Pokémon Scarlet

When I was in highschool, I had to write essays. These essays were graded on a rubric with a certain percentage of points for various categories. One of these categories was what could be considered writing “technical skills.” Things like grammar, sentence construction, and spelling mistakes as a whole contributed to about 20% of the essay’s grade.

As a result, I would never get higher than 80%, because regardless of how good any of my points, ideas, or concepts were, my writing was a complete technical failure.

In that respect, my high school essays have a lot in common with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.

The Worst Performing Switch Game I’ve Ever Seen

Pokémon Violet’s miserable technical performance is omnipresent across the entire game. Miserable pop-in, levels of detail so low that you can see polygons getting added onto character models, poor framerates, and slowdown are present in virtual every area of the game. Almost every object is also subject to animation-frame culling as well.

My personal breaking point for this was the game’s credit sequence. This game is so unbelievably scuffed from a technical level that it fails to smoothly display scrolling text on a screen.

I’m not going to harp on the technical problems of Violet after this paragraph, except for when they become relevant to other portions of the game. Games are made up of multiple components, and worked on by multiple teams.

Some teams did their job very well. Some of these teams may have done the best they could under extreme time pressure. Or maybe they’re just incompetent! I don’t know which one it was. My conclusion is the same.

Despite liking and enjoying Pokémon Violet, the game’s technical issues are so widely spread that I just can’t recommend the game.

Core Mechanics

I did a large writeup on Pokémon as a series a while back. If you’re not familiar with Pokémon games at all, I suggest you read that writeup before the next bit. It included a overview of structure the games follow, along with general coverage of the series’ mechanics, and some suggestions for where a new player could start.

Scarlet and Violet mark the series transition to a full open world from the previous linear routes and narrative path. Instead, the world is shaped like a large donut. Difficulty scales as you travel up either side of the donut, with the game’s finale taking place in the center.

In Legends: Arceus, the battle and catching system was very simple. In Scarlet and Violet, those systems have been rolled back to their more complex previous forms, and are still very good and very compelling. There’s no more tall grass. Instead Pokémon spawn into the world in packs, and running into them will start a battle.

Node-Based Story Structure

The story structure is also fairly different. Because of the game’s open world nature, there’s no single series of events, or path that’s really required. Instead, each story event is sort of a self-contained mini-event. There are three main routes for these events. Two routes have 5 events, and the gym route has 8.

I think these story nodes can be completed in pretty much any order. I’m not sure that’s the case, though, because I did all the ones that gave me travel upgrades first. It certainly didn’t feel like there was a required order to me.

That said, these events don’t dynamically scale. I left what could be considered the 2nd or 3rd gym fight to do last one. There’s something amusing about showing up with a team of level 60 Pokémon for a gym battle against level 25s. But it’s also a little disappointing that the game doesn’t utilize the nonlinear story structure to give different players a different experience based on the order they complete story battles.

Also, before I switch topics, the games story arcs are surprisingly good. From a purely story standpoint, Scarlet might be my favorite Pokémon game. Is it the greatest story ever? No, but it’s memorable and unique.

Thematically Vast, Visually Bland

The Paldea region is one of the areas where the game feels like it’s been held back by the technology. There’s an early moment where a character is supposed to be introducing the stunning majesty of the Paldea region, and we get treated to a set of panning views of… various green-grey plains.

It’s sort of sad-funny that sets the tone for what we’ll see in the rest of the game.

The game has a variety of areas, but outside of Pokémon variety, the areas never felt different. Looking back, I remember dry desserts, a large cave, some icy mountains, ocean-side towns, and a coal mine, but they all felt identical. The only area that left any sort of impact was a large cave that I wandered into under leveled, swiftly got pulped, and then booked it out of.

The Pokémon Cave Experience

I think the biggest issue is that Pokémon games have often been light on visuals. Instead, the tone of the zones was sold by the Pokémon themselves. Caves full of Zubats spring to mind. Lunatone and Solrock in Meteor Falls, or Skarmory in the ash covered zones.

