So yesterday Pokémon UNITE was released and I got a few good rounds in… and I’m kinda… meh about it.

I doubt that’ll be a surprise to anyone because, well, let’s be honest: Pokémon UNITE has a bit of a frosty reception in the gaming community. Why? Well, as PA! Staff member Teslalyte—habitual League of Legends player and my number one source for gaming analysis—puts it simply: why did Nintendo/TPC bother making this? Aside from the potentially shady consumer practices of its developers, it’s just one more MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) game in a sea of MOBAs. There is nothing new that UNITE brings to the MOBA genre—as in, UNITE seems to be as generic of a MOBA you can get but with a splash of “Pokémon” paint—and worse, it’s about five years late to the MOBA party. To complicate matters, serious gamers see games which focus on a more younger audience as something of a meme; yeah battle royale games like Fortnite are HUGE… but to most legitimate players, it’s little more than a meme. But hey, at least Fortnite makes tons of money, so its devs really don’t care if it’s not taken seriously. The problem is that UNITE is unlikely to get Fortnite-tier numbers, even with the power of POKéMON behind it; this is largely because Fortnite branches outside of its own genre by hosting events and concerts… but very little of this seems to be in UNITE‘s future. Ultimately it seems like most people will see it as little more than a cash-grab meme game which will most likely get sidelined and forgotten very quickly.

Ouch, that’s a lot going against Pokémon UNITE… but surely that’s no reason to NOT play it, right? Well, maybe you’re like me and you’ve been trying to get into MOBAs for a long time, but nothing you’ve played clicked with you… and so playing a genre game through the lens of Pokémon might help you understand them better? Or maybe you’re good with your money and aren’t easily suckered into buying costumes or otherwise can maintain the “free” part in “free to start” games. Or you simply like Pokémon—period—and want to play a new genre game done up in the Pokémon style. There’s plenty of reasons to want to play UNITE… but how well do these reasons hold up when you really start to think about them?

The TL;DR version of this article is: mmmmmmaybe there’s a few good reasons to play UNITE… but just a few. Maybe those few reasons are enough for you? Or maybe the fact that I don’t even have a clear answer to THOSE questions is enough to deter you… well, there we are. For me tho, I’ll still find myself playing it… but I’m a kind of guy who rolls with the punches fairly easily. Like if I’m sinking in quicksand, I’ll be appreciative with the fact that I’m only waist-deep instead of up to my neck in quicksand. So I can put up with a lot of crap that most other people wouldn’t.

Anyways, let’s get crackin’ and figure out if Pokémon UNITE is really worth your time, energy and money:

 


Nickfifteen is VICTORIOUS

Can Pokémon UNITE help introduce new players to MOBAs in general?

To be honest, the biggest reason why have any modicum of interest in Pokémon UNITE is the fact that my best friends—current and former PA! staffers Teslalyte and SavageSparrow—are big on League of Legends and I want to join them in the fun… however, every time I tried to play it, I never could wrap my head around the game. Either I couldn’t get a handle on what my Champions did or why I should care about whatever special ability they had, or why I’m doing what I’m doing, or the benefits of going top lane versus center lane (whatever that means)… but basically League never could hold my attention much. But because UNITE is a MOBA, maybe I could learn the basics with UNITE and use that as a foundation to build up my MOBA experience to then apply to League of Legends later on down the road.

Pokemon Conquest box art In game screenshot of Pokemon Conquest SNES screenshot of Nobunaga's Ambition

I mean think about it: there have been plenty of “Pokémon × SOMETHING” sidegames which I quite enjoy, which take Pokémon and mix it with a game (or game genre) which is otherwise very UN-Pokémon-like and somehow make it work beautifully. So games like Pokémon Conquest (Pokémon × Nobunaga’s Ambition; turn-based grand strategy game) or Pokémon Mystery Dungeon (Pokémon × Mystery Dungeon; roguelikes) helped me get a better handle of the games they were based on and in turn enjoy the actual versions of those games later on. Of course the Pokémon versions are not as hardcore and 4D-chess-tier as the official versions, but that’s the point: you play the Pokémon version in order to introduce you to a more casual version of the game, have it ease you into the rules and tactics… and then when you’re ready to graduate to something more challenging, that’s when you switch to the normal version. So maybe UNITE can be what helps me understand MOBAs better! Makes sense, right?

