Imagine Pokémon meets Rocket League – that’s how I see Pokémon UNITE. It’s also why it is currently one of my favorite Pokémon games ever. Readers may find my declaration to be a bit bold, so allow me to step back just a little bit.
My brother and I first played Pokémon UNITE when it was released in July 2021. I’m not even a fan of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)-type games, but I was nonetheless hooked. Perhaps the fact that it’s Pokémon got me over that barrier. It also helped that it’s a free-to-play game.
But what exactly is Pokémon UNITE?
Opening the game, the player will be introduced to a sports game that looks to be a mix of basketball and soccer. The matches themselves take place at Aeos Island, but honestly, the game has no real plot or worldbuilding whatsoever. Thus, I won’t talk about them.
As I had hinted earlier, this game falls under the genre of MOBA, but the atmosphere of the games made it feel more like a massively multiplayer online sports game like Rocket League. This brings me to the core gameplay.
The Game Proper
In a standard game of Pokémon UNITE, each team has five players each with unique Pokémon (that’s right, no duplicates within a team). The goal of the game is to score more points than the other team. Scoring is simple enough; you go to the other side of the stadium and hold X over their “goal”. Though the more points you have with you, the longer it takes to score. And chances are, the opposing team’s not going to let you score without a fight.
At first, your Pokémon will start at Level 1. Depending on the Pokémon you’re using, you might have to evolve to unlock your full power. For example, if you choose Charizard, you’ll start off as Charmander. Evolving is as simple as leveling up to the appropriate level. So no need to worry about getting the right stone if you’re an Eevee. The player’s Pokémon level up by knocking out enemies, scoring, or simply the passage of time.
The standard game has 10 minutes of game time, but not all minutes are weighed the same. This is where Pokémon UNITE differentiates itself from most sports (and sports games). I’ve watched enough soccer and played enough Rocket League to know when a game is over long before it ends (one such example, Brazilians beware). This is where the brilliance of Pokémon UNITE comes into play. The last two minutes of the game is known as ‘the final stretch’.
During the final stretch, all points scored are doubled. Furthermore, a legendary Pokémon (originally Zapdos, but now we also have the option of Rayquaza) will appear in the middle of the stage. Knocking out this Pokémon will give your team a great boost in terms of scoring, although the specific effects differ depending on the legendary Pokémon. If the game’s been even thus far, it’s pretty much a victory button. But if your team is losing, no matter how badly, it’s an opportunity to get back to the game. I’ve played the game long enough to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and vice versa.
Regardless, teamwork is the name of the game for Pokémon UNITE. If you go at it alone, chances are, you’ll get roasted. This can make playing the game with anonymous folks a pain in the butt. If you have a buddy who plays games, it’s best to bring him along. Trust me, you’ll have a better time, both in winning and in having fun.
That’s Pokémon UNITE. So far, I’ve been singing this game praises. What’s the catch? … This is a free-to-play game. Anyone who’s familiar with these types of games will know the ridiculous amount of microtransactions within games like these, and Pokémon UNITE is no exception. Where it matters is in being able to use the various playable Pokémon.
In order to use a particular Pokémon, a player needs to obtain a ‘Unite License’ for it. However, these cost a lot of in-game coins. The other option is to spend real money to buy these licenses, which will save players time. To be fair, temporary licenses exist which give players access to a Pokémon for a period of time. However, these licenses cannot be used in competitive games.
But if you can overlook the straight up predatory monetization, Pokémon UNITE is a solid game. It’s the kind of game that is easy to learn but hard to master. Just make sure to take breaks from time to time and remember to bring in your friends when possible.
Scoring – 90%
Gameplay – 4/5 (Some issues, but solid as a whole)
Replayability – 5/5 (The kind of game you can keep playing over and over again)
Graphics – 5/5 (Good in terms of the Switch)
Controls – 4/5 (Controls can be a bit awkward at times, usually the auto-aim)
Consumerism – If there is one thing about this game that really annoys me, it is the predatory consumerism. The game is doing all it can to make sure that you pay money. The most relevant is the cost of getting a playable Pokémon license. While the non-debut Pokémon can be bought without the use of real money, it costs a lot of in-game coins that would require a lot of game time to earn. Less relevant to the gameplay but just as important is the price of the character skins. I found a few that cost over $20 in real money, which is ridiculous. This game certainly preys on children’s money, parents beware!
Sex/Nudity – I haven’t seen any blatantly immodest dress/character skins, and I’ve played this game a lot. In fact, this game is generally good when it comes to modesty. The most immodest clothing I can find are pants/skirts above the knees.
Violence – There is some cartoon violence as the Pokémon fight each other to score on the other team’s goals.
Online connectivity – Players can use their microphone to communicate with one another during the game. Thus, running the risk of inappropriate communications. However, they can opt out of this feature.
Magic/Occult – Some Pokémon have psychic or ghost-type moves. The most blatant is Chandelure who uses literal poltergeist.