The original Pokémon Snap debuted in 1999 in Japan and is a charming throwback to the simpler times of the now-colossal franchise. The concept of the N64 title was simple: take photos of Pokémon on a rail-shooter type track and get graded on your snaps. And at its core, despite all the new bells and whistles, New Pokémon Snap is the same.
For me, ever since I was seven years old, sitting in front of the telly watching this bright and exciting cartoon, Pokémon has always been about the design and aesthetic of the creatures themselves. I have dabbled in the main games from time to time, but no other Pokémon game has fully captured my attention as New Pokémon Snap has.
On the surface, New Pokémon Snap could seem like a pretty dull game to some, but much like its predecessor, is far from it. The game is set in Lental, an archipelago region, whose islands are filled with a diverse range of Pokémon. In order to uncover the mysteries of the region, the player is tasked with photographing these Pokémon by researcher Professor Mirror, who guides the player through the game. Taking photos builds your very own Photodex, each page made up of four slots for each Pokémon, which are graded from bronze to crystal by Professor Mirror himself.
Research missions are conducted on the NEO-ONE hovercraft, where the player is led through various tracks in a range of different environments to photograph the wild Pokémon. As mentioned previously, the core mechanic of the game has remained pretty much unchanged, but there are so many additions that elevate the concept for a new generation.
The main mechanic in this game is wonderfully simple, but it can be rather stressful at times—and I will say, the first time you set out can be quite overwhelming, for me this was because the camera sensitivity was so slow. As soon as I realised there was a way to adjust the sensitivity of the camera, I was able to swing the camera around a lot faster, making me feel a bit more at ease knowing I wasn’t missing out on anything.
My first impression of New Pokémon Snap was that it is absolutely beautiful; the Pokémon look great and each environment is stunning. There is so much to look at within each level, with a constant feeling that you are going to miss things because you have no control over your forward momentum. Herein lies one of the game’s biggest strengths: it’s not meant to be rushed through. These levels are there to go back and play over and over again, with new things to discover each time. I can genuinely see me picking the game up every so often and sinking a good few hours into it to pass the time, even if I have maxed it out.
There were very rare times where I felt that some levels were getting a bit repetitive… I’m looking at you, jungle night level, damn it. Sometimes it can take so long to get to the next level and can feel like a bit of a grind. However, New Pokémon Snap has a few tricks up its sleeve to combat this.
Each teleportation spot has a day and night level that feel worlds apart, with the day-time Pokémon behaving differently and entirely new Pokémon that come out only at night. And as you level up these areas, the Pokémon become more comfortable around you and display new and more interesting behaviours, or new faces may come out of hiding. It’s worth noting that the behaviour of the Pokémon is so endearing and extremely diverse. They are just so damn adorable and led me to grow to love certain Pokémon that I wouldn’t have given a second thought about before—I’m looking at you Bidoof.
New Pokémon Snap is also a lot more interactive than merely levelling up, there are a few elements that you can manipulate to induce further changes in each level. The Fluffruit (which the game stressed would not harm the Pokémon because they are extremely soft), will lure Pokémon out or entice them to move closer to you to get a decent shot. The melody player produces a ringtone that feels like it’s straight from a Nokia 3310, that will either wake up sleeping Pokémon or make them dance (which is ridiculously adorable). The scan feature on the in-game camera allows you to scan your surroundings for Pokémon that may be hidden, can make the Pokémon behave differently, or will highlight objects of interest and is particularly useful when researching the Illumina phenomenon.
The Illumina phenomenon is the main draw of the very loose story of New Pokémon Snap and is a mysterious light that makes Pokémon glow. Professor Mirror was able to use the phenomenon to make Illumina orbs, which are given to the player after a glowing Crystabloom is photographed. Once you have the Illumina orbs for the area, you are able to throw them at Pokémon to trigger certain behaviours. Throwing Illumina orbs at the Crystablooms will often have some kind of effect on the Pokémon around the Crystablooms or open new paths. The new tracks are another way in which the levels adapt; you are able to traverse areas you couldn’t before, opening up the track and again adding that element of freshness to the entire experience.
