Long passed memories of playing a beloved game as a child, a fond retrospective into times of innocence long gone, the nostalgia-stained canvas on which is depicted a painting of an ideal time of life. This review… is not about any of that. As Pokemon Go players, many of us are focused on “the very best”, as the original anime theme-song so eloquently voiced. Whether we’re preparing for the latest raid boss, getting ready for the newest limited-format Go Battle League cup, or even gearing up to take down Giovanni and obtain the latest Shadow Legend, many of us have the goal of min-maxing our gameplay to ensure the best possible return on our time. Yes, it can be a lot of fun to do this, but it can also be tedious work, and it can make us lose sight of the heart of this franchise that so many of us enjoy every single day.
For those of us who are in the sort of mind-set of event fatigue and Fear of Missing Out ruling our in-game choices, I’d say that a break is in order. And for anyone who wants to stay at least somewhat close to the center of our personal meltdowns, New Pokemon Snap comes full circle and says “forget about catching the perfect Pokemon or grinding resource. Sit back and relax as you journey through the Lentil region, and enjoy the antics of many of the same Pokemon that you see in Pokemon Go everyday, while focusing on taking the perfect picture instead!”. Yes, even here we can’t escape the Pokemon perfectionism!
New Pokemon Snap can be summed up easily in one word: charming. This is a snap-shot of the cute and soft side of the Pokemon franchise that’s been condensed into a crystal of pure sugar for the player to enjoy. For series veterans, it’s a chance to see some of the nicer entries of the otherwise infamous Pokedex come to life. For newcomers, it’s a fun jaunt through a world of fantastical creatures that can randomly be a bit confusing for the uninitiated-why is that fish laying on a rock? Is it okay? And why are those two beetle-things sumo-wrestling?
….you get the point.
Bright and colorful, this game entices the player to delve deeper into the world of Pokemon, and it can really remind us just how much personality this series has. Games like Pokemon Go and even the Main Series itself have some issues with conveying this personality due to just how massive their worlds are and the heavy focus on combat. This game can legitimately make a player go “Awwww, look at how cute that sleeping Torterra is. That reminds me of when Cynthia’s Garchomp literally beat mine into a coma with Dragon Rush”. Yes, this game can drive a player to sign up for Team Plasma.
Let’s face it; Pokemon games generally aren’t well known for their stories. Pokemon Snap is alright in this respect, but don’t expect to be too impressed in general. The story revolves around the player becoming a Pokemon photographer in the Lentil region. Here, Professor Mirror (who is, in fact, not named after a tree) and his assistant Rita are researching the “Illumina phenomenon”, which is a strange force that makes Pokemon glow… and sometimes giant, apparently? Joined by Todd Snap, who was the protagonist of the original Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo 64, and Phil, a rival that is strangely aggressive and won’t shut up at times, your goal will be to catalog the wild Pokemon of the Lentil region and discover the source of the Illumina Phenomenon.
New Pokemon Snap is an on-rails shooter (as in with a camera) that takes the player on a tour of beautiful landscapes chock full of Pokemon. Some of which I really want to catch for use in Pokemon Go. The tour moves at a constant, leisurely pace that is occasionally slowed down by a Pokemon on the track, and the player has the ability to freely move the camera around at will. The goal of the game is, obviously, to snap pictures of Pokemon in their natural environment while also derailing their normal activities by throwing fruit, playing music, or performing one of several other actions that are unlocked over the course of the game. The game rates pictures based on several criteria such as the direction that the Pokemon is facing, how well it’s framed, and how close to the center it is. High scores can unlock new features and areas, and the story progresses as the score racks up. After each run, the player will return to Professor Mirror with camera in-hand and turn in the top images for the run. It’s here that the rating system comes into play, as players will not only be able to enjoy scores for their performance, but will also be able to sort pictures of individual Pokemon into four different star categories, ranging from one-star to four-star. While this seems like it would naturally represent how good the picture is, it actually references the rarity or uniqueness of the activity that a given Pokemon is performing in the picture. For example: a one-star picture is just a picture of the Pokemon doing normal activities, while a four-star picture may be something along the lines of that Pokemon fighting with another Pokemon or performing some other out-of-the-ordinary activity.
Because of the full range of view, the game can be a bit overwhelming at times. “Do I take a picture of the little group of Morelul over here, or the Liepard over there? Should I keep focus on the Arbok until it comes into frame better? Do I scan or throw a fruit? And what’s going on behind me?” You’ll be asking yourself some variant of these questions at some point, but eventually it becomes easier to manage, as the old saying of “the dog that chases two rabbits catches neither” rings true. Somewhat literally in some cases. A given stage and level loosely follows a script, so you’ll eventually get the hang of what’s going on at a given time and be able to focus on specific subjects during specific runs. However, the game can also throw a few curve-balls. For example, after scoring high enough on a given stage, players will unlock a new “level” with new Pokemon and/or new scripts that these Pokemon will follow. You may also encounter random events that don’t always happen, even on an otherwise well known level. Examples of these include a random battle between a Pinsir and a Heracross, or you may suddenly come to an unexpected stop only to find a Pidgeot blocking your path while looking on expectantly.
