Pokémon Unite Review | An Accessible MOBA That’s Fun for All

Multiplayer online battle arena games have become a staple of strategy titles over the years with League of Legends and Dota 2 being the two biggest names in the subgenre. However, from the outside looking in, MOBAs can be quite intimidating with matches that can last an hour or more, complicated minutia, and tutorials full of unique jargon. Thanks to a cast of familiar faces, a simplified design, and a friendly atmosphere, The Pokémon Company’s Pokémon Unite is the best way to dip your toes into playing MOBAs.

Those that have played a few matches of SMITE or watched streams of MOBAs in the past will instantly recognize that Pokémon Unite has streamlined the experience. For one, there’s no longer the traditional three lanes for the map, with the main map featuring just two lanes and a sizeable area in the middle filled with NPCs to take out to earn points. The end goal here is still the same as teams of five pocket monsters attempt to get to the opponent’s zones to score goals that eventually destroy the zone and open up more opportunities.

While the core gameplay is simplified, and there’s not nearly as much time spent in shops and thinking about upgrade paths as in other MOBAs; it stays snappy by giving all ranked and regular matches a 10-minute time limit. There’s no need to wait until the enemy’s final zone is destroyed (in fact, you can’t destroy it here as it just gives you double points instead), and even one-sided matches don’t last long enough to become aggravating. For a genre that has been built around being a timesink, it’s refreshing to see a MOBA that is quick while retaining a solid amount of depth.

Some of this depth comes from special NPC Pokémon that pop up occasionally in pre-determined locations, such as Zapdos and Rotom. Defeating Rotom at the top will get the electric/ghost-type to go to the nearest zone doing damage and lessen the amount of time it takes for your team to dunk there. Meanwhile, taking out the legendary lightning bird Zapdos in the middle of the map is a tough battle but can change an entire match’s outcome as it will give the team that defeats it 110 points and their opponent’s zones will be temporarily defenseless. I’ve had several matches come down to a key Zapdos battle, which is tense as sometimes the opposing team can steal the kill by getting the killing blow after you’ve done most of the work.

Another area of strategy comes from picking what moves your Pokémon gets as you level up, which can lead to some different builds players will need to anticipate.

Pokemon Unite review

One of the coolest spins on the genre is Pokémon Unite‘s quick battles. These rotate through three different maps that range from three-on-three battles to four-on-four. There’s a simplified version of the main stadium, a cool town to fight in, and a more grassy area that gets rid of team zones and is more of a wild free-for-all. Each of these quick battles runs just five minutes and players level up very quickly as a result to unlock their full range of attacks. It’s a fantastic way to play and the alternating maps each bring something unique to the table to keep it from getting stale.

Characters are unlocked pretty quickly using in-game currency — at least for MOBA standards — and there’s a good combination of fan-favorite Pokémon to choose from (Gengar, Pikachu, Charizard, Greninja) and some more inspired choices (Eldegoss and Cramorant). There’s also a good range of playstyles from support types and the pocket monster’s individual skill sets lend themselves nicely to the genre as Gastly’s lick attack brings foes in and Pikachu can strike from afar with thunder. There are also plenty of costumes (both for Pokémon and your avatar) to spend virtual and real currency on, plus a battle pass to unlock more goodies, but this is far from a free-to-play game that forces you to spend money in order to be competitive.

One of Pokémon Unite‘s strongest attributes is how it is designed to always give players ways to make progress. Whether it’s their trainer level going up, finishing daily missions, or unlocking more energy to make a gacha-style spin, there’s always something to do beyond just playing the game. There are also items to upgrade, which gives your character small bonuses (such as recharging HP outside of battle at a slightly higher rate), so you can begin fleshing out your desired playstyle over time. While some might worry about this being tied into microtransactions, the leveling seems pretty limited so far and I’ve never run into players that seemed unstoppable due to their held items.

Unite is also not toxic as PC MOBAs. AI fights and a great tutorial helps walk new players through the basics, and even if you are terrible in a match, the limited chat methods mean that nobody will be hurling death threats to you. It’s in these circumstances that the limitations of Nintendo Switch Online become a positive and it makes for a more enjoyable online session.

Thanks to a familiar cast of characters, a great tutorial, and just enough depth to keep even more experienced MOBA players entertained, Pokémon Unite is a great blend of MOBA action that is accessible to new players and fun for veterans that don’t want to spend an hour on a match. Being free is also a big boon as anyone can jump in and play with their friends without any big, costly barriers. It’s already one of the Nintendo Switch’s best multiplayer games here during its infancy and will only get better with additional content to come.

SCORE: 8/10

As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the game succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.

Disclosure: The reviewer downloaded a free copy of the game for our Pokémon Unite review.

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