I downloaded this mostly because I wanted to get a feel for what was already out there when fishing for ideas for Jerako: Walk With Me! Sometimes knowing what’s already out there helps you understand what people expect and therefore want to see.
And for what it is, it’s cute, but not really the sort of thing I expected it to be.
Let’s dive in.
I more or less stumbled over it by chance perusing apps for anything but health and fitness spyware on my Samsung Galaxy Watch5 and decided "why not?"
The game immediately prompts you to choose between a cyan cat, red dog, or green lizard, then makes you choose a name out of a list. So already you’re limited a bit. The inspirations graphically are clear: old LCD pets with chunky pixels the likes of which flooded the market in the ’90s and 2000s. This isn’t a bad thing and they used the addition of color to do some nice things.
My initial experience was to more or less poke around a bit, not get very excited, and forget about it for about a day, at which point I got curious and found my pet at the time, Charlie (Charlie 1, honestly, in honor of my mom’s oldest cat who died many years ago now) with zero stars in all stats and decided to simply uninstall it. After another day, I ended feeling like I should give it more of a chance and happened to be wearing my Sony SmartWatch 3, so, innocently, I reinstalled it from the phone side as one has to with that unit and dubbed the new cat Shadow after a neighborhood cat everyone seemed to know the name of, but nobody knew the owner of, and who sadly seems to have been absent for a couple years now and is probably no longer with us. This seemed to go fine and I played with him a bit, but when I had to switch watches, I was met with confusion, because the app was gone from the Galaxy Watch5. I ended up trying to uninstall and reinstall with no luck, then sort of gave up and generated a new Shadow on my phone, Shadow 2, and played with him there. I switched back to my SmartWatch 3 eventually and found Shadow there in a sorry state, and without good tools to fix it, I wondered what I should do and uninstalled. I finally figured out the issue: the Galaxy Watch5 claims you can install apps from your phone and is going to Hell for lying. So I installed on the watch and was presented with character creation, which I thought about very carefully and went with Charlie again, deciding I could manage a Charlie and a Shadow as I cycled through my 3 watches. Only I was taking care of Shadow on my phone and when I went to load him up on my SmartWatch 3, I discovered it was an entirely different Shadow. One I had no way of managing on my phone and whose lifespan immediately became questionable as my SmartWatch 3 started having battery issues literally that day. It became a question of what to do, because I had 2 Shadows tied to one installation and no means of managing 3 of these things while my SmartWatch 3 lasted. In the meantime, Shadow 2 had fallen into a sorry state via my accidental negligence and so I felt the kindest thing to do would be to get him back up to speed and uninstall. But then I thought better of it and reinstalled only to find it had saved him in his sorry state, totally ignoring my efforts to at least give him a happy ending. So I did the same thing again and uninstalled for good, leaving only Charlie 2 on my Galaxy Watch5.
The whole harrowing experience of these duplicate cats was honestly more stressful than it needed to be, and I strongly dislike when any app has zero integration between the phone and watch. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into it and it’s always a turn-off because the app is almost never designed decently for the phone in the first place, though in this case, it’s actually designed incredibly well for phone and both round and square watches.
So I guess if you need to know whether you want this, the fact it works well with any screen it works on is nice.
Beyond that, after all of the pain and heartache failing to juggle multiple pets, maintaining one is a pretty chill experience. Part of why I uninstalled in the first place was because I felt there would be too much care and feeding involved, but really if you check in once a day at about the same time, the pet never falls into a particularly bad state assuming you maxed out all his health stars the day before. It becomes much easier if you unlock more of the activities. The issue I ran into was you’re only initially set to 3 stars for a new pet, which has more than enough time to run out if you’re doing a daily check-in, so this wasn’t so much a failure on my part as a rather baffling design decision that made it feel like it was going to be a lot more needy than it actually is.
What’s in the box?
Nominally, this is a digital pet whose primary claim to fame is the ability to explore random dungeons. On top of that, there’s a "Garden" that refills over time and it takes 200 Food to feed your pet no matter what grade of Food you’re feeding it, and your Garden holds a maximum of 1000 of it. You can play minigames that will grant Food or else raise its stats, while some are more skill-based or simply random and might lower its stats for failures. Your pet never actually dies, though. The minigames are fun enough little time-wasters and include something not entirely dissimilar from Frogger as one of the pinnacles of the offering, with another recently added where you attempt to avoid a falling stream of ghosts and others that are simpler tap-happy games or that require no skill at all.
