Pokemon Masters is out—kinda. There’s a limited soft-launch in Singapore and soon™ Canada, but eager superfans are already playing in other territories via VPNs and the usual tricks. Here you’ll find my evaluation of the game in its current, early state as I’ve completed all the content currently on offer and talked the game over with many other direly impatient Pokemon fans. My efforts to keep things simple has failed—so be ready for a fairly complete look at what the game is like today!
Editor’s Note: The game’s full release is upon us! The final release fixes a couple of bugs, changes gem prices slightly, adds 5 free trainers to the roster, and has a minor intro event with some similarly minor rewards. It’s nothing that really affects my judgement of the game, so I’ll be leaving the rest of the review as-is.
What Is Pokemon Masters?
Pokemon Masters is perhaps a Gachapon Mobage-style mobile game first, and a Pokemon game second. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but rather I mean that this game was clearly designed to reinforce its goal of being an accessible, stand-alone mobile title before all else. A few tried-and-true Pokemon design choices and rules have been left behind in this process—which occasionally makes things a little confusing for long-time players.
Instead of catching Pokemon, this time around you’re “scouting” for Sync Pairs; a Trainer and Pokemon pair that you actually use to battle. All battles are 3v3 in Pokemon Masters, so you can choose 3 trainers and their Pokemon . Sync Pairs aren’t like normal Pokemon ; not all unevolved Pokemon can evolve to their final form, and Types are tied more to Trainer than they are to the Pokemon; most dual type Pokemon are single type, all pokemon only have a single weakness, and resistances and immunities don’t generally exist.
Pokemons’ Stat growth and Base Power for Moves are also freely re-balanced, moves are tied to a Sync Pair and can’t be changed. There’s no IVs (thank Arceus) or EVs, level 100 is level 100. It’s a drastic overhaul but mostly results in a smoother, simpler experience still largely recognizable as Pokemon. It also offers a balance setup more similar to the usual mobile gachapon-fests; a Treecko can be stronger than a Serperior because they say so, that’s why.
There’s no PVP (possibly a blessing due to power creep and other pay to win nonsense common to these games), but there is co-op play unlocked after beating most of the main story.
3v3? Yeah, You Know Me
The best thing about the game is definitely the battle format. It’s close to a mix of Rotation and Triple Battles from the main series, but all Pokemon can be hit and target other Pokemon at once; nothing only targets “adjacent” creatures. Pokemon’s moves charge in “real time” but attacks are still cued up for an almost-turn-based battle closer to Final Fantasy’s famous ATB system.
The 3 Pokemon simultaneous match up offers strategic possibilities beyond the usual on-on-one fights, without the more time intensive complications of a full team 6 versus 6 one-at-a-time style of traditional Pokemon . And more importantly, many new “Trainer Moves” were added to the game with the 3v3 format in mind, adding many buffs that hit the whole party. Skills like this are pretty rare in the mainline games.
As a long-time Pokemon fan it does bother me just how much the AI cheats though; in the mainline games you’re always fighting “real” Pokemon that you could have on your own team right down to the moves and stats. In Pokemon Masters however, enemy Sync Pairs have extremely overpowered Sync Moves (but charge them much more slowly than you usually do) that hit the whole team and often include a Haze effect to remove your buffs. It’s something that would be fun for raid bosses, but feels excessive and cheap in regular battles. It really reduces the feeling of fair competition that’s very big in Pokemon, both in gameplay and story.
All in all I really enjoy the new format, and I really hope Pokemon Sword and Shield will offer a variation of it for play. Addition of online co-op battles to Pokemon is also very welcome. I’ve often wished I could play Battle Tree etc. in Co-op, but only local play has been offered so far, and the peak of having local friends with the latest Pokemon release was grade school for me.