Take a picture, it’ll last longer
New Pokemon Snap, the sequel to the 1999 on-rails photo extravaganza, delivers a more robust and fleshed out experience while capturing the magic of what made the original special.
I have very faint memories of Pokemon Snap when it first launched on the Nintendo 64 – mainly because I was just a young tot who wasn’t necessarily following the launch of spin-off Pokemon games. I do, however, have very fond memories of re-playing Pokemon Snap during college with my roommate. It was a short experience, especially when you know what levers to pull to make the game tick, but it made a positive impression in my brain nonetheless. Part of me always wanted a sequel on the deceased WiiU, which would’ve been the perfect outlet for a photo-centric game. The thought of physically moving the gamepad to get a perfect picture struck me as genius, but it unfortunately never came to fruition. Alas, here we are 22 years later, with New Pokemon Snap on the Nintendo Switch showing the franchise can still kick it in a new era.
New Pokemon Snap, similar to its predecessor, is an on-rails first-person photography game that features varied geographies and plenty of Pokemon to awe at. This time around, New Pokemon Snap takes place in the Lental region, with the main character being tasked with surveying the various islands around the region with the help of Professor mirror and his assistants Rita and Phil.
The story amounts to discovering and uncovering the legend behind the Illumina Pokemon throughout the Lental region using the NEO-ONE hovercraft. You transition from one biome to the next, making new discoveries and building out the team’s understanding of the Illumina phenomenon. It’s a slim story and is mainly used as a catalyst to drive the player from one stage to the next. Like most Pokemon games, I enjoyed the story for what it was but won’t remember it a year from now. But hey, we’re not here for the story – let’s get into the gameplay.
“Is this it?”, my partner asked as I was first showing her the game. “Essentially, yes”, I responded, “but there is much more to it than this”. After a few levels, she was hooked, yelling “get the shot, get the shot!” at every photo opportunity I came across. There’s a certain magic to the Pokemon Snap formula that is hard to explain at face level. At its core, you are simply taking photographs of Pokemon in their natural habitats, and that’s it. The real fun, however, comes with the discovery of new ways to interact with Pokemon and the varying scores that follow. For each photograph, there is a four star system assigned based on what each Pokemon is doing when photographed: One-star photographs involve basic interactions and photographs, with higher stars involving more unique actions. These actions can be coaxed through throwing Fluffruit, playing melodies, or throwing Illumina Orbs at Crystabloom flowers to make Pokemon glow and react. The four-star system is unique to each Pokemon, so playing melodies might lead to a three-star picture with one Pokemon but a one-star picture with another. The uniqueness of each Pokemon’s actions adds to the immersion and believability of the ecosystem.
Before sending your photos off to Professor Mirror to be officially judged, you are given the star level of each photograph and can choose one photograph for each Pokemon – the goal is to register a photograph for each of the four stars per Pokemon, which improves Snap’s re-playability, albeit a little artificially. During a level, you might capture a two-star and three-star picture of a Pokemon, but if you already have a three-star photograph registered and don’t have a two-star, you would want to go with the two-star photograph. Once your photos are selected, Professor Mirror will give a numerical score, with bronze, silver, gold, and diamond being awarded depending on the score. There is a little bit of inconsistency in the scoring – two of “same” photos may result in different scores, but this hasn’t hindered my experience too much as I’m never looking to take the same shot twice. Understanding the scoring system can be tricky at first, but you will get the hang of what the system wants after a few hours of playing. This “grind” is rather enjoyable, and I found myself going through a stage multiple times before moving on to the next.
Speaking of stages, each of the roughly dozen stages are rather diverse and beautiful. With Bandai Namco at the helm, Pokemon has never looked so good. I would like to see Bandai take a pass at an open-world Pokemon game like Pokemon Legends: Arceus some day. Outside of bio-diversity, each stage and stage variant (day/night) has a research level that increases based on points you get from your photographs. Increasing a stage’s research level will result in varying Pokemon behaviors and the occasional new Pokemon. Leveling can get challenging after reaching research level two, as you only get research points if you capture new pokemon, capture a new star level, or capture a picture with more points than a previous picture with the same star level. Overall, the challenge was enjoyable and shifted my mindset to quality over quantity. On top of re-playability, there are more stages and stage variants in New Pokemon Snap than the original, and as expected, much more Pokemon to photograph (over 200 in total). There were a few stages that I think lacked creativity, like the desert stage, but most of the stages were exciting and pleasant throughout the ride.
Outside of normal levels, there are special stages where you encounter an Illumina Pokemon and are challenged with throwing Illumina Orbs at them to activate their picture-perfect Illumina state. These stages go a little long, as you are just photographing one Pokemon the whole time, but provide for a nice break between the busier levels. There are about half a dozen Illumina Pokemon and respective levels, which are separate from your standard Pokemon-filled stages. Overall, I enjoyed the variety of Pokemon chosen for these Illumina roles, with one of the standouts being Meganium – this Pokemon looked beautiful in its Illumina state I won’t spoil any of the others, but there is one rather fishy surprise.
I’ve mentioned re-playability, but let’s talk about the length of the game. I took about 11 hours to roll credits, and continued to play through the post-game content for a few hours afterwards. Compared to the original Pokemon Snap, which lasted only a few hours at most, this length and post-game content should sooth a lot of potential buyers’ concerns over a shallow experience. You can clearly see that Bandai Namco didn’t hold back with New Pokemon Snap, and I am excited to see if any additional content is added to the game down the road.
Overall, there are a lot of improvements in New Pokemon Snap over the original game, with Snap adding new mechanics that help bring the experience to a modern audience. With the more robust base game, post-game content and general replay-ability, New Pokemon Snap is exactly what you’d expect – an expansion on the original game that still captures the excitement and simplicity of what made the original great. The one caveat I will add is New Pokemon Snap Is nothing more and nothing less than what is advertised – you will spend all of your time taking pictures of Pokemon. It’s not the most exciting game, and isn’t incredibly inventive compared to the original. That’s not a testament to the quality of the experience, but one that should be considered if you are thinking about purchasing this game. I am hesitant to recommend New Pokemon Snap at a price-tag of $60, but believe it is an enjoyable experience throughout.
I would recommend New Pokemon Snap for fans of the original game, fans of Pokemon in general, or those looking for a more relaxed game to play.
- Mostly beautiful visuals
- Many stages / new Pokemon
- Post-game content
- Scoring can be inconsistent
- A few bland stages
- Illumina stages drag a little
- Hard to recommend at $60
To give more insight into my review, i’ve broken down scoring into 3 distinct categories and averaged them together.
Ingenuity – 7.5
Excitement / Fun – 8.0
Replay Value / Post-game content – 8.0