Monster-catching for grown-ups in Monster Quest

Monster Quest is a new iOS game from GREE. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of the two in-game currencies.

Monster Quest is the product of GREE’s North American role-playing game studio and, according to GREE’s senior director of product for RPG titles, is designed to appeal specifically to older players who grew up with Nintendo’s Pokémon series but are now looking for something with a more mature aesthetic and storyline.

Monster Quest casts players in the role of a custom male or female avatar who is tasked with wandering the world, collecting monsters and building up a settlement. The player is thrown straight into the game with absolutely no explanation of what is going on, so those hoping for a similar story-driven experience to the Pokémon series will be disappointed. There are hints of plot given through the game’s quests, but the experience is clearly not designed to be a primarily narrative-driven one.

While out in the wilds, various monsters wander around, seemingly oblivious to the player’s presence until they are tapped on, at which point they stop. Tapping again causes one of the player’s stock of monsters to attack them in exchange for energy. This causes damage to the enemy monster, who then gets the chance to deal damage to the player’s energy stock if they are still standing after the attack. Once the enemy is defeated, the player is then able to use “Capture Discs” to attempt to make the knocked-out monster their own — the most basic of these may be purchased using soft currency, but only have a 70% chance of successfully capturing a beast. More effective capture discs may either be found as random loot in the wild or purchased using hard currency.

Once a player has captured monsters, they are either simply kept in their team or may be fused together to make new ones. Fusion is accomplished using a laboratory building which must first be constructed in the game’s settlement-building component. The fusion process requires two monsters and a period of real time, at which point the player is given the option of “boosting” the resulting monster with either soft or hard currency. The exact results of fusion are semi-randomly determined, meaning it can be an unpredictable process if players are attempting to acquire a specific creature to add to their arsenal.

The rest of the settlement-building component consists of building the correct habitats to unlock particular monsters, and collecting income from various structures. As is the norm for this type of game, most activities in this component take various periods of real time to accomplish, and delays may be bypassed using hard currency. There’s very little in the way of strategy involved and this component seems to have been added as something of an afterthought — though that said, the actual exploration and combat section of the game is not particularly deep or complex, either.

Players also have the opportunity to battle other players at any time. This occurs in a similar fashion to popular “card-battle” mobile titles in that there is absolutely no interaction required from either player — attacking and defending monsters are chosen automatically, and there is no option to influence the outcome of the battle once it has begun. This has the benefit of allowing PvP to take place in an asynchronous manner, but completely misses the point of the player vs player battles in the original Pokémon series — they are a strategic, turn-based battle of wits between two live competitors in which adapting to unexpected situations on the fly is as much a part of the fun as preparing a strong team in advance.

In fact, Monster Quest seems to do quite a lot of missing the point. Part of the appeal of the cartoonish craziness of the original Pokémon series is that it is universally appealing — while it is flashy, spectacular and filled with silly humor to appeal to children, beneath its candy-coated exterior lies a deep and complex game system which keeps players of all ages engaged for many hundreds of hours. With Monster Quest, however, we have an experience that mistakenly equates “mature aesthetic” with ” dull visuals” and “mobile-friendly gameplay” with “lacking in depth and interaction.”

GREE’s considerable skills at user acquisition, retention and monetization will doubtless ensure that Monster Quest enjoys a healthy audience at least in the short term — its various engagement and monetization strategies are tried, tested and proven, after all, and the game shot straight to No. 1 in the games charts shortly after release. Ultimately, though, Monster Quest is a drab, uninteresting and eminently forgettable experience. It’s yet another title to add to the pile of mobile games attempting to put a “freemium” spin on successful, established franchises and missing the point entirely in the process.

Monster Quest is currently ranked at No. 5 in Top Free Apps, No. 3 in Top Free iPad Apps, No. 1 in Top Free Games and No. 1 in Top Free iPad Games. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.