Pokemon Unite Has Some Severe Game Design Issues


by in General | Sep, 22nd 2021

Pokemon Unite’s approach to the MOBA genre combines popular Pokemon from Nintendo’s beloved creature collecting game with a streamlined MOBA experience that can be taken on the go thanks to the game’s recent release on mobile devices. Games that can be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes definitely engenders appreciation from players coming from Dota 2 or League of Legends. However, many MOBA veterans will definitely see some glaring game design issues with Pokemon Unite that can make upper-level play frustrating, or cause interactions that don’t really make sense.

Game Design Issues Plaguing Pokemon Unite – Move Interactions


Perhaps one of the more glaring issues right now is the fact that a Pokemon’s moves can still hit you even after they die, which can be seen in this clip. It would be easy to dismiss this interaction as a bug, but it definitely feels like an oversight by game designers. 

For comparison, if you kill Caitlyn in the middle of her ultimate before she fires, the ult won’t go off. This interaction is fairly standard in MOBA game design. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Pokemon Unite as abilities that either have delayed effects or over time effects, like Wigglystuff’s Sing, will still go off. In the case of Greninja’s Water Shurikens, the move creates multiple projectiles that travel in a set path. Even if Greninja dies, the projectiles remain and will travel in their intended direction. It definitely feels like an oversight in Pokemon Unite game design that reveals some conflicting philosophies with how Nintendo wants their particular MOBA to work versus game design expectations that have been developed over time within the MOBA genre. This particular issue is a part of a grander problem that hopefully an update will address, but we can’t be certain due to the evidence of similar interactions.

One of the more inconsistent interactions in Pokemon Unite are whether or not you can reliably use your Unite Move (your Pokemon’s Ultimate ability, essentially) with certain Pokemon. Blastoise is the worst offender in this category, as it seems his Unite Move’s effect can either bug out or be canceled by an interaction with an opponent’s move

The Pokemon Unite subreddit has generated some interesting discussions on how Unite Moves interact and how crowd control works in Pokemon Unite, especially considering how many players are coming to Pokemon Unite from different MOBAs. The lack of contextual information that comes with a Pokemon using different abilities really hurts Pokemon Unite. With other MOBAs, abilities are designed with specific animation cues that inform players of a window where an ability can be interrupted or canceled. Pokemon Unite’s generic gallery of dashes, whirls, bursts, and shiny orbs don’t do a good job of informing players what can be avoided or interrupted. A good example of this is Talonflame’s Fly ability. Outside of a very basic AoE circle that every move in this game is saddled with, there’s nothing else to inform you of where precisely an opponent Talonflame will land. An animation of some falling feathers while the Talonflame player is selecting their destination would be a fantastic means of conveying contextual information to players and allowing them the opportunity to outplay their opponent. However, we’re not really sure whether or not this level of gamesense is something Nintendo and Tencent really want to instill in their players, as it would complicate their game and undermine the Pokemon brand’s approachability. 

Game Design Issues Plaguing Pokemon Unite – Comeback Mechanics


The path to victory in Pokemon Unite follows a pretty simple flowchart:

Secure a Level Advantage –> Secure Dreadmaw –> Maintain Level Advantage –> Secure Zapdos


Veering away from this formula is what will give your opponent the opportunity to come back into the game and challenge your team. However, players at the Ultra or Master level of play have conditioned themselves to this formula and haven’t seen ways to attempt comebacks outside of Dreadmaw and Zapdos steals, which are definitely valid, but shouldn’t be the only way a team can even out the score. 

Unlike games like League of Legends or Dota 2, item power spikes aren’t a thing in Pokemon Unite. The game design of Pokemon Unite has replaced things like hero spikes and item spikes with evolutions and level ups, which will grant players access to more powerful moves and increased stats, but it isn’t like you can suddenly challenge your opponent now that you’re in your final evolutionary form and they have a two level advantage. 

Wild Pokemon camps are meant to help teams that have a level deficit against their opponents, and the Ludicolo and Bouffalant camps bonuses are meant to help give an edge against opponent Pokemon. However, there’s little reason for anyone except the Jungler to routinely clear out these camps, and the wild Pokemon on the side of both bottom and top lanes tend to get ignored by most players who are eager to fight one another. 

Changes need to happen to the Bouffalant and Ludicolo camps after the initial laning phase, especially since the bonuses they confer don’t really influence fights once a team’s goal has gone down. Rotom also feels like a foregone conclusion as Drednaw’s EXP and shield gain gives a larger team bonus than Rotom’s instagoal effect. A possible solution would be to replace the Rotom camp with something that also gives EXP and an attack speed bonus, which could switch up the priority for Drednaw. Rotom spawning in the center of the map prior to Zapdos could create a new objective for teams to teamfight around then capitalize on. 

Overall, changes need to be made to Pokemon Unite’s game design so that players have a variety of opportunities to close gaps and create new priorities in-game based on their team composition. Some Pokemon may want to prioritize attack speed over shields, which would make Drednaw less important. It’s a suggestion.

Game Design Issues Plaguing Pokemon Unite – Uncertainty of Information


Perhaps one of the biggest design issues with Pokemon Unite so far is that the game does not give you specifics on your score versus your opponents. Occasionally, text will flash at the top of your screen informing you of your team’s point status in the game, but for a MOBA that relies on a point lead to win rather than securing objectives, it’s kind of a necessity to know exactly how many points your team has.

Something that would allow you to quickly flash the scoreboard at the top of the screen would be ideal, as you don’t always have to know your team’s score. It’s a quality of life upgrade to Pokemon Unite’s game design that the competitive community would really appreciate.

Conclusion


Ultimately, Pokemon Unite’s still in its first few months of release. The community can’t really hold the game’s flaws against Nintendo as this is their first attempt at a game of this type. However, if Nintendo intends for Pokemon Unite to have any type of longevity among MOBA fans, it has to address the issues in its game design. Unclear, unintuitive design can ruin a multiplayer game, but perhaps Nintendo isn’t so concerned as long as the game can generate appeal and revenue simply from the Pokemon brand alone. This conclusion feels too cynical, as the game certainly has potential in the MOBA market, especially as a mobile MOBA. 

A new patch for Pokemon Unite has already launched bringing some balance changes to the Pokemon roster. We’ll go over these changes with more depth in another article, but a significant gameplay change came out that essentially changes Sleep effects to have their durations canceled once a move lands on a Pokemon that’s sleeping. It’s a step in the right direction and shows that the team working on Pokemon Unite can see the arguments the community is making on how to align Pokemon Unite game design with what’s expected within the MOBA genre. However, there’s still a long way to go.

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