REVIEW: ‘New Pokémon Snap’ Is Everything We’ve Been Waiting For (Switch)

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Pokemon Snap

New Pokémon Snap is the long-awaited sequel to the cult classic 1999 Nintendo 64 Pokémon Snap. The on-rails photography simulation game is developed by BANDAI NAMCO Studios and published by Nintendo. Get your camera ready, because you’re off to join a research expedition in the Lental Region and fill out your very own Photodex filled with pictures you’ll take of all kinds of unique and wonderful Pokémon.

So many people have fond memories of Pokémon Snap and with good reason. It’s a game that takes you up close and personal with so many of your favorite Pokémon mixed together with adventure, mystery, and an addictive arcade-style score system that pushes you to take the very best and most creative pictures you can. New Pokémon Snap expertly takes everything about the original game and simply makes it better with only a few pacing issues and minor blemishes.

The plot in the game is thin and beyond the explanation already given, frankly, unimportant. It’s enough to keep you always guessing what adventures you might go on next, but that’s its greatest utility. And that’s perfectly fine. Having an open canvas to go out and take pictures without worrying too much about a deeper plot or even some of the interesting lore and philosophy that the main series Pokémon games include actually makes the game feel even more immersive. All that matters is me, my camera, and the Pokémon I’m encountering. It’s a bit odd to me that some scenes are voice acted and animated while others are static and text-only. I know this is very common fair in Japanese-produced games especially, but the balance feels odd, like the animated and voiced scenes were an afterthought added in later in the development, given how short and inconsequential a lot of them are. I wish all of the text had been voiced.

The photography system and scoring have been tweaked to be much stronger and more clear, in many regards. A frame and focal point are visible through your lens to help you center your shot, unless you turn the frame off in the settings. When scored, position, size, pose, and so forth are still how you’re scored, but now, each Pokémon has four different poses that are cataloged separately in your Photodex. This means instead of having to choose between surfing Pikachu and Pikachu eating fruit like in the original game, different poses will be scored separately, more or less. In addition to a score, each picture is given one, two, three, or four stars based on their rarity and a bronze, silver, gold, or crystal-looking rating to help you know how your score stands within each category.

For as much as I appreciate the upgrades to the way the game helps indicate where best to line up your photos, plus optional motion controls and a toggle to change the speed your camera moves, I don’t think I love the four-tier system. Or, at least, how it works in practice. I love a challenge and love the idea of having to find each pose for each Pokémon. The problem I have is that sometimes, you can catch the very tail end of a pose by accident and it still counts. It will score low, sure, but something about it just feels a bit cheap. Ultimately though, if you’re a completionist, that mediocre photo won’t do you much good anyway, because it will score low and only really serve as a reminder to try and nail that pose later. The concept is great, the execution just feels a tad shaky.

The vast array of poses to find Pokémon in and how to find them in them does truly feel vast and alive. No two trips through each of the game’s levels feel alike. In part, this is because there is just so much going on at any given time and a lot of your movements, from taking a photo to hitting a Pokémon with fruit to using the new scanner tool might disrupt or excite them. This piece feels like somewhat of a tradeoff too though. While it’s fun to have so many different ways to capture images of Pokémon, far more than the original game, some of the fun of figuring out ways to make Pokémon strike the ultimate pose is missing. While I’ve not completed my Photodex yet, there are no moments where you knock Charmander into fire pits to make them evolve. In fact, there is no evolution at all. Which feels like a major piece of what made the original so fun and challenging. If there was no original game to compare it to, we may not notice this, but alas.

In the world as it is though, it has never felt more gratifying snapping photos in a virtual world. Each level is gorgeous, the music is bopping, and there is always something new to discover and photograph, or revisit to try and do better. Revisiting levels is now a major part of the game as well, thanks to a new system of Expedition Points and Research Levels. As you complete visits to the game’s levels, all of the points you accumulate from each Pokémon you photograph in each position contribute to your Research level on that state. As your level increases, the Pokémon in that stage’s behaviors and appearances will change. New paths may open up, Pokémon may appear closer to you or do different things. It helps make every run of a level, especially early on when your levels are still climbing, feel completely unique and not just an on-rails experience.

Pokemon Snap

I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or if it’s really what I experienced, but I have to say, for as gorgeous as the game is, there feels like a layer of charm that’s been replaced with realism. While the Pokémon’s behaviors do get more exciting and fun as Research Levels progress and new tools become available to you to use in interacting with Pokémon, there’s a lot more sleeping Pokémon doing nothing in the middle of the field early on than there are Meowth that you can knock out cold and laugh at their squiggly-cartoon eyes. You can’t lead Pokéomon places with your fruit to get them to interact with their environment. The game’s numerous photo missions are fun in helping you explore the different behaviors of all the Pokémon, but even most of those behaviors are often a bit lackluster, especially in the early game.

In fact, another complaint I have to lodge is the game’s pacing. It took quite a lot of playtime before I even unlocked a third stage While each level has a day and night version as well as special levels where you can discover mysterious Illumina Pokémon, there was no clear instruction on how to unlock more levels and where it not for the fact that every run felt unique, I’d have quickly bored of repeating the same few over and over. I wish the game had systematically taken me through more levels first before forcing me to return to the same ones over again, specifically early on. This did become less of an issue as the game went on at least.

Lastly, New Pokémon Snap comes complete with an online system where you can upload your photos, even edit and caption them, and post them for the world to see and offer you praise. This may be the first time a game has ever captivated me with its photo editing and sharing. The filters and stickers are fun and I have already seen so many creative edits on funny Pokémon poses. In a way, it almost makes up for the somewhat lackluster poses in the actual game. Almost. Trying to get people to admire my uploads is rather fun though.

New Pokémon Snap is not perfect, but it is far and away the sequel to the 1999 classic we have all been waiting for. While I wish some pacing issues and nitpicks with what is no longer in the game have influenced my enjoyment, overall, I cannot wait to spend countless more hours perfecting my photography skills and engrossing myself in this absolutely stunning world.

New Pokémon Snap is available now on Nintendo Switch.

New Pokémon Snap
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

New Pokémon Snap is not perfect, but it is far and away the sequel to the 1999 classic we have all been waiting for. While I wish some pacing issues and nitpicks with what is no longer in the game have influenced my enjoyment, overall, I cannot wait to spend countless more hours perfecting my photography skills and engrossing myself in this absolutely stunning world.