Pokémon Unite just might be the second coming of Red and Blue, but there’s a catch.
Before Pokémon, turn-based role-playing games were still a niche genre in North America. Thanks to the series’ easy-to-digest game mechanics, cute monster designs, and a strong marketing campaign, Pokémon Red and Blue found mainstream popularity in the west and paved the way for countless other RPGs.
MOBA (“multiplayer online battle arena”) games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 draw millions of players worldwide but are nonetheless daunting and confusing for newcomers. Pokémon Unite strips back the genre’s complexity and features recognizable characters, making it approachable for MOBA veterans and newcomers alike.
It’s hooked me in a way that League of Legends or DOTA 2 never did. The catch? Pokémon Unite features some fairly blatant microtransactions, and their presence will likely only worsen over time. Still, Pokémon Unite is a fantastic option for your first MOBA, and you can still have a lot of fun without spending anything.
Like No One Ever Was!
Pokémon Unite boils the MOBA genre down to its basic elements: Two teams fight each other on a large map. There are two lanes on each side and a central area. By defeating enemies or AI-controlled Pokémon on the map, players collect Aoes energy. Players must then get to one of the opposing teams’ five goals and deposit the energy without getting hit. The team with the most points at the end of 10 minutes wins.
Most MOBAs work like this, but Pokémon Unite simplifies things with smaller maps and shorter matches. This means you’ll always have a clear idea of what you need to be doing. By defeating opponents and wild Pokémon scattered across the map, players can level up. Doing so will unlock new moves for your Pokémon and even cause some of them to evolve.
20 Pokémon in the game are split between five different battle types: Attacker, Defender, Speedster, Supporter, or All-Arounder. Attackers and Speedsters can deal a lot of damage. Defenders like Snorlax and Supporters like Eldegoss are there to hold the line against your opponents.
I’m drawn to the strength and aggressive play from Pokémon like Pikachu, Alolan Ninetales, and Cramorant, but I’ve seen every Pokémon used fairly frequently across dozens of matches. That’s a good indication of balance across the available monsters.
What’s more, you don’t need to know any complicated type matchups or viability in the RPGs to get the hang of how these creatures work in Pokémon Unite. Even if someone (somehow) didn’t know what Pokémon is, they could still jump into and enjoy this MOBA. The same goes for those who love Pokémon and have never tried a MOBA.
Paying to Be the Very Best
Despite these strengths, the game’s predatory monetization practices are cause for concern. Several hours into Pokémon Unite, you won’t feel pressured to spend money. But the specter of microtransactions looms over the whole experience and will likely worsen as we get further out from launch.
That’s because Pokémon Unite is full of progression systems, a battle pass, customization options for your trainer and Pokémon, and items to purchase. You’ll earn currency in-game that you can use for all of the above at a very slow rate. It’ll take hours of grinding — or you can just punch in your credit card information for the instant gratification.
Sadly, some held items that you can equip Pokémon with for a boost can be purchased with real money. Before playing, try out the game’s practice mode and figure out which battle type you prefer. It’s best to pick a class and stick with it, as none of them has more than five Pokemon.
Once the game is several months old and there are more Pokémon and items and a higher competitive ceiling, microtransactions might become a necessary evil to stay competitive. Still, curious minds should still get hours of fun out of Pokémon Unite without spending any money.
Pokémon Unite is the perfect introduction to the free-to-play MOBA scene, warts and all. And as this MOBA is in its early stages, you actually have the chance to live up to the Pokémon theme song and be the very best ... like no one ever was.
Pokémon Unite is available now for Nintendo Switch.