Is Pokemon Unite Still Holding Up?

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Rafael Oliveira, Senior Editor, Layout Editor

Pokemon is widely known as one of the best role-playing game series. Like many popular games, there are spinoffs of the game that vary in purpose. There are a lot of great Pokemon spinoffs. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Pokken Tournament, and Pokemon Colosseum are just a few of the amazing Pokemon spinoffs. But other spinoffs, like Pokemon Battle Revolution, Pokemon Rangers, and Hey You! Pikachu! haven’t been too successful. Pokemon Unite, the most recent one, has been widely discussed because it was a MOBA that used one of Nintendo and Game Freak’s most popular franchises, Pokemon. Even though people say it’s just League of Legends with Pokemon, it differentiates itself enough to be unique. League of Legends has many of the same mechanics like leveling and different moves, but instead of scoring goals, the player needs to eliminate the enemy squad. But there are some problems with the game that are holding it back from being talked about more. (Short Disclaimer, readers may want to read the original article on Pokemon Unite here. It explains all of the game’s mechanics so this article is easier to understand.) 

In August, Pokemon Unite celebrated its first anniversary. And the creators went all out, adding party-themed missions, changing the background music, and adding three new Pokemon. There were also other Pokemon added since the previous article, like Espeon and Azumarill. Those three Pokemon were highly revered in the Pokemon community, so it made a lot of people happy. In particular, Tyranitar was a popular Pokemon. They even added a new map for Ranked and Standard matches, called Theia Sky Ruins. But, is all this enough to save the game? Pokemon Unite has what I like to call the New Toy Syndrome. The game has a lot of alluring mechanics, like throwbacks to the original series and intriguing controls. Unlike other mobile games, it doesn’t blast players with notifications to play the game. But over time, people just started to lose interest in it. Even with tons of events happening and new Pokemon, they just stopped playing. There are three reasons why this seems to be happening.

The Game Balance is Changing too Often.

This is probably the biggest turn-off for veterans and new players alike. New Pokemon like Sylveon, Blastoise, and Greedent shook up the metagame violently when they were added. They had to be nerfed very quickly upon their arrival. It’s not just new Pokemon that have this issue. At the time of writing this, Mr. Mime, an existing Pokemon since launch, was tearing up the metagame with its buffed Psychic and Power Swap. It had to be nerfed days after this because of its adverse effects on players—same situation with Sylveon, with all of its moves. And many players, including myself, were sick of it. The only way to counter them was to outlast them with bulky Pokemon or to jump them with most of one’s team. But what made these newcomers so deadly was that they could eviscerate entire groups with relative ease! Take Blastoise for example. Its Unite Move threw everyone into the air, putting its targets in range for its dangerous Surfs and Hydro Pumps. It also dethroned Snorlax in terms of bulk, who was the tankiest Pokemon in the game. Another example would be Dragonite’s busted Hyper Beam, or Greedent’s Covet, which shows that there are many instances similar to this. 

The numerous held items changed the metagame as well. Some items like Muscle Band, Focus Band, or Choice Specs were helpful. But some items, like Buddy Barrier, Slow Smoke, and Score Shield, were overpowering and overwhelming. And worst of all, Pokemon Boost emblems. If items didn’t buff the Pokemon enough already, boost emblems increase performance even more! (It’s like every single offensive Pokemon is on steroids at this point.) And the new map, Theia Sky Ruins, changed the metagame as well. New wild Pokemon with different effects, more ways to level up, and new objectives changed the metagame unhealthily. And especially for the players who choose the central path, they can reach level 11 easily before the 5-minute mark. And let’s not forget that the maximum level is 15, so that’s a pretty big gap from the rest of the players.

 

More Features Are Locked Behind Paywalls

This is one many players are genuinely upset about. At the time of writing this article, Dodrio, the newest Pokemon, was locked behind a paywall for seven days. Players had to use Aeos Gems, which could only be obtained with real money. Some other new Pokemon, like Mew, were the same. However, they had dedicated events where players had to perform missions for free to get them. Having to work a little harder to get a new Pokemon is a fun challenge, but not having an event meant that real money went down the drain. So annoying! “But Rafael, why not just wait 7 days?! Be patient.” I hear you say. It’s not that I’m being impatient, it’s that requiring Aeos Gems to buy a Pokemon is essentially postponing its release date. For instance, Dodrio was released on September 14. For players who can’t or don’t feel like paying money for in-game currency, the real release date is September 21. 

If these paywalls continue, this trend will continue for Pokemon like Scizor. Scizor is my favorite Pokemon, so this deeply angers me. I’ve been waiting since the launch to have Scizor in Pokemon Unite. 

Holowear is clothes for your Pokemon. Cute. But over 90% of Holowear requires, you guessed it, Aeos Gems. AKA real money to use! But this one is a bit more manageable. They don’t improve your performance or anything. However, it still stands that requiring so many microtransactions to unlock simple features gets tiring over time.

It’s Hostile to New Players

Let me set the stage from my point of view. I downloaded Pokemon Unite on my Switch a day after its release. So, I wasn’t too far behind the other players at all. But if someone were to download the game right now on your phone or Switch, then as soon as players get to Great Class, they’re in trouble. And it’s all because of held items and how new seasons work. Held Items are items that increase your Pokemon’s performance. They’re easy to get, and you can choose which ones fit your playstyle. But you can level them up to level 30, which jacks up their performance even more. The highest class you can be ranked in Pokemon Unite is Master Class. When a new season arrives, former Master players get bumped down to the Veteran class. That’s two steps down. Great Class is one step up from Beginner Class, the lowest rank. Great Class players can mingle with Veteran Class players. New players who have lower-rank items and don’t have as much experience will fight players who used to be at the top, which could send them tumbling down the ranks. This is unfair to new players who are just trying out the game. 

What do I think about the changes?

“Wait, what do I think about the changes? Gosh, that’s so nice of you to ask!” But to be real, although the above changes are issues, I don’t think that they are big enough to turn off players. Aside from Gem paywalls and the new player hostility, it’s not that bad. Overpowered Pokemon are threatening at times, but the players always find a way around it. The new map is a fresh change of pace, especially since Zapdos isn’t overpowering the metagame anymore. The cavalcade of Pokemon is increasing rapidly, and there are over 40 to play. You’re bound to find one of your favorite Pokemon on the roster. Overall, I do enjoy playing Unite, and I don’t want it to be just another forgotten Pokemon spinoff like Pokemon Battle Revolution. I want it to become more widely played and recognized for the amazing game that it is.