Pokémon Duel: An unoptimized but amusing addition to the franchise (review)

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You can probably put the name “Pokémon” on a rock and you would be able to sell it. After the massively successful Pokémon Go, The Pokémon Company wants to keep the momentum and build its mobile portfolio for the franchise. The result is Pokémon Duel, a very polished board game with an incredible amount of depth, modes and replay value.

Developer: The Pokemon Company
Price: Free

Setup

As is the case with more and more games these days, when starting up Pokémon Duel, it starts to download assets by itself. These are rather large, so expect to be stuck on the initial loading screen for quite some time. After this, a short introduction will appear and you will your duel set, get to choose your name and customize your character.

The character customization is fairly acceptable, with several skin colors, hairstyles and hair colors to choose from. If you see a character named RedBlue dressed like Maximillion Pegasus (I know, wrong franchise), and you manage somehow to win, then take a screenshot and I’ll publicly acknowledge your superiority.

Overview

The Pokémon Wheel Pieces in action.

There’s a lot to analyze on this game, because it has a lot of different stuff. Let’s start with the basics of the game. You control six Pokémon tokens. The board has two entry points for each player, and one goal point. Your mission is to get any of your tokens on your opponent’s goal point.

Your Pokémon can move a maximum of four spots per turn. In your turn you can summon a new monster, move a token or attack your opponent. If you decide to attack, then you will get two roulettes on the screen, one for the attacking Pokémon and one for the defending one.

Each specific Pokémon has a roulette associated with it, called Wheel Piece, and this can include attacks, dodge, miss, and attacks with a special effect, such as Confuse Ray or Thunder Wave. These attacks will vary depending on the Pokémon and its rarity. The rarer the Pokémon, the better their attacks.

Attacks have a power value associated with it. For example, Tackle in a Rattata has a power value of 10, but Thunder in a Pikachu has 100. There’s a huge theory behind attacks, so I won’t go into details, but the easy, short way of explaining it is that if the attack you draw is more powerful than your opponent’s, then you knock out that opponent. If you draw something else, then you should see its color. Most of the time, gold is the strongest one, followed by purple and blue. Still with me? Good.

There’s also something called Plates, which are the equivalent of items in the normal Pokémon games. These can be used for increasing your attack, having a chance of spinning again, cure status ailments and so on.

There’s a lot of strategy involved because of the amount of combinations you can have and the style of gameplay you want to apply. Want to be very direct and get to the goal as fast as you can? Then use Pokémon that can move three spots, but at the expense of having weaker attacks at your disposal. Want to kill all of your opponents? Use stronger Pokémon that move less spots. Some Pokémon have special abilities, such as being able to move across an opponent or not being able to become paralyzed. Plates also add a layer of strategy.

Offline or online? That is the question

Online battles are very entertaining.

You can either complete solo quests against the CPU or duel with people online based on the rank you have. The solo quests are very similar to gym leaders in the regular Pokémon games. There are several hotels you have to conquer in order to have the chance of conquering the final grand tower.

You play against different opponents and then fight against a leader. Each opponent, called concierge, will give you a prize at the end, either coins or a new Pokémon token. The hotel owner will give you an emblem, and with that, a new gym… Err, hotel will unlock.

The online part is more interesting. Winning duels increases your rank, and also gives you keys, which can be collected in order to get new figures. At the end of duels you will also receive Time Boosters, which are boxes that you will be able to open after several hours.

Because these are duels against humans, they are much more competitive and fun to do. You will find all sorts of strategies and tokens here, and the most entertaining moments I had while playing this game were there. There’s no way of explaining the happiness of winning against a Lugia and a Giratina with a Charmander.

Oh, the glory, the grandeur, the triumph…

Fusions, Training Center and Shop

Sometimes you will also get some rare metal blocks as part of your boosters. These are experience blocks, which you can use to increase the experience of your tokens. With enough experience, your Pokémon will level up, and you will be able to shift the proportions of your Wheel Piece. With this, you can decrease the area of your Miss blocks, and increase the chances of getting a more powerful attack when spinning the wheel.

Since you only have 50 slots available for Pokémon and blocks, then you can also fuse Pokémon in order to increase experience. Be wary, though, if you fuse a Raichu into your Skarmory, the Skarmory will increase its experience points, but the Raichu will be lost forever.

Gems are kind of expensive but they’re easily obtainable through other means.

In the Training Center, you are able to hone your skills and fight with predefined decks in order to learn tips and tricks about the game’s different strategies. This is also a good way of getting Plates and new figures. If you fulfill some challenges, you will also get some gems in the process.

