Once more, the world has Pokémania thanks to The Pokémon 2018 Video Game Press Conference. The surprise release of Pokémon Quest was something we just couldn’t miss out on.
Pokémon Quest, which debuted May 29th alongside the announcement of the two Pokémon Let’s Go! versions due this November, offers Switch owners an engaging adventure that doesn’t require much attention to enjoy. What it lacks in the core game’s systems-driven combat is made up in charm and a surprisingly effective hands-off approach to progression. Small parts of the game feel needlessly obscure, but players with an open mind will find a (free!) experience to tide them over until November.
The game opens on the enigmatic and colorful Tumblestone Island without much preamble: you are following tales of an ancient civilization that left behind unspoiled riches just waiting to be uncovered. As your humble little boat docks, your Silph Co. brand drone flits across a cubic voxel landscape to surveil things. It passes idyllic green plains full of frolicking monsters recognizable as Pokémon, even with their cubic proportions, before malfunctioning. A clean wipe of its data prompts the beginning of the game’s tutorial, which has you befriend one of five Pokémon – the original generation’s three starters, plus Pikachu and Eevee – before exploring the island’s immediate surroundings on foot.
This is where fans will begin noticing differences between Quest and main entries to the Pokémon franchise. The monsters on Tumblestone Island do not need to be battled and subsequently capture in balls. Instead, you befriend them without much fuss. Your first friend is soon joined by two others drawn to your base camp by the aroma of sizzling soup in a huge cast iron pot. Yes, catching new Pokémon in quest requires you to first cook a meal that appeals to the particular taste buds of the island’s wild denizens.
Once fed, your initial team blazes a trail through First Steppe, the aptly-named introductory zone. Exploration is automatic, requiring no direction from the player. Your friends seek out and attack targets on their own, but you can choose when to deploy any of the special attacks or when a temporary retreat, called Scatter, might help you avoid a devastating blow from the enemy.
Initially, I scoffed at the button that would further automate the game by allowing my team to even use their attacks at their own discretion. It removed my ability to call shots or dodge attacks and felt like removing the only part of the game I was actually playing. But experience made a fool of me because Quest, I think, functions as a neat bridge for between strategy and idle gameplay.
Exploration comprises half of Quest’s core loop, where you venture into the wilderness to defeat foes to collect natural goodies and Power Stones, which are vital to the other half of the game. In between treks, you are given the chance to kit out your team with any of the stones you have collected, which boost their two stats: Power and Hit Points. As you progress your Pokémon will unlock additional slots, and the game will reward you with more powerful stones. Thus the loop closes: Exploration gives you experience and stones, which you then equip to allow your team to overcome harder challenges for ever better gear.
It’s simple, but effective. By removing the micromanagement of HP and move sets, swapping during battle, and the other intricate systems that comprise the main series’ combat, Quest allows players to enjoy the game without devoting too much of their attention to it. This makes it the perfect transit game, as each stage takes perhaps five to seven minutes to complete. I played it while preparing a delicious Enchilada One Pot dinner for my partner and me, watching my fledgling squad of adventurers tear through a pack of rowdy Rattatas while I caramelized onions. Collecting the cooking materials and stones took only a couple of taps; with a few more touches of the screen they were out again, and I was back to heating water for the noodles.
To be sure, this won’t appeal to everyone. I’ve already read plenty of complaints online that Quest is basically a phone game ported to the Switch. And that is…not entirely false? A mobile version was indeed announced in late June so that players need not even bring their Switch with them to enjoy traipsing around the bright environs of Tumblestone. But I contend that criticism is actually a selling point thrown into the wrong light. Why want it to be anything more than a game you can “play” while your hands are busy folding laundry or petting your cats?
The game does borrow monetary microtransactions from the mobile gaming market in the form of PM Tickets, which are used to speed up the timer on the soup pot as well as purchasing decorations and larger boxes for both Pokémon and Power Stones. Additionally, players can purchase Expedition Packs in one of four varieties: regular, Great, Ultra, and a 3-pack bundle. Included in each are decorations, certain Pokémon with unique moves, an extra cooking pot, and a bonus to both your battery and the number of daily bonus PM tickets you earn at the shop. It should be noted that players have access to all Pokémon and content in the game for free. The Expedition Packs just help speed along your progression.
I have enjoyed my experience with Quest, despite minor quibbles. Of all the systems that are thoroughly explained in the tutorial, cooking recipes are left for you to suss out on your own by burning through your early reserve of ingredients, hoping for something other than Mulligan Stew. Trees, stone mounds, and other terrain crumbles when attacked, but doesn’t offer any real tactical advantage to you or your foes. Is it a cute choice or a vestigial part of what was once a more robust arena design?
Finally, the game can feel needlessly grind-heavy if you’re giving it your undivided attention. I breezed through the first two areas, only to hit a wall that forced me back to the training yard. Expect to repeat lower-power areas, if only to level up your team and allow the timer on your stews to wind down.
But for every mark against it, Pokémon Quest excels in selling a vibrant and world full of actual creatures. Back at camp all of your friends frolic in the open grass, cavorting children at a playground. I saw my Ponyta hitching a Pidgey-back ride from the hapless bird, while later on my Wartortle, Charmander, and shiny Growlithe stunted into a three-Mon tower.
Oh, yeah: apparently there are shiny Pokémon!
The Switch has proven to be a wonderful console for providing all manner of game experiences, from sprawling RPGs to platforming masterpieces to weird indie gems. Why not add an ostensibly free, mostly idle game full of Pokémon that are weirdly reminiscent of tiered wedding cakes?
- Developer: Game Freak
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Date of release: May 29, 2018 (Mobile release late June)
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Mobile later)