At first sight of Pokemon Masters in action, one might think that of course it would have PvP battling with its three-on-three real-time combat. The reality is anything but. Pokemon Masters will have co-op, wherein you and two friends can battle A.I. trainers together, but you won't be able to take that teamwork to competition against other players.
In my demo, director of product marketing Derrick Kuan of DeNA, the developers behind Pokemon Masters confirmed that there won't be any PvP. This is because it wants Pokemon Masters to be more "amateur friendly," and to put an emphasis on teamwork. In a group Q&A with the game's producer Yu Sasaki, this was confirmed via a translator.
"The core premise for this game Pokemon Masters is that we want people to be working together, to be making friends, to be working with their companions and sort of meeting all these different sync pairs," Sasaki says, "and we want people to enjoy that side of the game. So since that was the founding principle for this, we decided that we weren't going to include something where you're trying to have players pitted against other players, because that just wouldn't be compatible with the original concept."
The combat system in Pokemon Masters is different from the mainline games. Through a gacha system, you'll be able to collect famous trainers from Pokemon history who are all tethered to a single Pokemon—your starter character has Pikachu, and it goes on from there. Each trainer has an assigned type, like Fire, and up to four moves or items they can use on a cooldown. In battle you tap between the trainers and use moves, somewhat as you would in a turn-based battle. Slowly but surely, you build up a meter for a Sync Move, which is a powerful ability both the trainer and Pokemon do together. (For Brock's Sync Move, he flexes off his shirt for some bizarre reason.)
And in co-op, things get even more chaotic. The mode unlocks once you hit level 10 in the Story Mode. You bring in your usual team of three trainers to battle, but so do two companions at your side. You can only have one Sync Pair deployed at a time, which means you'll have to switch between them in the midst of battle, depending on both your foe's elemental weakness and what strength your co-op partners are playing with. It's all made more hectic by the fact that the battles are all in real-time, contrary to its turn-based roots in the proper RPGs. The reasoning for the switch is quite simple: real-time just naturally works on mobile better.
"The reason for [a real-time combat system] is that we do have a mode in the game where three people will be able to play in co-op," Sasaki says when I ask about the reasoning behind the real-time battle system. "And so if you have a turn-based setup for that, there's always going to be that time where maybe one of those people is thinking about what they want to do while everyone else is waiting, and that experience isn't a good match for something like that turn-based experience. So we, because we had co-op in mind, decided to do real-time play because that was a better fit."
Pokemon Masters is out later this summer on mobile, and will include 65 trainers at launch. We recently got hands-on time with the mobile adventure game, and came away surprised by seven particular trainers from deep Pokemon history that we spotted in our playtime. For fans looking forward to Sword and Shield, there won't be any teasers or trainers from the upcoming Pokemon hiding within Pokemon Masters unfortunately. Still, it won't be long until the free-to-play game hits all our phones.