In 1999, Pokemon Snap made quite the splash. It was a huge departure from the RPGs that came before it, at a time when Pokemon hadn’t really branched out into different genre territories. It was also an interesting twist on the rail shooter genre—though mechanically similar to games like Star Fox and The House of the Dead, the switch from shooting a gun to shooting a camera was enough to shake up the genre. But it was a hit, and went on to become one of the most fondly-remembered games of the Nintendo 64.
It’s taken 22 years, but Nintendo and The Pokemon Company have finally seen fit to follow it up with a sequel. Simply titled New Pokemon Snap, the new game introduces some neat ideas and includes Pokemon from all eight generations, but for the most part, it sticks true to everything that made the original game such a classic.
Taking place in a region called Lental, New Pokemon Snap sees you assisting one Professor Mirror and the Laboratory of Ecological and Natural Sciences (LENS) with research into the region’s Pokemon. This partially involves simply documenting the Pokemon that call this mostly-uninhabited archipelago home, but also trying to get to the bottom of the “Illumina” phenomenon, which causes some Pokemon and plants to start glowing.
It’s exactly the sort of research that a skilled photographer is perfectly-equipped to undertake, which is where you come in. Riding the NEO-ONE—a high-tech, hover-based version of the GEO-ONE from Pokemon Snap—you ride through a series of different courses, snapping photos of Pokemon in different situations, trying to catch records of the different sorts of natural behaviour they exhibit. That mostly means point and shoot with your camera, but also using various tools at your disposal to try to coax different Pokemon out of hiding and prompt unique reactions.
In other words, it’s Pokemon Snap to a T, just with more Pokemon to find and newer technology at your fingertips. Everything that made the original so much fun is recreated perfectly here, from trying to get the perfect, highest-scoring shots based on various criteria, to figuring out the obscure methods of pulling the most elusive Pokemon out of their hiding places, to just taking the most beautiful shots you can for their own sake. The days of taking a Game Pak to Blockbuster to get your photos printed might be long gone, but instead there’s a whole internet to share them with, and all sorts of filters and stickers to embellish them with—such is the way of Pokemon Snap in 2021.
Like the original, items are a crucial tool for getting Pokemon to open up more, like throwing food to lure them to specific places or making noises to entice some sort of reaction. As well as the return of fruit and a music player (though built into the NEO-ONE this time, rather than the iconic Poke Flute), there are some new items: a scanner that detects points of interest nearby and also makes a noise that some Pokemon will respond to, a speed boost that can help you get a better angle on moving targets, and Illumina Orbs that send targets into a lit-up state.
The latter one is particularly interesting, simply in how varied the different reactions to it are. For many Pokemon, nothing will change in their behaviour whatsoever, but for others, it’ll prompt some rare behaviour that there’s no other way to witness: a new expression, some special move or dance, or even a change in the surrounding environment that opens up hidden routes. Between all the different items and a Photodex with four different behaviours per Pokemon to document, there’s a lot of scope to experiment and plenty of puzzles to solve in order to see all that Lental has to show.
To help with uncovering everything (and also just to add some nice, short-term goals to focus on), New Pokemon Snap introduces requests. These are optional tasks from other members of LENS to get specific photos, which also double as clues about how to uncover some of the more tricky behaviours needed to fill out that Photodex. That said, the descriptions are often vague to the point of being unhelpful, or even misleading, which can make completing all of them without help more of a tedious affair than a meaningful challenge.
This sense of vagueness also feeds into New Pokemon Snap‘s story progression. Though it unfolds in a linear fashion, each new chapter—and whatever new course comes with it—is locked until you complete some particular objective in the zones already open to you. These are never difficult, as such, but you’re only told about them through vague hints in cutscenes that you can’t rewatch if you miss something. You can generally still fumble your way through by replaying previously-unlocked levels—which much of the game is designed around anyway, as you try to find new things you missed before and unlock new things as your experience with each course grows—but that’s a nuisance when you want to just get on with it.
Annoying as that can be, and with a paper-thin story to go with it, New Pokemon Snap makes up for it with sheer Pokemon charm. The core design of the game puts the unique personalities of all these different little creatures at the front and centre, making each new outing a source of joy and comfort, even when the wonder of visiting a new area for the first time wears off. It’s a chance to see your favourite Pokemon in a new light, where they’re not just more animated and full of life than in any other game, but where witnessing that is the whole point of the game.
That’s backed by impressive detail in each environment, not just in a technical sense—though New Pokemon Snap looks impressive—but in the intricacies of each location. Backdrops are as much a part of each photo as the Pokemon themselves, and each course is full of opportunities for unique interactions, clever puzzles, and beautiful shots.
New Pokemon Snap is, well, a new Pokemon Snap—nothing more and nothing less, but that’s exactly what it should be. It captures everything that made the original such a beloved game two decades ago, building on that with some new features and a bigger pool of Pokemon to snap, but not messing too much with a formula that works well. The arcade fun of a rail shooter, the joy of photography, and all the personality of these adorable pocket monsters is a combination that never gets old.
Title: New Pokemon Snap
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release date: 30 April 2021
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.