App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Pokémon has been experiencing quite the resurgence since the release of Pokémon GO last year. Pokémon Duel's release timing seems aimed at capitalizing on this trend by taking the concepts of the popular Pokémon Trading Figure Game, injecting it with some gacha mechanics, and putting it on the App Store. While it has its fair share of problems and likely won't be as popular as Pokémon GO, there are things about it that make it feel much more game-like and much more reminiscent of Pokémon than GO ever was.
Board game dueling
The first thing worth noting about Pokémon Duel is that it is a board game. Players face off in one-on-one duels by building teams of six Pokémon figurines that they then have to strategically place and move about the game board. The goal of every match is to get one of your Pokémon to a goal space on your opponent's side of the board while fending them off from doing the same thing to you.
Between your individual Pokémon's skills, “Plate” cards that you can use to give yourself a leg up, and the strategic elements of piece placement on the board, there's actually quite a bit of strategy in Duel that feels reminiscent of Pokémon. Even though direct encounters between monsters have somewhat randomized outcomes, there are plenty of other considerations at play that makes online dueling feel like more than a bunch of dice rolls.
Train your monsters
When not actively battling in Duel, there's quite a few ways to spend your time in game. There are, of course, a lot of free-to-play systems to engage with (more on that later), but there are also a surprising amount of robust training missions that can help new players earn some initial rewards prior to online battling or give those that are not interested in multiplayer a set of levels to play.
Aside from simply beating an AI opponent, these matches also serve to teach you key concepts and strategies of the game by giving you challenges that–upon completion–can grant currency and even new Pokémon. It's a really nice onboarding system that more games of this type should really look to implement.
Gacha catch 'em all
For all of Duel's qualities that make it a conceptually solid strategy experience, there are about ten times as many things about the game that make it a pretty miserable experience. Most of this can be laid at the feet of the game's UI, which is sloppy, unresponsive, and sometimes downright broken. This makes things like trying to get into games or even just looking at your Pokémon collection a huge, frustrating ordeal.
Even when you manage to get the menu system to work for you, a lot of Duel's out-of-match experience is fraught with poorly explained free-to-play mechanics. Most of it boils down to earning enough currency to open blind boxes, which can contain Pokémon you want to use or feed to your other Pokémon to level them up. Chances are, if you played a gacha-style game in the past, this sounds really straightforward, but thanks to the game's ridiculously bad menu system and some other general weirdness, Duel's free-to-play structure is remarkably difficult to parse and navigate.
The bottom line
When you're actively in a match of Pokémon Duel, it's a solidly strategic board game that effectively evokes Pokémon. Unfortunately, there's a boatload of garbage you have to sift through every time you want to get to this part of the game. In its current state, this trade-off is hardly worth it, but I can easily see an update or two cleaning up a lot of the rough edges to make Pokémon Duel not only more playable, but a pretty great experience in general.