However, because of how Pokémon spawning works, and the fact that it’s possible to ignore pretty much every encounter I didn’t want to fight, most areas ended up feeling empty. I could rush through them, and interact with nothing but story events if I so chose.

Some thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else

Pokémon is a broad franchise, and has its own subtypes of players just like other complicated and broad games. As such, there are some things I can’t comment on. I don’t know how well the game is balanced and plays for multiplayer activities, such as competitive tourneys, or the end-game raids. I also didn’t do much with the breeding post-game/shiny hunting.

Many of the gyms in this game have their own mini-game or side mode associated with them. One of the more standout moments for me was a game mode where you’re supposed to collect Sunflora, and bring them back to a central area. This puzzle was very clearly designed before being tested, because it required collecting such a large number of Sunflora, that they would lag the game, and pop-in if you ran too far ahead of them. The town with this gym challenge also had a windmill that had ridiculous animation culling. Both of these combined to make the whole area incredibly immersion-breaking.

The new Pokémon designs generally felt quite good, as did much of the general world design and writing. The Jiggypuff with sharp teeth that screams and bites you is one of my favorites.

Again, though, it’s things like the carefully crafted in-world advertisements and logos that end up feeling like they’re in sharp contrast to the generally poor technical quality of the rest of the game.

Friendly reminder that the Fairy Pokémon type is based off old-english fairies, and those things were public menaces.

The vengeful fairy with a giant hammer that just beats the shit out of you is also great.

In Conclusion

Pokémon Scarlet is a 7/10, but it gets that score, much like my high school English papers, for a sheer lack of technical polish.

If this was an indie game, I’d excuse a lot of these issues. But this is the largest media franchise in the world. Yes, Scarlet makes makes changes in story, structure, and world, but they’re all hindered by those technical issues.

There have been some rumors that Nintendo/Gamefreak are working on patches to improve performance, but I’m not holding my breath. And I’m not betting on these issues being fixed for the next game either.

Did I have fun? Yes! Would I play it again? Probably. Will I buy the next entry in the franchise? In the immortal words of Penny Arcade’s Tycho Brahe, “I am a consumer whore.”

Of course I will.

But I don’t recommend you buy it.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus

I like Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Does the game have so many technical problems that I’m going to devote at least a paragraph to them below? Yes. But is it also the first Pokémon game that we’ve gotten in 25 years that is actually mechanically different than the other games in the series? Yes. Yes it is.

The rest of this article is going to assume that you’ve played a Pokémon game at some point. If you haven’t, reading this post first will make the rest of this review make more sense.

As mentioned above, Arceus is significantly different than previous Pokémon games. In brief: the game now takes place in a semi-open world. Story progression is based around a combination of catching lots of Pokémon, and mission completion, and there are no gym battles or equivalents. While battling and catching Pokémon both remain, the battle system has been significantly trimmed down, with held items and abilities being removed, and most status effects/stat buffs have also been changed to be simpler. The game does offer the ability to use moves in different styles, but this mostly boils down to “Do more damage, but take longer to act again, or do less damage, but act again quicker.”

You can fight multiple enemy Pokemon at once.

As the game now takes place in an open world, there are no more random battles. Instead, Pokémon just sort of go about the world, doing as they please, with most having a set spawn location. As such, catching Pokémon has changed, with many not even requiring you to battle them. Instead, you just need to get close enough to throw a Pokeball at them and hit them. Pokémon also don’t share the same set of behaviors either. Some will happily watch as you walk closer and closer prior to beaning them in the head with a well placed shot, some will turn tail and run, and some will see you and just start swinging/blasting bubbles/trying to poison you—you get the idea. For Pokémon in this last group, once they notice you and engage in combat, you’ll have to fight them with your own Pokémon if you actually want to catch them. The alternate option is to truffle shuffle your way through the waist high grass and wait for them to look away so you can lob a ball at the back of their head. The game actually encourages this, because back hits have an increased catch rate.

You will never have enough Apricorns, and when you think you do, you’ll be wrong.