Now as a reminder, it’s my understanding that the basic, core format of a MOBA is more-or-less as follows:

  • TEAM-FOCUSED: you are part of a five-player team, and you’re battling against another five-player team
  • ARENA-BASED: the arena is a map with two sides connected by three paths (“lanes”), with a myriad of side paths and hidden areas with extra bonuses
  • KEY DEFENSE: each side is protected by towers (generally five) which you need to attack to therefore destroy in order to win; the towers themselves are capable of defending themselves
  • MOB HELPERS: aside from the players themselves, there is also a flow of CPU-controlled mobs (“minions”) which are generated at each team’s base to help; they can attack players, but also be attacked by players
  • GROWING POWER: during the match you’re constantly gaining EXP (for better attacks) and GP (to buy better items with); more EXP and GP can be earned by performing various extra deeds like destroying towers, killing enemy players, and killing minions… so attacking as much and as quickly as possible allows players to grow more powerful very quickly
  • NUANCED PLAY: the characters you play with offer various benefits or tactics depending on your play style and other preferences (do you like to do damage up close or from afar, do you want to be on the front lines or support those who are?). But best of all, each game is a fresh opportunity to try something new; you don’t have to “train” a character outside of a match for it to gain new abilities, all possible options are unlocked from the get-go.
  • WIN STRATEGY: the basic gameplay is a balance between protecting your towers and trying to attack the opponent’s towers, as well as everyone and everything else inbetween.

I may have missed one or two key points, but for the most part the above list seems to be the core foundation of MOBA gameplay, at least based on what I’ve seen. I mean, of course the different MOBAs out there tweak the formula a bit: like what happens to your EXP and GP if you’re killed, or what kind of attacks can you get once you reach a certain point? But that’s just gravy on the steak… the steak itself is what makes a game a MOBA or not, and I feel like it’s fair to boil the format down to the above.

With that out of the way… will playing Pokémon UNITE be a great way to introduce new players to this world? Weeeellll…..

See the arena, its towers... and points?
MOBA CHECKLIST: Arena? Check. Towers? Check. Points? Mummmumum. … OK, it’s a MOBA!

So I played in about eight matches so far. Hardly much to get a final opinion on UNITE, but certainly enough to be able to compare between the two. Let’s break down the above MOBA criteria with what I know UNITE is like:

  • TEAM-FOCUSED: UNITE definitely has the five-player teams, which you can also play with friends or CPU teammates. But one aspect of UNITE that I feel is missing is how much other MOBAs seem to help build a stronger sense of a team as a single unit. Like, despite not getting much out of League of Legends, the one thing I felt stuck with me with most was the announcer saying “DOUBLE KILL!” “TRIPLE KILL!”, whether it’s our team or the opponents. If it was for our team, it was a great morale booster, while if it was for the opponent’s, it helped unite us (pun intended) to take that one jerk down. But in UNITE, there were no such global announcements. I mean, there WERE a visual notice, but it was little more than a “Charizard -KO- Venusaur” notice.
  • ARENA-BASED: the map in UNITE is definitely of a MOBA format, complete with two separate sides, five towers you need to destroy, three lanes to traverse and protect, and plenty of side areas to explore. There are also other common MOBA tropes built into the map, like tall grass to hide in, one-off side creatures which you can attack to gain extra bonuses, etc.
  • KEY DEFENSE: this is the first key difference between my list above and UNITE: the “towers” are there, but you don’t attack them, nor do they attack back. Rather, they function little more than “goal zones”, places where you can deposit points which you earn by knocking out minions (“wild Pokémon“) and opponents. Once you and your team have deposited X number of points into the tower, they are destroyed. Now I guess the very concept of “destroying towers” is maintained here, but I think the fact that you don’t attack them directly AND the fact that they don’t attack back changes a lot of how the actual game tactics works and may not teach new players a skillset they can apply to other MOBAs.
    • You can get an example view of this in the above picture showing the arena view, the five “towers” on each side, its lanes, and its focus on points.
  • MOB HELPERS: this is another departure from the MOBA format: minions are not generated by the opposing team but are instead scattered in common points across the arena. While I guess this fits more with the Pokémon motif (it’s never been about attacking an endless flow of enemy mobs), it does further distance itself from the standard MOBA format and, again, can negatively affect a new player’s expectation of how MOBAs work and not prepare them for what’s to come in other games.
  • GROWING POWER: this is definitely similar… sorta. At the very least, your Pokémon does gain EXP to then gain attack strength and better moves. Your moves UNITE also have a cooldown period, a common feature of MOBAs. But unlike other MOBAs, you’re locked into a small set of attacks (four at most out of six possible choices). Furthermore, there is no GP system in UNITE and therefore no items to buy during a match. Now you are still rewarded in Points when you knock out any Pokémon, but those can only be deposted in your opponent’s “towers” (goal zones), but unlike with GP they aren’t automatically generated but you instead only gain them from a KO. To me this is at best an oversimplification of the attack and item system used in other MOBAs and at worst a half-baked implementation of the system which will not help new players grasp even the basics of how other MOBAs operate.
  • NUANCED PLAY: fortunately the Pokémon in UNITE seem to be balanced between various play styles seen in other MOBAs, using terms like “Ranged”, “Attacker”, “Melee”, “Speedster”, “Supporter”, etc. to help a player understand what kind of play style that Pokémon and its move set is best suited for. Best of all, it also separates Pokémon into several “Difficulty” tiers—whether Novice, Intermediate and Expert—to give players growing challenges. And like other MOBA characters, every game is a new fresh opportunity to try something new; you don’t have to “train” Pokémon outisde of a match to maximize its potential. Out of everything here, this seems to be the most like other MOBAs.
  • WIN STRATEGY: the name of the game is still about attacking, defending, supporting and protecting your team’s ability to win via taking out opposing towers and players. But unlike other MOBAs where elimination of the towers is the key path to victory, UNITE is more about scoring the most points in the alotted time. You can still win even if you don’t destroy all of the opponent’s “towers” (goal zones).