As in many, many, many games in the Play Store, you have coins and gems at your disposition. Coins are used to fuse Pokémon, while gems are used for different stuff, but primarily to buy new boosters and to open the time boosters you get when playing online. It is not complicated to get them from playing the game, thanks to quests, daily missions and the training center.

However, the easiest way of getting them (well, if you have a credit card and a job or overly-generous parents) is by paying real money from them. Obviously, getting more will yield a higher dollar-per-gem ratio. But let’s put it in perspective. Buying a booster costs 50 coins, while buying 57 coins costs $3.98. This means that each Pokémon commands a $3.49 price.

In the shop you can buy four boosters for 200 gems, with the guarantee that at least one Pokémon will be of rarity EX or R (the highest ones). As expected, there is no way of buying 200 coins in the shop, only 120 for $7.94 or 360 por a whopping $19.88. In-app purchases can get as high as $81.05 for 1960 gems, and you can only buy 50000 gems monthly, in a very vague attempt of balancing the game.

General Impressions

As previously said, there is a great amount of strategy required to build your deck, and then playing the game itself gives you a million possibilities. I found myself constantly saying “one more round,” and ended up playing until 3AM, which is a good sign. With The Pokémon Company behind it, there’s probably much more planned for the game, like special events, online tournaments and similar.

Easy as pie.

Even though luck is a big part of your success and failure, you still need to think your movements through, use Plates at the right time and use the game’s mechanics to your advantage.

However, things go wrong when you evaluate the performance of the game. It’s not like Pokémon Duel stutters or skips frames, but navigating through it is very slow. “Glacial,” to quote Leonard Hofstadter. Each press of an element will show you a “Connecting…” progress at the bottom. This makes going from one screen to another an almost painful experience.

There are more than 200 Pokémon tokens to collect.

Also, I found a lot of problems in which my game lost connection for no reason. Once I was utterly dominating a match, was one or two steps away from winning, and got a “Connecting…” overlay that never went away, which made me lose the game because I ran out of time. After the duel, the overlay never went away, forcing me to stop the game and start it again.

Once I even had game crashing on me when I accessed the stuff. The one place that makes money on the game, crashed on me.

There’s several reviews that talk about corrupted saved data, but I haven’t experienced any. However, plenty of people are complaining about the various connection issues I’ve also seen. Some reviewers point out a very worrisome fact: there’s no Google Play Games integration or any other form of account retrieval. If your phone gets misplaced or damaged, say goodbye to your progress.

Another annoying aspect of the game is that every time I open it, there are new files being downloaded. It seems like the game doesn’t update its files through the Play Store but through its own means, slowing the launch process.

If you are able to cope with the slow navigation and connection issues, though, there’s a very enjoyable game behind, one that could entertain you for months to come and that could turn even better after The Pokémon Company starts adding stuff to it.

Graphics

The game features interfaces very similar to what you would expect from a Pokémon game. Interfaces are colorful, locations are very flashy and futuristic and graphics and Pokémon tokens are very detailed.

Graphics are exactly what you would expect from a Pokémon game.

There are some very cool effects, such as when you open a booster and the Pokémon shows up. Also, although other characters are static, their models sometime change their face expression depending on the situation, which adds a nice touch of reality to them. If you’ve played a recent Pokémon game, then you’ll feel right at home with the design.

The attacks that the monster perform are very basic, though. You will see some electricity rays on Pikachu’s electric attacks, some water on Blastoise’s Surf, and a cool-looking ray when something uses Solarbeam, but don’t expect them to be as good as the latest iterations of Pokémon games have been.

Also, I’ve had some instances of Pokémon tokens not loading and very small visual glitches that interrupt the game’s otherwise impressive graphic performance.

Sound

The sound effects and music on this game are very good. Background music changes on various circumstances, so you won’t hear the same song all over again. Also, when someone is close to capturing their opponent’s base, the music changes to a faster tempo one, which creates a sense of urgency when you are on the verge of losing, and makes you anxious when you’re about to win. It is really effective and adds a lot to the game itself.

Sound effects for every action are spot on. Each button has its own distinctive sound, but it isn’t overwhelming or anything. From the roulette spinning to a Pokémon being destroyed to opening a booster pack, everything has a very nice sound effect accompanying it. Pokémon games are normally praised for their sound and music production, and this one remains true to its roots and reputation.

Conclusion

Pokémon Duel provides endless hours of fun and a lot of replay value thanks to a well-thought gameplay and several game modes using the now ubiquitous Pokémon franchise. Unfortunately, it suffers a lot from performance issues, such as never-ending loading screens, crashes, visual glitches and reported instances of game data loss. It is a shame, since the game itself has a lot going for it. However, I encourage you to give it a try and hope that The Pokémon Company will address problems in subsequent updates.

Download and install Pokémon Duel from the Google Play Store.