Pokemon Unite

Friendly reminder: the year is 2021, not 2012. MOBAs like Dota 2, League of Legends, and (sigh) Heroes of Newerth do not rule the gaming world anymore. Yet Nintendo, in typical Nintendo fashion, arrived late to this particular online gaming scene and released Pokémon UNITE, their free-to-play MOBA featuring various Pokémon characters, in the year of our lord 2021. This is a game that was met with eye-rolling and was supposed to be dismissed upon release. 

So why am I having so much fun playing it?

For starters, the game is incredibly simple. Matches last ten minutes and not a second more. There’s no heavy time investment needed, and you won’t be wondering if you’ll have the ability to finish a game you start. That means it’s really easy to fall into the “one more game” trap like my friends and I do. Yet despite its simplicity, there’s plenty of strategy beyond character roles. You have to know when to gank enemies, when to farm creeps, when to be aggressive, and when to play defensively.

The game’s biggest hook is its scoring system. Instead of simply pushing to destroy the enemy base, killing creeps/enemies will give you balls that will be, for lack of better term, “slam-dunked” into the enemy’s goals. Said goals don’t attack you when nearby, which means if you’re smart, you can aggressively push your opponents away from their goal. Even so, you have to be mindful of the fact that they get some minor buffs and you’ll be slowed as well.

Pokemon Unite

This scoring system opens up some interesting strategic decisions: Do you push to score points needed to win the game? Do you chase the enemy behind the lines, knowing a tower isn’t going to destroy you? Do you give up points at a goal in one lane to push another? Do you just farm and gain levels to ensure you can survive to late-game? All of these questions need to be answered in a short amount of time, because those ten minutes fly by.

But it’s that last question in particular that’s important: at the eight-minute mark, Zapdos spawns in the center of the arena. Killing him allows the successful team to instantly score a goal (normally it’s a channeled ability) and gain a large amount of points very quickly. It’s a pretty game-changing scenario; imagine Dota 2’s Roshan, but on steroids. 

Now, I do need to talk about the bad: This is a free-to-play game made in conjunction with Tencent. It’s not 100% pay-to-win, but you do get an advantage by dumping hundreds of dollars into your upgrades. This might not be the “I win blindfolded” kind of upgrade — you still have to play smart — but it’s noticeable. I’ve often felt like I’ve been playing against people who dumped money into the game, and this can absolutely snowball out of control. It’s important to remember, though, that this isn’t the only game in the genre that’s exhibited these systems. 

But all that said, Pokémon UNITE is far and away the most pick-up-and-play MOBA experience out there, even more so than the All Random All Mid game mode in other games. There’s very little, if any, downtime in these games. I’m not waiting 15-20 minutes for our carries to hard-farm before making an appearance anywhere near team times. I don’t waste an hour-plus of my life to lose an absolute blowout of a game where I’m stuck because a troll on my team isn’t conceding. What I am doing, however, is thinking on my feet in terms of where to attack, where to farm, and where to score points. Every second in Pokémon UNITE is valuable. Even with Zapdos able to turn the tides of almost every game, it’s important to not waste a single second in the early- and mid-game. 

Because of this, Pokémon UNITE has been the most fun I’ve had with a MOBA in a decade. The games are fast-paced, there’s a surprising amount of depth to be found in the game’s strategy, and it’s easy to jump in and out at my own leisure. Yes, there is a pay-to-win element to the game, but as I climb up the ranked ladder, it hasn’t held me back as much as the game’s incredibly vague balancing patch notes.

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