There’s been a little bit of a renaissance when it comes to photography games. Back in the day, Pokémon Snap garnered high praise from critics and fans alike; but then after that, there was nothing – no sequel, nor any notable imitators. Demand for a sequel to the classic started to intensify during the Wii U era, but it wasn’t until recently that we saw the next game in the series, along with some other notable competition in the form of Bugsnax and Umurangi Generation.
The latter has now seen its way onto the Switch, but will it find success in a New Pokémon Snap world? Let’s find out!
Many thanks to Origame Digital for the review code.
Set in a dystopian -sorry – shitty cyberpunk future (the game’s words, not mine), you take control of a courier working for the Tauranga Express. They require you to take photographs of particular things, but you need to make it snappy – the deadline is only ten minutes away! Don’t worry too much though, your company doesn’t seem too strict on deadlines – as long as you get the job done.
In fact, the whole game isn’t really strict on anything. You have all the time in the world to find your subjects and you have multiple possible ways you can achieve your target? Need to take a picture of a couple of cats? There are likely to be many cats about, so find the right position and take your shot. There’s no such thing as a bad photo either: the game even admits that art is subjective. You’ll be rewarded based on the three Cs: Colour, Composition, and Content – but it’s not as stressful as it sounds. Whilst you may get more money for a colourful shot, the game will deem a photo lacking colour as ‘moody’. Take your photos however you see fit, and that’s fine by the game. Just make sure not to include any blue bottles in your shot – those are the only things you will be penalised for. Occasionally you will get asked to use a certain lens, or take something from up close, but that’s about as demanding as things get. These bounties are primarily there to stimulate your creativity and get you thinking about other photos you can take while you’re there.
THE UMURANGI GENERATION GAME
The game has twelve locations in total, split into eight for the main storyline and a further four for the postgame missions (which were previously released as downloadable content). Both are connected, but they mainly do their own thing. Whilst some of the locations you visit are pretty small, others are much grander in scale; however all of them contain a wide variety of different things for you to photograph. The bounties themselves are also quite varied too, often with a mix of simple challenges with multiple solutions and other trickier ones that require you to search the environment carefully. Think of it a little bit like a first person hidden object game, except with nothing too obscure or hidden.
In addition to the primary targets, there are a range of set bonus objectives that you can fulfil: taking special photographs and collecting film rolls are the main ones, but there’s also an objective that requires you to do everything within ten minutes. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds though, and should be easy to do once you know where everything is. It’s worth going back to replay levels for these bonus tasks, since it will unlock some extra equipment for your camera. They’re mostly there to give you some more fun tools to play with, but some can also make your job easier. Revisiting earlier levels with your new gadgets really helps to breathe extra life into them, especially when coupled with the extra stuff you can play with in the unlockable creative mode.
The main draw of the levels though are the levels themselves. The game has a lo-fi retro feel to it, looking a little bit like Jet Set Radio. The environments are bursting with life – even though the game pictures death amidst an impending disaster. The bleak world feels very real, especially as many of the events mirror things happening in our current world. The game feels downright harrowing at times, especially as things start to take a turn for the worse later on. It’s unsettling, but also quite impressive; there’s a story to be told here, and it’s all done through the change in environments. There are no cutscenes, no dialogue, nothing – just well thought out locations and some banging music to accompany it. This game isn’t just cyberpunk, it completely embodies the punk aesthetic, particularly as it challenges authority and the police. The range of political issues are vast, from the Australian Wildfire to the BLM protests. Umurangi Generation pulls no punches, and as such may turn off some people. If that stuff bothers you, then be warned.
The game is a joy to play, but that doesn’t mean it’s without issues. Whilst the game does benefit from giving you full movement (which is liberating compared to the on-rails nature of New Pokémon Snap), the controls are ever so slightly off. Jumping in particular feels a bit janky, making clambering on top of things more of a pain than it really should be. The walking speed also feels just a tad too slow. The game does have a movement upgrade, but you don’t unlock it until the postgame DLC missions. None of this is enough to spoil the game, but it will annoy you more often than it really ought to.
PROFESSOR MIRROR’S TOP TIPS
1. I want colour in your shots. More colours means more money for your wallet. Moody shots may be arty, but I won’t we giving you the big bucks.
2. Make sure you have some exciting content in your photographs. Nobody wants to be bored! If there are any disgusting blue bottles, I’ll go as far as to dock your pay.
3. Good composition is the key to getting the most out of your photos. Think about lenses, number of people and stuff like that. We don’t hire amateurs here, boyo!
Umurangi Generation is a fantastic game that blew me away with its impactful story and well-implemented photography mechanics. Even though the game’s runtime isn’t particularly long, it feels like it runs the right length and never overstays its welcome. Despite some nitpicks, and a political setting that may rub some people up the wrong way, this game is a masterpiece that feels right at home on the Switch.