It has been a bit of a turbulent time as of late for me, with work, COVID and all manner of other things just kicking my arse. Despite this, I have found small pockets of joy in each day. Sometimes this is pursuing hobbies I have like rock climbing, other times however, it is just sitting down at the end of a long day to Play New Pokemon Snap with my partner.
I have been a long-time fan of the series for as long as I can remember, and this title has really shown me why. Seeing Pokemon through the lens of a camera felt so fresh, despite being a sequel to something which was released more than 20 years ago. I played the original Pokemon Snap at a friend’s house back in the day, the same house where I was introduced to the wonders of Ginger Nut biscuits and fizzy drinks. I never owned the title myself, but I certainly saw every stage and do have a little bit of a soft-spot for it. So yes, I may be a little biased, but I don’t want to take away from that warm feeling of comfort and security this title offered in some dreary times.
With that being said, I’m ready to share my ironically unfocused thoughts about the latest and still only photography game on the market. I don’t think we’ll compare this to Fatal Frame.
A picture tells a thousand words
The story of Pokemon Snap is by no means a captivating one. You play a young photographer who has been recruited by Professor Mirror to study behaviour of Pokemon across the Lental region and solve the mystery of the ‘illumina phenomenon’. This is basically something unique to this area which causes Pokemon to light up in a variety of colours and also gives them sick tribal tattoos.
In order to complete this research you must embark on an adventure across various stages, 11 biomes in total and complete the ‘photodex’. Each Pokemon found in the Lental region must be captured in four unique poses in order to fully research them and tick them off your to-capture list. This includes things like just standing there, eating and interacting with the scenery or other creatures.
The Pokemon roster found here is respectable, given a number just over 200 and there seems to be love for all generations here, not just the later entries in the series. I was really happy to see some of my favourites make the cut, without spoiling too many, Typhlosion, Gengar, Houndoom, they all make the cut. There are, as always, some omissions which leave me a bit bitter, but broadly speaking, if you’re a fan of the franchise, some of your favourites will be present. Where is Dragonite though? Come on. Slowbro also isn’t present, just to tempur your expectations.
It is difficult to speak about the visuals of the game without comparing to Sword and Shield, and frankly, it puts them to shame. From both an animation and visual perspective, Game Freak has been outclassed. The lighting and water effects are far beyond anything seen in the mainline games and the personality given to each critter never fails to charm me. Pokemon provides a world which almost benefits from having less detailed models, so I’m certainly glad we didn’t go for the Detective Pikachu art style here, it’ll be interesting to see how this impacts the main series moving forward. Will Game Freak actually try for the next release?
Snap, crackle and pop
Each session of New Pokemon Snap can be likened to something like the old Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios – sit in the raft and watch the scripted animal encounters unfold around you take pictures where you can. Once you take enough photos of different Pokemon and behaviours, you can move on to the next area. The gameplay loop, in large, remains faithful to the N64 original. It sounds simple enough, and that is because it is. The game does remain on-rails to the disappointment of many, and the aim never strays far from “just take pictures”. Despite this however, the team have developed several modifiers which makes what could be repetitive visits to the same location a little less monotonous.
As you’re shepherded through each stage you can affect the environment and Pokemon around you through various means. Throughout your adventure, you will be given the option of throwing Fluff Fruit (a light snack which Nintendo assures us does not hurt the wildlife when smacked straight in the face with it), playing music to encourage Pokemon to sing and dance, scanning the environment to startle your subjects, or using the newly introduced Illumina Orbs which will allow you to give Pokemon an impressive glow and power them up.
By utilising these, or sometimes a combination of these, you can gain access to new routes, observe new behaviours and discover entirely new species of Pokemon for your Photodex. A great example of this can be found early on in an underwater stage, you see a Clawitzer desperately attempting to blast his way through a rock which is blocking a tunnel. If you can hit it with an Illumina Orb and power him up, his attack will blast straight through the rock and open up a new path for you to explore in the stage. Be warned though, some of these routes can be extremely obtuse to discover, so have a guide at the ready if you want to make sure you see everything.
The opportunities opened up by this means that although you only have access to 11 biomes, within here there are multiple paths alongside a day and night variant. As you photograph and interact with the Pokemon in a given stage, you level-up your familiarity in that area, meaning the Pokemon become more comfortable around you and will be more inclined to show off their personalities in interesting ways – like a previously shy Grookey being much more playful on repeat visits to the Safari Park. This means that there is usually something new to discover on each expedition, be it a new Pokemon pose, a new route, or a undiscovered species entirely.
