Release Date: May 30, 2018Platform: SwitchDeveloper: Game FreakPublisher: NintendoGenre: RPG
Gamers have been salivating at the chance to play a full-fledged Pokemon title at home and on the go with the Switch. So in classic Nintendo fashion, of course the company instead gives fans a game that no one was asking for and that will ultimately leave few Pokemon fans satisfied.
Don’t let the name fool you: Pokemon Quest is no RPG. Instead, it’s a free-to-start adventure/resource management game heavily influenced by some of the most annoying design tropes of free-to-play mobile games. There are no Pokeballs to catch monsters here. Instead, you attract new Pokemon to your settlement by cooking recipes that they like. The ingredients for these recipes are gathered on “expeditions,” short battle stages where your team of three Pokemon battle waves of wild pocket monsters.
Attack choices are extremely limited compared to a traditional Pokemon game. Basic attacks and all movement are handled automatically, leaving you little control over them as the trainer. Each of your characters can equip two special attacks at a time, but they need a few seconds to recharge after use. There’s also a button for your team to briefly split up and try to dodge attacks, but this doesn’t work terribly well in practice.
The game’s economy revolves around PM tickets and battery charges. Speeding up cooking, which takes at least a couple of expeditions, requires PM tickets, as do cosmetic items for your camp site. And if you fail an expedition and want to keep the items you found, guess what? That’s more PM tickets. Your inventory is at first limited to only 20 Pokemon and 20 power stones, items that can give them bonuses in battle. The only way to get more space? PM tickets. Meanwhile, expedition attempts are limited by your battery. When it runs out of juice, you have to wait 30 minutes for it to recharge before you can go on another expedition.
Initially, PM tickets aren’t too hard to come by. You can get them by completing challenges or logging in every day, but that’s only for smaller numbers of tickets to hasten simple recipes. Some of the more impressive cosmetic items will require a serious time commitment, or plunking down real money. Individual power stones start at $2.99. Expedition packs, which include special Pokemon, cosmetic items, and PM tickets range from $4.99-17.99.
Pokemon Quest is fully playable in both docked and handheld mode, but a few minutes with the joycons or the pro controller make it painfully clear that this is not a game meant to be played on the big screen. All of the controls revolve around tapping buttons on the screen. If you try to play in docked mode, you’re stuck with a painfully slow cursor. Nintendo has already announced that Pokemon Quest is coming to smartphones later this month and it’s obvious that the game was built more with those platforms in mind.
The game introduces a new setting, Tumblecube Island, as well as voxel graphics, borrowed from Minecraft. The graphics are fine, but the novelty of seeing blocky versions of first generation Pokemon wears off fast. The special effects from attacks aren’t much to look at either.
Similarly, the music is forgettable, featuring a variety of bright, happy, and largely inoffensive tunes you’ll have trouble remembering 10 minutes after you shut off the game. Pokemon sound effects are taken from the original Game Boy games, which is both a nice touch and kind of annoying.
Ultimately, “kind of annoying” is a good way to describe Pokemon Quest. It’s hardly the worst abuser of the freemium model that gaming has ever seen, but it feels like a poor fit for the Switch, with its large library of quality, affordable indie games. And with more free-to-play titles like Fortnite (which is also coming to the Switch) moving to full-fledged experiences that only charge for cosmetic items, Pokemon Quest feels like a relic from an age of gaming that’s best forgotten.