Also, because this an open world game, there’s a crafting system. You can craft Pokeballs, revives, and various items with the rocks and berries you find lying around. It’s actually generally not as tedious as it might sound, primarily because the same few mats are used for a bunch of different things, and there also aren’t a ridiculous number of them you have to gather. cougheldenringcough

The open world itself is split up into 6 or so areas, and each area is self contained. For example, you can’t go from the ruin swamp zone to the ice zone without actually going back to town, and then going to the other area on the map. You likely won’t be able to explore every part of a map when you first unlock it, as portions will be locked behind ride Pokémon, the game’s version of HMs. These are various Pokémon that you’ll make friends with and will give you the ability to swim across water, fly across the sky, and scale rock cliffs. Yes, I know it seems like flying would make climbing redundant but it doesn’t really work like that in practice.

Realistically, these open world zones are fine. I’m gonna be honest, you could probably fill a grey box with lots of Pokémon and I would enjoy it. Pokémon Go put Pokémon on top of google maps, and I liked it. With that said, this isn’t Elden Ring or Breath of the Wild, there are no hidden secrets and crevices to find, and each zone itself is pretty small. They’re habitats for the Pokémon that live in them, and not much else unfortunately.

So what do I like? One thing is that Pokémon are actually rendered to scale in this game. This is a small thing, but it really does build the feeling of them being actual animals in the world instead of the “Wailord is the same size as Skitty” that we’ve had from previous games. It also gets used in two of the game’s mechanical systems, where catching Pokemon of different sizes can be a goal for various surveying missions and to distinguish Alpha Pokemon, which I’m just realizing we haven’t covered yet.

I just realized Dusknoir has red eyes by default, making this a terrible example of what this sorta thing looks like…

While you’re journeying around you might find a Pokémon that seems much bigger than you’d think it should be, with glowing red eyes. These are Alpha Pokémon, and they’re great. Outside of the immense bulk, there are few other critical differences. They tend to be much higher leveled then anything in the surrounding area, sometimes have special attacks, and have zero chill. They can’t be captured except by battling them, and until your Pokémon are in the 60-70 level range, they can and will thrash you into the ground.

I really like this because in most Pokémon games, catching Pokémon is pretty much a zero risk process, and you’ll never actually be able to go back to an area and be challenged. Alphas are a nice change of pace, and one of my most memorable moments in the game was wiping my team multiple times into an Alpha Tangrowth, then reviving them while it tried to put me six feet under. Alphas also tend to be Pokémon that could only have been obtained via evolution in previous games, so its just cool to actually fight and catch them in their already evolved forms.

Yes, that’s a wild Empoleon. It fainted from recoil damage. There was some salt.

Now that we’ve covered the actual game and mechanics, let’s talk about the game’s massive technical failings.

First, a brief statement. Creating games is a complex process with multiple disciplines and processes involved. That said , I consider most of the things in the paragraphs below to be effectively statements of fact. Maybe mimicking Super Mario 64’s performance and art style is a design choice, but I don’t give a shit. The game should not look and have performance issues this bad.

Most of the environments in the game look like garbage, and they feel incredibly static and stale outside of the Pokémon inhabiting them.
The Pokémon/NPC’s look good, but if you get more than 4 NPC’s on the screen even during a cutscene, the framerate dips. Because of this, there are very few situations where you can have large numbers of different wild Pokémon on screen, and the end result is that the game’s world can feel underpopulated.
The game has an amount of pop-in/fade in that’s comical on everything, and when you’re flying around looking for a specific plant, or a Pokémon that might be the size of that plant, this actively screws with your ability to find it. Of everything on this list, this one is biggest hindrance to actively playing the game, and pisses me off the most.

See that little hill in the distance, with nothing on it, and nothing anywhere around it?
It’s the one we’re hovering over right here.

In addition to all of this, the game has one of the most screwed up systems for animation level of detail that I’ve seen. It’s most visible on any of the flying Pokemon such as Gyrados, Togetic or Crobat, but you can actively see the point at which they get far enough away from you for the game to start dropping frames from their animation cycle.

Anyway, that’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus. If you’re someone like me who’s always wanted a Pokémon game where you run around massive open environments trying to catch Pokémon, and see them at actual scale, this game is pretty much exactly what you’ve been waiting for. You’ll be able to ignore the game’s flaws and have a lot of fun.

