Title: New Pokemon Snap
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: April 30, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
When you take a second to understand what the Pokemon Snap series offered gamers 20 years ago, I think we’d be more forgiving of its repetitive design. I mean, it’s essentially an on-rails shooter, but instead of shooting guns, you’re taking pictures of Pokemon in their natural environment. When the game was available on N64, I was obsessed with going to Blockbuster and printing out stickers of my crappy polygon masterpieces.
That feeling of low-level technical marvel has been removed in modern years as it seems to take more and more effort to bring that Awe to younger gamers. New Pokemon Snap takes the concept of its predecessor and does its best to usher it into a new generation. This is the game many of us older gamers have asked for over the years, but I can’t say nostalgia will warrant a follow-up after this.
New Pokemon Snap allows you to choose your trainer with some pre-built characters. You can then add a name, and then you’re off to Florio Island, which is part of the Lental Region. You are introduced to Professor Mirror and assistant Rita, who will often be staring wide-eyed at you during dialogue scenes. Still, there’s a ton of animations for them to express their emotions. Anyway, now that you’re there, you’ll be helping the two with their research since it gives them the chance to learn more about Pokemon.
To advance the research, you’ll need to travel out and take pictures of Pokemon in the natural habitat using various means to get that perfect shot. Without getting too ahead of myself, the more courses you complete, the more areas become available. Still, the pictures you take award points, which advance the narrative that revolves around the mystery of the Illumina Pokemon. These are Pokemon who can glow using the power of these orbs that are found throughout the island.
Taking pictures fills exceptionally overwhelming when you first get into the Neo-One. I felt like I timed all of my shots and tried hard to look for secret areas. The truth is, this is a very laid-back game, and once I understood that I wouldn’t be reprimanded for a few bad shots, I was just taking pictures of everything. Once you take a picture of a Pokemon, you can then have it graded at the end of a run. You can check each picture you took, but using the Auto choice option worked well most of the time.
The grading system is pretty obtuse in its ratings, but you just gotta go with the flow here. Some pictures might look terrible, but the game deems them amazing with a diamond rating. There’s an additional layer of the rating where you can catch the Pokemon in one of four different poses, but this is handled during the grading process. I think the only issue with that is if you took a picture of a Pokemon in all four areas during one run, but you can only choose one picture of each Pokemon to be graded. This means that you’ll want to have planned out if you’re going to get eating shots or action shots, so you don’t waste too much time.
Experience is gained in each area which increases the level of that specific area; night courses are counted as their own area as well. As you gain experience in a course, you can switch to lower levels if you want, but each level pretty much changes the behavior of the Pokemon and allows you to get different angles and versions of their actions. In some ways, it progresses time, which can also lead to new paths.
The only problem with this experience system is that you won’t gain experience if you aren’t getting better shots of Pokemon. So each run has this underlining hope that you’ll take a new picture, but this means you’ll be playing the same stages over and over until you get higher graded shots.
To help you out are various treats and actions that can be used to interact with the environment and get the Pokemon to react. You can throw treats that they’ll eat or just get mad cause you hit them, or you can even scan, which might startle them a little. New items are unlocked the further you get, but everything comes down to timing and trying unique things to get the Pokemon to react differently.
The gameloop is not meant to be a speedrun. This is all presented in a relaxed way to make you slow down and smell the flowers. There are some frustrating moments where you’re 5,000 experience points below what you need, so you have to play the same level over and over, just trying to outperform your best shots. It’s repetitive, but that’s what it’s always been. I just didn’t feel as much ownership over these pictures as I once did growing up. Like digital pictures today, they are more left of an SD card to be forgotten, but booting Pokemon Snap on N64 and showing off your gallery is still something people do today.
The developer does offer several ways to edit and interact with pictures and share them online, but I can’t see this being the big draw in terms of keeping players coming back. Luckily, the environments and Pokemon reactions are so freaking adorable that I played just to see them in the many areas available. There are also a few secrets that you’ll want to replay for, but understand this might mean playing a level that you’ve already played 10 times before.
New Pokemon Snap is there for fans who wish for a casual Pokemon experience with the only challenge being to take creative pictures of Pokemon. It recaptures much of what the previous entry offered with plenty of new systems and features to add depth, but it sadly doesn’t deliver on the sense of ownership over the pictures that I once felt. It’s all so fleeting in this digital age. Still, there are plenty of beautiful environments and Pokemon to take shots of. I wouldn’t mind waiting another 20 years for a sequel or having this be the last entry altogether.
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