Right off the bat, Pokemon Unite is a roaring success.
Pokémon has been adapted into a variety of video game genres, but I think it’s safe to say that only a few of them were big hits. Of course, there are the classic turn-based RPGs. Snap is a photo simulation game and Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game.
These aren’t just successes; they’re also outstanding titles in most cases – but for every game like this, there’s another one that’s good – puzzles, fighting games, and a bunch of mobile cash cows. To be honest, I assumed Unite would be similar to this – a fantastic idea that would make for a decent, if somewhat tepid, spin-off. It’s not quite a Pokemon game, and it’s not quite a MOBA, but it’s a boring mix of the two.
But guess what? Pokemon Unite could be another classic franchise moment. It is possibly the most significant Pokémon game since Go.
The concept behind Unite isn’t exactly a stroke of brilliance. In fact, it goes without saying: games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 are very popular, so why not adapt them with some of the most popular characters in games? These games require a diverse roster of characters with extremely distinct and exciting powers, which Pokemon provides in abundance. It’s just natural.
However, this is no guarantee of success. The MOBA genre is complex, often confusing and difficult for beginners to understand. A franchise like Pokemon should appeal to a large number of newcomers as well as younger or casual gamers, and the game should be playable on touchscreen devices. On all these counts, Unite comes out on top.
Clever design extends to areas where it deviates from the usual structure of the genre. A thematic distinction is that instead of destroying your opponent’s base, you are primarily concerned with gaining points. The overall effect is the same if you have a points overflow, but the sheer numbers you’ll need to put into the meta to advance are inherently easier to understand. This is consistent with the game’s setting in the Pokémon universe, where Unite is a popular sporting event in some distant location. One of the best tweaks is a strict ten-minute time limit, which prevents fights from dragging on or turning into a stalemate. In fact, fights are fast-paced and intense, often ending long before time runs out.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe how well Pokémon fits into this genre. Of course, the many non-playable creatures you can encounter and fight on the map to gain the upper hand are just wild Pokemon, with more powerful variations appearing as the contest progresses. That’s exactly right. The thrill of seeing a Pokémon evolve into its next form in the heat of battle feels entirely natural to the series, and the power increase as your character levels up and gains more power over the course of a match feels completely natural for the genre. .
This is all about the overall vibe of the game, but it’s also a lot of fun to play. I’ve always been able to appreciate the challenge and fun in the delicate ballet of chaos that is MOBA action – it speaks to my RTS-loving personality on some level – but I’ve always struggled to really get into and enjoy the genre as a player. . Unite, on the other hand, is pretty streamlined, with details in all the right places to make it eminently accessible.
TiMi, the game’s co-developer, knows what she’s doing and has a proven track record of generating great mobile games. This means that Unite has extremely aggressive marketing, which is certainly the game’s worst flaw. It’s not entirely pay-to-win — most of it is cosmetic, and there are plenty of opportunities to earn enough currency to get free items — but it’s always hanging in front of you, ready for you to open your wallet.
Some of it has a nefarious undertone, like how you can unlock outfits for Pokemon you don’t own, enticing you to spend money to acquire that Pokemon so you can wear the outfit. You just know that psychologists are working on it, figuring out the best methods to ‘encourage’ – that is, persuade – consumers to spend more. It makes me nauseous, as does some of Niantic’s ridiculous monetizations in Pokemon Go. That’s not ideal. However, the main game is free to play and will be available for mobile devices soon, with cross-platform progression.
I can see how dangerous this can be, given how simple it is to get into a quick game. I can imagine myself playing on the couch, using the Switch’s handheld mode, while watching junk TV. I think I’ll play on my cell phone. In ranked modes, I can see myself getting competitive. I can see myself spending money in the future. There is danger! There is danger!
…but the game is nice. There’s a lot to like about it. And that’s exactly what happened to me with Pokemon Go and Genshin Impact, two other well-designed free-to-play games with smart but not overly aggressive monetization. Is it possible that Pokemon did it again? I would venture to guess that The Pokemon Company has another mobile revenue leader on its hands. After all, the most obvious ideas are not always the best.