This past Tuesday, The Pokémon Company released Pokémon Duel in the West. The title, which came out in Japan last year under the name Pokémon Comaster, is a free-to-play mobile game that takes many of the monsters from the various Pokémon games, turns them into (virtual) amiibo-esque figurines, and creates a strategy board game out of them. Once I got past the long tutorial and the ubiquitous microtransaction teases (I’ve become so numb to them), I found that it’s a shockingly addicting and strategic game, wrapped up in a buggy and sluggish mess of an app.
Note: I should note that I played this game using an iOS device. While I don’t believe this will have a major impact on giving my impressions here, I thought it would be a good idea to point out the detail.
The basic gameplay involves two players, either CPU opponents or online ones, each with a team of six Pokémon figures. The board is a square set of dots that form connected lines. The goal of the game is to move one of your ‘mons to the circle in the middle of your opponent’s back row. Players take turn moving one piece a set number of spaces, while also having the option to use power-up cards (also called “plates”) or attacking opposing Pokémon. When two monsters are next to each other, a player can initiate a battle that’s completed by spinning a spinner associated with each individual character. The spinners have multiple attacks, dodges, defenses or misses on them. White moves are basic attacks and have numbers associated with them, and if two white numbers are rolled, the higher one wins. There are other colors, like purple status-causing moves, that have more effects in battles. Once a Pokémon is defeated in a battle, it’s moved to your Pokémon Center. The Center has two slots, and the defeated Pokémon will remain there until a third Pokémon is defeated and pushes the first one back into your hand.
There are a lot more gameplay elements that add to the depth. For instance, each player can only put figures from their hand onto the board from two spots unique to them, but if an opposing Pokémon stays on that spot, it cannot be used by the owner to put new figures on the board. There are too many gameplay elements to go into here, but the end result is a game that involves a lot of strategy, a lot of luck, and a surprisingly limited feeling of “pay-to-win.” It can certainly be disheartening to go up against a Japanese player who has Mewtwo, Palkia, etc., but, with enough planning and (a lot of) luck, I’ve actually beaten several stacked teams.
In terms of free-to-play gacha nonsense, Pokémon Duel isn’t the most egregious I’ve seen. It has your standard “wait to open booster packs with random characters” in it, as well as multiple forms of currency, but I had 400 gems by the end of the first day, which enabled me to get a pack with lots of strong figures for free. You can also use extra or unwanted figures to level up others, although the leveling up doesn’t feel too necessary at this point in the game. For those new to gacha style, random draw games, it might feel gross and exploitative, but the game hands out new figures pretty regularly, and no match has ever felt unwinnable.
Mind-numbing load times
The game’s biggest flaw is the app itself. After a lengthy front-end download, every single page that loads is accompanied with a five to 30 second load time. Just going from one page in the store to another takes far too long as the game repeatedly tries to ping the server. Finding an online opponent can feel like a random chance, as sometimes I waited upwards of two minutes before hitting cancel, only to have the game find the opponent after hitting the button. Online battles can also be a slow affair when the other player is on a bad connection, causing long wait times before the opponent makes their move. Even after a battle ends, the game often waits for about 15-30 seconds before displaying the “WIN” or “LOSE” animations. The entire app feels like it’s held together by bubblegum and glue sticks, and I sincerely hope that new updates are released to improve stability and load times.
Pokémon Duel is a refreshingly cerebral, yet quick to pick up strategy game that makes each spin of the dial feel high stakes. Unfortunately, it’s a very frustrating process to play the game due to the constant and lengthy server pings. Still, the game scratches a strategy board game itch that I didn’t realize I had, and I hope that further updates will improve the experience further.Leave a Comment