The Pokémon Company describes Pokémon Quest as a “free-to-start” “rambunctious action RPG” where “players set off on expeditions with a team of three Pokémon to explore Tumblecube Island and find its hidden treasures.” Kotaku’s Gita Jackson called it “a cute little RPG” that’s “wildly different from other Pokémon games, right down to the art style, which renders everything in cubes.” The Verge’s Megan Farokhmanesh likened it to laid-back mobile cat collecting game Neko Atsume, saying it’s “not a role-playing game in the series’s [sic] traditional sense.” And Bustle’s Lucia Peters said it’s “Basically ‘Minecraft,’ But With Squirtles.” Separately, each of these statements are pretty normal, expected even, but together they demonstrate just how difficult it is to explain Pokémon Quest.
By and large, Pokémon Quest is a mobile game, but no one seems to want to call it that, including The Pokémon Company. This might be because the game’s only on the Nintendo Switch right now—which is by definition a handheld console that doesn’t have to be, but also a home console that doesn’t have to be—but by the end of the month, it’ll also be on iOS and Android, the platform I’d wager the game was originally intended for. In fact, I imagine that The Pokémon Company eventually made the decision last-minute to adapt the game for the Nintendo Switch in order to capitalize on the demand they knew would be created by the announcement of Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon Let’s Go, Eevee!. I’m happy to have it on the Switch, and think it adds some nice variety to the titles available for the platform, but at the end of the day Pokémon Quest is still a mobile game.
Whether or not Pokémon Quest was originally intended for the Nintendo Switch doesn’t mean much, but it’s key in understanding why it’s so difficult to describe. It’s one of the first big free-to-play mobile titles to come to the Switch, but it sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to all of the other games available on the platform. This is mostly because of the time limits imposes, which is employed through a system of trading “battery” units to embark on expeditions that recharge every thirty minutes, encouraging players to put down the game and come back to it later (unless they want to pay, of course).
The Pokémon Company and most of the reviews I’ve read so far call Pokémon Quest an RPG, but I don’t fully agree. Sure, you role-play as a Pokémon trainer—cooking food in pots to attract adorable voxel-based Kanto region Pokémon to your camp, sending Pokémon in teams of three on expeditions across Tumblecube Island, as well as managing their stats with the Power Stones you randomly receive from each level (which increase strength, energy, speed, etc.)—but that’s pretty much where the interactivity ends. The game gives you the option of selecting special attacks during the expeditions your Pokémon battle through, but this feels pointless given that you can set it to do all of this automatically, which doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on success or failure. This should, by definition, make Pokémon Quest more of a simulation or action adventure game than an action RPG, but The Pokémon Company says otherwise.
The idea behind Pokémon Quest is simple, which might be another important factor into why it’s so difficult to describe, but the result is a game thats both innovative, laid-back, and pretty fun. I’ve been playing it non-stop since it came out, and I’m by no means a die-hard Pokémon fan (I didn’t like Xand Y, and I didn’t even bother with Sun and Moon, or UltraSun and UltraMoon). It’s a great way to get introduced to this new generation of Pokémon, one that seems ready to push boundaries, expand its influence, try new things, and is doing its damndest to reinvent itself for a new era.
Pokémon Quest is available now for Nintendo Switch (for free, so you really don’t have much of an excuse… unless you don’t like fun).