Pokemon Unite game review (2021)

It’s a watered down MOBA with some worrisome microtransactions. But, it’s a fun one with some new ideas, entertaining gameplay, and you get to use some of your favorite Pokemon characters in a new way.

It seems 2021 is the year of Pokemon. So far, we’ve gotten New Pokemon Snap, which is an underrated gem, a number of different mobile projects, such as Pokemon Sleep and Pokemon GO still going strong, Pokemon Legends: Arceus is due next year but it was still revealed this year, and we still have Pokemon: Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl to look forward too in late 2021. The one that has caught everyone by surprise is Pokemon Unite, which is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), which is an incredibly popular gaming genre in today’s culture, mostly dominated by the likes of League of Legends and DOTA 2. It’s out now on the Nintendo Switch, but it’ll also make its way to mobile devices later this year. Being that I’ve played LoL for over 12 years (and have been horrible at it, for the record), and how big of a fan I am of Pokemon, I was instantly excited about a crossover between the genre and the series, so Pokemon Unite was something that piqued my interest. After putting a few hours into it, I’m a big fan of its potential and where it could go from here. However, it still has some work to do in order to win over the fanbase.

Let’s start with the gameplay. Honestly, it’s pretty straight forward and very easy to pick up on. The characters aren’t necessarily hard to use or learn and there’s a wide variety of them to choose from that’ll cater to the specific playstyle you want to adapt. Of course, like in every MOBA, this may vary since some may be more difficult than others. Then again, I believe decision-making while in game also plays a crucial factor since you also have to worry about positioning, when to attack opposing players, how the map works, and so on. Simply knowing how a character works doesn’t always guarantee a winning result. Despite all of this, from my experience so far (haven’t delved all that much into the ranked mode just yet), from a gameplay perspective, I think it’s one anybody can pick up on and have fun with while also delivering the competitive experience.

There are a few maps to choose from and the main objective is scoring goals in the enemy team’s opposing capture points. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins the game. Other than that, there are many other side objectives to complete on the map, such as taking out other AI wild Pokemon (similar to wolves or wraiths if you’ve played LoL) to get some Poke Balls to score, taking out more formidable Pokemon that randomly appear in the middle or bottom of the map (similar to Dragons or Baron Buffs if you’ve played LoL), and fighting against other Pokemon players on the other team. It’s a pretty simple concept to grasp and easy to understand once you put more time into it. In reality, it’s the same kind of thing you see in any other MOBA, but I believe other games make it a bit more complicated with everything else going on while you’re playing, such as different builds and items for the characters you can buy as you play, which makes your character stronger as you level up through the match. Pokemon Unite still has this, but it’s more of an item you place on the character prior to the game even starting. It’s a bit different and a watered down version of other MOBA’s, but it’s still very much a MOBA.

Each Pokemon has a different trait as well. For example, one of my favorites, and probably the most popular choice for most players, is Pikachu. Pikachu is known as an Attacker. Attackers have low endurance, but they specialize in dealing a lot of damage at range. Another Attacker I’ve used is Cinderance, but it’s not as strong as Pikachu. I guess you can compare them to ADC’s and MID champions (LoL), which mostly focus on dealing the most damage on the team. I’ve also used Machamp, who’s an All-Rounder. Machamp is the kind of character who can do it, such as attack from close range, has some abilities where it can maintain distance and still do damage, and it can act as a partial tank character as well and take some punishment so those on the other team can get away. As you can see, there are many to choose from and, again, according to how you want to play the game, you choose the role that fits best.

As mentioned, the game has plenty of potential, but I’m definitely a bit disappointed with the microtransactions, and I’m ont alone in feeling this way. You can obviously grind it out and unlock the in-game currency, Aeos Coins or Aeos Gems, so you can buy new Pokemon Licenses and play new Pokemon characters. Or, you can use the extremely controversial pay-to-win model buy simply buying them. It’s very annoying, since you can also buy strong items to place on the characters as well, giving you a clear advantage over those who don’t do it. I have no problem with buying characters or cosmetics items, but I don’t think a player should be able to buy powerful upgrades to these characters and have an advantage in-game. This has been a controversial subject in the gaming realm for years now and companies still continue to adopt this feature. It needs to stop.

I think the multiplayer aspect can use some work as well. Nintendo still seems to be lagging behind when it comes to online play. The friend system is still pretty tedious and the lack of voice chat in-game is a glaring issue. I don’t want to have to open up an app on my phone to voice chat with my friends. Why can’t it go the Fortnite route and just have in-game voice chat? I wouldn’t be opposed to a party system either. But alas, Nintendo seems to love being the odd one out. I don’t think it hurts to add such a simple and practical feature that’ll benefit the players. It’s all about the quality of life and this would add to that.

Frequent updates and additional content should be in the works as well. Without all of this, I don’t think it’ll have a lasting player base. Yes, it’s free-to-play, but most MOBA’s are, and some already do things much better. Pokemon Unite needs to do all of this and continue doing the other things that’ll make it set itself apart from the rest in order to have longevity and be successful.

All the minor issues of Pokemon Unite have absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay, but more to do with everything else. The microtransactions are a big issue and should be removed all together. Let players buy all the skins and cosmetic items they want, but players shouldn’t be given an option to be better by paying for it. Practical online features also need to be introduced. For example, a voice chat, a more user-friendly friends system, and so on. Lastly, keep the content coming. New maps, new modes, and new characters. There’s no excuse for new characters since there are so many Pokemon to choose from. Aside from all of that, I’m having a lot of fun playing it so early on and I can see myself sticking with it for the long haul if TiMi Studio Group does things right.

Score: B-

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