Pokémon Unite review: Not quite a slam dunk for Switch owners
“While Pokémon Unite’s core gameplay is fun, strange design choices and a convoluted microtransaction system complicates a simple MOBA.”
- Unique scoring system
- Satisfying combat
- Mostly well-balanced
- Easy to pick up and play
- Limited communication
- Oppressive microtransactions
- Frame rate and lag issues
- Lack of gameplay depth
Pokémon is a franchise that’s centered around journeys. Every time you crack open a case or download a new title, you know that you’re in for an adventure that will take you somewhere new in the ever-expanding world of Pikachu, Charizard, and friends. In my time as a Pokémon Trainer, I’ve traversed the land of turn-based RPGs, navigated the AR landscape, and even traveled to the depths of the roguelike realm, but I never thought I’d find myself at the base of Mt. MOBA.
Yes, Pokémon Unite is, first and foremost, a multiplayer online battle arena similar to the likes of League of Legends and Dota 2. It’s much more approachable than those famously obtuse games, though: Unite is a fun, easy-to-learn spin on the usual Pokémon formula that gives players new experiences with their favorite pocket monsters.
Pokémon Unite launched on July 21 on Nintendo Switch. It’s coming to mobile devices sometime in September, though Nintendo and developer TiMi Studio Group (a subsidiary of Tencent) have yet to announce a specific date. The game is free to start and features a variety of real-money microtransactions. Though spinoffs are nothing new to the franchise, Unite is the most recent in a long line of Pokémon mobile games that have aimed to take the franchise in new directions.
On the whole, Pokémon Unite is an approachable, if unexceptional, MOBA. The gameplay is fun and the design choices are original, but it often feels like a Pokémon-skinned MOBA rather than a true Pokémon game. Focusing on the pick-up-and-play factor means that it lacks the depth of other MOBAs and the Pokémon RPGs. The game’s mobile-centric design lends itself to a number of performance issues and suspiciously pay-to-win mechanics. Underneath all this junk, though, Unite isn’t a bad game. It just needs to shed a few layers.
A battle for the ages
Unite takes place on Aeos Island, where Professor Phorus and her assistant Erbie teach players the ropes. The island hosts Unite Battles, where Trainers gain points by having their Pokémon collect Aeos energy and scoring goals in their opponent’s goal zones. Teams of Pokémon face off against each other in 5v5 battles, with each Trainer controlling one Pokémon. The team that scores the most points before time runs out wins.
It’s a refreshingly simple experience, one that makes it so that battles never drag on for too long and losing teams always have a chance to come back….