After an indisputable dark age in the mid-2000s, Pokémon is back, and out of the corner swinging. Of course, it never disappeared anywhere, as titles like Diamond and Pearl sold like gangbusters, but it’s absolutely fair to say that the general public didn’t love Pikachu like they did in 1999. However, Pokémon Go brought the series back to widespread provenance, and now Nintendo are about to cash in hard with an absolute assault; in the next 12 months, there will be at least three Pokémon titles to come, which means the future’s looking as bright as a hyper beam for Squirtle and friends. How does this brand new title fit in, and does it live up to the established high standards of the series?

Nintendo have been dipping their toe into mobile gaming as of late, and by the grace of Oak, must they be high on free-to-play business models as there’s a boatload of freemium aspects in Pokémon Quest. Available for zilch, nada, bupkis on the Nintendo eShop, Quest is a heavily streamlined real time strategy game in which turn-based RPG battling is completely de-emphasised, and now you command a team of three Pokémon to fight through waves of area-appropriate ‘mons.  You’ll still get to level them up all the same, but now you’ll be tasked with crafting in order to find new Pokémon, as well as being in charge of customising your own camp area with decorative materials in order to hunt out elusive creatures. In short, Quest is like a Pokémon game, but not at all.

As this game is free, it has a bit of creative licence to establish its own aesthetic; there’s nobody to really disappoint if it doesn’t fit into the established Pokémon house style. You get the sense that Nintendo have been watching a lot of Minecraft on YouTube lately, as the Mojang sandbox absolutely inspired the look of this game. Quest is very blocky looking, with all of the Pokémon (the first 150) being rendered as cubes, which works for some (Tentacool and Oddish fit the style) while looking plain wrong on others – Pikachu looks like he wants to be put down, and he’s supposed to be the series’s star! Sad to say, but the visuals, while colourful and pleasingly chunky, let themselves down by looking plain wrong on some beloved Pokémon.

This game admittedly gets away with a lot of crap by dint of being free. It also utilises a bizarre auto-play feature; a game so casual, you do not even need to care about actually playing it. The gameplay is hardly premium either. The premise is acceptable, and not having to navigate menus is a breath of fresh air. Commanding your team to victory is functional, but it has no other tricks than that, and you’ll find yourself doing the same battles over and over, in the same way every time, just to farm items and a bit of experience. Yet while grinding for EXP in most RPGs achieves a Zen-like satisfaction, this is unadulterated tedium, “alleviated” by the fact that you don’t have to do the fighting if you don’t feel like it. The only welcome break (aside from a swift and merciful death) comes in the form of crafting recipes from created items to lure Pokémon to your camp, not dissimilar to the function that Honey and Sweet Scent had in the main series. This is Quest’s poor man’s equivalent of catching them all; feeding ‘em all a big ladleful of jambalaya. It’s stripped back, and that’s the point, I get that, but there’s a difference between a close shave and just outright scalping someone.

The essence of Pokémon has been so desperately diluted to its most cynical point that it’s like looking at someone you used to love and not recognising them anymore. The counter-argument to be made is that Quest is not for me, it’s made for casual fans, and I accept that, but Pokémon Go stayed true to the spirit and tone of the games; this is just dull. Quest comes as such a betrayal to the established Pokémon ethos.  Pokémon always innovates, or at the very least, tries to blaze its own trail, but Quest feels so also-ran, so “me too” that it doesn’t feel like a Pokémon game. Not really. It’s like a kid dressing up in their dad’s clothes. Same DNA, same clothing, but it will never fool anyone blessed with the gift of sight.

Ultimately, this game is a bit like snacking on peanuts before a big meal; it definitely fills a hole, but it doesn’t compare to the main event in any way. It’s fairly pretty and will fulfill an itch inside you for Pokémon, but that still doesn’t distract this from the fact that it is, essentially, an ungodly waste of time.

Verdict: Pokémon Quest will keep fans entertained for a solid 5 minutes, but no more than that. It’s a skin-deep cash grab that, even as far as mobile games go, should have been done better.