Pokemon Masters has been out only around two weeks. It feels much longer. The popularity of Pokemon has made it a popular target for mobile games. Most of these releases trade on familiarity with the cartoon. First generation Pokemon remain the most recognisable. As I’ve said previous, Pokemon Masters is welcome because of where it shines a spotlight. It not only draws attention to the Pokemon trainers themselves, but the many characters from past games. How does it work in practice? It’s a mixed bag.
I want to say immediately the mechanics and gameplay of Pokemon Masters are rock-solid. The three trainer teams don’t feel a million miles away from the core series. They add a nice, new layer of strategy to gameplay, but at the same time simplify things. Pokemon are essentially no longer dual-type, for instance. A grass Pokemon is a grass Pokemon. It uses grass moves. It’s only weak to one of a grass types weaknesses; whether that’s fire, flying, or something else varied Pokemon to Pokemon. With only three Pokemon to work with it can feel limiting, but I can see how it makes it much more accessible for a mobile title. Similarly, you don’t have a limited number of uses per move. A bar at the bottom of the screen slowly fills, with different moves using varying amounts. The better the move – the more of the meter it uses.
The result of this is that Pokemon Masters isn’t really about building a team of three trainers. It’s about building up a huge toolbox of trainers so you can tackle any situation. It’s probably unsurprising in a Pokemon title that its best to ‘catch ’em all’. On the one hand, this is great. You are incentivised to interact with, level up, and get attached to a wide cast of trainers. Each trainer has their own signature Pokemon, but also an item they can use twice in battle and a rallying cry that acts as a buff. Everytime I see Blue shout ‘Smell Ya Later’ it brings a smile to my face. The downside of requiring so many different trainers is that is where all the grinding comes in. Lots of training missions and replaying levels just to get a new character to a standard where they’re helpful.
Pokemon Masters has a single player mode that sees you battling other famous trainers, a cookie-cutter ‘evil team’ (sorry Team Break) and building your team. With the core mechanics being so solid, its pretty fun. I’ve read that its quite short, but unless you’re really pumping time into the game it will probably last you a while. Outside of this, mode, the game feels a bit bereft. There’s no PVP. Instead, there are online co-op battles. Again, the mechanics shine here. Your team is allowed one Pokemon in battle at a time, forcing you to switch between them. It is a little hard to co-ordinate movements with other players but thankfully perfect timing isn’t a requisite here.
Co-op battles, the new event that added Blue to the game, and even the single player campaign all reward you with stuff. Huge, masses of it. Different coloured bottles used to upgrade different types of Pokemon. Different manuals to level them quicker. Different loud speakers to add a new skill. Coins and tickets to exchange for different stuff. Even pearls to exchange for coins to then exchange for different stuff. You need to play quite a lot to get enough stuff to make your team stronger, to play more game, to get stronger, to get more stuff. For now it can’t help but feel a little pointless. That’s perhaps a harsh note to end on, but for now Pokemon Masters is a frustrating combination of a good execution of a Pokemon RPG without enough gameplay to really let it shine.