Pokémon Unite Is As Simple And Approachable As A MOBA Gets

Just a bunch of Pokémon dunking on each other and having fun

Pikachu dunks a glowing yellow orb into a hoop in Pokémon Unite.
Slam it home, Pikachu!
Screenshot: The Pokémon Company

Do not be daunted by the upcoming PokéMOBA, my friends. Though Pokémon Unite shares some of the basic concepts of multiplayer battle games like DOTA and League of Legends, it’s nowhere near as complex. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about Pokémon type differences. Just pick a partner and go to town.

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Though I missed out on the test for the mobile version of Pokémon Unite, due out this September, I managed to play several rounds of the recent Japan-only network test for the Switch version, which comes out next month. Though my knowledge of Japanese involves calling my ten-year-old son in from the other room and having him translate, I was easily able to navigate the menus to participate in the game’s tutorial, battle one-on-one against AI Pokémon, and participate in several multiplayer matches against real people.

Here’s the basic map, known as a stadium, and the basic gist. Two teams of five player-controlled Pokémon battle each other across the map in order to gather a resource called Aeos energy, a resource unique to the Aeos Island region in which the game takes place. You collect this energy in small amounts by defeating computer-controlled pocket monsters that appear across the map using your pocket monster’s unique powers, or in larger amounts by defeating player-controlled enemies. Once Aeos energy is gathered, you must take it to one of the opposing team’s goals and deposit it by holding down the X button and dunking it. Opposing players will try to interrupt your dunking with attacks, or steal your Aeos energy by killing you. Do not let them.

A colorful map of an arena used for playing Pokémon Unite.
Pokémon battle arenas sure have changed over the years.
Image: The Pokémon Company

The goals, represented by circles in the two main lanes of the stadium, can only accept so much Aeos energy before they disappear. Your team can win by either getting rid of all the enemy team’s goals, or by having deposited the most Aeos energy by the time the round timer runs out. There will be multiple stadiums for different team sizes, match times, and goal types, but the basic flow stays the same.

I was initially daunted at the idea of diving into a complex MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), but Pokémon Unite is far from complex. Leveling up and evolving your pocket monster companions occurs automatically through battle. New powers unlock at a set rate. There are no in-game items to buy, so there’s no worrying about equipment builds or harvesting gold.

Pokémon Unite’s shopping takes place between battles, where you can spend Aeos coins and Aeos tickets earned in battle to unlock new pocket monsters to play as, or cosmetic items to gussy up your trainer and their companions. Aeos gems, purchased with real money, are reserved for the really fancy stuff, like full trainer and Pokémon costumes. Or you can just call them skins.

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Some colorful wardrobe options of Pokémon and Trainers in Pokémon Unite.
They say that eventually you and your Pokémon start to look the same.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Company

When Pokémon Unite releases in full next month, there’s no doubt in my mind that players will find different strategies for their pocket monsters in different roles. Though types like grass, fire, water, and dark have no strengths or weaknesses in the arena, Pokémon are categorized into one of several roles—Attacker, Defender, Speedster, Supporter, or All-Rounder—which will influence how you play different critters. A pro scene may rise, alienating us more casual players. Only time will tell. For now, I’m pleased with this simple and approachable take on what can be a pretty complex game genre.

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A final score screen from a round of Pokémon Unite, showing Fahey at the top of the winning team.
Fahey wins.
Screenshot: The Pokémon Company / Kotaku

And not just because I’m pretty good at it.

 

DISCUSSION

By
has a cult following

this will be my first MOBA and I’m really excited for a low stakes entry into the genre