Pokémon Unite: Breaking New Ground for the Series

by Zachary Barry

   It seems like a safe bet that the majority of students attending this school went through a phase at some time or another when they were fans of the Pokémon series. Pokémon was ubiquitous with growing up in the late ninety’s and the early two thousands and has continued to celebrate success to this day. With this year being the 25th anniversary of the series and the surge in trading card sales brought on by the pandemic, Pokémon seems to be everywhere again. The familiar characters can be found in your pantry on new Pokémon Oreos or in several mobile apps on the smartphone in your pocket. The Pokémon IP has appeared in several mobile spinoff games in recent years, and the most recent addition to this line up released on September 22nd.

   Pokémon Unite was just released on the IOS and Android App stores, with more than 7.5 million people preregistering for the game before its release. A console version of Pokémon Unite has been available on the Nintendo Switch since early July. The Switch version just recently reached 9 million downloads, creating a rather large player base. All three platforms support save data transfer, and the ability for players on all devices to participate in online matches together. This feature makes Unite the first game in the Pokémon series to include cross-play. On all three platforms, Unite is a free-to-play game with a download size of around 1.5 GBs. As of the time of writing this, Unite has overwhelmingly positive reviews on both the IOS and Android App stores.

   Unite, like other mobile spinoffs, is very different from the main series of Pokémon games. Instead of building a team of six Pokémon and aiming to be the very best in turn-based combat, Unite is a multiplayer online battle arena(MOBA). Some examples of other popular MOBAs are League of Legends, Heros of the Storm, and Valorant. MOBAs are typically played by 2 teams of 5. These teams compete to accomplish tasks, typically destroying the other team’s bases, in a map split into multiple corridors, lanes, connected by several linking pathways containing computer-controlled opponents, the jungle. At the time of writing this, Unite’s roster of playable characters is only 20, with 2 more announced to join the game soon. Compared to the more than 140 playable characters in League of Legends, this small roster of playable characters makes many matches feel similar.

   Pokémon Unite does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to MOBAs. It does introduce a few changes that a veteran of other games in the genre may find interesting. First of all, instead of having three lanes and the jungle, Unite’s map only contains two lanes and the jungle. This means teams of 5 players should split up such that two players focus on each lane and the 5th player focuses on the jungle. If one lane only ends up with one competent player due to a teammate disconnecting or wandering off, it can be pretty miserable to try to protect your teams’ bases when outnumbered. The biggest difference between Unite and most other MOBAs is the end goal. Instead of lasting until the primary base of one team is destroyed, matches in Unite last until ten minutes have passed. After these ten minutes are up, the winner is decided based on the number of points scored on the opposing team’s bases. This prevents evenly matched teams from dragging matches out past the thirty-minute mark. As a result, Unite is more accessible for new players.

   Having played Unite on both the Nintendo Switch and Android, I can personally say I prefer the mobile version over the console version. The shorter ten-minute matches feel more like a mobile game that you’ll play in half an hour increments than a game that makes it worth it to set up a console and sit down to play for hours at a time. I’ve genuinely had a good time being able to play a couple of rounds over my lunch break on campus or to get to play a match with a friend after a tough exam. I’d recommend it to anyone who knows that they are a fan of MOBAs or to people familiar with the Pokémon IP who are looking for a way to kill a couple of hours. The one thing that I would caution players on is that, unlike many other online multiple players games that have had years to get the balance right, Unite still has character balance issues that can make matches feel unfair at times. That being said, at the end of the day, it is still a Pokémon game that is aimed at a more casual demographic, and if you stick to the unranked matches, I think Unite is more than worth the time to give it a try.

   Here is a quick description of some of my favorite Pokémon in Unite

   Alolan Ninetales: A ranged special attacker, Alolan Ninetales is my go-to Pokémon. With both strong attacks and the ability to freeze the opponent’s Pokémon in place, which opens up the chance for both you and your teammates to get a few free hits in, Ninetales does a lot of damage without requiring a deep understanding of all the games mechanics. Additionally, since the ability to play Ninetales is given to you for free pretty early in the game, I’d recommend everyone who picks up Unite try it out at least once or twice.

   Crustle: Crustle’s high defensive stats and health make it a good defender capable of taking hits while covering for allies. Towards the end of the match, players can choose to select an ability for Crustle that temporarily exchanges some of its defense for attack and speed. The versatility of this move is what makes Crustle my second favorite Pokémon in the game, as it allows Crustle to cross the map in a very short time and help finish off opponent’s Pokémon when their health is low.

   Blissey: I tend to enjoy playing the support role in MOBAs, and Blissey is my favorite support Pokémon in Unite. Blissey focuses on healing and granting buffs to ally Pokémon, which can go a long way to help an already good teammate perform better. Unfortunately, I don’t end up playing Blissey all that much. Support characters, in general, require good cooperation with the teammate you are sharing a lane with, and in random online matches, communication is pretty limited. That being said, when I am playing locally with another friend with who I can communicate instantly, Blissey can be a great pick.

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