So comparing UNITE with the basic core features of a MOBA… let’s ask the quesiton again: will playing Pokémon UNITE help prepare new players for what’s to come in MOBAs? Yes and no. But mostly no.

Nickfifteen on a team of five
MOBA CHECKLIST: 5-on-5 battles? Check. … OK, it’s a MOBA!

I would say YES only because UNITE at least keeps the core play values of having a team of five players with the goal of attacking five towers via points gained by attacking minions and opponent players via characters which their own unique merits based on a player’s personal preferences. But that would be like saying a bottle of Gatoraid and a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can be both “cold freshing beverages”; yeah both are definitely more alike one another than they are to, say, trying to drink a chocolate cake… but drinking Gatoraid will never prepare you for the alcohol content in a bottle of beer.

So Pokémon UNITE, based on the MOBAs I’ve played like League of Legends, etc, is MOBA-esque, but it’s definitely it’s own thing. Its focus on scoring points versus destroying towers, the lack of a steady flow of MOBA-like minions, and its very under-baked attack and item system sets it apart from other MOBAs. Now of course you can still learn how to play with other players with an arena-based game with UNITE… but I feel like if you’re gonna put that energy into something, it might as well be an actual MOBA than with UNITE.

But again, I’m just a beginner, so take my observations on this as little more than my beginner-tier notes. Maybe I’m missing something that actually makes UNITE a perfect start to MOBAs, despite it lacking other MOBA tropes. Like, maybe the simple five-on-five, take out tower-based combat is enough of a start to build off of? I’d really like to hear what you think! With that said, right now I feel like if there is a good reason to play UNITE, it’s not because it’s a good way to get you introduced to the world of MOBAs.

 


What about its economics?

One major reason brought up by several folk on the PA! Discord about why they have little interest in playing UNITE is because they’re worried about getting just TOO hooked on it that they would spend WAAAY too much money on it. While I’m not that kind of person… I used to be that way, and losing a lot of money on pointless purchases taught me a lot about keeping my purse strings tighter than by Sunday Best. So maybe this is less about if UNITE is worth playing and more about is it worth avoiding? Well, let’s take a quick look at UNITE’s economy.

Aeos Gem currency details Aeos coin currency details Aeos ticket currency details

I’d say that perhaps its biggest weakness is the different kinds of in-game currencies you have to deal with. In particular, there are at least three kinds of currencies you can earn in game, and a few other pseudo-currencies which seem to act like them.