If you’re someone who played the games primarily for the battle system, or for engaging with the secondary mechanics like breeding for perfect IV’s and competitive move sets, those systems have been either stripped out or massively simplified, and I suspect you won’t have as much fun. I don’t personally think that the removal of things like abilities and held items is made up for by the games strong/agile move styles.

And perhaps you’re neither. Perhaps you’re not a Pokémon fan. If that’s the case, I would say that your enjoyment is going to depend heavily on what you want out of the game. You want a game with a mediocre open world, but a bunch of really cool monsters to catch? This could be for you!

If you want a game with an open world that tells a subtle story via its environment and mechanics, with a focus on difficult combat and challenging gameplay? Well, you probably want Elden Ring instead.

You want a large underwater eel? That’s a moray.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is $60 for Nintendo Switch, and only Switch, because the day we get a mainline Pokémon game on a non-Nintendo console is the day we look out the window and see a flock of pigs sailing unimpeded across the clouds.

So you’ve never played a Pokémon game and you want to know what all the fuss is about.

One of the challenges in writing about games is that it’s often easiest to compare them to other games. The problem is that this is useless to readers that don’t have similar lived experience to you, and so you probably end up subjecting a non-zero portion of readers to this:

Never Seen Star Wars
Credit: Randall Monroe of XKCD, a webcomic that’s much funnier than my blog. Used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Generic license. I think I’m doing this right, please don’t sue me Randall.

In this situation there are two options: Option 1, which is much easier, is to just sort of roll with it and everyone who doesn’t like and experience the things you like can suck it. Option 2 is try to add to your writing some sort of intro or explanation, or at least an easy gateway to the subject at hand.

This writeup exists because I realized I was doing that exact thing in my Pokémon Legends: Arceus review earlier. Instead of adding several extraneous paragraphs to that review, we have this post.

Anyway, Pokémon games! I’m a big believer that the best way to understand a game is to play it, so if you’ve never played a Pokemon game before, and you’re not sure where to start, here’re my suggestions on how to enjoy the series.

Go buy a Nintendo DS or 3DS, and a copy of HeartGold or SoulSilver, and play through that. The console will cost you between $90-120 bucks, and the game will cost you between $100 and $1200 dollars.

Gametrodon Alternate Option: If you want to avoid spending more on the game than the console, I personally recommend you pick up Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby instead, but you will need a 3DS for those ones.

As video game piracy is a very serious crime, I under no circumstances advise you to download a pirated ROM of the game, and load into something like DeSmuME or another emulator of your choice. Emulation is bad, bad, bad, and it’s your fault for wanting to play a 13 year old game whose price has skyrocketed to ridiculous levels because there’s no digital download or alternate purchase options available, you filthy consumer you.

In any case theoretical fictitious person, now that you’ve finished that playthrough, congratulations! You’ve played what is generally considered the best mainline game in the series. Every meaningful and primary mechanic that has been introduced over 25 years is present in that game. Cool!

Perhaps you don’t want to do that. Perhaps you have other things to do with your time or money. Perhaps you think trying to figure out which torrent is the game, and which one is just a 30 gig WEBM of muppets fucking while Ram Ranch blares out of your speakers is not a fun time. In that case, here’s a very brief summary of the Pokémon series.

A Very Brief Summary of the Pokémon Series

Pokémon is a 25 year old game series. In it, the player takes on the role of a child who wants to become a Pokémon trainer. Pokémon are, for lack of a better way of putting it, magic animals that can be caught in small spherical capsules called Pokeballs. The player is generally given a single starting Pokémon, but must catch all future Pokémon by battling and catching them.

Pokémon have several traits for battling, invluding their species, typing, stats, and moves. Species is the type Pokémon, i.e. Pikachu or Squirtle. Typing is an elemental affinity that gets used as part of damage calculation, both when attacking, or being attacked, like Electric or Water. Stats are also used as both part of damage calculation, and determine action order in combat. Moves are actions a Pokémon can take in combat. A Pokémon can know up to 4 moves at any point in time. Move effects can vary heavily, from simply dealing damage, to inflicting status effects, to temporarily changing stats or other features. There are a variety of other mechanical systems that can differentiate two Pokémon of the same species that might at first glance appear to be identical. They won’t be covered here.

