Picture this: you’re playing Pokémon Unite and have just destroyed one of the opposition’s four breakable goal zones. Zeraora flipping in the air as they dunk 30 points. You follow up by flanking two opponents in the other lane, allowing your teammates to shatter yet another goal zone. There are only two minutes left on the timer, a streak of orange informing you that your team has a comfortable lead; surely the match is in the bag. This is when Zapdos turns the game on its head. It allows your opponents, who defeat it, to charge heedless of danger, towards your hoops and instantly remove all of your team’s painstaking work and leaving you with just a single goal. What should have been a comprehensive win has now resulted in your opposition edging you out. An all-too-common occurrence in the latest game pertaining to the Pokémon franchise, it’s clear that change is needed.
A New Way To Play
If you are yet to play Pokémon Unite — or simply haven’t heard of it — then it is probable that the previous paragraph went over your head. Developed by China’s TiMi Studio Group and released in July, Pokémon Unite is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game centred around everyone’s favourite collectable critters. It is unique in the sense that it revolves around teams depositing Aeos Energy points into opposing goal zones rather than vying to destroy their adversaries’ strongholds. Featuring an extensive list of Pokémon, which is expanding as the game is updated, competitors defeat wild Pokémon to gain vital experience points for their creatures. Most of these NPCs are virtual punchbags, serving only to be farmed by players, but a select few, such as Drednaw and Rotom, provide additional effects to the team that is victorious against them.
Among these NPCs which bestow buffs is Zapdos, the legendary electric and flying type Pokémon from generation one. An OG legendary and a formidable foe. It appears in the last two minutes of a match in the center of the arena, possessing an elongated health bar which stretches along the screen and can only be diminished if several teammates cooperate to take it down. The rewards that one can earn for their team if they claim the last hit against this Pokémon are bountiful.
Normally, players must complete a dunking animation, which can be interrupted by a troublesome opponent, when netting points in one of their opposition’s goal zones, however, Zapdos grants the team that defeats it a timeframe in which they can score without the worry of being hindered as they leap into the air. As if this and providing its victorious combatants with 110 points (30 for the player that defeated it and 20 for each of their teammates) wasn’t enough, the value of points is doubled during the final two minutes of the allotted ten. I’m sure that you can see where this is going. Goal zones drop like flies once Zapdos has been defeated and teams that stood little chance of coming out on top overhaul their rivals in the dying minutes, courtesy of the help received from their winged friend.
A Formidable Foe
Being on the end of one of these bitter defeats is infuriating and I hate to think how many joy cons have lost their lives as a result of post-Zapdos rage. More to the point, the buffs encourage teams to neglect their goal zones, which would otherwise prove fatal, to launch an all-out attack on the boss that delivers them upon their death. This is not conducive to tactical play and punishes teams for playing the game as it should be played, rather than rewarding them. It also devalues playing well in the first eight minutes of the game.
I, myself, can recall several matches when my teammates and I have played exquisitely, racking up points, kills and assists, only to succumb to the wrath of Zapdos. My, and many other players’, anger is not directed at boss monsters as a concept — if anything, the yellow bird negates both Dreadnaw and Rotom. Bosses are a common auxiliary feature in MOBAs with Roshan the Immortal from the Defense of the Ancients (Dota) series and the four colossal individuals from Ningbo Shengguang Tianyi’s Realm of the Titans all being examples of powerful ‘creeps’ (non-quest-giving NPCs). The key difference between these and Zapdos is that they are additional aspects to their respective games and don’t have total bearing on the outcome of matches.
Even more absurd is that it is not the team which deals the most damage to Zapdos which claims the excessive prizes but the team whose player deals the fatal blow. It is not uncommon for a team to dispense four of their units to take down Zapdos but not come away from the center ring with the buffs because a single sneaky opponent has used their Z move, a unique special move, just in the nick of time. This only adds to the ensuing frustration and again proves that very little skill surrounds the battle for Zapdos.
There is hope that this mess of a concept will be fixed, with TiMi Studio Group starting to implement patch updates. The first of these came just a week after the game’s release, fixing a bug with Charizard when holding the muscle band and adding Gardevoir to the roster, and a second is scheduled to go ahead on 4 August. An important question is how should the developers go about balancing Zapdos.
My personal approach would be making only the furthest goal zone an instantaneous scoring area and awarding Zapdos’ critical buffs to the team which damages it the most. This would prevent undeserved comebacks and add more strategy to the final minutes. Having said this, there are many different ways that the boss could be balanced and it is important that it is not nerfed to the point that it has no significant function. The developers certainly have a tricky task on their hands.
Words by Julius Lawless-Master