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Pokémon Quest is a joyful, stripped-down version of the franchise

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Can a simplified version of Pokémon still satisfy?

Pokémon Quest, which just launched on Nintendo Switch and is coming in late-June to mobile devices, includes some of the best parts of Pokémon without all the extraneous stuff, like a slow-moving story or overly complex battle systems. It may be one of the most stripped-down Pokémon experiences in years, but it’s also one of my favorite entries in the franchise so far.

In Pokémon Quest, your journey takes you to Tumblecube Island, a bizarre region where voxel-style Pokémon roam free. You sail off to this new land looking for treasure and, of course, new Pokémon to aid you in your journey. From the get-go, you set up a customizable base camp and slowly explore the many areas of the island, fighting an array of familiar faces in cube form.

The game is light on story, so you won’t spend your time chatting it up with plucky trainers or dueling with oddball foes. Most of your time is spent on light management elements, like giving your Pokémon new buffs and exploring deeper and deeper into the island, amassing a stronger, square-shaped army as you go. Battles are semi- or even fully automated, which makes Pokémon Quest feel much different from its turn-based brethren.

Combat in Pokémon Quest is simple as a press of a button
Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

Gaining new Pokémon is even less hands-on than the combat. Instead of happening upon new creatures in the wild and battling them to gain their services, you concoct various recipes to lure new buddies to your camp. The results are random, but based on what you cook, you can at least sway creatures of a certain type your way. Once they’re at your camp, you’re free to add them to your team without any extra fuss.

This streamlined, free-to-start adventure may rub many veteran fans the wrong way, but for those of us who have had trouble sticking to one of the more recent mainline entries, it’s worth trying.

All of this slimming down feels like it’s done to hone in on core experience: enjoying the satisfaction that comes from progression. In a typical Pokémon game, you’d need to battle, capture, breed and manage your team and items to make any real progress to be proud of. In Pokémon Quest, so much of that busy work is simplified or automated, yet the reward — watching your Pokémon grow strong and more effective in battle — is still there. What would usually take hours in a normal Pokémon game can now be accomplished in a fraction of the time.

That’s not to say that Pokémon Quest is entirely an idle experience, although it can be if you’d like. There’s still some level of management and combat strategy involved. You ultimately have a choice of who to bring on quests, which quests you go on, what buffs each creature holds and when they perform special attacks. There’s even a flee button that you can use to dodge attacks.

Your team is organized by their range of attack, much less than their type
Nintendo / The Pokemon Company

I’ve already sunk a few hours into Pokémon Quest since it came out, and because it’s not designed to be played for hours like its counterparts, I’ve felt zero need to drop a penny on it so far. But you can buy currency that you can use to speed up certain timers, refresh your “energy” or buy upgrades that will speed up certain progression meters. Those options are great for those who really want to sink their teeth in, but for low-key players like me, I’m happy to plug away at the game in small chunks during breaks or while I cook dinner.

I’ve owned every mainline Pokémon game since the franchise started, but I no longer want to devote the time to finish them. Over time, they’ve demanded a significant investment to get the most out of them. I’m sure a satisfying journey exists at the end of every Pokémon I’ve abandoned, but I’m glad to know I can still get the same kicks without spending a cent. I haven’t been this happy with a Pokémon game in a while.

Pokémon Quest is out now on Switch and will launch on iOS and Android devices in late June.