Sometimes, a game comes along that is such a perfect blending of themes that it makes you want to slap your head and say, “Why didn’t I think of this?” A lot of us had this experience when Tetris 99 came out last year. The most iconic puzzle game of all time is such a perfect match for the 1vs100 battle royale genre. It’s almost remarkable that Tetris 99 wasn’t made sooner.
Other times, perfect ideas for games may come to you in a moment of inspiration. When that happens, it’s not, “Why didn’t I think of this,” it’s, “I DID think of this. Now somebody, please make this game.” I’ve been beating the Pokemon Auto Chess drum for almost two years now, and while I don’t pretend to be the first person to have the idea, I just can’t believe we still don’t have this game.
Admittedly, the Auto Chess fad has mostly passed. The original Auto Chess, a mod for Dota 2 that found a lot of popularity on Twitch in early 2019, spawned three different retail versions in quick succession. The original modder created a standalone Auto Chess game, Valve made Dota Underlords to replace it, and even Riot got in on the action with Team Fight Tactics, an auto-battler game that uses League of Legends characters. All three of those games came out within weeks of each other in 2019 and since then there haven’t been any new entries in the series except for Blizzard’s card-based version of the game, Hearthstone Battlegrounds.
That’s not to say Auto Chess is dead though. The original Auto Chess debuted on PS5 this week, and while Underlords hasn’t gotten an update since November, Team Fight Tactics gets patched with balance changes and updates almost weekly, and is only a couple of weeks away from introducing its fifth set update, Reckoning.
The point is, there is still an audience for auto-battlers. It’s probably the newest video game genre, and there’s still a ton of untapped potential in it. Hearthstone Battlegrounds is a great example of a game that innovated on the genre, so it stands to reason that some future game could push auto-battlers forward even further. I think that game should be Pokemon.
Like their parent genre, the MOBA, auto-battlers have an incredibly steep learning curve. To play competitively, you need to learn all of the characters, all of their abilities, and all of the items they can use. When you’re just starting out, it can be hard enough just identifying the different units and matching them to their name and thumbnail. It’s incredibly important to learn who each character is, because when you’re quickly rolling through the shop or evaluating the damage charts, you need to know who everyone is without having to constantly reference the character models on your board.
A Pokemon auto-battler would flatten this learning curve significantly because so many Pokemon are iconic. I could hand a stack of Pokemon cards to any random person on the street and there’s a pretty good chance they could name at least a few of them. Any given set of Team Fight Tactics has around 60 characters. Pokemon Auto Chess wouldn’t necessarily need to have that many, but even if it did, it would be so much easier to learn and remember who each character is because there’s a large Pokemon fanbase that is already familiar with these characters.
The most obvious thing about Pokemon that would make it a great auto-battler game is the evolutions. When you rank characters up in TFT, they get bigger and their models get a bit more detail, but it can be difficult to realize at a glance what rank each character is, especially when you have nine on the board and a full bench of nine more. You would never have this problem with a Pokemon game because each evolution has a very obvious and distinct visual identity. Combining three Charmanders to make a Charmeleon and then three Charmeleons to make a Charizard would not only be a satisfying accomplishment, it’s also a clear form of visual communication that would be easy to understand immediately.
Clearly, Pokemon would be a great fit for auto-battler games as we know them today, but there’s also a lot of opportunity for Pokemon to help push the genre forward. One thing that no other game has experimented with before is type advantages. In an auto-battler, every character has an origin and a class that determines which synergies they get. If you get four different brawlers onto your battlefield, for example, all four of them will get a health and attack damage bonus. A Pokemon auto-battler would need a similar system for creating synergies, but it could also use individual type advantages on the battlefield.
When a game of TFT is down to two or three players, it’s usually way too late to change anything about your team. At that point, you typically will just roll your shop and hope it lands on the last few pieces you need. If you’re at a disadvantage, finishing games can feel like a death march as your team slowly, inevitably, gets defeated. But a Pokemon game might be able to give you one last chance. Say the player in first place is dominating with a three star Charizard. Maybe you could roll a tier five water Pokemon in the shop in the final round and give yourself a chance to fight back. It may cause you to lose a synergy you’ve built, but those kinds of type advantage-based decisions could go a long way to keep games exciting right up until the end.
Pokemon Unite, the first Pokemon MOBA game, is already in beta testing in certain regions. The connection between MOBAs and auto-battlers gives me hope that we one day may actually see a Pokemon Auto Chess game. There’s nothing in the world more perfectly fit for an auto-battler than Pokemon, the game practically makes itself. The item combinations could all be classic held items like Power Belts and Silk Scarfs. The summoner could be a Pokemon trainer that you could dress up with cosmetic items. It’s a perfect fit in every way, and Nintendo is leaving cash on the table if it doesn’t make this game ASAP.
Next: Pokemon Unite Beta Footage Reveals Game’s Battle Pass
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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