Pokémon Quest is Nintendo’s latest ‘free to start’ game on the Switch, a take on the regular tapper games that first became prominent on mobile devices. It’s a streamlined adventure taking only the very basics elements of the series on board, but has enough to keep idle hands busy. The game’s core mechanics revolve around that of an RPG, with a simplistic battle system triggered when sending your team out on expeditions. The focus of the battle system is on timing your attacks accurately in order to maximize damage to your opponents and dodging blows. You don’t have control of your Pokémon’s movements and there is a degree of automation in battles, the game offering to take control for you. However, as things progress you will have to take charge in order to fend off tougher swarms of enemies. There’s up to three of your Pokémon on the field at any time, either attacking from short or long range and you can get bonuses for each stage on whether you have a certain type of Pokémon, in the series’ classic rock-paper-scissors fashion.
Outside of battles, you maintain a base similar in tone to Wiiware title ‘My Pokémon Ranch’, where idle Pokémon hang out alongside any decorations you have discovered. In order to get new Pokémon you cook meals in a pot which attract new friends to your site. They can level up the regular way by gaining exp, but also can get stronger by using ‘Power Stones’ equippable items which double as an inventory management system. You can recycle these stones for more food, or expand your small storage for some of the game’s precious currency. You may even sacrifice your Pokémon to make your others stronger and learn new moves, in a comical, unsettling cutscene where the chosen one rams his way through the offerings like a football player butting through to score a touchdown.
The initial release on Switch is testing the waters as it is aims for a release on Android and iOS later in the year, which explains a lot about the title. It suggests to you to play in handheld, using the touch screen, so using the joy-con or the pro controller can be a little frustrating at times. While using a controller you use a little pointer to navigate clicking through menus, and can use some button inputs for the battles, but it’s not built for that. From the ground up, it clearly was built for mobile with all its timers and quotas, all the room for adding stuff-on or spending more of your PM Tickets. It’s refreshing how the game does give you a taste for free, handing you 50 tickets every 24 hours and a new Pokémon visits your hub every 22. The full recharge to play again doesn’t take more than a couple hours, which is long enough for you to turn the game off and do something else for a couple hours. Potentially go play a better, more fulfilling game? Sure it’s not the most innovative game but it can sink its cute blocky teeth in to keep you coming back. These kinds of games are infamous for being little dopamine drips and for the first day or two I did feel thrills sometimes when pulling something off or catching a monster I liked. This game can get away with it because of it’s free to play nature and that’s fine – but there’s just not that much to it. Other free games in recent years have given players so much freedom with the gameplay, from the quirky Let It Die to the mammoth Fortnite, but Pokémon Quest doesn’t do much other than build upon the simple, tired out freemium model.
The one thing is does have going for it is a cute art style and a tight grasp on nostalgic feelings related to the first generation of Pokémon. The cube style draws comparisons from classic GameCube title Cubivore and modern phone games using a faux 8-bit 3D isometric style like Crossy Road or Shooty Skies. By restricting the catchable Pokémon to the original 150 you can instantly identify what pokemon you are looking at, even if they’ve been skewed and stretched into cube forms. It’s likely if they attempted to bring in any more past the first or second generation it would alienate players who have been away from the series for a long time. It’s part of the appeal being about to spot even the least memorable Pokémon, like you’re playing a more violent version of Pokémon Snap. Although that said, some Pokémon don’t come through the transition looking well. There’s some incredibly ugly pokemon in this game. Poor Magmar…
I have been trying to keep playing Pokémon Quest until I beat it as it absorbed me unlike any other to lure me with a free game. That said, it becomes punishingly hard past the first 6 Stages to continue levelling up your Pokémon, either forcing you to wait to find better or stronger Pokémon or shell out to quicken up the process. Even then, it feels like a mixed bag, there’s no real guarantee you’ll get the ones you want and you will get doubles that you’ll end up sacrificing to get a tiny bit more exp for your squad. This is a game that will perhaps be more at home on your phone as a pocket sized distraction, but on a platform that has so much to offer like the Switch, it’s a massive waste of time.