  • AEOS GEMS — this is what you can use to spend real money on to then use to purchase virtually anything in the game
    • the exchange rate is about 61.3 gems/US$1.00, but there’s a few inconsistencies to this
  • AEOS COINS — you seem to earn these for completing various in-game actions, which likewise can be exchanged only for Pokémon Licenses
    • the exchange rate is about 17.4 coins/1 gem… that is to say, you can expect to spend 17.4 coins for every 1 gem that an item costs
  • AEOS TICKETS — these are likewise earned for completing various in-game actions, but these can be instead exchanged for in-game battle and Trainer costume items
    • the exchange rate is about 10 tickets/1 gem
  • ITEM ENHANCER — these are earned but used to upgrade the capabilities of your in-game battle items
    • I can’t find an exchange rate method for these items
  • FASHION TICKET — these can be exchanged for special Trainer costume items
    • it looks like the exchange rate is about 27 aeos tickets/1 fashion ticket… but other items seem to be about 10.5 aeos ticket/1 fashion ticket
  • HOLOWEAR TICKET — these can be exchanged for Pokémon costume items
    • the exchange rate is about 20 gems/1 holowear ticket

This is just too much! And look at those totally random exchange rates. But this was totally intended from the Devs: the rates are obfuscated to confuse players as to how much each item truly costs. Like, if a Fashion Ticket is worth about 27 Aeos Tickets, and 10 Aeos Ticket is worth 1 gem and $1 gets you about 61.3 gems… how much money might you find yourself spending to get an items worth 60 Fashion Tickets? This is similar to how deceptive Microsoft Xbox Live Points were, but on steroids.

Now compare this to something like Pokémon GO, which has only one in-game currency: PokéCoins. And at its WORST exchange rate, one PokéCoin is worth one US cent; so when you see an in-game item worth 200 PokéCoins, you’ll know for a fact that it’s actual value is NO MORE than $2.00. But there are also plenty of opportunities to get extra PokéCoins  in-game for free, either by defending Gyms (which nets you 50 coins/day), or by bulk-purchasing more PokéCoins in a single transaction (like US$1 gets you 100 PokéCoins but US$10 gets you 1200, 20% extra). So even if you see an item in Pokémon GO worth 200 coins, it doesn’t actually mean you’ll be spending $2 on it… you might be spending $1.50 on it (cuz you bought more PokéCoins in bulk), or maybe for $ZERO because you spent the last four days defending your local Gym and earning the max 50 coins/day doing so. This is the kind of in-game currency transparency that I’d be willing to reward a company with my money on.

Aeos Gems for sale

But getting a greater value of in-game currency when you buy them in bulk… that IS how this system is supposed to work, right? I mean, that’s the case with Pokémon GO, that’s even the case in the real world when you buy anything in bulk like at Costco… but that ISN’T so with UNITE. What the frick?! That’s right: you NEVER get more value of your purchases by buying Aeos Gems in bulk… in fact, you actually get LESS!! Just take a look at this simple handy chart; anything in green in what I figure was the BEST value, while red is the WORST:

USD Base Base Value Special Special Value
$_0.99 60 60.6 120 121.2
$_3.99 245 61.4 490 122.8
$_7.99 490 61.3 980 122.7
$19.99 1220 61.0 2440 122.1
$39.99 2450 61.3 2740 _68.5
$49.99 3050 61.0 3500 _70.0
$99.99 6000 60.0 7100 _71.0

For American players, or at least anyone buying Aeos Gems using US Dollars… the best base, non-promotional deal is the Aeos Gem deal for $3.99, as that nets you a gem rate of about 61.4 gems/US$1. But the worst non-promo deal is when you spend the MOST money: $99.99 gets you only 6000 gems, or 60.0 gems/US$1. This means if you buy that $99.99 option, you’ll actually get 134 less gems than if you simply bought $99.99-worth of the $3.99 deal.

Even worse is that right now there’s a promotion going on where you earn DOUBLE the gems if spend between $0.99 and $19.99, meaning the $3.99 deal gets you 122.8 gems-per-dollar! Meanwhile, the $39.99 option has you spending 10x more in real world money but you’ll actually get basically HALF the number Gems; basically it’s like you spent about $20 to get about 2700 gems, then literally burned the rest of your cash.