The dungeon crawling is tied to the advancement of your pet, because as your pet gets smarter, it gets more dice to work with to roll in encounters, which throw all the dice down and whoever has the highest roll wins. Otherwise, your pet getting smarter unlocks more effective "Play" activities to make it happier faster, better Food options that are more filling, and better "Learn" activities that raise its intelligence faster. It starts with 2 combat dice and gets another for every 60 brains it accumulates. My "strategy" as it was was to more or less ignore the whole "Quest" thing because I quickly realized that if you interacted with any map object, you only got one chance to decide how to handle it and it would then disappear forever.
The thing I didn’t realize is that a new map is randomized every single time you Quest, so literally all of it is ephemeral, which would have more or less eliminated my apprehension. That also makes it less interesting, though, because there’s really no failure state and no items in the game except your static hard limit of Food, which is easy enough to refill, so Quest really is just another way of messing with your pet’s stat levels and raising its intelligence as EXP for winning battles. It literally doesn’t do anything the rest of your options don’t already other than display a wealth of quite charming faux-LCD pixel art. Whether that on its own is enough of a justification depends on your personal preferences.
The graphics are charming; there’s a little music and just enough in the sound effects department to keep things interesting; and really, I feel like this is a bit more akin to something one might expect on the PocketStation more than a dedicated device. The aesthetics hit the goals they aim for, which strike a nice balance between retro and modern.
I feel like Pet Quest is at the same time far more robust than the digital pets it seeks to emulate and far more limited than it could have been if it had aimed to be anything more than a digital pet. You as the player are really only rewarded with being able to see more of the charming art and animations, but those are finite and even the questing flavor text quickly repeats itself. The thing it doesn’t do that its forebears did is offer any kind of consequences. You can recover your pet from empty with minimal effort and its emotional state is entirely a function of those levels, so it doesn’t stay mad at you or evolve into a worse form or die from your neglect. There’s no real end-game after you’ve seen everything. You can abandon your current pet and start over, but then you’re just seeing the same thing 3 times with equal effort each time and have tossed away all of your prior efforts for more or less nothing. Coming up with a game loop is hard. I know this personally. But at the same time, there’s very little reward here. The biggest one you’re likely to get is attachment to your pet. Otherwise, things go quickly enough that there’s not a lot to keep you interested long-term. There are a lot of things that could take this app to the next level, like a proper inventory or just some level of object permanence that would mean your pet might run away if you don’t treat it well enough, but ultimately not having anything like that means it doesn’t actually demand your time, either. It’s easy for a digital pet to become demanding in ways that make it unhealthy. I just can’t help but feel for all this thing does, though, it spread itself a bit too thin and built outward instead of upward. As a demo of what’s theoretically possible, there are enough good ideas that it’s worth examining, but most of those good ideas are better as inspiration more than fully realized in Pet Quest itself.
Is it worth your time? I think on the whole, yes, and it doesn’t demand very much of it. At the same time, if you want something you can dump a ton of time into, Pet Quest may not be robust enough to support your needs. Everything except your pet’s intelligence and resultant combat dice has a finite upper limit that becomes trivially easy to reach very quickly. After that, you’re really just left to continue cashing it in and rebuilding it in the pursuit of making your pet ever brainier until it can take down any enemy in the Quest mode. Once you reach a certain point, when you’ve unlocked everything, and when nothing poses a threat anymore, it doesn’t feel like there’s any end goal to reach and your options are to either perpetually keep going like Pokémon until there’s nothing left to see or do or to abandon your pet and start over.
Maybe I’m wrong and this incarnation of Charlie will eventually bow out and become the ruler of the land and I’ll have to bid farewell to him and start over with a new peon. If that happens, I think I might go with the lizard and name him Shadow, so he can be my Shadow 3 and Shadowscale like he were an Argonian. After that, I really don’t know. Maybe Charlie becoming king will open up a new species. Maybe I’ll get the option of a yellow mouse to resist his tyrannical rule.
It’s easy to daydream all of the things that could happen once I essentially win the game, but the question is more whether anything will, and I’m not really hopeful. But as it stands, you could do worse than Pet Quest as a convenient storefront of various time-wasters with plenty of charm and clear love and care put it.
I guess that’s the most important thing I could say. Pet Quest was clearly made with love and it’s clearly still in active development. It’s not the game I would make, but then if it was, I’d be disappointed that I didn’t get to make it. For what it is, it’s a nice little thing, and maybe it’s exactly what you want. There’s certainly nothing else remotely like it out there right now.