Pokémon Unite is so simple it doesn’t even need to hold your hand.
This isn’t a dig — quite the opposite, actually. The new free-to-play MOBA from The Pokémon Company and Tencent Games distills the genre formula into an incredibly approachable package. The initial tutorial, which takes around two minutes to complete, is plenty to get a handle on the game and learn how to slam dunk as your Pokémon of choice.
The overall premise is straightforward. You’ll play on one of two teams of five and collect points by defeating wild Pokémon scattered throughout the area, or by beating members of the opposing team. Once you collect points, you go to designated zones in the opposing team's side of the course to add points to your team’s overall score. You score by collecting up the points into a glowing ball of energy and then slam-dunking into a basketball hoop-like goal.
I was surprised to find myself enjoying the game since MOBAs have always intimidated me. In League of Legends, there are over 150 champions, reams of lore, and an entirely preexisting community — it can be a lot to break into. The League community, while not a monolith, has also long dealt with instances of hate speech and toxicity. In contrast, Pokemon Unite doesn’t have a full chat like League. And while that might be a drawback for some, for me it’s protection against a bad experience.
Given all this, League of Legends: Wild Rift — a spinoff League game for mobile, which was supposed to be this accessible entry point for new League players — was an exciting prospect for me. However, the touch controls just didn’t work out and even the tutorial felt slightly fidgety. When jumping into Unite, I appreciated having the Switch console and constant reminders of how to play. (It also doesn’t hurt that most of my friends have Switches, and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone to play Wild Rift.)
There’s just so much to Unite’s design that makes it approachable. For one, while you can get deeper into the game, you can pretty much start after the first tutorial. (I did, and won a few matches.) You can learn on the fly in the game, as all the attacks and commands are labeled with which button to press. Even common activities like scoring prompt a little icon that tells you which button to press. Also, each match is ten minutes, tops, so you know exactly what you’re getting into each time.
You can get more into it and build a custom character with items and a skin, if you want. However, if you don’t want to get into that, then you can just play. Each standard base character doesn’t impact play all that much (yet), and I had no problem winning matches with the included Pokémon.
There’s been a trend of developers releasing simpler MOBAs like Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends: Wild Rift, and Pokémon Unite continues in this vein. It slaps its disarmingly red cheeks onto a once hard-to-break-into genre and does it on a massively popular console. All that’s left now is for it to come to mobile platforms later in the fall.