WHY would anyone want to spend all that money and get LESS gems? I mean, seriously, it’s not like Pokémon UNITE has a purchase limit of something like “one transaction per day”, thus forcing you to choose between a highly-efficient-but-low-gem-count purchase or a highly-wasteful-but-high-overall-gem-count purchase? Or surely it’s not because the devs are betting on a critical mass of small children not understanding “economies of scale” and simply think five pennies is four more than one dollar! Actually, naw, it’s definitely not because certain regions have purchase limits for players under a certain age and therefore would need to choose the highest purchase values to maximize the purchase limits, right??

Aeos Gem purchasing limit notice

Anyways… if you’re the kind of person who is easily confused about these kinds of numbers and in turn find yourself throwing caution to the wind and buying whatever… then UNITE is NOT the game you should be playing! I for one will be not spending a single red cent on this game because of how quickly I know I’ll lose track of what I spend. I mean, it’s not that I can’t do the math, but rather there will just be so much to keep track of that I’ll simply give up trying to work it out… and that’s no good.

Now that said… if you’re gonna be like me and NOT spend any money on the game, would it still be worth playing? I’m gonna say yes. This is because, despite the complete clusterfugg that is the UNITE economic system… all it is is to just buy costumes or other generally useless crap, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of Pay-To-Win feature in the game. Like, actual in-game items which make a real-world difference in the game can all be bought using Aeos Coins, which can be earned by simply playing well and logging in every day. Now of course you can buy gems to simply get those items quicker/easier, so in that sense you can still “pay to win”… but I personally don’t consider that to be “pay-to-win” because you can still get those same items by playing well. And so far it doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a slog to get everything you need, especially seeing that veteran MOBA players have been easily kicking the crap out of anyone who simply paid big bucks to build their whale. But, like always, I’m open to be convince of otherwise because I’ve only dipped my toe into the game and haven’t fully experienced the game’s earned economy quite yet.

So when it comes to if the game’s economy makes it worth playing—or rather, worth avoiding—then I’d say yes it’s worth playing, as long as you’ve got the willpower to NOT buy anything and instead just earn the currency you need to get what you want. Or at least are willing to do the math to work out how much that paid item REALLY is in the end.

 


Is it a good Pokémon game?

Finally, this is the real crux of this article… afterall, we’re playing a game with “Pokémon” in the title! So how good is it as a “Pokémon” game?

As I mentioned above, there have been many side games which have merged Pokémon and a decidely UN-Pokémon-esque game to create something fun and exciting for all players. But best of all, those games still manage to keep a heart and soul that remains Pokémon despite what changes are made to the actual gameplay. But what does it mean to be a “Pokémon” game if its main mechanics of “catchin’ ’em all” isn’t exactly all there? Well, I’d say that there are some key tropes which all spin-off and side Pokémon games still manage to hold onto during its transistion to being a completely new game. These include—but are not limited to:

  • simply having Pokémon as playable characters! Whether it’s the Pokémon creatures themselves or the human characters observing them, being part of a world with these fantastic creatures is a big part of its “Pokémon” identity
  • not just the Pokémon creatures but their core identities, what separates them from “mere” animals: they need to evolve and have elemental types that have advantages and disadvantages to other types… but most especially, I’d say their relationship with humanity is one of the strongest appeals to the story of Pokémon, whether as pets, partners or dealing the the consequences of humanity’s actions
  • speaking of being pets or partners, the ability to catch Pokémon via Pokéballs is a big aspect. Of course this trope can be subverted by having a Pokémon being deliberately NOT-caught… but it’s “caught” status is still part of its identity
  • other common Pokémon tropes like familiar items (Potions, Berries, Pokéballs), human characters involved in a particular field of study of Pokémon, and even something as simple as a friendly, comforting story of overcoming challenges, rivals becoming friends, and the glory of hard-earned victory.

There’s other aspects of Pokémon, but I’d argue that these are the ones which I think most people could agree are the most appealing. At the very least if some game with “Pokémon” in its title yet involves otherwise unfamiliar game play features, then if at least most of the above were incorproated into it, it would help ease new players into those the new game’s mechanics. Like, playing the new game through the lens of “Pokémon” is enough to help them understand it better than if they would otherwise be unable to understand it.

Screenshot of a Mr. Mime wearing a costume from Pokémon UNITE
This just SCREAMS “I’m a Pokémon game!”

