Review in Progress: Pokemon Legends: Arceus

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Wild new ideas appeared

So we’re finally here: Pokemon Legends. It’s been a trip! Nintendo wowed the world when they announced that this new entry would not only be a prequel, but a larger open world game that wasn’t mostly focused on hopping from town to town “being the very best.”

Here’s our impressions of the first few hours.

Review in Progress: Pokemon Legends 02

Pokemon Legends: Arceus (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: January 28, 2022
MSRP: $59.99

So Pokemon Legends, while retaining a safe design in several respects, does drastically alter the core formula we’ve known for decades. A lot of things just kind of trigger now, to the point where I don’t really want to go back to the old ways (and if every game going forward had just one SKU, that would be good too!).

For instance, battles can play out with you running around the world, without having to micromanage each and every element of them. You can just…do things without endless text floating on-screen. While there is hand-holding — it is Pokemon, they can’t resist — it doesn’t feel nearly as bad as past games in the series, and certainly nowhere near the worst they’ve ever done (which has actively stopped me from replaying a few entries). Not having to skip through infuriating tedious menus to capture Pokemon and learn new moves rules too (the latter are granted instantly via a level-up screen after battle). Adding stealth as an option to capture things is a nice touch and allows for several different playstyles to happen organically.

It also feels fresh, in its own way, from a lore standpoint. This time around you’re legitimately researching the world of Pokemon, instead of somewhat taking advantage of it. It’s refreshing to not assume that you need to leave your parent’s house, then compete in some big tournament from the very start (you play a 15-year-old who appeared in this land, working for a Survey Corp). There’s a lot of character moments early on, a few mysteries are forged, and there’s some hilarious bureaucracy. I’m invested.

It’s for that reason that I’m immediately wooed by Legends. Sure, a lot of it does look dated, and it makes me question why The Pokemon Company, any of the powers that be, aren’t pumping more money into this series: Switch games can look fantastic and run better than this, we’ve seen it. But the promise of something different, even smaller (but not baby) steps, is a good thing for people who still hold water for Pokemon, myself included.

It’s not a complete reinvention. Options are slim (though you do have the ability to hide the UI and take better photos), and the environments and framerate issues are the big holdups. It’s not even a hardware issue: several of the larger environmental sandboxes look dull, and not becoming of previous games in the series. It’s give and take, but that’s Game Freak’s style.

I’m hopeful for Pokemon Legends. I’m not blown away, but it does feel fresh (comparatively), and still has a lot of the Pokemon cuteness and charm. I can see some potential snags (especially if the formula gets rote within the game itself if it goes on too long without any twists), and I can see the clear path to victory. Stay tuned for our full review.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]