Coming as quite the surprise to its franchise, TiMi Studios‘ Pokémon Unite provides an accessible competitive MOBA for Nintendo Switch, with easy-to-understand objectives and an addictive gameplay loop. However, there are some unfortunate issues with its character balancing. Some Pokémon are evidently more powerful than others, which in turn can make some matches especially frustrating. Microtransactions can have a concerning effect on gameplay as well.
The primary objective of Pokémon Unite is to defeat wild and enemy Pokémon to score points. You achieve this by reaching your opponents’ goal posts on the other side of the map, but obviously your enemies are striving for the same thing. This simple premise provides an addictive gameplay loop that has kept me occupied every day for the past week. Working together as a team is extremely satisfying, and I’ve enjoyed playing it online with my friends. Queueing solo isn’t ideal, as Pokemon Unite is best played with a full team of five and voice chat.
The game has a few modes, including Quick, Standard, and the highly competitive Ranked mode. Each mode is what it sounds like, with Quick matches lasting only five minutes.
There are other mechanics in place that boost your chances of winning, such as Rotom making an individual goal post defenseless, allowing you to score double points. In the same way, Zapdos can be defeated near the end of a match, which makes all enemy goal posts defenseless. At the time of writing, defeating Zapdos feels like the “make-or-break” moment in Pokémon Unite. As a result, this often makes the previous eight minutes of a match feel meaningless, especially if your team isn’t working together properly. Right now, strategy and management surrounding Zapdos has too much say in whether or not your team is victorious. Meanwhile, other Pokémon such as Drednaw and Bouffalant introduce worthwhile buffs that don’t feel overpowered and that can be easily counteracted with the right setup.
There are a variety of playable Pokémon to choose from in Pokémon Unite, each with their own roles and spanning all eight generations of the franchise. Just like with most spin-offs, there is an obvious level of favoritism directed towards the first generation. However, developer TiMi Studios has promised that more Pokémon will be arriving in the future. Gardevoir was released a mere week after launch, and Blastoise is scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks. That being said, the roster itself is quite varied and each Pokémon has a unique play style. You’ll likely find a favorite soon enough, and my go-to choice in Pokémon Unite is Cinderace, as I enjoy playing ranged attackers.
However, Pokémon Unite is extremely unbalanced. Zeraora and Gengar in particular are frustrating to play against. The former is currently available for free, meaning that from the very beginning, everyone has access to one of the most powerful Pokémon in the game. There is always at least one Zeraora in a match, with virtually the entire player base selecting Discharge as one of its moves. This particular setup is absolutely terrifying, as Discharge creates a constant electrical field that damages nearby opponents. Most of the time, Zeraora can easily take on two enemies at the same time and maybe even more when its Unite move is unlocked.
Gengar, on the other hand, can steamroll enemies even if they are healing inside their goal posts with the overpowered combo of Sludge Bomb and Hex. Obviously, Sludge Bomb is a ranged attack that deals poisonous damage if a Pokémon finds itself trapped inside the area of effect. Meanwhile, Hex allows Gengar to instantly disappear and then reappear at a particular location, dealing damage to nearby Pokémon and dealing extra damage to poisoned Pokémon. Hex will also receive a reduced cooldown if these conditions are met, and the combination just feels too effective right now.
The microtransactions also need to be reworked to feel more balanced. Pokémon Unite features five main types of currency. There are Aeos Coins that can be used to unlock new Pokémon, Aeos and Fashion Tickets to purchase new clothes for your trainer, Holowear Tickets to unlock new costumes for your Pokémon, and Gems that are obtained via microtransactions. Gems can be used for pretty much anything in Pokémon Unite, with the main appeal being the ability to unlock the game’s battle pass. However, you can purchase battle pass tiers to advance through it quicker, which is problematic due to the game’s held item upgrade system.
As you level up your trainer, you will unlock the ability to equip your Pokémon with up to three held items and one battle item. The latter is a fine enough addition, as they remain static and cannot be upgraded. However, the held items can be upgraded using Item Enhancers, which can easily be obtained through the battle pass. This unfortunately means that Pokémon Unite features what can be described as “pay-to-win” elements, giving players who buy their way through the battle pass an unfair advantage. The Pokémon Company and TiMi Studios need to address this, as it can be off-putting for a lot of players and potentially detrimental to the game’s growth.
In short, Pokémon Unite features simple objectives that can easily become addictive. There is a variety of playable Pokémon to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Although the core gameplay is absolutely fantastic, the character balancing, stage elements, and microtransactions need to be reworked. Nevertheless, Pokémon Unite is worth downloading for those of you who are after a fun competitive game on Nintendo Switch. The mobile version is scheduled to launch sometime in September, and Zeraora (despite being overpowered) is available for free until the end of next month.