These little events add some randomness to what would otherwise be a very predictable game, and encourage situational observation even when playing with the intent to take one specific photo. Add to this quests for specific pictures that can be filled by the player, and this game has a fairly large amount of replay value despite the entire point being to slowly follow the same track over and over again to go “oooh” and “aaah” at the plethora of Pokemon swarming about.
When it comes to breaking down the pros and cons of the game, let’s look at the bad side of the game first. To start with, it can feel a bit grindy. In order to unlock new areas and levels, players are expected to score high point-value pictures. This can leave the player re-playing the same stage and level over and over again while trying to score perfect pictures. Admittedly, this will rectify itself more as the player gets used to the scoring system and understands what pictures are best and how to take them, but it can still be annoying going through a single stage multiple times in hopes of capturing that one elusive picture that is only “good” for a split second on an entire run.
Another issue can be the camera itself. Not the one that you snap pictures with, the one that lets you see around the world. While it does its job well overall, on certain stages it really feels too zoomed in, which can make the stage a bit claustrophobic in areas and can add to the desire to just swing it around to see what’s happening. It also moves a bit too slowly, though this can be largely remedied by moving with both analog sticks in the same direction at the same time.
Next is the number of options that the player has available while taking pictures, and their utilization. Most of these are spot-on, but some are also a bit annoying. For example, the differing thrown arcs of the Illumina Orbs and Fluffruit can be a bit off-putting at first, and the notification that something in the environment is worth scanning can throw off initial runs. These issues are easy to adapt to, but they can be annoying for new players.
Next comes the rating criteria. While it makes sense for the most part, at times it feels a little unfair. Players can occasionally take an objectively impressive picture, but find that it’s lower rated than a less than perfect existing picture simply because the Pokemon is facing slightly too far to the side. This doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens just enough to take note of.
Finally, we come to turning pictures over to Professor Mirror. This will happen at the end of every stage, with pictures sorted by the species of their main focus. This is very convenient, as it allows players to cherry-pick their top pics, but only one image of each Pokemon captured may be turned in at a time. This can be an issue, as most players will encounter at least one run where they manage to take an absolutely stunning one or two-star picture, and a mediocre four-star picture of a rare activity… so now comes the choice of which to turn in. Admittedly this doesn’t happen too often, but a few of my albums currently have pictures on them that I cringe when looking at, because I know what I threw away in order to submit them.
We’ve already covered a number of positive aspects that really shine and make this game overcome its shortcomings, but we can always expound a bit. First up is the sheer personality of the game. While I’ve already touched on it before, it really can’t be understated. Seeing a Pokemon perform a given activity and saying “Hey, that’s a reference to [insert Pokedex entry here]” can be a load of fun, and watching actual interaction between different Pokemon species can be downright entrancing for however long it’s on the screen.
Next up is the sheer ease of jumping in. When the game begins, the player has almost no bells or whistles to play with, and is sent out to take pictures (from their flying armored car/submarine) with just their camera and a zoom feature after a tutorial. This makes the game very easy to pick up, and that ease of gameplay largely stays with the player minus a few new buttons and gadgets tagging along for the ride.
And when talking about the “good” aspects of the game, it’s very hard to under-state the graphics on show here. While it may not be in the absolute top echelon of super-high-tech games today, it still manages to present a bright and cartoony world that fits the series perfectly in a way that few Pokemon games, if any, can compete with. The expressiveness of the game’s photography subjects can occasionally warrant a double-take, and the graphical capabilities on show truly shine through to highlight them.
Finally, perhaps the biggest pro to this game is its sheer relaxation factor. It really is brain-candy for anyone that just wants to kick back and enjoy a no-pressure specticle, and it can easily offer up a few hours of relaxation to anyone that dives into its offerings. For me, the game simulates a slow drive down a country road, and it gives a chance to not only play, but also reflect on the events of the day at the same time. It takes very little mental work to play, and it is a perfect game to wind-down with before going to sleep.
So is New Pokemon Snap worth picking up? In my estimation, it definitely is. However, this game may not be for everyone. If taking slow-paced treks through different biomes sounds like a fun and/or relaxing experience, then this game can offer a fun and vicarious trip as the world slowly prys itself out of the grip of the Coronavirus. However, those who want to play games for action and mental stimulation will probably want to just skip it, as it really isn’t a fast-paced game by any stretch. Either way, it is definitely a worthy successor to its Nintendo 64 ancestor. But was it really worth the 22 year wait? That is a question that only you can answer for yourself.
Here’s to New New Pokemon Snap in 2043!