When playing Pokémon Unite, TiMi Studio Group and The Pokemon Company’s new joint collab MOBA, there’s a moment when the tide of battle becomes intense.
The air shifts as the 10-minute match nears its end. Zapdos spawns in the central pit, and everything changes as players brace for a final fight with no guaranteed path to victory. All they can do is dodge, position themselves strategically, and hope for the best. The fight is tough, and frankly, unfair — all because of one electrically-charged chicken and its overpowered buff.
Every player that slays Zapdos instantly receives a hefty amount of points, can pass through all defenses, and instantly dunks on any net. It changes the rival team dynamic from equal opponents to ants trembling in fear while humans make a mad dash and sink a bunch of ridiculous trick shots. Powerful buffs in MOBA late-games are common. However, the lack of a reliable execute option along with Zapdos’ extreme power boost means every match of Pokémon Unite revolves around one game-changing, erratic bird buff. I love the excitement and pressure that surrounds those vital moments, but more often than not, it ends up feeling frustratingly unpredictable and conflicts with the competitive nature of Pokémon Unite.
One of Pokémon Unite‘s biggest strengths is how short the matches are. It achieves this by setting a strict time limit of 10 minutes, which goes by quickly, especially when compared to the 40-60 minutes that other popular MOBAs like League of Legends or Dota 2 demand. Unite makes its short matches work with a bite-sized 5v5 battle arena, and dedicates the closing minutes to chaotic team fights.
During the last two minutes, battles almost exclusively revolve around the Zapdos pit, because if you kill Zapdos and get the buff, you can catch up from basically any deficit, and secure a sizable victory. Normally you have to hold down “X” for a few seconds to score points in Unite, but the Zapdos buff completely throws that concept away, allowing you to instantly dunk at an opponent’s net. Points are also doubled during the last couple of minutes, and if you have instant scoring it ends up making the first eight minutes of the match almost irrelevant. I’m a fan of the sudden ramp up in intensity that the last minutes offer through Zapdos, but it’s ridiculous that there’s no way to properly secure that buff. It’s such a powerful advantage, and while I don’t think it should be nerfed, currently it feels way too random.
For example, six minutes into a ranked match with some friends, we were getting absolutely rocked by the enemy Snorlax. We had 7 points and they had around 100. They have us locked down, and we’re scared to farm wild Pokémon without getting completely bursted. We decide to play it safe until Zapdos spawns, and then strike when our enemies’ health is halved. It’s a blur of a fight, but our Zeraora does a lightning-fast teleport into the pit, steals the buff, and yells “RUN, GO DUNK!!!” as we scatter through the bushes, each targeting a different net. It’s a buzzer beater, but we all end up slamming with our boosts. The match ends and we win, with a closing score of 903 to 117. We went from absolute underdogs to superstars in the span of 15 seconds, and that’s not a unique case. This happens regularly in Pokémon Unite.
At the end of every game you can find players flailing in an uncoordinated manner around the Zapdos pit, praying their auto attacks or stray abilities land the last hit on Zapdos to get the buff. Pokémon Unite would be more balanced if there was a smite system like in League of Legends, where the jungler could use an active ability to do damage to neutral creeps. The closest item to that effect is the battle item Fluffy Tail, which leaves wild Pokémon stunned and increases the holder’s damage against them, but crucially does not deal any true damage.
Pokémon Unite hasn’t even been out for a week, and it’s already proven itself to be a pleasantly surprising MOBA. Matches are short and explosive, especially during the last moments. It’s novel to see a fresh, condensed battle arena that beginners can pick up and learn the genre through. There are, however, some glaring issues with Pokémon Unite, including the pay-to-win aspects, not being able to see your score until the end, and the absolute mayhem that surrounds Zapdos. Yesterday the official Pokémon Unite Twitter posted a survey asking for players’ feedback for future patches, so hopefully we’ll see some changes soon.
[Disclaimer: Fanbyte is owned by Tencent, which also co-developed Pokemon Unite. Though the company has no editorial oversight with Fanbyte Media. Nor have any of its representatives had direct contact with this writer.]