So Nintendo, in a surprise announcement, released Pokemon Duel for mobile phones – an interesting tidbit, since Duel, unlike Pokemon Go, was developed by The Pokemon Company. While I have mixed feelings on Pokemon Go, I was curious to see if an actual mobile game developed by the same company in charge of the handheld games would be a positive experience.
Pokemon Duel, unlike Pokemon Go, attempts to focus on a system of battling. Having played both the Pokemon games and the trading card game, I naturally was looking forward to this – as I found – and still find the Pokemon games system of battling fantastic in its simplicity to beginners and complexity for advanced players.
For those who have never played a Pokemon game, the system at its heart relies on elemental weaknesses – each Pokemon has a type – for example, Grass, Fire, or Water. Furthermore, each “move”, or attack a Pokemon can learn also has a type. A Fire Pokemon getting hit with a water attack naturally has a bad day, and a water Pokemon gets a boost to using water attacks. Fairly straightforward, but the combination of types and the fact that many Pokemon can use powerful attacks that aren’t of their own type can lead to some surprising situations – while it may seem that a Flying type Pokemon is easily countered by a Rock type, some Flying type birds know powerful Fighting moves that can give a Rock type a very bad day.
At the beginning, the game feels like a leg up from Pokemon Go, with wonderfully polished UI’s, attention to what the user is trying to do, and a smooth tutorial that ensures the user has a clue what the hell is going on – a markedly different experience from Pokemon Go.
This, unfortunately, is immediately marred by my attempt to immediately jump into a duel with a player (I never was much for tutorials). Unfortunately, when I attempted to find another player, the system…was plagued by launch issues. I attempted five or six duels, and all of them ended up dropped, had the app crash, or ended up failing before the game even began.
Regrettably, that only left me to review the tutorials, which allowed me to play the actual game itself. I…was left incredibly disappointed.
See, here’s the thing. For a game that focuses on Pokemon duels, supposedly, the actual goal of the game isn’t to knock out your opponents Pokemon. You are presented with an on-screen board, and it is your goal to move any one of your Pokemon to the “goal” spot on your opponent’s side of the board. It’s your opponent’s goal to reach your goal spot, so basically you’re protecting your side of the field while trying to attack theirs.
If you move a Pokemon to a spot adjacent to another Pokemon, you can initiate an attack and attempt to clear it out of the way so you can proceed past it. Instead of choosing which attack you want to execute, you….spin a wheel which decides what you will be attacking with. Your opponent also spins a wheel. Whoever’s attack does more damage instantly wins, and the opposing Pokemon is sent back to the starting pool to “heal”. Oh, and there’s a red zone that’s basically an auto-lose, since you “miss” when you hit that.
I realize that I’m generally harsh on RNG’s, but this is just dumb on many levels. In the TCG, you choose a move, and then flipping coins randomly affects how much damage you do. In the video games, you choose a move, and the game randomly decides how much damage you do, if you missed, or if you hit a critical. Here, the RNG chooses what move you do, and then the damage is fixed – and I mean completely fixed.
See, the thing is, type advantages don’t matter one iota in this game. Your opponent has a Charmander (a fire type) out? You can totally send Bulbasaur (a grass type) to face it and not have it be suicide as it would be in traditional games. There’s some nonsense about purple moves and gold moves which beat out other moves, and in general, it feels complicated and unsatisfying, but the general problem remains – there doesn’t feel like a lot of distinction between Pokemon in any strategic sense.
The problem is, the game is inaccessible, complicated, and…doesn’t feel like Pokemon. Its often the right decision to ignore your opponent’s Pokemon and just beeline for the other side of the board – which is incredibly dull. I didn’t give this game enough time to justify a full review (something like 30 minutes), but unless this game improves incredibly by the time I revisit it, it’s going to be an extraordinarily bad review.