Now based on this criteria, is Pokémon UNITE a “Pokémon game”? ….weeeellll…. it has “Pokémon” in its name! That must count for something, right?

All joking aside, I’m going to argue that UNITE is hardly very “Pokémon-y”. It leaves out a lot of what I feel makes a game feel like a proper “Pokémon” game, as opposed to being a game which just happens to have Pokémon characters in it. Like, take the Super Smash Bros. series; it has Pokémon characters in it as playable fighters, but I’d be hard pressed to call it a proper “Pokémon” game. For example, in Smash, Pokémon fighters don’t utilize elemental types (eg Greninja is NOT inherently weak to Pikachu), don’t evolve, you can’t catch them, etc. But that’s OK, I’m not playing Smash because I’m expecting it to be a “Pokémon” game. UNITE, on the other hand….

So what exactly makes UNITE a very UN-Pokémon-y game?

  • Moves and Pokemon lack types! I mean, this is maybe the BIGGEST issue for me.
  • Moves also lack the physical/special damage type, at least as far as I can tell. That said, items like X Attack exist in UNITE which claim to raise a Pokémon’s Attack and Sp. Atk… but the Pokémon’s stats aren’t listed in typical “Attack/Sp.Atk/Defense/Sp.Def/Speed” format, but rather as “Offense/Endurance/Mobility/Scoring/Support”.
    • On the flip side, moves are given other attributes, like “Melee”, “Dash”, “Area”, “Hindrance”, etc… but again, these aren’t Pokémon-style terms.
  • The list of available playable Pokémon are also limited. You also don’t CATCH them but rather purchase “Licenses” for them. The fugg??
    • See picture below
  • Pokémon also lack abilities, so other than the base stats of a Pokémon and limited number of ways you can combine its moveset, there really is nothing that differentiates one from another, particularly if the same Pokémon exist on both teams.
  • Tall grass is also somewhere to hide, NOT find Wild Pokémon in. Wild Pokémon instead appear in open areas, just standing around waiting for players to approach.
  • Now I do enjoy how Pokémon evolution is implemented, with Pokémon evolving into later forms after reaching a certain level… but evolution almost seems automatic and frankly little more than a skin.
    • There also doesn’t seem to be any advantage to evolving: like if you could somehow maintain a Level 10 Charmander, I’m willing to bet its base stats will be the same as a Level 10 Charizard. At least in other games, there’s some strategy involved with evolution… like you could balance between NOT evolving a getting a better attack sooner, or evolving and having a stronger pokemon right away but having to wait longer for the stronger attack. But none of that seems to be implemented in UNITE.
Purchasing Pokémon Licenses
“Gotta License ‘Em All!”

One aspect that I actually WAS able to count on my knowledge of Pokémon was with the attacks themselves, which—fortunately—seem to reflect their normal VG interpretations. For example, “Fly” takes you out of combat for a while before you strike. So if you’re familiar with the VG moves, you can at least know what you’re gonna get when you use them in UNITE. Unfortunately, without type advantages/disadvantages, that familiarity is the ONLY useful thing about them.

So yeah, there’s a lot about this game which doesn’t seem to adhere to the reasonable expectations of what a “Pokémon” game has generally been like. But that said, lemme address one thing right away: on one hand I was talking about how UNITE is different from other MOBAs and how it’s not worth playing… but now I’m also complaining that UNITE is also being MORE like a MOBA than a Pokémon game and THAT makes it also not worth playing? Am I just being inconsistant here? Well, hear me out: I guess my issue here is, UNITE doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Like, if UNITE is going to not be like other MOBAs, then go the full nine-yards! Do EVERYTHING different; add in elemental types, keep the point system! But if UNITE is gonna try to do everything that MOBAs are doing, then why does it feel so inconsistantly applied? Why take out types and keep the points? By trying to be a little bit of both a proper MOBA and Pokémon game, it’s instead failing to be EITHER. I therefore would rather see UNITE lean into one or the other and STICK with it.

Anyways… this section was about determing if UNITE is worth playing because it’s a good Pokémon game… and based on that criteria, I’m gonna say no. This does not necessarily means it’s not a good game, period, it just means that it leans too far away from standard Pokémon tropes to be a good Pokémon game. And it’s a real shame because I don’t think being a good MOBA and good Pokémon game are mutually exclusive ideas.

