For me, the ultimate test of any licensed game consists of two very simple questions:
- Would I play this game if it didn’t have the licensed branding?
- 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.
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.
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:
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.