The player can also battle other trainers’ teams of Pokémon. The battle system is one of the games’ two main systems. While it has received a variety of tweaks throughout the years that have changed the strategies and tactics available, the general base has remained the same. The player can bring up to six Pokémon into a battle, and opposing NPC’s or human players can do the same. Battles are turn based, and each round each player chooses an attack from a menu. There are several factors that can play into which attack gets executed first, but the primary one is whichever Pokémon has a higher speed stat. When an attack hits and would do damage, the amount of damage is modified by several factors including the type of the attacking Pokémon, the type of the move, and the type of defending Pokémon.

For example: fire does extra damage to grass, grass does extra damage to water, water does extra damage to fire. There are also secondary mechanics that can modify/nullify move damage, such as Pokémon abilities. When a Pokémon runs out of HP, it can no longer fight. The player’s Pokémon gain experience points for knocking out opposing Pokémon, both in trainer battles, and wild battles, and level up when they gain a certain threshold of experience points. Whichever trainer runs out of Pokémon that can still fight first is the loser. When the player loses a fight, they lose a small amount of money, and are then returned to the last Pokémon center they visited, with no other penalty.

While exploring the world, the player will end up in random encounters and can attempt to capture wild Pokémon. Doing so requires using a consumable item called a Pokeball, or one of its variants. Different variants have different success rates, but generally speaking, lowering a wild Pokémon’s HP increases the chance of the attempt being successful, and inflicting it with various status conditions can also increase the chance of success. While the player can catch a massive number of Pokémon, only 6 can be carried with them at any point.

In terms of story and game progression, the player is given a hard goal, and a soft goal. The hard goal is generally to complete a series of battles with challenging trainers, almost always called gym leaders, and the soft goal is to catch at least one of each species of Pokémon in the game. The hard goal is what dictates actual progression between areas, with the player being unable to progress past a given point without defeating a specific enemy trainer. The form of these blockcades can be both organic, i.e. defeating that trainer gives the ability to cut down a small tree, and the player’s path forward is blocked by a tree, or inorganic, such as the NPC simply refusing to let the player past until they have been defeated.

The game worlds tend to be made up of towns populated by shops, small points of interests, and the gyms mentioned above, and are separated by various paths and small dungeons. Almost all towns have a Pokémon Center, where the player can restore their Pokémon to full health, and also change out the Pokémon they’ve caught with the ones currently on their team. Almost all games in the series are fairly linear in requiring the player to move through towns and challenges in a specific order. That said, almost every area is able to be revisited later once the player gains the ability to travel quickly to or between towns via flying Pokémon at some point in the game.

After collecting all the badges from the gym leaders, the games then generally have a final challenge in the form of a harder dungeon, followed by an area called the Pokémon League—several more difficult trainers in a row. Usually once the player enters this zone, they cannot back out until they either defeat all the trainers, or lose.

After this goal is completed, the player is often given free reign to explore the map at their leisure. This portion of the game tends to be referred to as the post-game, and what it contains can vary quite heavily between individual entries in the series. Some games contain bonus continents, while others simply add a few additional dungeons, with most falling somewhere in between.

Games tend to be released in pairs, with each given pair offering basically the same story and gameplay experience, but with some minor differences as to which Pokémon are available to be caught. Many games have some form of connectivity with other games, allowing Pokémon caught in older games to be transferred to newer ones, but usually only after the player completes the post-game.

And this concludes a brief summary of the mechanics of Pokémon games. The games have plenty of other features, some of which are common to many of the games, and others that only appear in one or two. But the core elements between the games—exploring, battling, training, and catching—are present in all of them. Anyway, I’m going to finish writing the actual review of the new game now.

Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon

Super Mystery Dungeon came out 5 years ago, but I’m playing it now, so… yeah.

Ed Note: the full name for any of the games in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series tends to be Pokémon Mystery Dungeon : <Title of the Rest of the Game>. Because these titles end up being 7 words long, I’ve shortened them down to just <Title of the Rest of the Game> for this writeup.