 


In conclusion…

So, again, is Pokémon UNITE worth playing? Well again, yes and no.

No, because it’s not the kind of game a beginner—like me—could play and expect to get some foundational, fundemental training in MOBAs which can then be applied and built upon in more popular, serious MOBAs. No, because if you the kind of player who will spend real cash on digital items, then you’ll get lost in the game’s deliberately obtuse economy. And no, because for all its attempts to be more MOBA-like, it sacrifices a lot of its Pokémon identity in the process, making it a very weak Pokémon game in the process.

But maybe yes, because you already have an idea of what you’re getting into. And yes because you trust yourself to not spend any money on it and are willing to take the time to earn the items you need. And finally yes, because you really don’t care about MOBAs or the nuances of Pokémon game strategy and would rather just play a game with Pokémon in it (like Super Smash Bros).

Nickfifteen (plus four) is VICTORIOUS
Talonflame uses those big claws to carry the rest of the team.

The thing is, UNITE may not be a bad game… but—in my humble, beginner’s opinion—it’s simply not a good MOBA or Pokémon game. Yet the problem seems to be that the devs felt like they had to choose one or the other instead of working a bit harder to properly merge the two concepts together. Frankly plenty of other Pokémon side games have shown that it was very possible for the core mechanics of the other non-Pokémon game to be retained along side certain core Pokémon concepts, and that compromising on both in order to mix them together was hardly necessary. Pokémon Conquest, for example, didn’t include the standard in Nobunaga’s Ambition where death on the battlefield was permanent, but it at least took the defeated character out of the match; it kept the original concept but still gave it a Pokémon twist. I feel like UNITE could’ve pulled off something similar, where it could both properly give new players a taste of what other MOBAs are about without compomising on the aspects that make a spin-off game still have that “Pokémon” flavor. But alas: by focusing on trying to be both, it fails to be either.

Hopefully tho this can be changed over time, or at least in a “Version 2.0” update for the game. Heck, if we’re gonna be talking about any other changes I’d like to see, then why not add:

  • A score counter! I can’t see how many points my team and our opponents have scored. The only clues I can get are “we’re comfortably in the lead!” or “we’re struggling to catch up!” messages, but that doesn’t help me any!
  • Move the HP bars over so that they don’t overlap the HP bars of any one else. It’s hard to work out how much damage I’ve done if my big HP bar is covering up vital info!
In-game screenshot of Pokémon UNITE

That’s about everything I’ve spotted so far in Pokémon UNITE. I’m still willing to give it a good some more over time, but I’ve already given up on playing it to give me a foot-in-the-door in understanding other MOBAs… for that I’m simply just gonna have to keep playing it until I like it! I’m also gonna maintain a UNITE page on this site, just to share some of the valuable bits of info that I’ve come across and want to share with everyone. But otherwise, I don’t see myself putting much energy into analyzing the game beyond that.

Anyways, I hope this article was informative for you! And if you found something I missed, or if I’m straight-up wrong about something I’ve said, feel free to share that with me in the comments section or on the PA! Discord. If I’m so wrong that it actually causes me to reevaluate what I’ve written in this article, all the better.

 


POST-post edit:

So two things I forgot to mention… first off, here was my record upon posting:

Nothing to gloat about, but it also shows that I at least played the tutorial and grasped the basics.

Secondly: I still hold my current conclusion that playing UNITE won’t exactly train you to play other MOBAs (at least not nearly as well as if you played any other beginner-tier MOBA like Heart of the Storm or SMITE), but the reverse is definitely not true… as in, if you’re good at MOBAs, you can murder everyone in this. Mostly because of how little of those MOBA standards are in this, that just means there is waaaaay less you need to worry about—no minion generators to take out, towers that don’t fight back, no high/low grounds, no items or in-match shops to concern yourself with—you can just focus straight up on scoring points and beating the snot out of everyone else.

But then I guess that also takes out some of the fun: if it’s that easy to win, why bother playing? Beating up on kids is no fun. Hell, I’m still learning the basics and I still have a 0.750 win average. Whatever fun I get from this comes from playing almost automatically, with little thought put into what I’m doing; I just like zoning out. So, I dunno. I guess it’s like with everything Pokémon: play it for casual fun, not because you want a serious 4D chess-tier throwdown.