Pokémon Legends: Arceus for Nintendo Switch review — Breathing fresh air into a stale formula

Pokemon Legends Arceus Luxray Shipyard
(Image: © iMore)

iMore Verdict

Bottom line: Despite its drab locations and weak visuals, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a breath of fresh air. It shifts focus away from gyms and the Pokémon League to focus solely on survival and the thrill of the hunt. Have fun gathering materials, crafting your own Poké Balls, and capturing or defeating Pokémon in ways we haven't seen before.


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    Open-world Pokemon catching

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    New mechanics change up the series formula

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    Pokedex provides new challenges

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    Plenty of post-game fun


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    Empty landscapes

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    Horrid visuals

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The old adage about books and their covers is very fitting for Pokémon Legends: Arceus. The world might be drab and the locations horribly rendered, but the basic mechanics and shifted focus breathe a sweet summer wind into the stale, decades-old Pokémon formula to create the fun action RPG Pokémon game we should have had years ago.

Players are sent to ancient Sinnoh by the power of the legendary Pokémon Arceus, and are tasked with righting some wrongs plaguing the land. In these olden times, humans are very nervous around the dangerous Pokémon they see in the wild, and it's up to the player to show a small village how coexisting with these powerful creatures can be beneficial for everyone.

You're also out to study wild Pokémon behaviors and make the world's first-ever Pokédex. Of course, this means there is no established Pokémon League, no gyms, no Pokémon Centers, and no Elite Four. You must gather your own materials, craft your own Poké Balls and potions, and learn to survive Pokémon attacks.

Before I started playing Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I was doubtful that this game would hold my attention since the focus really is only on creating that Pokédex and calming frenzied Pokemon in the area. However, I was quickly drawn into the chase. Capturing and fighting Pokémon in a new open-world way feels so right.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Nintendo. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus What's good

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

I've dreamt of an open-world Pokémon game since the GameCube era. In fact, I was sure 3D was the direction Game Freak was going to take after the success of Red and Blue on the Game Boy. But that wasn't to be for another two decades. While we did eventually move into 3D, it never felt like the series was making any strides in terms of gameplay and story.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus finally gives us that chage, feeling like a smoother RPG for the modern world. It features plenty of familiar aspects from previous Pokémon games, like getting to pick your starter, but then integrates new elements like stealth and third-person shooting into the Pokémon-catching formula.

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CategoryPokémon Legends: Arceus
TitlePokémon Legends: Arceus
DeveloperGame Freak
GenreAction, Role-Playing
Game Size6GB
Play Time25-30 hours
FormatDownload/Game Card
Launch Price$60

Each species has its own way of interacting with the player. Starlys, for example, startle easily, so you have to sneak up on them from the tall grass. Bidoofs couldn't care less if you waltz past them, so they're a breeze to catch. Meanwhile, there are aggressive Alpha Pokémon that are larger and more powerful than normal. If you want to catch them without battling, you need to be incredibly stealthy or use berries to distract them. In many instances, it's just easier to whittle down their health in an old-fashioned fight and then throw Poké Balls. The capturing diversity brings a challenge for each creature you meet, and makes the experience a whole lot more fun.

Pulling in the left trigger when you're near enough to a Pokémon allows you to lock onto it. Then, pulling back on the right prepares the Poké Ball and brings a target on screen. The longer you hold down, the further you can throw. All you have to do is release that right trigger and the Poké Ball goes soaring through the air like a loosed arrow at the target. It feels natural to do, and should've been the way Pokémon played for years.

Arceus integrates stealth and third-person shooter mechanics into the Pokémon-catching formula.

Everything just flows better in Legends: Arceus. I love being able to fight Pokémon without needing to drop into some separate battle menu. Plus, the ability to capture Pokémon with or without fighting adds a whole new engaging layer to a formula that had seriously run stale. What's more, if I realize I've taken on more than I can handle, all I have to do is either select the Run option or physically make my avatar run away from the battle to get to safety. If all of my Pokémon faint, then I'm targeted by the Pokémon around me and must dodge and run to safety, which adds a new action element.

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

Legends: Arceus also does away with many of the slow mechanics that made battles last forever or made doing basic tasks difficult. No Hidden Abilities flash across the screen, making battles last twice as long. There isn't a one-time option to name your Pokémon, either. If I feel so inclined, I can just hop into the menu and nickname my favorite Pokémon there.

Crafting is a welcome addition and gives the player something to work towards as they attempt to survive in ancient Sinnoh. Resting areas are few and far between, so it's important to gather and craft various Poké Balls and healing items. There was a number of times when I ran short on Poké Balls and only had myself to blame. However, it's all for the best since it provides just the right amount of direction and limitations to make the game worth playing.

I beat the game in about 32 hours, but I could have done it faster if I hadn't spent as much time tracking down different Pokémon. As with most Pokémon games, this one has plenty of post-game content to keep you entertained for hours afterward. I'm also a sucker for Shiny Pokémon, so I'll undoubtedly spend hours shiny hunting as well.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus What's not good

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

The main problem with the game is obvious as soon as you start: The visuals are incredibly subpar. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought this was an indie game and not a title made by the biggest franchise in history. The locations often looked unfinished or not fully rendered. I quickly saw patterns in the water and grass that made the world look cheap. The snowy area, in particular, looked like it was still an early demo rather than a finished product.

Trees and hills populate at a jarring rate as you walk in any direction, pulling you away from the illusion that you're exploring some enormous space. The background also frequently freaks out with the grass stretching and shrinking in a glitchy manner. I even found a number of trees that weren't actually in the ground but were rather just floating in the air. Pokémon Sword and Shield received similar criticism concerning low textures in the Wild Area, and it's made all the worse in Legends: Arceus.

Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

Part of me wants to excuse Game Freak's shoddy work since this is the most ambitious open-world adventure it has ever made, and there was likely a learning curve. After all, gaming is only one small part of The Pokémon Company as a whole and not the most important one by any stretch. However, the company is worth billions and should have had the support it needed to create something better. It's a disservice to its fans to release a product that feels unfinished. This could change with future updates, but as of launch, it leaves players to explore a place that doesn't feel like a true world at all.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus Should you play it?

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If you're a fan of Pokémon, then you ought to pick this game up. I often got distracted from the main storyline simply because I was having so much fun discovering, battling, and capturing Pokémon. The Alpha Pokémon especially gave me something to work towards as I strove to fill my party with enormous creatures. I never missed the gyms or standard format of previous Pokémon games. This one stands on its own and provides the modern Pokémon RPG experience we've waited too long to play.

That being said, the vacant world, with hardly any trees and poorly rendered visuals, is a major letdown. This game deserved better graphics than it got, but it's still a great game all the same. With any luck, Game Freak will work on another game like this down the line and will improve the visuals and mechanics even further.

Rebecca Spear
Gaming Editor

Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.