Words: Dave McAdam
MOBAs are an interesting genre: immensely popular yet, for many, they feel completely impenetrable. They are untouchable in the esports world, with Riot's League of Legends and Valve's (above-pictured) Dota 2 dominating the competitive landscape. These games are a lot of fun, but getting started can be tricky. They are entirely online, competitive games with no real single-player component to gently ease new players in. No campaign to play through first - get through the tutorial and you're thrown to the wolves. These games are dense, featuring hundreds of characters with unique abilities, all with different strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, you have an ever-evolving meta to learn. It really is a lot, and if you want in, you need to do your homework.
Then along comes Pokémon Unite, out now on Nintendo Switch (with a mobile port to follow) and taking what can best be described as peanut butter and jelly and combining the two in a sandwich. Pokémon and the MOBA genre could not be a better fit. Right off the bat, the developers at TiMi Studio had hundreds of characters to work with, and better still these characters have traits and abilities that players already know. You may have never played a MOBA, but you probably know that Charizard does a mean Flamethrower.
Watch the Nintendo Switch launch trailer for Pokémon Unite, below
The greatest hurdle, I imagine, was making sure the game was approachable for the gigantic Pokémon fanbase, many of whom would be new to MOBAs. Having played quite a few rounds of Unite I can say this has been achieved, and it may be the greatest asset of the game.
You see, what Pokémon Unite manages to do is distill the ingredients of a MOBA down to something much easier to digest. Most MOBAs have three lanes on a map, Unite only has two. It still has a recognisable jungle between them, but rather than a litany of camps and buffs that must be managed there are just a handful of wild Pokémon to defeat for points, experience and stat boosts.
The various objectives are easily understood, and there's always something useful and clearly marked for the player to do. Having the game revolve around defeating wild (NPC) Pokémon and collecting Aeos energy rather than getting kills or destroying the enemy base is great for new players, as it means there's a way to play passively while you're learning the game and still contribute to your team.
Pokémon Unite reminds me of a game called Rising Thunder. It was a fighting game made by veterans of the genre who wanted to bring in new fans. So, they began developing a fighting game with no complicated inputs or combos, all special attacks were on timers and performed at the press of a button. The idea was to strip away some of the mechanical complexity, giving players of various skill levels a more even playing field. Funnily enough, this project evolved into the upcoming League of Legends fighting game known as "Project L". This is what I feel is being done here in Pokémon Unite: the skill floor and ceiling are being dropped so more people can enjoy the game. It's simplifying things without losing the core of what makes the game work.
Unite offers new players a chance to get in at the ground floor of something they may never have played before. It offers space for players to learn and grow, to find their footing in this genre. If they love the game, great. If they play it to death and find they want more, then they can sink their teeth into the giants of the MOBA genre. For many this could be the entry point they have been waiting for, to finally get into League, Dota or even my poor, oft-forgotten SMITE. Pokémon Unite could be one of the best things that's ever happened to those games, bridging a gap that has long existed between folks who want to get into MOBAs and the games themselves.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, Valve
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