Pokémon was a hugely formative series in my life. I got my first Pokémon game – Pokémon Platinum – at the age of seven and was immediately hooked. I collected the trading cards, watched the movies and used to literally just sit and read my copy of the Pokédex for fun. I was enraptured by this universe of creatures to be discovered.

As I grew up, the games didn’t. Pokémon as a series very successfully caters to a younger crowd. Eventually, I lost interest and moved on from my childhood obsession, with my final game in the series being 2013’s Pokémon X.

Coming back to Pokémon Legends: Arceus was a completely surreal experience. For those unaware, Pokémon games all take place in completely different, isolated, continent-like regions. However, this new game takes place in an ancient version of the Sinnoh region, previously featured in Pokémon: Diamond, Pokémon: Pearl and my first game, Pokémon: Platinum.

Exploring these ancient versions of the hills I trekked so thoroughly as a seven-year-old made me feel like a kid again. And getting to explore in 3D what I used to love in chunky pixel art brought new life to these faint memories. It’s like if someone took your favorite childhood playground and scaled it up to adult size. Intense nostalgia and a childlike wonder have filled my tranquil playthrough of Pokémon Legends: Arceus.

From its inception on the GameCube, the Pokémon gameplay loop has always been incredibly stable. You battle your way through eight gym leaders, collecting badges and leveling up your party of Pokémon on the way. After confronting the main antagonist of the game, you take on the Elite Four – who themselves have earned all eight gym badges –  to become the best trainer in the region. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first main-series game to break this pattern.

Arceus brings what used to be a fun side quest to the forefront of the experience. In older games, collecting every Pokémon used to be an optional challenge for dedicated players. But in Arceus, the entire goal of the game is to complete the first-ever Pokédex by collecting and thoroughly documenting each and every Pokémon in Sinnoh.

This is an incredibly smart move from the Pokémon team. Incentivizing players to collect the Pokémon themselves highlights the strengths of the series. Because the previous games focused so much on the battling of Pokémon, players would focus on optimizing a smaller group, but now you literally gotta catch ‘em all. It brings the focus back to my favorite part of any Pokémon game: collecting wild creatures in a vast, open landscape.

Many things in Pokémon Legends: Arceus were very clearly inspired by another wildly successful Nintendo title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Released in 2017, Breath of the Wild focused on making the Zelda series open-world including high freedom of movement, a fully traversable environment and organic encounters with the world and its system. Arceus tries the same thing by bringing its own version of these elements to the Pokémon series. This inspiration was a good idea – the success of Breath of the Wild can attest to that – but it also causes some problems for the Pokémon team.

For one, the graphics and locations of the game pale in comparison to those in Breath of the Wild. The landscape looks vaguely like that of Breath of the Wild, only much sparser. The areas you trek begin to feel a little hollow over time with repeated content and countless empty fields with Pokémon randomly sprinkled throughout. There were also very few interesting encounters, like random ruins or areas to raid – something that Breath of the Wild is famous for. On top of that, some of the landscape textures, like grass and water, look a little rough when viewed from far away and the color grading never looks quite right.

Another issue plaguing Arceus is the somewhat lacking movement system. There is a dedicated dodge button, but no jump or climbing features. Some additional traversal options do become available as you play, but your character’s base movement kit is severely lacking, especially compared to Breath of the Wild’s literally award-winning movement system. This lacking base movement creates vast and pretty vistas that you ultimately struggle to traverse.

The Pokémon themselves look amazing. Seven-year-old me would be losing his mind at the beautiful rendering of many of my favorite childhood pets. They are fully viewable in all directions and can be interacted with in many different ways, including petting, feeding and hearing their battlecries. Every single Pokémon was individually animated with personality and intense attention to detail. At any moment I can throw out my old favorite few Pokémon and see Snorunt’s waddle, Altaria’s elegant floating or the flow of Gardevoir’s dress all rendered with incredible care.

Overall, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is an incredibly fun and relaxing romp through childhood memories, although poor texturing and limited movement detract from the experience. Those that may have stopped playing Pokémon a while ago will appreciate the new life that has been breathed into the series. While it is not an open world on the level of Breath of the Wild, the combination of cute creatures, a varied landscape and interesting characters carry Pokémon Legends: Arceus and the series to new heights.

Thumbnail image courtesy of The Pokémon Company via Kotaku.