Developer: GAME FREAK Inc
Release Date: 30 May 2018
Reviewed by Pat Lunn
It’s fair to say that Nintendo has struggled to find the right way to approach mobile gaming. A lot of people were caught off guard by Super Mario Run’s paywall and the economy of Pokémon Go is heavily tied into where you live and how many trainers regularly play in your area. It’s for this reason that I went into Pokémon Quest - a game that exists on mobile as well as Switch - with a little scepticism.
From the short presentation given at the recent Pokémon press conference I had inferred that the game would require little player involvement. As a mobile game, I assumed it would be closer to the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Simpson’s Tapped Out, with players being bombarded by constant notifications and microtransaction prompts. Happily, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Welcome to Tumblecube Island
If you’re a Pokémon fan, you may be aware that there’s been a mod for Minecraft that adds your favourite monsters to the game for a couple of years now. If you weren’t aware, it sure seems that the Pokémon Company were. Pokémon Quest borrows that blocky aesthetic and applies it to the entire first generation of Pokémon. This gives the game a unique feel straight out of the gate and separates it from the main franchise, offering the player vastly different gameplay. The art style looks good, although I do find it can fall short with more intricate Pokémon like Tangela or Cloyster.
The meat of the game consists of a group of three Pokémon embarking on quests to defeat numerous others - including a boss at the end - as you watch from the side-lines. Not that you're stood there doing nothing, instead hurling orders like Ash Ketchum fighting the champion of the Indigo League.
You have some say in when your team use their special moves and disperse from their regular formation, but for the most part it’s a combination of two AI’s facing off against one another, and a little random map generation that decides whether your team are successful or not. This can feel a little hollow as it’s not really your choice that makes the difference 9 times out of 10, however there are occasional moments when a well timed special move takes out a key enemy Pokémon. In those moments you really feel like a true Pokémon trainer.
After a successful mission you’ll gain some ingredients - that can be put into a stew to attract new Pokémon to your party - and some power stones which increase your Pokémon’s attack and defence stats (with occasional additional buffs). Your Pokémon do also gain experience and level up, but apart from a small attack/defence boost and eventual evolution (yes they’ve found a way around Pokémon who need to be traded or given a stone) there’s very little benefit to levelling up.
Most of the gameplay then consists of swapping out power stones and trading in Pokémon you don’t want to gain some exp for the ones you do (the amount of Rattata I have sacrificed to evolve my Bulbasaur into Ivysaur boarders on the sadistic).
Focusing on type advantages rather than raw strength sped up my progress immeasurably. That being said, once you have your head around typing and you’ve loaded your team up with your highest-level power stones there isn’t much more to do except get more stones and keep circulating the party to make sure you have a team that's both strong enough and covers all the type bases. This might be enough strategy for some mobile games, but for a console release it feels a little thin.
Free-To-Play done right
As for where the free-to-play/pay-to-win element comes in, Pokémon Quest has an energy system. You have a bar of 5 energy units (although it can increase as you progress through the game) and you use a single unit whenever your team goes on a quest. You regain one unit every 30 minutes, and this tends to result in you recovering one unit of energy after playing through the five quests you’re able to do on a full bar, effectively giving you six.
You can then pay using the in-game currency for more energy. It costs 25 Poké-tickets to fill your whole bar (and this is your only energy refill option besides waiting patiently). Poké-tickets are acquired by completing achievements (e.g. use 10 different Pokémon moves) and you’re also given 50 a day for visiting the Pokémon Quest shop. Along with paying for energy refills you can also use them to finish cooking your stew early (which normally requires you to have gone on several quests before it’s ready to attract new Pokémon) and buy special ornaments offering background perks, which can be displayed at your base camp on Tumblecube Island.
The economy is pretty fair overall, as the number of free tickets allows you to manually fill your energy bar twice a day. Along with being replenished a further couple of times automatically, it gave me plenty of playtime without spending any money.
You can’t really play Pokémon Quest for hours at a time (without reaching into your wallet), but really, it’s a mobile title to be dipped into a few times a day. With that in mind, I found that there was no reason to buy any add-ons as I journeyed through the various areas of Tumblecube Island. That said, there are add-on packages on offer, and even the most expensive tops-out at £26.99, so it's not the most expensive batch of microtransactions in the world.
At the end of the day, this is not the mobile RPG that hard-core fans might be looking for, but it is a step up from Pokémon GO – there’s shiny Pokémon, a slightly more intense combat system and a more tactical approach in general. It's a good middle-ground between the RPG action Pokéfans love, and a casual mobile game that's accessible to all.
Pros & Cons
+ Unobtrusive microtransactions
+ Some good strategic elements
+ Visually pleasing
- Little active gameplay
- Only Gen 1 Pokémon