that the sound of gunfire doesn’t quite match what you were expecting after firing it. Such instances disrupt the game’s flow. Thankfully, Pokemon Unite has gotten its audio just right.
From the quirky lobby music to the cute “pika pika” of Pikachu running around in the practice arena, the audio will bring back some memories if you’ve watched the anime. The ring announcer’s sonorous voice stating that you’re in the final stretch of a 10-minute match keeps the excitement level and tension at the perfect balance.
More importantly, the tension and rush that you feel when you’re about to dunk the glowing orb into the opponent’s goal are realized fully with the buildup mechanic and the accompanying sounds. I’m stating it here outright – the satisfaction level is unparalleled when you hear the orb being dunked through.
This is where the game both succeeds well and fails spectacularly. This might be a confusing statement to make, but I’ve my reasons. As stated earlier, Pokemon Unite’s MOBA-style gameplay is well-suited for newcomers. Unlike League of Legends and DOTA, Pokemon Unite adds a friendlier twist at the end.
League of Legends requires you to go into the opponent’s side and destroy the Nexus. DOTA’s primary objective in every match is to destroy the structures known as the Ancients. In Pokemon Unite, You don’t destroy structures as such. The main objective is to go to the opponent’s goals and dunk orbs through them.
Defeat the wild Pokemon and your opponents in the Arena, and you will be rewarded with Aeos.
The goal hoops have limits for dunking. Once you reach the limit, the goal is destroyed. The more goal hoops the opponent you destroy has, the better your team’s chances of winning. Each team consists of 5 members, and the matches last for 10 minutes.
This match length is perfect. It allows you to immerse yourself in the game completely without feeling bored.
Since there are 5 team members, keeping to the style of MOBA, each member should choose a type of Pokemon that complements the team.
The 26 Pokemon available to play in the game are divided into 5 categories. These are Attacker, All-Rounder, Speedster, Defender, and lastly, the Supporter. The roles of the Pokemon are simple, and the names are self-explanatory.
Attackers and All-Rounders are usually in the frontline, going to the opposing team’s area to score as many points as possible. The Defenders and Supporters can stay back and defend their goals as the opponents slide over to their area for scoring points. The Speedsters usually oscillate between the two.
The matches can be tactically sound if everyone follows the instructions based on the role of the chosen Pokemon. A lone wolf may be more entertaining to watch but will suffer in tougher battles.
In the bigger MOBA games, these roles are usually taken very seriously. Proper tactics need to be employed based on each match. While basic tactics work well for Pokemon Unite, don’t take them too seriously in your first few matches. They tend to be easy.
The game controls are simple enough to get into grips. There’s the movement circle for directing your Pokemon through the battle arena. There’s also the basic attack button.
A couple of special moves are next to the attack button. Although they take a few seconds to cool down, they are worth using. Moreover, they evolve as your Pokemon evolves through the match.
Once your Pokemon has reached the final stage of evolution, a Unite move becomes available. It is the best move that the Pokemon can perform. It also causes tremendous damage to the opponent. However, it takes a long time to recharge. So you’ll have to use it wisely and sparingly.
Pokemon Master Team
Once you understand the basics of the gameplay, start focussing on team play. Experiment in-game with your friends to find the perfect balance.
Since there are multiple Pokemon to try, choose them and keep trying in different matches to understand which role suits you and the team best. Haphazard team and Pokemon selection will only take you so far in a MOBA.
While the gameplay is one of the best reasons to play Pokemon Unite and enter into the vastly daunting world of MOBAs, Pokemon Unite’s currency system is highly flawed. The developers should listen to the player’s feedback and implement better changes in future updates.
Read on to find out why Pokemon Unite loses out on becoming a fan-favorite game.
The game has five different types of currency! As a freemium game, in-game purchases are one of the ways to keep the game and player interest alive.
However, five currencies seem like overkill. Four of these currencies are earned in-game through grinding. After each match and completing event objectives, you are rewarded with Aeos Tickets and Aeos Gems.
Aeos Tickets help you buy enhancers to attain substantial boosts during battles. Fashion and Holowear Tickets are made for visual changes to the Pokemon and your trainer avatar. These tickets are only available through loot boxes and a very confusing reward system that the game employs.
However, my main issue stays with the ever-elusive Aeos Gems.
Aeos Gems allow you to buy Unite Licenses for unlocking Pokemons and other boosts to their attributes. They’re hardly available in-game, even if you’ve been grinding for hours on end.
Essentially, a player can buy their way through special Pokemon and boosts. They can do this without grinding through the game to understand its different systems.
This essentially makes the game pay-to-win, and you’re more than likely to encounter such players once your trainer has risen to a certain level.
Moreover, the game’s grinding reward is low, and the Energy Reward system has its issues.
Lack of energy
After every five matches, you get to have a crack at the Energy Reward system. It gives visual changes to the Pokemon, along with different abilities. This becomes an issue when you’ve leveled up a fair amount and find other members use a different skin for the same Pokemon, at the same level, but have its stats boosted.
These Holowear tickets don’t arrive in a fair amount either, as getting the tickets will only give you a small number. You have to keep playing matches until you gather Holowear tickets to get the most basic skin for your Pokemon after every five.
Coming back to the Aeos Gems, they also unlock Battle Pass points. Thus, increasing the options for items to implement in their next battle.
The main issue(s)
Between multiple currencies and how one particular currency makes the game relatively unfair, Pokemon Unite’s game economy is messy, chaotic, and part of what makes MOBAs challenging to dive into for the long run. You’re more than likely to find players that have edged you out simply by pumping more money.
Items are found few and far between, and if you’re not willing to put some of your hard-earned cash into the game’s economy, you could be left woefully behind in terms of leveling up and finding an advantage in the latter stages of the game.
Whatever items you want to purchase in the game store, you will have to indirectly spend real money through Battle Pass Points or Aeos Gems.
In other words, if you plan to continue playing this game for the long term, be prepared to face obscenely strong teams after the first 7 to 10 matches.
Verdict: Will Pokemon Unite unite its fans?
Pokemon Unite has genuinely confused me about its merits and demerits. On the one hand, it’s easy and approachable for a MOBA. It also brings nostalgia through its looks, sounds, and gameplay. If you’re a Pokemon fan, you shouldn’t miss this entry.
On the other hand, its currency and economic system will put off casual players. Not everyone wants to create an influx of cash onto a video game. Moreover, the rewards for grinding are slow and unsatisfactory. There are other MOBAs and multiplayer games (MMORPGs) that reward players handsomely for grinding.
For the sake of scoring, I’d give this game a 6.5/10. For all the good that the approachable gameplay and pangs of nostalgia do for the game, its currency system is too unfair at the moment to be glossed over.
Did you play Pokemon Unite yet? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.
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Anirban is a literature post-grad who delves in philosophy and postmodern novels when not writing on tech and gaming. His love for research is only trumped by his love for chai and heavy metal.