Pokémon Unite is sure to be divisive with its free-to-play, in-app purchase model and Switch/smartphone cross-play.

Last week the Pokémon Company unveiled a slew of new Pokémon games, with a Pokémon Presents video announcement showing off a sequel to Pokémon Snap, the Pokémon Smile AR game that you play by brushing your teeth, and mobile puzzler Pokémon Cafe Mix. But at the end of the presentation Pokémon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara promised that he’d be back in one week’s time to reveal “another big project.”

So for Pokémon fans, the last week was like waiting for Christmas. Unfortunately, for a lot of them the “big project” is about as welcome as a lump of coal in their stocking.

Things start off on an ambitious tone, with Ishihara quickly ushering us into a video within the video that dramatically reminds us that “Pokémon made people trade together, battle together, connect together. And now…”

There’s then a cut to a collage of images showing five different players, two holding Nintendo Switches and three with smartphones. And sure enough, the new game, titled Pokémon Unite, allows for cross-play between the Switch and both iOS and Android devices.

So what is Pokémon Unite? The video describes it as “the first Pokémon team battle game,” apparently the Pokémon Company’s preferred term for what’s also known as a multiplayer online battle arena/MOBA game.

That’s a genre more frequently associated with Chinese video game developers/publishers than Japanese ones, and sure enough, Pokémon Unite unite is being created in conjunction with Chinese mobile game giant Tencent, which has bestowed the project upon TiMi Studios, the Tencent subsidiary that developed Honor of Kings and Arena of Valor.

Judging from the preview, gameplay seems to skew more heavily toward MOBA conventions than traditional Pokémon gameplay. There are no Pokémon Type-based advantages, and though you encounter and catch wild Pokémon, you don’t get to raise them as members of your traveling Pocket Monster menagerie. Instead, once you catch them you have to sneak or fight your way onto the opposing team’s side of the arena and deposit them in scoring stations to earn points, with the team that scores the most points within the time limit declared the winner of the match.

▼ The initial roster of selectable Pokémon, who can evolve into stronger forms during the course of a match

For a mobile game, the visuals don’t look bad, but the cross-play function means the developers expect a certain percentage of players to be playing on a Switch, and by that console’s standards these aren’t what anyone would call impressive visuals. But what’s likely to be the biggest eyesore in the video for man gamers is the text announcement that Pokémon Unite is “free-to-start” with “in-app purchases available,” suggesting that the Pokémon Company and Tencent may be crafting a game designed to nickel and dime you with random drop/gacha game mechanics.

Ishihara himself sounds optimistic about the project, saying the goal is to “create a cooperative Pokémon game that anyone can pick up and enjoy immediately, but also has a lot of depth to be played over and over again.”. On the official English-language Pokémon YouTube channel, though, the response was less enthusiastic, with the live chat quickly filled with comments like:

“This is just League of Legends.”
“Pokémon League of Legends….”
“We wanted a [Pokémon] Diamond and Pearl remake AND WE GOT A POKÉMON LEAGUE OF LEGENDS.”
“I wanted Unova or Sinnoh remakes and they give us this…. I’m sad.”
“This is a terrible joke, to make us wait an hyped up for a whole week and then not deliver, great, so disappointed.”

Many Japanese Twitter users were also less than pleased.

“This is the end of Pokémon.”
“Umm…I’m not gonna be playing this. I like being able to collect the Pokémon I catch.”
“Aint got no need for this.”
“What was the point in making us wait a whole week for this?”
“They should have announced this last week, and saved the Pokémon Snap reveal for today.”

▼ As a side note, it’s sort of ironic that Tencent senior vice manager Steven Ma says “The ‘unite’ in Pokémon Unite represents the gameplay concept of players coming together with shared goal” when it looks like you can’t play the game without the presence of five human opponents.

As alluded to in a few of the comments, at least part of the backlash can be chalked up to excessive expectations, which were inflated even more by the Pokémon Company giving Pokémon Unite an entire delayed presentation all to itself. With Pokémon Sword and Shield less than a year old and getting a major DLC expansion this month, and New Pokémon Snap already in development for the Switch, there really wasn’t any realistic chance that the Pokémon Company was going to jump right into remakes of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

Though the online boos are a lot more numerous, and louder, than the cheers, the English video’s chat also has a contingent of commenters laughing at everyone hating on Pokémon Unite before any of them have even played it, and some Japanese Twitter users are scoffing at the “Diamond and Pearl kids” who’re upset about not getting a remake of their favorite part of the franchise. And while “free-to-play with in-app purchases” has become a major warning sign for discerning gamers looking for genuinely enjoyable gameplay, Pokémon GO managed to beat the odds and be a fun crowd-pleaser even for those who didn’t spend any real money on it (though that’s an easier feat to pull off for GO since so much of its gameplay is non-competitive and practically zero-challenge).

The video doesn’t give even a tentative release date for Pokémon Unite, but considering it’s far enough to claim to show 10 presenters playing a full match together, it doesn’t look like it’ll be too long a wait to see if it turns out to be an enjoyable expansion into a new genre Pokémon, or if the missing “IS” in the video’s giant-text announcement that “AND NOW THE FIRST POKÉMON TEAM BATTLE HERE” is foreshadowing that Unite isn’t getting the franchise’s highest level of polish.

Sources: YouTube/The Official Pokémon YouTube channel, Twitter/@ Pokemon_cojp, Twitter/@Nintendo, Twitter/@poke_times
Images: YouTube/The Official Pokémon YouTube channel
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he can’t help but notice that Pokémon Unite’s initials, PU, would be pronounced exactly like “pee-yew” (i.e. “it stinks”).