Pokémon Legends: Arceus review – makes even old-school fans feel childlike again | Pokémon


Ever since the monochromatic thrills of 1996’s Pokémon Red and Blue, I’ve dreamed of embarking on a sprawling 3D Pokémon adventure. While 2019’s Sword and Shield did their best to belatedly bring the series’ love-worn formula in to the third dimension, a lack of real innovation left the franchise’s legions of older fans despairing over their Pikachu plushies. More than two years later, the ambitious Pokémon Legends: Arceus sees creators Game Freak attempting to really modernise the series.

Dispatched on a time-travelling mission by none other than Pokémon God, Arceus, Legends begins with your adolescent avatar plummeting through a portal to the past. Mercifully, the titular divinity isn’t completely unreasonable – you’re at least sent on your way with a fully charged smartphone. Cheers, your holiness. As calming flute melodies float around your ears and dramatic feudal-Japanese fonts fill the screen, it’s hard not to be swept up in the novelty of it all. At least until you take a closer look at your surroundings.

While the Nintendo Switch may not be a technical powerhouse, the little handheld that could has delivered a slew of sprawling spectacles, from gamechanging launch title Breath of the Wild to niche role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It has consistently punched above the weight of its spindly specs. Bafflingly though, Pokémon Legends looks like complete arse(eus). While the colourful creatures move and react more convincingly than ever, the world around them is jarringly sparse, with blurry rock textures and large landscapes lined with anaemic-looking Christmas trees. Visually, it’s hard not to feel a little short-changed.

Gotta catch ‘em all … Pokemon Legends: Arceus.
Gotta catch ‘em all … Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Photograph: Nintendo

Still, beauty is more than skin deep. Thankfully, Pokémon Legends: Arceus has one hell of a personality. A few hours in I begun to warm to its charms. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t your dad’s Pokémon adventure. Gone are series stalwarts like gym battles, obstacle-clearing special moves, even the need to fight creatures before lobbing a ball at them. Sure, you can always send a Pokémon in to battle to weaken your chosen target, but if you don’t fancy it, just bypass the brawl entirely by lobbing a well-timed Pokéball at your quarry.

This time, it’s up to players to help researchers write the very first Pokémon encyclopedia: the Pokédex. Where the exploration segments and Pokémon battles were once separated into two separate screens, here the two are finally unified. Your trainer can run around battling Pokémon with no regard for their own safety. For arguably the first time since the series began, everything feels fresh, and thrillingly unpredictable. From crafting your very own wooden Pokéballs to carefully stalking wild Pokémon in real time, Legends’ immersive new approach immediately clicks.

Thanks to the Feudal-era setting, the mammoth metropolises of previous games are gone. Your new homestead is the quaint and scenic hub of Jubilife Village, where you’ll find residents ploughing fields, cooking mochi and shifting whatever rudimentary goods or services they can offer. It’s all refreshingly calming and surprisingly low-stakes stuff, giving players the freedom to tackle their Poké-duties at whatever cadence they fancy.

As your journey grows in scope and you roam new regions, your curiosity will naturally get the better of you. Freed from linear shackles and strolling Legends’ open plains, gigantic and exciting creatures are too much to ignore. While riding a majestic deer Pokémon toward my next quest, I regularly found myself stopping in my tracks, compelled to catch imposing creatures that I’d forgotten existed.

The scale of these Pokémon is tangible, too. In your early hours roaming the plains of Hisui you’ll meet suitably pocket-sized monsters, but it’s not long before you come face to face with a gargantuan Parasect, one of the original 151 Pokémon. This weird, spore-emitting mushroom crab was never the most intimidating thing on a black-and-white screen, but now it’s downright terrifying. As its once-laughable attacks fill the screen in a purple poisonous hue, I find myself scurrying away in panic. Only, I’m too late. My poor, unsuspecting anime avatar cannot shake the smog, and gasping desperately for air, crumples sickeningly to the grass.

While Arceus may be a sight that leads to sore eyes, this ambitious reboot sets Pokémon on an exciting new trajectory, finally recapturing a lost sense of adventure. What made those initial Pokémon games special was the way that they embodied a childlike spirit of discovery. The problem was that its creators struck gold on the first attempt – and spent decades repeating the same trick. Now, 26 years after I caught my very first Pokémon, the franchise is new again, and that gleeful sense of excitement is back.

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