In an age where photo modes in games are ubiquitous, it’s interesting to have a game to exclusively focus on the concept of photography. Leave it to Nintendo and Bandai Namco to resurrect one of their cult classics with New Pokémon Snap. The original 1999 game was one of the most unique games on the Nintendo 64 at the time. Considering the Pokémon boom of the time, it’s shocking it took more than 20 years for a sequel to arrive. A lot has changed in the video game landscape, so can the newest iteration of Snap thrive? Perhaps better than expected.
New Pokémon Snap takes place in the new Lental region. Players arrive to the island region to work with the famous researcher, Professor Mirror, and his assistant Rita. The professor wants to research the natural habitats of the wild Pokémon of the region, especially the mysterious “Illumina” phenomenon. The story serves as a connective tissue between the different courses available throughout the game. As each course doesn’t last more than five minutes, a lot of the game time involves characters discussing research findings or additional tutorials.
While the story presentation is adequate and the game looks colorful and inviting, there are still some drawbacks. Having a Pokémon game with voice acting is a huge boon to the series, now that the series is mainly on home consoles. It’s also worth noting that Bandai Namco’s last Pokémon game, Pokkén Tournament, also had voice acting. Unfortunately, only FMVs and tutorials feature full voice acting. Static cutscenes, which are most of the game’s story, only feature the characters grunting at most. Due to the anemic nature of the storytelling juxtaposed to how lively the courses are, it’s a huge missed opportunity.
The main focus of the game are the aforementioned courses. Players must ride on the NEO-ONE vehicle through a predetermined course and take photos of different Pokémon behavior. The gameplay is akin to an on-rail shooter where attention to detail is the key. What makes the new Snap game great is that even newcomers to the Pokémon world can enjoy it. Since the original N64 game, there have been seven additional Pokémon generations. However, unlike the main series, there is no need to memorize types or attacks. In fact newcomers might find themselves enraptured by discovering a creature they have yet to see. Meanwhile, the aficionados will find joy in seeing their favorite Pokémon interacting in a whole new way. Anyone with a slight inkling for photography can have an amazing time.
In each course players must use their camera to take as many quality pictures as possible. Professor Mirror will judge pictures at the end of the run by a variety of criteria. The Pokémon’s position, how much of the frame it takes, the direction they look towards, and so forth. However, Pokémon aren’t stationary creatures, as they are constantly on the move. This make snapping photos more intriguing, especially while riding on a moving vehicle. Capturing the perfect shot, especially when a Pokémon darts off in a flash, can be difficult, but the game encourages multiple runs. Witnessing the different Pokémon in their natural habitat is the greatest joy of the game. Each critter has its own unique animations to the point that even two identical Pokémon behave differently.
To spice the game up, there are several tools that assist in taking photos. Fluffruits are apple-shaped food that many Pokémon like to eat. These fruit can either be used to feed a Pokémon, or even as a projectile to agitate them. Playing a melody near surrounding Pokémon can also get a unique reaction. Using the right tools at the perfect moment results in some of the best puzzle elements. Tossing a fruit or playing music near the right Pokémon can result in one-of-a-kind moment that grants a lot of points. You can also discover more opportunities by scanning the area or even tossing Illumina Orbs.
In addition, each Pokémon can have at least four unique behaviors. Each behavior is signified by a star ranking by Professor Mirror. For example while a stationary shot might only grant 1-star, having Pokémon perform an action or interact with the environment might score higher. While the star count does not affect the actual picture score at the end of a run, one of the goals is to fill the Photodex for each Pokémon. At the end of the course, Professor Mirror will only appraise one picture per Pokémon. This means that regardless of the star rating, players must use their best judgment.
In theory, the idea of doing multiple runs may sound like a needless grind. Fortunately, one of the major advances in the new Snap experience is the research level system. As each picture gets a certain point value, the total increases the research experience bar. Leveling up grants access to a new research level, which in turn unlocks a new variation on a familiar course. Pokémon will have different behavior, and in many occasions, new faces might pop out of nowhere. Add all the different levels and day\night variations, and there’s a lot of replayability in this package.
Perhaps the only real downfall of the game is the sporadic progression. Sometimes new areas unlock upon reaching a new research level, and sometimes they don’t. In addition, characters would often request specific behaviors from the player. However most of them are rather vague and require a lot of trial and error. Many times I found myself taking the right picture during a course, only to find out it wasn’t the exact angle for the request.
Other issues are mostly technical, most prominently the constant loading times. Another minor complaint is the inability to quit a track straight to the map. Exiting a track at the beginning takes players to the picture evaluation screen even if no picture was taken. This leads going through menus just to return to the map screen, and combined with the loading times, it can be a hassle.
For those who are fans of modern photo modes, New PokémonSnap allows players to edit preexisting photos in a separate album. Photos can be edited with different vignettes, frames or humorous stickers. By fulfilling more requests throughout the game, more customization options open up. There is also a nice online community of other photographers who share their creations.
New PokémonSnap is the spin-off that many fans have been yearning for years. Nintendo has not only managed to satiate the hunger of hardcore fans, but the simple yet inviting approach to the world of photography means the entry point is far more forgiving than most games. The repetition and some of the technical issues can hinder the experience, but all of that is eliminated thanks to that joyous moments of discovery. For those looking for a crash course in basic photography and want to do it in a colorful and accessible environment, New PokémonSnap is a quality shot.
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