Earlier this week, Pokémon UNITE released on the App Store, bringing the formerly Switch-exclusive MOBA to mobile devices. We dove in to check it out, and have some key takeaways you might want to know before deciding to pick it up yourself. Read on below, or feel free to just scrub through our comprehensive overview video above.
What it is, and what it isn't
As a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), Pokémon UNITE is a multiplayer-focused game where teams of five players compete to score points across a map. It stays true to the roots of the genre through its gameplay focus on teamwork and objective-taking, but it changes its rules and streamlines a lot of the more complicated features of classic MOBAs like League of Legends.
Since it features Pokémon, this means having real-time Pokémon battles, though these monsters don't behave quite the way they do in their traditional series. There is no focus on elemental strengths and weaknesses in Pokémon UNITE, and instead the strategy and tactics of teambuilding boil down to having a well-rounded team of Pokémon playing specific roles and covering certain areas of the map.
Finally, the MOBA rules present in Pokémon UNITE make matches feel more like a sports game than a territory control game, as each team can score points by depositing energy they gather into opposing team hoops. Players can also defend their own hoops and block scoring attempts from enemies, and the whole thing is timed to see who can score the most points in 5- or 10-minute match modes. There is still plenty of teamfighting and skirmishing over objectives, but the core focus is on scoring and defending against opposing scores.
Gotta catch em' all
Traditional Pokémon games are about collecting and training up your own personal army of monsters to mix-and-match for battles against trainers doing the same. Pokémon UNITE isn't like this at all, since each player chooses one Pokémon to play as for an entire match. That said, there is still a collection aspect to the game, as you only start with a few select monsters to play as, and you can expand that pool by grinding out currency to unlock access to them.
As a free-to-play game, Pokémon UNITE also lets you buy in-game currency to accelerate the rate at which you collect Pokémon. There are also plenty of cosmetics for your trainer and individual Pokémon to purchase so you can play matches in style. Fortunately, there are no gacha mechanics tied to these unlocks, so you can spend or save to buy the exact things that you want.
How newbie friendly is it?
MOBAs are traditionally hardcore games that require a lot of practice and even study to begin playing proficiently. You might also want to do this to climb the ranks in Pokémon UNITE's ranked mode, but is by no means necessary if you want to simply hop in and play casually.
Roles are more loosely defined in this game, and there's only a couple ways to customize your Pokémon. This "flattening" of the gameplay might put off hardcore MOBA vets, but it prevents anyone approaching the genre for the first time from being overwhelmed. It also helps that Pokémon UNITE seems to have attracted a pretty casual and easygoing fanbase already, so there's no apparent issues of toxicity that will chase off anyone wanting to give the game a shot.
Of course, there are venues in the game built for players to test their skills to the limit, so there is room for anyone who does want to compete in Ranked mode to do so.
We'll be sure to keep putting time into Pokémon UNITE, and will likely post a review. For now it's safe to say it gives off a positive and approachable first impression, so feel free to give it a shot, particularly if you are into Pokémon or want a casual MOBA-like experience.