I really like the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. This shouldn’t be confused with the Mystery Dungeon Mainline series, or any of the spinoffs. In fact, I recently tried to play one of the mainline series, which led me back to playing Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon instead, because Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate kicked my ass.

So what exactly makes up the Mystery Dungeon series, why do I like the spinoff Pok é mon games better, and am I filthy casual for jumping off the mainline series?

First off, let’s briefly talk about the Mystery Dungeon Series as a whole. It’s the name for a whole bunch of games published by Chunsoft. And because I’ve only played one game in the series that isn’t a spinoff, I’m gonna just link the Wikipedia article here. Generally speaking, though, it’s one of the few games that can be described as roguelike without annoying that magical group of people who are overly twitchy about the roguelike label being misapplied. That is to say, it’s a turn-based dungeon crawler on a grid.

So, second question. Why do I like the Pokémon spinoff games better? While this article is specifically talking about Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, I’ve played and really enjoyed Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Time. Gates to Infinity was mediocre. But it didn’t turn me off the series enough to avoid Super Mystery Dungeon when it came out. To answer why I like the spinoff games better than the mainline ones, I’m going to compare the games to what I’ve seen so far of Shiren, and list the things the Pokémon games do differently. Here’re a few of the reasons:

Wiping in a dungeon in the spinoff games doesn’t reset your level. While you do lose all your items and money, you don’t go back to level 1. This means that you can grind your way through bullshit, and a wipe doesn’t feel like a complete loss of progress.

Speaking of which, escape scrolls/escape orbs (items that let you escape the dungeon with all of your stuff if everything looks like it’s about to go to shit) actually drop in the Pokemon games, while they apparently only show up if you get rescued in a dungeon in the mainline series.

Oh, and revival seeds exist, so that when an enemy you haven’t seen before TPK’s your squad, you can actually keep playing, instead of just getting dunked on.

The fact that the game has Pokémon as the characters is a benefit, but perhaps even more importantly for me, as the games go on, you get the ability to play as almost any of them, which gives a massive pool of playable characters.

Outside of all these mechanics though, one thing I’ve always liked about Pokémon in general is the sense of exploration. There’s always been something neat and magical for me about the idea of venturing around somewhere and discovering something fantastic. And while I don’t get that feeling from the current mainline Pokémon games, it’s still present in the Mystery Dungeon spinoffs.

So now that we know why I like the Pokémon spinoffs the best, let’s talk about why I like Super Mystery Dungeon the most of the spinoffs.

While the general gameplay is the same, there are a few big changes to how teambuilding works for the post game. For starters, you recruit new team members by completing missions and adding them to your connection sphere. This is nice compared to the older games which instead required you to defeat an enemy, and then win a hidden role to recruit them. In addition to that, you then had to either complete or escape the dungeon with said team member.

Next up, treasure! Super Mystery Dungeon has treasure chests, like the games before it, but also has gold bars, a secondary currency that you keep regardless of whether you wipe or not in a dungeon. They’re just fun to get, and unlike other items, they don’t actually show up on the mini-map. Instead, they show as little sparkles that you have to walk over, and when you do, you’ll get gold bars or another useful item.

If I have a complaint about Super Mystery Dungeon, it would be that prior to the postgame, the game felt a bit slow. To be fair, I was playing it about 3 years ago. But I remember being frustrated by how slowly I learned new moves and leveled up.

So that’s the Mystery Dungeon set of games. If the idea of a cool little Pokemon dungeon crawler with a massive amount of content and postgame appeals to you, break out that 3DS, grab yourself a copy off eBay, and dive in.

Pokémon: Unite

You can skip Pokémon: Unite, unless you’re a massive sucker for anything Pokémon related. Like I am.

For me, the ultimate test of any licensed game consists of two very simple questions:

  1. Would I play this game if it didn’t have the licensed branding?

  2. Am I going to play it anyway, because I am a consumer whore?

For the best sort of licensed game, such as something like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the answer to question 1 is a solid “Yes.” This is something I can say with confidence because I’ve been playing a bunch of Shiren the Wanderer, and it kicks ass. Then we have stuff like Pokken, which is more of a “Sorta,”(but it’s not because the game is bad, just because I don’t really play fighting games).

