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Pokémon Quest is the best free-to-play game in the series yet

Pokémon Quest is not a role-playing game in the series’s traditional sense. There’s creature collecting, but it’s more through luck and patience instead of grinding. There are battles, but they don’t need your help to proceed. Exploration is out of your hands. It’s a free-to-play Switch game that isn’t meant to be settled into for a long haul, but sampled at your leisure. Or, if you’re like me, obsess over on a daily basis.

Set on Tumblecube Island, the game leans heavily into this boxy theme with cute, Minecraft-like versions of the original 151 pokémon. Time is spent split between a base camp where your new friends roam freely, and exploring the island. After you’ve befriended a starter pal of your choice — Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, or perhaps Pokémon: Let’s Go’s leads, Pikachu or Eevee — you slowly make your way through levels that require you to tap attacks and battle waves of wild pokémon.

Pokémon Quest’s battles don’t offer a deep strategy, but they are fun. You can bring up to three pokémon on an expedition, each of which has only two moves to choose from. However, the game offers some customization through different stones you pick up in battle. Red boosts your attack, while blue bumps up your HP. Other special stones can also adjust your attack width or frequency. With the right combination of powerful stones, you can make even the puniest of pokémon a solid fighter. The game offers an auto option that’s useful for level grinding if you want to set your Switch down and walk away, but it’s far more interesting to control battles yourself, timing out attacks and scattering your party just before an enemy attack hits.

Back at camp, Quest lets you decorate your base or cook to attract new pokémon. It’s a mix-and-match guessing game of figuring out what foods attract specific characters, whether it’s cooking up something all yellow to lure in electric types, or tossing “hard” ingredients into a pot to lure in rock pokémon. Occasionally, a stray pokémon may even wander in on its own.

Like most free-to-play games, Pokémon Quest includes timers on several aspects of gameplay. Your ability to do battle is measured by a battery that will slowly deplete after each fight; meals will only cook while you’re away fighting. There are in-game tickets to help alleviate these time gates, and so far I haven’t found myself forced to spend any real cash to get around them. Still, it means you shouldn’t expect to tuck into Pokémon Quest for long stretches at a time.

The joy of Pokémon Quest is much like that of Neko Atsume, a cat collecting game for mobile devices. Traditional Pokémon games are about completing an adventure. Quest, like Neko Atsume, hones in on the details of the experience. It’s about creating a space perfectly suited to your tastes and interests. It gives you a chance to sit and wait to see what new surprises will roll in next.

Pokémon Quest is currently available for Switch, with a mobile release expected later this month.


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