Pokémon Snap should, for all intents and purposes, be extremely dull. Taking photographs while moving slowly through different environments on rails? Sounds like a yawn-fest. When the original released in 1999, however, it quickly became a cult classic and many fans, including myself, have been begging for a sequel since.
That sequel is finally here, courtesy of Bandai Namco, but does it capture the spirit of the original?
MAKE IT SNAPPY
Much like the original game, New Pokémon Snap is pretty light on story. Professor Mirror and his assistant Rita task you with investigating the Illumina phenomenon within the Lental region, whilst taking pretty pictures of the 214 monstrous inhabitants that make up its regional Dex. It may not seem like a lot, but each area is teeming full of different Pokémon, and I think they settled on a great selection of Pokémon – barring some notable omissions. Just because you see one creature from an evolutionary chain, doesn’t mean you will find all them. I’m overjoyed that my beloved Furret is in the game – especially as it has a ton of events surrounding it – but there’s no sigh of any Sentret. You’ll rarely notice their absence whilst playing, but it does leave the Pokédex looking a little strange overall.
The core gameplay remains as simple as ever: take photographs of Pokémon as you ride through various environments in your automatically-moving buggy. At first you can’t do much other than take photos and scan things of interest in the environment but, as you progress, you will earn additional tools to help you manipulate the creatures. Fluffruit replace the apples from the original and can be used to feed or thwack your subjects, and you also gain access to the Pokéflute too – which can potentially make Pokémon dance or wake up. New to the sequel are Illumina balls, which can also be used to manipulate the creatures and the environment by lobbing them at Crystabloom plants. Utilising these items in different ways is more complicated than it sounds, since the best shots often require Rube Goldberg style manipulation to get everyone into the right positions that allow for an event to occur. There are loads of possible interactions within the game, and it’s unlikely you will ever cover them all.
All of this would be nothing if the photography wasn’t fun and, thankfully, it is just as enjoyable as in the original. There are plenty of sensitivity options available to cater it to your tastes, along with optional motion aiming. The only omission is the lack of Labo Camera support, which would have been perfect for this game. The five people who actually own one are going to be bitterly disappointed. It’s vital to tweak your settings to your liking, since taking photographs can be difficult for newcomers: the Neo One rarely stops, moving just fast enough to make getting the right photo a little tricky at first – there will be times when you will get the Pokémon’s head just out of shot, or you just catch a tail as it runs by. All of this becomes easier with time, and Snap veterans should slide back in easily. Don’t fret if your skills aren’t up to par though, since the core gameplay loop is pretty addictive and will encourage you to improve your shutter skills; getting that perfect shot where everything lines up is exhilarating, and you feel an overwhelming sense of pride as you turn in your reel for evaluation.
Hopefully your shots will be enough to please Professor Mirror though, as he is slightly more demanding than Oak was in the original, requiring four different photographs for each Pokémon rather than just the one. There are four star rankings in total, but the game never really makes it clear what you need to do to earn them; this can leave you floundering in the dark sometimes, trying to do something a little different. Every now and then you will grab an amazing photo only for it to be considered one star, but then you end up getting a four star rating for some mundane photo you took by accident. In the end though, they are a nice way to encourage replay value and they turn your Photodex into quite an impressive portfolio by the end.
Aside from these four star rankings, your photos will also receive a ranking between bronze and platinum based on the photos overall points score – much like in the original game. You will be graded on criteria such as size, position, and environment, with a score over 4000 netting you the best medal. It’s quite thrilling to see how your photos rate at the end of your journey – even if you may not necessarily agree with the score the Professor gives you!
There are twelve unique locations to visit – from luscious jungles to serene snowscapes – and they are all an absolute delight to play through. Bandai Namco have made them just as jaw-dropping as the original, with some wonderful set pieces that help make them memorable. Considering how unimpressive the mainline Switch Pokémon games have been so far, it’s nice to have one that actually looks like it is making good use of the hardware – especially as the focus of the game is to produce visual delights.
Twelve areas may not seem like many at first glance, considering the famously short original had six, however all of these areas have additional course variations to keep you interested – bringing the total up to a whooping twenty-five. These typically consist of day and night variations, which offer a different selection of Pokémon, events, and occasionally even new routes. These make the courses seem completely new and fresh to play. In addition to these, there are also a handful of ‘boss’ encounters, which focus on one giant Pokémon. They’re a nice change of pace, but they do feel a little too long since you’re only able to submit one photo for the boss anyway. Gaining enough points on any of these courses will result in your gaining an additional research level for that track. The higher the level, the more comfortable Pokémon will be around you, allowing for more photography opportunities and maybe new events and routes that you hadn’t encountered before. It’s a little touch, but it definitely incentivises revisiting tracks for more photo opportunities.
Progression through the game is relatively straightforward, requiring you to reach the second research level for each track, but occasionally there will be additional requirements that you need to fulfil. It may be taking a picture of a Crystabloom or hidden ruin, but there’s also the odd environmental puzzle that may impede your progression. One involving the manipulation of a Clawitzer in the underwater stage proved to be infuriatingly obtuse, but the rest probably won’t fox you.
Going at a relaxed pace, the game will take you around 12 hours to beat, but there’s certainly plenty to keep you busy once the credits roll. Whilst there’s very little in the way of a post-game, there are a ton a requests available for every single one of the 25 course variants. These requests require you to take a photograph of a particular Pokémon doing a particular thing, most of which are pretty hard to uncover without knowing what you are doing. They provide slight hints that can help you work out what you need to do, although they can occasionally be a little too obscure as to what exactly you need to do. One such request involving Meganium proved to be quite frustrating as it involves RNG to determine whether or not it will walk behind a tree that appears near the end of the course. To compound my annoyance, when I finally got the photo, it ended up not being accepted for whatever reason. It’s irritating but the requests definitely help with replayability, so it’s hard to get too mad at them!
PROFESSOR MIRROR LAYS DOWN THE LAW
1. Don’t disrespect your subject with rear view photos. I have no patience for perverts or amateurs.
2. Get up close and personal with those monsters. If you think those distant blobs are going to impress me, you’ve got another thing coming!
3. Action! I want action! If you think I’ll be excited by a Pokémon sleeping or staring to space, then you’re an idiot. Get them doing something exciting, and maybe I’ll give you more points. Get up close and personal with those monsters. If you think those distant blobs are going to impress me, you’ve got another thing coming!
4. I don’t give you a lifetime supply of Fluffruit and Illumina orbs for nothing. Use them to provoke a reaction and provide better photos.
5. Points will be allocated based on size, composition, pose, and environment. My decision is final, so I want no arguments.
There’s a lot to like about New Pokémon Snap and Bandai Namco have done an excellent job bringing back this classic spinoff series. It expands on the existing formula, and remains just as addictive as ever. I may miss some of the omissions, like finding Pokémon shapes in the environment, or triggering evolutions [which are notably absent], but the addition of things like requests and photo editing help make up for that. Whilst the game may be a tad overpriced for a small spinoff, it is still one of the best Pokémon titles on the Switch.