If you’re of a certain age, the Beast Quest books were likely a staple of your childhood. Having first launched in 2007 with Ferno the Fire Dragon, the series has been going strong for twelve years and shows no signs of slowing down. Including the first four books scheduled for publication next year, there are currently an astonishing 120 books in the series – this doesn’t include the various spin-offs and companion series (such as Sea Quest, a science fiction variation on Beast Quest’s kid-friendly fantasy formula) – all credited to the pseudonymous Adam Blade, who, in reality, is actually a team of ghostwriters.
With each book containing cards that can be used to play a sort-of Top Trumps-esque game and the general structure of the books even seeing the main character, Tom, level-up within the story (a very video game-like touch, we're sure you'll agree), it’s incredibly surprising that it took so long for a console title based on the books to appear – especially given the popularity of the series, with 18 million copies sold to date.
The plot of Beast Quest mirrors that of the first four books in the series, with the player – cast as the hero of the series, Tom – looking to free the kingdom of Avantia’s legendary beasts from the curse they’ve been placed under by the dark wizard Malvel. Aiding him in his quest is companion Elenna and good wizard Aduro, who's often used for comic relief. If you're wondering how this epic literary fantasy translates into the realm of interactive entertainment, then wonder no longer; it turns out that Beast Quest (the game) looks almost like a Zelda title at first glance, but it doesn’t take long for the façade to drop.
For starters, Beast Quest suffers from a lack of detail in environments and characters, with the world of Avantia – outside of the towns – feeling extremely lifeless and linear, with a problematic lack of variation, aside from visual differences, within each world. This can lead to confusion when attempting to progress – the in-game map is next to useless and a lack of notable landmarks exacerbates the issue.
Within towns, there’s always a number of side quests to take on, but these are generally of the ‘find and return X number of objects’ – which quickly becomes very tedious indeed. The towns themselves, especially when densely populated, suffer from some frame rate drops too, which is unfortunate – especially when the game isn't exactly pushing the Switch from a technical point of view (cutscenes, which use the in-game engine, are especially bad, and the voice acting is uniformly terrible throughout).
Chests are dotted around the environment and are colour-coded, needing specific keys to be opened. Key locations can be seen on the far-too-small section of map that’s shown on-screen as the player explores and are just floating within the game world – though the number of keys you have of each type is hidden away in a pause menu. Generally, all that can be found in chests are coins, though you'll occasionally come across side quest items in chests, too.
Combat is an awkward combination of turn-based and real-time, with encounters triggered by wandering too close to creatures as you explore the rather limited levels. Once in combat, creatures take turns to attack Tom, with the player’s aim being to settle into a rhythm of dodging enemy attacks and striking back themselves. There are extra powers, potions and even a special meter that fills up, at which point Elenna can assist with combat from afar with her bow. It isn’t quite as in-depth or interesting as it may sound, however, and quickly becomes a chore.
There’s some appeal in learning the speed at which enemies attack and responding accordingly with dodges and shield blocks, but in many cases, it’s just as easy to hammer away at the attack button regardless – and the controls aren't particularly responsive, which can be pretty frustrating.
Experience from combat is doled out at a snail's pace, with little incentive to aim for flawless victories or perfect dodges – though bonuses for each are on offer. Enemy types become more interesting and a little more varied as further progress into the game is made, but combat remains an unfortunately tedious and drawn-out affair throughout.
The main bosses of the game – the four eponymous Beasts – need to be tamed; this takes the form of a series of boss fights in each of the four main areas of the world. The final fight of each Beast encounter is much more interesting than the rest of the game's combat, making use of advanced mechanics such as strafing – mechanics that, in the main game, are pointless when used against standard antagonists. These fights also see Tom attempting to remove the collar that's controlling each Beast, with a cinematic sequence requiring you to carry out a series of on-screen button prompts in order to succeed.
The Beast fights are much more interesting than the standard combat that becomes so tedious in the main areas of the game, and the Beasts themselves are suitably large and colourful; another relief after having to deal with so many generic enemies. Defeating each Beast gives Tom a new permanent power and changes his visual appearance somewhat, levelling him up as he does in the books.
Progression is relatively straightforward and it's likely to take around six hours to finish the main quest of freeing the four Beasts, though this play time can be easily extended by taking on side quests – but whether or not you'll want to spend any more time than is necessary in the world of Beast Quest is another matter.
With incredibly linear and sometimes confusing levels, painfully tedious combat and bland, dated-looking visual design, Beast Quest is a crushing disappointment when you consider the rich source of inspiration that the famous book series supplies. Speaking of the books, this game was only ever going to appeal to those who have love for the kingdom of Avantia, and it's a real shame that after such a long wait for a video game adaptation of the series, those same dedicated fans have to endure this unflattering and lifeless adaptation. Put aside your affection for Adam Blade's novels and just play one of the many other amazing RPGs on Switch instead.