Everybody knows that I love Pokémon. Whether it’s the cards, anime, collectibles, or video games like Pokémon Sword, the Pokémon franchise acts as my comfort space when I’m feeling sick or simply exhausted. So, when The Pokémon Company announced it was developing a MOBA, a genre traditionally filled with inaccessibility, anxiety, and toxic culture, I was more than apprehensive at trying a new direction for my favorite series. Thankfully, the simplicity of Pokémon Unite, both in terms of accessibility and approachability, makes it the most entertaining and accessible MOBA I’ve ever played.
Developed by TiMi Studio Group and The Pokémon Company, Pokémon Unite is a standard 5v5 MOBA complete with lanes, bases, and items. Yet rather than destroy enemy towers and titans through damage, players must instead deposit Pokéballs into goal zones to progress. The team with the highest score after 10 minutes wins the match. If you are familiar with and enjoy the gameplay of titles like League of Legends, Smite, or Dota 2, Pokémon Unite is an excellent addition to this genre.
Aside from utilizing my favorite franchise, Pokémon Unite features incredible innate accessibility as well as a bevy of options for physically disabled players. For starters, the game offers the capability to change controls. While not fully customizable, as triggers and bumpers can only be swapped with other triggers and bumpers, face buttons with face buttons, and d-pad directions with other directions, the Switch allows complete control at a system-level from the system settings. Further, the Switch lets players save five control presets for every officially licensed controller, meaning that each Joy-Con or Pro Controller can be customized to an individual’s exact needs.
Not every button within Unite is entirely necessary. You don’t need an active item, usable with ‘Y’, nor do you need the left or right d-pad to choose and upgrade moves. If you edit your battle preset before the beginning of the match, the game will automatically unlock and upgrade a move. I do recommend using one of the D-pad buttons for their intended use, but, again, players are not restricted.
Ease of Use
Pokémon Unite accessibility is truly demonstrated during matches. Most MOBAs require precise aiming, especially when playing damage-based characters. Yet, this game lets players automatically lock onto enemies with basic attacks and unique abilities. Beyond this, physically disabled trainers have the capability to change what enemy they choose to attack. Through three options in the menu, Pokémon can attack the character with the lowest health based on team priority, actual health, or AI-controlled Pokémon.
If the auto-lock feature causes issues there is an option to disable this mechanic. For me, I’ve never been able to play damage-focused characters in any MOBA based on my inability to execute precise movements needed. Because of the lock-on feature, I find myself selecting characters like Machamp and Venusaur as my main choices.
To coincide with locking on, Unite does not require players to mash the attack or ability buttons. If rapid button pressing is inaccessible, trainers can hold any attack button, whether basic or ability, to unleash on enemies. With ability moves, you are required to release the button for activation but there is no need to consistently jam your finger on the controller.
Unite provides an option to toggle the holding action when depositing Pokéballs on enemy goal zones. This is one of my favorite features as the more Pokéballs you have in your inventory the longer it takes to deposit. If my fingers become too cramped after playing several matches, I can simply press the deposit button rather than hold it for several seconds.
Because Unite is still a MOBA, matches can become quite hectic, especially toward the end. Since games only last for 10 minutes regardless of the score, team fights happen much earlier and more consistently than other MOBAs. While auto-lock features are great when mitigating the confusion of large battles, the colorful moves and designs of Pokémon can occasionally make it difficult to determine what players are specifically targeting.
Thankfully, Unite provides an option that lets players place a radial wheel on the right side of the screen. When near an enemy, the wheel will highlight a picture of the opposing Pokémon and further colorize it when the player’s attacks are targeting the opponent.
Conversely, Unite’s management of items is far more accessible than any other MOBA. Traditionally, players equip their characters with items that boost varying stats throughout the match with each item being only available when players accumulate enough gold by destroying objectives, defeating AI, or eliminating other players. As such, individuals must consistently keep track of their funds, as well as their respective items, build to properly develop each character.
With Unite, items can only be equipped from the main menu or battle prep menu prior to the start of the match. There is no gold requirement, and items can only be leveled up through in-game currency. Each Pokémon can only equip three items at a time, further reducing the information needed to develop a winning build. Instead of continuously needing to return to base to purchase upgrade items, I can stay in my lane for as long as necessary to either eliminate the enemy team or bank points.
Pokémon Unite is quickly becoming one of my favorite games within my Switch library. Aside from revitalizing the admittedly stale franchise, this game, for me, is beyond accessible for physically disabled players. As someone who is always been interested in delving into the world of MOBAs, the fast-paced, precise executions required to play the genre left me exhausted and beyond frustrating at not only myself, but teammates who cared not to understand my limitations. With Unite, I’m no longer at a disadvantage because of my limitations. I’m just another Pokémon Trainer on a quest to become the very best.