(Credit: Screenshot: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

Pokemon Quest arrived on both iOS and Android today, after a brief stint as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. In this action-oriented spinoff of the "mainline" series, you explore and gather loot on Tumblecube Island, which is populated mostly by hostile creatures in the form of wild pokemon. It's a brightly colored environment rendered with retro blocky shapes. And according to Apple, Pokemon Quest is already the most popular free game in the Action category on its App Store, beating out the likes of Fortnite, PUBG Mobile, and perennial favorite Subway Surfers.

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You get one pokemon on your side to start with -- choose from popular creatures such as Pikachu, Charmander, and Squirtle -- and you get more team members by cooking meals at your campsite. The ingredients are part of the loot that you collect, and different foods will attract different pokemon.

Once your team is assembled, you can do expeditions, which means going out and fighting several waves of creatures. Your team controls their own movement, but you decide when to use their special attacks. Combat happens in real-time, so keeping track of all three of your pokemon at once can get a little hectic.

(Credit: Screenshot: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

Pokemon Quest is free to play, so you're probably wondering where the in-app purchases come in. And how! There's the energy meter that every mobile gamer has come to totally love (not), which drains a little when you go on an expedition and can be refilled only by buying "PM tickets" from the in-game cash shop or by waiting for the automatic refill timer to finally reach zero. The meter has five increments, and the timer reaching zero doesn't refill it. You just get one of the five increments back.

Meanwhile, your campsite cooking process -- the only way to get additional team members -- has its own timer, but it's hidden. On the bright side, you can spend 10 PM tickets for each of the two ticks in its meter to end the waiting process. The cash shop also has a boatload of camp decorations, all of which provide bonuses like increased drop rates or a bigger energy meter, and some of which cost hundreds of tickets.

(Credit: Screenshot: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

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The game asserts that everything in the game is obtainable without spending money, and this appears to be technically true on account of periodically receiving a trickle of tickets, which you must manually collect.

With the increasing scrutiny of open-ended in-app purchases in games targeted at children, Pokemon Quest's bog-standard mobile business model may not go over as well as it used to. If you think you can avoid it by purchasing the Nintendo Switch version, be aware that it's also based on the same "free-to-play" system.

The takeaway

  1. Combat in real time makes it difficult to play with much strategy or tactics, and the automated movement can make the game feel like you don't have a lot of player agency.
  2. When your energy meter empties, you have to either stop playing until it gets another tick -- requiring a level of patience that the target audience is not known for -- or cough up real money. Collecting more pokemon is gated in a similar manner: wait or pay.

See also

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.