A free-to-play Pokémon game sounds utterly terrifying. The way it could be monetised to truly squeeze pennies out of children is a horrifying prospect. If this was someone like an EA then this could’ve been the case, just look at the recently released Harry Potter game for the evidence of that. But I can thankfully report that Nintendo haven’t gone down the greedy path. Yes, there are ways to progress in the game by just throwing money at it, but after a few hours with Pokémon Quest, I never felt pressured to do so.
This isn’t your traditional Pokémon RPG. In fact, it’s more of a management game with a lot of your time spent organising your Pokémon to make them a more effective team. You build a team of three, then send them off to explore a level on Tumblecube Island. It’s named as such because everything is shaped like a cube, including the Pokémon; they’re basically like those Lego Blockhead figures you can buy.
Each section of the island is split into multiple levels. You select the one you want to tackle then watch your Pokémon run around the field battling the wild Pokémon till they hopefully become victorious and bring back a number of supplies to your base camp. While you can control what your Pokémon do, it’s actually best to set them to Auto and watch them do their thing. It doesn’t sound that involving, and it really isn’t, hence why I said the management is the most interesting aspect here.
Certain levels areeasier if you use a specific Pokémon type, so one thing it does have in common with the traditional RPGs is building up a strong, diverse team. You can level them up and attach stones that increase attack power and health – this is crucial for later levels. Otherwise you may find all your Pokémon fainting on the expedition, and then it’s a case of either spending currency to bring back the items you discovered, or just abandoning them. The currency is PM Tickets and I suppose now is the time to talk about the microtransaction aspect of Quest.
Multiple hours into the game and I have yet to spend any real money on it. In fact, the only time I had to wait for the in-game timer to recharge before I could do another expedition was when I intentionally played for an extended play session with the intention of seeing how far I could get before I had to take a break. The fact is, due to the limited and at times repetitive nature of the gameplay, you’ll only want to play Quest in short 20-minute bursts. That’s what it’s designed for. And if you play it this way it will last you months, and you’ll never feel like you have to spend money.
On top of a good sized map, there are the original 150 Pokémon to collect, and with the game’s somewhat slow pace it is going to be last you a long time. Especially as catching Pokémon is vastly different to anything that has come before. Reminiscent of Breath of the Wild weirdly, you have to cook recipes to attract Pokémon to your base camp then they automatically become part of your team. There is no fighting or catching, they just like the food you make, it’s all very pleasant. You earn different pots as you progress and mixing ingredients produces different recipes that attract different Pokémon to your camp. As you’d expect though, you have to do a specific number of expeditions before your recipe is complete, or once again you just spend PM Tickets if you’re impatient and want it done right this second.
There are multiple progress blockers that need waiting time before you can continue, yet they aren’t egregious enough to frustrate. The closest you could possibly come is the battery meter at the top. Initially starting off with 5, it recharges roughly every half an hour and once that depletes you have to wait before you can go on an expedition.
That aside, it’s safe to say I was very impressed with Pokémon Quest respecting me as a player and not a cash cow. Over the past week I’ve been dipping in and out on almost a daily basis to collect my daily rewards of PM Tickets and new Pokémon (a new creature randomly appears at your base every day). Here’s hoping this isn’t just a one off for Nintendo and they support it for future content because this is one of my biggest surprises of the year so far.