On the flip side, we have games like Magic: Legends, which gets a solid double “No.”

And then in the middle, we have things like Disgaea: RPG, and, the actual topic of this article, Pokémon: Unite.

I am a sucker for pretty much anything Pokémon. This doesn’t mean I’m 100% “Consume Product,” but if there is something Pokémon related, and it doesn’t cost me money to try it, I probably will.

I’m not sure how long I’ll play Pokémon: Unite for. It honestly might be less than a week. The primary reason to play it over something else is that it’s on the Switch, it’s Pokémon themed… and that’s about it.

The main reason is that while the theming, sound, graphics, etc are charming, the gameplay itself is lacking any incredible moments, and the meta-progression/economy is absolute garbage. Also, I have some problems with its informational display, but at least my UI complaints are correctable.

Let’s start with the gameplay: Pokémon: Unite brings exactly one new interesting idea to the MOBA genre, and that is the victory condition/scoring. Instead of towers or ancients to destroy, there are a series of hoops. You gain score by collecting points, and then convert those points into score by channeling at these hoops. So the basic loop is: build up points by KOing wild Pokémon, go to a hoop, channel and score. It’s an interesting mechanic that leads to some neat tension. And that last sentence right there is a the nicest thing I’m gonna say about the game for the rest of this article.

Okay, this isn’t a great combat screenshot. The UI usually isn’t this busy, but it’s the one I have.

The rest of the game feels fairly standard, like a dumbed down version of Heroes of the Storm. There are a few different maps, with different layouts, but similar objectives. Your hero champion Pokémon have an auto-attack, two specials, an ultimate that takes 8 years to charge, and a summoner spell battle item. In either case, the end result is that in any fight, you have effectively two activatable moves, but I’ve yet to see a situation where it doesn’t feel like I’d want to just spam them. There’s no mana cost to discourage you from doing so, and the cooldowns for the moves are fairly short.

I can’t believe it’s not flash!

The end result is a game that feels bland, to the point that I’m bored with writing about how boring it can be. So let’s move on to the next part of the game that sucks: meta-progression.

Everything about the game’s meta-progression is garbage, and I can summarize why I hate the system in two sentences.

Unless you want to spend real money, unlocking a new character costs between 6000 and 10000 gold. The maximum amount of gold you can earn in a week from winning random battles is 2140.

Yes, you can get more gold from doing quests, and limited time events. Yes, you can get gold by leveling up your trainer level. Yes, you can get gold by finishing the tutorials, or doing some weird slot machine thing. It doesn’t matter. The core point is that the game is designed to be an absolute slog for grinding out the ability to play more characters, leveling up equipment, etc.

The game feels like a cheap mobile game, in the sense that it’s designed to make you log on to do your dailies, to build the habit of playing a few matches, and then leaving. Instead of having you come back for the gameplay, or exciting updates, you’ll come back because if you do for just a few more weeks, you can unlock a new character! Or you could just spend like $10, and get them right now!

Oh, and it has a premium currency, bonus boosters, a battle pass, and just about every other feasible way short of straight up gacha. The game even has a kinda gacha in its energy roulette system, but at least you can’t directly pay money for it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I have one last big gripe. Keywords, description, functionality and stats. Every attack in the game is something like this:

Secondary gripe: why do I have to confirm moves being upgraded when I get them? Just upgrade them! Don’t make me press buttons twice.

And then we have items in the game that look like this:


Do you see it? Or perhaps more specifically, do you not see it? “It” in this case, being any sort of useful information/way to measure the actual numbers/damage/etc that your character can do in a game? Because I sure don’t. At least this one they can probably fix, but why isn’t it there already?

Pokémon: Unite isn’t awful, but it isn’t very good. There are better games to play on the Switch, better MOBAs to play in general, and better Pokémon spinoffs. If for some reason after all this, you still want to play it, it’s Switch exclusive right now, so just go find it on the eShop.