So we weren’t really too excited when The Pokemon Company announced that it was putting out another Pokemon game on Android. Pokemon Quest had initially come out on the Nintendo Switch but as we discovered in this hands-on, the company might have been better off launching it on mobile first, because it most certainly is a mobile game and not a console one. It also breaks the mold of being a traditional Pokemon game, and as such, hardcore Pokemon fans might either like or not like it, depending on how much you enjoy a “fresh” take on the well-loved franchise.

You can download Pokemon Quest as a free-to-play game in that, you don’t really need to spend any money on the game to finish it. At that point, the question really will be how willing you are to grind and collect cubist versions of Pokemon – because there will be a lot of grinding in the game. We are more convinced that this is a “free-to-start” game, and that you might need to spend the minimum USD$30.00 – which is how much a traditional Pokemon game would cost, anyways – to truly enjoy the game. More on this later, but let’s dig into the game.

How does the game shape up?

Pokemon Quest puts the player straight on Tumblecube Island, and there is no explanation why. For those of you who need an in-depth storyline to play a game, you might get the idea at the start that this might not be that kind of game. The island is chock full of the original 151 Kanto Pokemon, and that means it includes Mew and Mewtwo as well, which is good news for hardcore fans. The first catch? They are rendered in cubist art, as is everything in this island. You may or may not like the visual approach (more on this later) but it certainly is a new way of looking at Pokemon.

You get to explore the island with your drone companion MoBee IV, and again, there is no explanation why you would want to do so (it’s not that kind of game). You will get to name your character, and have a choice of the original starter Pokemon – Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle – or Pikachu, plus the wildcard Eevee.

Catching Pokemon will be a bit different here, as you will not go through the usual Pokeballs way we all are used to. To gain more Pokemon to your collection, you will have to “cook” food to attract Pokemon to your base camp – which is certainly a new way of doing things. The Pokemon you attract can then be used in teams of three to explore the island in “expiditions”.

No other people on the island means that there will be no Pokemon battles of any sort, and the game will just be grinding and collecting until you’ve caught ‘em all.

Gameplay quirks

From the beginning of our hands-on with the game, we were immediately convinced that Pokemon Quest was better suited to be on mobile than on the Nintendo Switch. The game gives you short bursts of action – care of these expeditions – that last for only a few minutes. In that sense, you can play the game for a while and then leave it when you need to, much like any mobile game of choice.

The great thing about Pokemon Quest is its level of polish – the game will play like a paid game in terms of seamlessness and visual style, something you will not get in most free-to play games. In this part, we are admittedly thankful that Game Freak did its homework on the visuals, because the whole game might be a tad bit forgettable, and the great visuals might have just helped us in making sure we played the game enough for this hands-on.

On each expedition, your team of three Pokemon moves around the island fighting waves of wild Pokemon and bosses. There is a small level of control when here, as players can choose when each Pokemon will use their unique abilities. Other than that, there is a “scatter” button that will allow your party to run from battle. But as you will find out after playing for a while, you can delegate these expeditions fully to the game’s AI.

Cooking your recipes

Pokemon Quest will have you cooking to attract Pokemon to your camp. You will be cooking recipes made from the 10 available ingredients that you find on expeditions. Different recipes will attract different Pokemon, and that’s probably all there is to it.

Certain recipes attract Pokemon by type, while others attract them by color. Precious ingredients attract rarer types of Pokemon, and higher level cooking pots consume more ingredients to attract higher level Pokemon. And aside from higher level pots (which also increase the cooking time), you can have multiple pots to cook more recipes simultaneously.

But the only way to get more pots and higher level ones is to buy in-game currency, so this is where we will move the discussion to the monetization of the game.

Free-to-play and monetization

Pokemon Quest features a stamina system – in this case, your drone’s battery – that limits how many expeditions you can go on. It is initially capped at five charges, and regains one charge every 30 minutes. To wit, you can also pay to buy the game’s currency, PM Tickets, to recharge your battery. We like the way the game is monetized, actually.

Buying PM Ticket packs do not just give you battery charges for your drone, they are the only ways you can increase your number of pots – effectively doubling or even quadrupling your potential to attract more Pokemon.

And yes, you can play the game without paying – you will just need to be ready for the grind time. We recommend that you pay for the initial USD$30.00, which will give you maximum pots and a lot of PM Tickets for extra battery charges. Of course, leveling up your Pokemon in expeditions will give you 1 extra battery charge, so the game doesn’t really require you to buy. It’s just faster to play when you pay the initial amount. After that, we find no other need to pay anymore.

Conclusion

Pokemon Quest is a surprisingly well-thought out game, and it has a level of polish that you will appreciate at this market of free-to-play games. Unfortunately, the depth of the game – or lack of it – might bore you after some sessions. If you are not a hardcore fan, you might not appreciate the grind.

But in the game’s defense, there is no incessant nagging to buy stuff, and we appreciate that. You can even finish the game without buying, if that’s your trip.