Pokemon Duel is an energy based, free-to-play game for the iOS and Android platforms. The game lets you become a Pokemon Duelist, a person who uses Pokemon figures to fight against AI or player controlled avatars in-game.
The game’s win condition is simple. Either you reach the opponent’s goal point first or you clear out all active enemy Pokemon figures on the board. Sounds really simple right? Here’s the catch, this game isn’t just a checkers or chess type of game. Each figure that you bring out into the field has a “data disk” where it’s basically a rotating disk that contains all of the Pokemon’s moves or attacks. This serves as your Pokemon’s attack or defense value whenever they are faced by an opposing Pokemon on the field. Your Pokemon needs to knock your opponent’s opposing figure out of the way for your Pokemon to progress forward, unless your figure has an ability that ignores the Pokemon blocking their field.
So while yes, the game does feel like an over complicated chess or checkers game, Pokemon Duel is a more nuanced and really interesting take on the whole Pokemon battling system that you never thought would be.
Another interesting gameplay feature is the way the game’s reward system is designed to be somewhat similar to Clash Royale’s. For each non-league win you get to acquire a time-locked chest that nets you not only figures of varying rarity, but also experience items that help increase the level of your team.
Speaking of teams, Pokemon Duels retains the Pokemon gameplay system of having six Pokemon on your team just like the main games. However, the overall core gameplay system such as the element weakness/strengths and the limitation of having one active Pokemon in battles have been set aside to the more field placement and control centric theme of Pokemon Duel. In fact, the gameplay feels more like a simplified, digital version of the miniatures game, Heroclix, than your typical Pokemon title. But then, this is a good thing, because it helps separate Pokemon Duel from the main titles. This opens up new players to get into the more competitive side of Pokemon without making the game alienating unlike the main games that require a bit more dedication of your time to stay in a highly competitive shape.
Basing it on paper (or on the screen), battles in Pokemon Duel seem to be a simple, and definitely boring affair. But experiencing the game first hand, battles against player controlled opponents are exciting tests of strategic planning. However, the game does tend to screw you over since the battle system uses an RNG type of system, where instead of playing with a virtual dice (just like in Heroclix) you are instead at the mercy of the Data Disk of your Pokemon figure. Each battle instance in Pokemon Duel requires you to pit your figure’s Data Disk against your opponent’s, roulette style. Higher attack values trump lower ones, while status changing attacks or special attacks (which comes in the form of purple or blue data on the disk) trumps normal attacks. There’s an overall hierarchy system in place that the game explains to you in the tutorial stage which you need to properly remember and study.
This RNG gameplay system makes all battles in the early stages pretty hair-raising, especially in a player’s early stages of playing. However, therein lies the problem once you reach the mid stage of the game. There will be moments where opponents, or you yourself, could sweep every single opposing Pokemon your opponent throws at you once you’re transitioning and moving up the ranks in mid-game. Things would be pretty boring (for you) and painful for those players that get stomped along the way (which can also be you).
Pokemon Duel’s gameplay system however shines brightest as you reach the higher tiers in the ranking ladder. While, yes, you are still at the mercy of the game’s RNG system, the higher tiers are more about proper organization and data disk pairing. Your strategy on the lower tiers may net you easy, and fast wins. But that changes if you start playing against the big boys.
The strategy/difficulty scaling in Pokemon Duel is what makes the game such a fun title to play. I like that the game challenges the players to rethink their team composition and strategy as they reach the higher rank tiers (for both league and non-league matches). And I love that the game does ease you in and make you feel confident in the early stages, before squashing you against the cliffs of high tier opponents. One of the good indicators that a game is “competitive” is that it forces you to rethink your winning strategy as you continue on playing. And Pokemon Duel does that to you in a lot of ways.
So moving along the game’s other features. Pokemon Duel’s figures system follows the typical unit gathering system other mobile f2p titles have. You buy “boosters” using gems that you can earn by doing quests or paying for them with money. Or get enough bits to exchange them for actual figures.
The game has a rarity system. You can level up your figures by using other extra figures as exp ingredients, and you can increase move spaces in the data disk as you level them up to remove misses or have the unwanted moves have less disk space. Also, the figures roster Duel has includes all of the latest Pokemon save for the Alolan ones and some legendaries.
One of the game’s quirks with the figures is that if you have the evolution stages of some of the figures, you can “link” them on your deck and have them evolve during battles, as long as you knock-out or literally move an opposing Pokemon. This makes it so that you don’t need to have the higher evolution stage figure on your team, you just need to have them in your storage. This gives the surprise mutha*&#% moment for players who don’t pay attention to your team comp and allows for a more interesting turn of events in actual battles.
A lot can be said of Pokemon Duel especially in terms of its divergence from the signature Pokemon gameplay. But one thing that I like to point out is the way the game’s power creeping can eventually make things too hard for new players to get into. While inevitable, this has to be addressed by the devs as the game continues operations. Hopefully they address the eventual power creep so that new players won’t find the competitive wall so high that they rather just drop the game and not even try to compete against the “big boys.”
Fans of the Pokemon franchise, and those who are looking for a different spin-off game should download and spend a few hours trying Duel. Pokemon Duel presents a refreshing change to the overused Pokemon game mechanic. It provides enough wonder for new players to really dig into the game, while providing the familiarity for veteran Pokemon players to consider the game a look-see.