Pokemon is one of the most enduring titles in the history of gaming. For all the small changes and additions the game has made over the years, at its core, it’s still the same game that released for Gameboy in September 1998. Alongside the Persona series, it’s also one of the last bastions of the turn-based RPG. That is to say, games where the player and opponent take turns instead of things happening in real-time. This week, however, Nintendo announced Pokemon Unite, which will take the series in a new direction.
Settle down Pokemon faithful. This isn’t saying that they’re abandoning a tried and true formula. I imagine there will be more mainline Pokemon entries after Sword and Shield. However, Pokemon has a rich history of exploring other genres. Don’t believe me? Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Pikachu, Pokemon Go, Pokemon Pinball, Pokemon Trading Card Game, Pokemon Stadium, Super Smash Bros, Pokken Tournament…. the list goes on!
Heck, we learned just last week that a new Pokemon Snap game is in the works! My point is that this franchise has a long history of exploring other genres of games utilizing the Pokemon IP. Now, they’re tackling the MOBA genre. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas have been around for a little under 20 years. They grew out of classics like Defense of the Ancients, or DOTA. However, they exploded into mainstream popularity with games like DOTA 2, Smite, and League of Legends. Now, Pokemon looks to take their turn.
Should work in theory
If there’s one thing writing for the games industry has taught me, it’s to never say in advance whether something will or won’t work. I trashed on the Switch hard, and I’m still eating crow about that. Now, that said. This is a pairing that should work in theory. For a MOBA, you need two things. An interesting world, and a large cast of characters with different moves to pick from. Well, Pokemon has both of those things in spades.
League of Legends is considered a large scale MOBA with roughly 150 champions. Pokemon has a library of over 800 different characters to use. Now, of course, not all of them are fit to be featured in Pokemon Unite. Do Caterpie and Weedle both need to be characters? No. Of the 802 available Pokemon, you can probably scrap 500 of them off the rip as unnecessary. In truth, the game should probably look to launch with 50-100 and slowly build up from there.
This is tough, right? Nintendo has always taken a different approach to esports than other companies. That is to say, a very accessible and hands-off approach. The one exception has been Pokemon, where-in The Pokemon Company holds a World Championship every year. This is absolutely a game I could see joining that line-up, which already includes the mainline games, the trading card game, and Pokken Tournament.
I’m not sure this is the game I want out of Pokemon, but I have no doubt it will be popular. For 25 years, just about everything Pokemon has touched has turned to gold. I would imagine this title won’t be any different. Will they be able to make a MOBA that doesn’t feel cheap I think is the biggest question. Games like League of Legends do carry a certain amount of weight to them, and I guess I don’t want to see the Pokemon version feel like the kiddie version of League. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that’ll be the case and I’ll once again be ‘old lady shouts at clouds.’
This is a project that has every chance to succeed. The IP and the genre seem like a match made in heaven, and Pokemon Unite should be one of the big releases of the year. For that to happen, one thing must be true. Everyone has to take it seriously, from creator to marketer to consumer. Yes, it’s Pokemon. Have some fun with it. But don’t let it become a novelty. It should be treated as a serious undertaking because it is.
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Lead Image Courtesy of Game Freak