It’s worth pointing out though, not all of these tools will work on every single Pokémon, so there is a lot of trial and error involved and there are times when I was throwing fruit and orbs wildly around, using the melody player, and scanning around, and despite my efforts I wouldn’t get a reaction out of any Pokémon. This is where an element of patience is needed; this game is a slow builder and it is all the more rewarding for it. When a Pokémon has not paid any attention to you for two straight levels, it is so satisfying when they eventually react to your incessant pestering.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but you aren’t bombarded with all of these mechanics at once, they are surprisingly well spaced out. I didn’t get one of the last mechanics, the turbo boost, until my 25th hour of playing, and it was honestly a gamechanger. This mechanic enables you to blast through the levels a bit quicker and also allows you to catch behaviours you may have been too slow to get beforehand. This is where the game’s replayability really shines; it’s such a treat to go back to the other levels with the new gear to see what new things are in store for you, and more often than not these changes are dramatic.
But what do you actually do with these magical photos, you ask? Well, this is where part of the frustration comes in. After each expedition, you show your photos to the Professor, who then grades them with his, let’s say, questionable system. I can safely say that after playing for over twenty hours, I still don’t think I have cracked his system. I find, more often than not, there is part of me that rebels when I have a picture that will do well but is not aesthetically pleasing, I will choose one that looks nicer, and I will end up with a worse score.
But there are even times when I think I have nailed every single thing the professor is looking for and it still ends up being worse than I thought. His rating system is questionable at times, but at least he actually accepts all pictures you show him, rather than in the first game where hard-ass Professor Oak would straight up reject your hard work if it wasn’t up to scratch. Photography school this is not—throw everything you learned in photography class out the window, New Pokémon Snap has its own rules, baby.
All is not lost on the photography side, however, as New Pokémon Snap does let you edit your photos. Now, it is possibly the most basic photo mode I think I have come across in a game, which is quite disappointing in a game that is literally about taking photographs. This mode is called “Re-snap” and is only accessible when you are saving your photos, which I didn’t realise and I don’t think it was made as clear as it could have been.
You are able to edit your photos further in your album with stickers, frames, and filters. I absolutely loved the stickers—I have made some absolutely ridiculous masterpieces with them—but the filters, on the other hand, are abysmal. They are extremely limited and don’t have any fine editing ability, making your photos look like everyone’s MySpace profile pictures circa 2006. Once your masterpiece is finished, you are able to upload them to the internet. I greatly appreciate the online aspect where I get to show my creations to the world via “My Page.” It’s a nice touch and adds a lovely sense of community to the game, which stays true to Pokémon‘s core values.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the game also has tasks for you to complete. However, these tasks are both helpful and a hindrance at times. They are great as they make you look for things that you may have missed, or things you wouldn’t have even thought of doing, but earlier on in the game, they reveal Pokémon that you haven’t seen yet, which is annoying to me because I love the surprise of seeing a Pokémon I wasn’t expecting; it was one the main draws of the game for me, and the anticipation is what makes it so much fun.
New Pokémon Snap has so much meat on its bones and the UI, while it is vast and has so many layers, is clean and easy to navigate; howver, one thing that drove me nuts is the use of the exclamation points to highlight new things. They’re everywhere, perhaps the most frustrating is in the Photodex when there is an “!” on each new image you take, and you have to go into each Pokémon’s file and click on each individual photo to get rid of it. This is the case for most of the UI; there are exclamation points on new tasks you receive, the new Pokémon on each level of the map you have done, the new research badges you get, the new stickers, frames, and filters you unlock. They are everywhere, which lead me to spend far longer than I would like doing housekeeping to keep myself sane. This may not be an issue for many, but I absolutely hate a messy UI filled with alerts.
New Pokémon Snap is one of the most relaxing games I have ever played… until it isn’t. But once I let my frustrations with Professor Mirror’s strict and often nonsensical rating system go, I had an absolute blast. At its core, the notion of being able to become immersed in the world of Pokémon in such a unique way, interacting with them and getting to know them at such close quarters, is such a valuable and wholesome experience and I can’t wait to keep snapping these Pokémon for years to come.