It may also shock you to know that there are boss encounters in New Pokemon Snap, yes, really. At the end of each biome there is usually and “Illumina Spot” where high energy readings have been found. This leads to an encounter with a Pokemon who is usually massive and must be hit with an Illumina Orb and then photographed. This is a neat idea, but ultimately these sections are among the dullest stages, usually focusing on just a single Pokemon, and waiting for the right time to photograph makes for a less exciting time than seeing a menagerie or Pokemon frolic at every angle.
Time to refocus
I’ve waffled a lot here about what you actually do in New Pokemon Snap, and reading back, none of it sounds terribly impressive, in fact, it sounds extremely restrictive. So, why do I have so much damn fun playing this game? My girlfriend and I have put in around 25 hours and continue to play regularly most evenings. It can’t just be nostalgia, she doesn’t have the same level of affinity for the franchise as I do. The simplicity adds to the appeal, there are barely any stakes, no fail-states and no pressure. The simple act of getting a perfect photo of Quagsire diving into a pond is loaded with such satisfaction and we have had a great time curating our own photo album, regardless of whether Professor Mirror likes them or not. This being said, if you want to be as efficient as possible when playing through New Pokemon Snap, you are going to want to turn the sensitivity up to max, because by default, it is incredibly slow.
The other reason why I love New Pokemon Snap so much does stem from my love for the franchise however. This is the first time in years where Pokemon have felt actually real to me. Playing Sword and Shield and seeing Lapras roam the Wild Area was great, but totally outclassed when seeing the detail included here as Lapras swims gracefully along the shoreline. It is a joy to see Pokemon behave like actual wild animals, who can eat, play and interact with other species. It only adds to the frustration of Sword and Shild’s shortcomings. I even found myself getting excited over some Pokemon I wouldn’t look twice at in a mainline game, like Quilfish for example.
Once you have completed a pass at one of the courses, it is time to show your photos to Professor Mirror, and this is where some of the complaints may rise to the surface. You can look through all your photos you took in that session and may submit one of each Pokemon to the Professor for grading. Only one however. So, imagine you have a picture of Raichu in two different poses, unlucky, you have to choose one and throw the other in the bin. This certainly helps to pad out the playtime of the title meaning that if you want to complete your Photodex, you need to play every level at least four times, in the situation that you can perfectly catch every pose in each attempt. This attempt to stretch the runtime comes off as a little cheap, even if I didn’t mind it so much since I was having so much fun trying to do it anyway.
Once you have chosen a photo to submit for evaluation, the Professor will analyse it against several criteria, but it seems only one truly matters – the size. If you get a Pokemon large enough in frame, you’re guaranteed a good score, regardless of anything else. This leads to some frustrating moments as the Professor just will not appreciate that yes, the Lapras in this photo is a little small, but there is a sunset behind it with Driftblims floating off into the horizon, it’s beautiful. It was always going to be a challenge creating an algorithm to evaluate an artistic medium, but once you work out how to game the system, achieving diamond-graded photos becomes far easier. Professor Mirror is never going to congratulate you on your use of lighting or aperture. It was never going to be easy to gamify photography like this, but they give it a good try.
There is also a robust editing suite available for you to perfect your photos using the new “resnap” feature which allows for you to go back to the moment you took a picture and totally reframe the action. If your Sandshrew rolled just out of frame, you have the option to correct that before saving to your own personal album. It is a neat addition which allows for minor mistakes to not ruin your desired shot. On top of this, you can put stickers, filters and borders on your snaps – feel like your Charmander is lacking a top hat? New Pokemon Snap has you covered. Once you have decked out your latest masterpiece, you can share it online for others to see, here you can get “nice!” medals, these don’t serve any kind of function other than to give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside, or a crushing feeling like when people don’t like the photo of the Soodowoodo that you took. Why don’t they like it? It’s hilarious. It reminds me why Instagram are looking to remove likes from their platform altogether, which I fully support.
Please go like my Soodowoodo.
Shake it like a polaroid picture
The biggest question floating around about New Pokemon Snap is – is it worth £50? Well, it is difficult to answer, it depends entirely on what you see value in. If you want something to fill 40+ hours, with a AAA scope and high production value, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re in the mood for something a little more laid back, with a focused and rewarding core gameplay loop, I think there’s a lot to love here, especially if you’re a fan of the series. It makes the perfect side game for something which might be a little more skill intensive, for example I played alongside Ghostrunner, which was a welcome contrast.
If you’re from the UK, check out Currys or Smyths, they have this the cheapest I have seen and I managed to nab it for £35, which is the best you’re going to get in the foreseeable future.