Pokémon fans have been treated to a pretty exceptional year of reveals and content, from the reveal and partial release of the first-ever Pokémon expansion to the returns of both Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Snap and so much more. Not even Pokémon has type immunity to the year 2020, however, and an otherwise pretty sterling year for the franchise has its first real blemish in the way of the Pokémon UNITE reveal.
The title’s reveal via a Pokémon Presents stream was preceded by a separate Pokémon Presents a week prior on June 17, 2020 that included thrilling news concerning Pokémon Sword and Shield, the aforementioned reveal of New Pokémon Snap, the coming addition of Mega Evolutions to Pokémon GO, and promised the reveal of another “big project” in a week’s time. This is was the first huge misstep made by the Pokémon Company.
With the promise of a new project with its own, independent reveal immediately following the fever-pitch highs of the first presentation, which included a game that players have waited two decades for and that kicked off the launch of the highly-anticipated Isle of Armor expansion, players naturally assumed the coming reveal was going to be truly massive news. Most were thinking along the lines of a hotly anticipated remake or maybe an additional expansion pass. No one was anticipating or asking for a mobile title. Instead, many fans’ minds immediately turned to the long-awaited, long-overdue announcement of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes.
Remakes of Pokémon Red and Blue arrived in the States a mere six years after the release of the originals in 1998. Gold and Silver received their remakes after ten, while the third generation, Ruby and Sapphire, were remade in 2014, twelve years after their debut. Naturally, fourteen years after the release of Diamond and Pearl, people are eager for news concerning the reincarnation of the fourth generation, particularly since the first generation received yet another re-imaging in 2018 with Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! While it’s understandable for longtime fans to be impatient for Gen Four’s return, it’d ultimately make the more sense to reveal Sinnoh remakes later in the year, after the conclusion of the current Expansion Pass, particularly if the Diamond and Pearl remakes were being held until the fifteenth anniversary of their debut and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise as a whole. That is, unless the reveal at hand was for a tangential title independent of the main series, such as, say, Let’s Go, Johto!
Anticipation and speculation concerning the reveal of a generation two sequel to Let’s Go immediately had more merit because of the history and status of the main series adjacent title. When Let’s Go was first announced, it was with mention that the eighth generation was still under way, so it stands to reason that mention of a Let’s Go sequel might proceed the conclusion of the eighth gen itself, particularly if it was slated for release earlier in the year to make way for more than one major release during Pokémon’s quarter-century anniversary. The presence of second gen plush in the background of the first presentation perpetuated the prediction of a Let’s Go sequel, particularly in light of previous director Junichi Masuda’s propensity for hiding visual indicators in plain sight. In the end, Pokémon was probably promoting the latest line of plush but only ended up unintentionally mixing the message up further.
Needless to say, neither camp was particularly happy with the reveal of Pokémon UNITE. At the time of writing, that Pokémon Presents video has only 65k likes to 130k dislikes on the U.S. YouTube page. Many fans feel appropriately slighted by the Pokémon Company’s mishandling of fan expectation. Had Pokémon UNITE simply been revealed in the first stream alongside New Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Cafe Mix, and Pokémon Smile, UNITE‘s reception likely would have been extremely different. By letting hype build for a week before delivering a title that no one asked for, the Pokémon Company has both frustrated its fans and potentially hindered the reception of Pokémon UNITE once it finally does launch. That’s not to say that the Pokémon Company and new partner Tencent couldn’t have a hit on their hands, since the game looks fun and with nearly 900 Pokémon, there’s a wealth of characters to draw on for a Poké-MOBA. That hasn’t hindered fans from asking who this game is for, however.
Rather than being presented in a generalized Nintendo Direct, UNITE was featured in a stream exclusively dedicated to Pokémon created independently by the Pokémon Company itself. Consequently, it can be assumed that these presentations are targeted at and being actively sought out by the dedicated fanbase. While there might be some overlap of players who love both MOBAs and Pokémon, this announcement was never going to appeal to all Poké-fans. But by leading off with the more generalized Pokémon Presents that vaguely teased a big project, almost all fans assumed the project to be revealed was going to appeal to the largest Poké-fan demographic, particularly since the first Presents already included three other spin-offs.
On top of that, there’s a strong sentiment permeating through the Pokémon community that people currently want more Pokémon games, not more games with Pokémon in them. While there’s a long history of beloved Pokémon spin-offs, Snap, Mystery Dungeon, and Pokken just to name a few, UNITE is doing little to appeal to that core fanbase that support these games. Eighty percent of the revealed UNITE roster, for example, are Kantonian Pokémon (ie. from Red and Blue). That leads dedicated players like me who love all Pokémon generations to believe that UNITE is aiming for a more general audience, old Pokémon fans who are only familiar with the original 151, and “genwunners” in general, and not fans who want to see more representation for generations other than the first. But if that’s the case, why was this game revealed in a stream sure to only be watched by the most dedicated of the fanbase?
Hopefully, Pokémon UNITE can overcome its poor introduction to the world and provide fans another way to enjoy their favorite Pokémon. But with continuous concerns from longterm fans calling for consideration for players who’ve grown up with the franchise feeling voiceless in the face of an ever-more-generalized approach to Pokémon, this is sure to be another sign of company out of touch with its oldest, most dedicated followers.