Gotta sync ‘em all, and not spend any money in the process.
When Pokémon Masters was first revealed, the hope was that it wouldn’t be a gacha title—a hope that lasted about a minute before it was announced to be developed by Nintendo’s first mobile partner, DeNa. After a few weeks of the Canadian early access release (the wide release is scheduled for August 29), Pokemon Masters is trying really hard to get me to spend. Thankfully, the battle system works well enough that I’ve been able to resist the siren call.
Pokémon Masters takes place on the island of Pasio, which has a unique spin on the classic Pokémon formula. Each Trainer and Pokémon forms a “sync pair,” and battles are all 3v3 (in theory, opposing teams can go to 5 or 6). Battles take place in real time, with an expandable command gauge decreasing each time an attack is used. Using enough attacks will unlock the ability for one Pokémon on the team to use a Sync Move, which bears a striking resemblance to Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves and does massive damage. A version of the Pokémon type chart is in play, though it is more limited: a Water type will be weak to Electric or Grass attacks but not both. Since there are three opposing Pokemon on the field at a time, the target can be changed by tapping them on the screen, making for battles that feel similar to the first Yo-Kai Watch on 3DS.
Most of the game is centered around the story mode, in which the created trainer builds a varied team to try and conquer the Pokémon Masters League. So far, the story mode is the bulk of the game, with options for training or seeing brief stories about the other trainers on your team. The rewards for completing story mode maps, aside from the trainer that joins you, are almost too much to keep track of. There are gems, which are the fuel for the gacha elements, and a series of level builders and items to unlock additional attacks or innate abilities for each Pokémon. Like Dragalia Lost, there is a co-op function, but it only unlocks after completing chapter 10 of story mode. There’s a decent variety of trainers in the story mode, but there will come a point in which you need a second Rock-type, and then you’ll need to subject yourself to the Sync Pair Scout.
Sync Pair Scout is the gacha element of Pokémon Masters, and it also borrows heavily from Dragalia. There is one discounted pull per day for 100 gems, but despite earning many more times that number in story mode or through login bonuses, this pull uses paid gems ONLY. Free players have to spend 300 gems for a single pull or 3000 for a pull of ten. It took clearing roughly 80% of the story mode before I could do a 10-pull. Unlike other Nintendo gachas like Fire Emblem Heroes, there are no discounts for doing additional pulls that are visible, and so far there haven’t been increased odds for specific trainers. Maybe this will change in the wide release, but the 3/4/5 star ratings in other Nintendo mobile games are in Masters as well, and the percentages are 73/20/7 for 3/4/5 stars, respectively. Aside from higher stats, 5-star units also have a higher level cap, and it takes pulling a unit 6-7 times to get to the point that they can upgrade from 3-4 or 4-5. There is a mercy mechanic in play, but it involves doing 134 pulls to be able to pick a unit of your choice.
The Pokémon fanservice is high, even if focused again on Generation I too much (you start with Brock and Misty as teammates and have a Pikachu; some choice would be nice). The full list of trainers generally breaks down to early game Gym Leaders at three stars, late game gym leaders and Elite 4 at four, and main characters / rivals at five. The full list can be viewed here. The obligatory evil team getting in your way as you go for badges is about the level of plot I expect in a mobile game at launch. Masters performs well on my device (a Samsung Galaxy Note 9), and I didn’t notice any heat issues. One odd issue that I’ve run into is that it really doesn’t want me to quit out: when I click back in the Pokémon Center, I would expect it to offer a quit prompt and then bring me back to the phone desktop. Masters just brings me back to the title screen, forcing me to switch apps to get out of it.
I suspect that most of the issues I have with Masters as it exists now will get fixed in the wide release, but right now Pokémon Masters is the most unfriendly gacha title I didn’t bounce off of on the first night (Shoutout to Dr. Mario World). There aren’t many trainers in the game right now, so catching them all is theoretically possible, but I’m definitely not down for paying for the privilege.