April 30, 2021
Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Bandai Namco Entertainment
Well, this has been a long time coming. Pokémon Snap for the N64 was a hit that nobody expected, and has been a beloved fan favourite since 1999. Its premise was simple, its execution smooth (well, smooth for the N64). And ever since then, Pokemon fans have been begging Nintendo for a sequel. But the Pokémon franchise has grown exponentially since the N64 days: there are over 700 new Pokémon across 8 regions (9 if you include this new Lental Region).
There’s always a sense of trepidation when such a long-awaited sequel finally gets announced. It’s been sought after for so long, but now that it’s real, will it really live up to all of our hopes and dreams?
Well, Nintendo really hit it out of the park this time. It doesn’t take long to discover that New Pokémon Snap exceeds far beyond any scope the original game could have dreamed of. Everything Snap 64 offered is blown sky-high. When you venture out to take your first few photos, you’ll be instantly charmed by how much love and effort has gone into this sequel.
As before, you control a young photographer tasked with taking photos of Pokémon in their natural habitat. Each level is on rails, so you only control the camera as well as a few other abilities such as scanning for points of interest and throwing various objects out of your vehicle. After the level is complete, you may choose which photos to show to your Pokémon professor, who will evaluate the photo based on a few different criteria. Pretty simple stuff, especially these days, so the details really need to be right to make the game a hit. Luckily, Nintendo has really understood what made the original game so beloved. There are more Pokémon, more ways to interact with them, more levels, and more things to do with your photos once you’ve snapped them.
Each Pokémon has several unique actions or poses that are ranked by an order of 1 to 4 stars. That doesn’t mean that each Pokémon only has 4 poses – in fact, each Pokémon has a fantastic variation of behaviours that depend on which stage you encounter them in, what you throw at them, and often even what other Pokemon are nearby. The new Professor Mirror, who is researching Pokémon behaviours in the Lental Region, will evaluate each rank separately so your ‘photodex’ will always be able to hold up to 4 photos of each Pokémon. The new Prof. is a bit better than good ol’ Oak at the evaluation process, but there are still times where your photo has registered the wrong Pokémon as the subject. It’s uncommon enough to be a minor issue, until you start trying to complete the many Requests you get (more on that later). You can still only submit one photo per Pokémon, which helps incentivise return trips.
“New Pokémon Snap exceeds far beyond any scope the original game could have dreamed of.”
If you snap a picture that you want to keep but don’t want to give it to the Professor to evaluate, you can save it into a personal album. From there, you can save it to your Switch’s system or edit it with an assortment of stickers, filters and frames before uploading it to a cute little social media-inspired online page where other players can view it and give it a thumbs-up. Generously, you also have the option of re-taking the photo before adding it to your album: you can change the position, zoom in or out, or rotate the photo to your liking. You can’t do this to your evaluated photos – you’ll still need to use your skills to get the perfect shot.
Returning from 64 is the ability to throw fruit at your subjects, but New Pokémon Snap also adds Illumina Orbs, which make any Pokémon it hits emit a colourful glow, and can bait some cool poses out of them to boot. It can allow for some amazing shots when natural light is a little lacking.
Speaking of which, another fantastic addition is the ability to visit almost all of the game’s areas at night. This is not just a change of lighting: this is a chance to snap pics of Pokémon sleeping peacefully or snap brand new ones of the nocturnal Pokémon that you may not have seen during the daytime. Some sleeping Pokémon can be woken by a well-aimed fruit or by playing them a sweet little melody. It really feels like time has passed since your trip during the day.
The camera feels natural on the Switch, and you can re-map the action buttons to your liking. The only thing that could use improvement is the reticule, which moves sluggishly even at its most sensitive setting. You might get faster movement by using the gyro function when in handheld mode, provided your Joy-Cons aren’t the drifting kind.
Even with the Nintendo Switch’s limited graphical capabilities, this game looks amazing. While Pokémon Sword and Shield certainly did a lot to upgrade the series’ historically cartoonish ‘chibi-like’ graphics, it still had a lot of room for improvement. New Pokémon Snap feels like what those games were aiming for, with absolutely breathtaking environments and energetic Pokémon animations. Many a time I gasped like I was an actual wildlife photographer when I encountered new Pokémon for the first time.
The frame rate holds steady even in handheld mode, with the only notable exception being when the enormous whale Pokémon Wailord gets involved. The photo quality is very good as well – they look a little low-quality while getting them evaluated, but once you’re viewing them in full view, the photos look just as crisp as when you snapped them.
A photographer’s work is never done
As you unlock new areas, your research mates will give you Requests: these are sidequests that challenge you to snap a shot of a particular Pokémon. The clear conditions of these requests are sometimes obvious and sometimes not, with some requiring a bit of puzzle-solving or trial and error. These should be welcome additions, since the puzzle-solving aspect of unlocking new areas as seen in the original N64 title is not present here. But thanks to the boneheaded way in which these Requests are implemented, they’re just an annoyance.
The problem lies in how you’re supposed to complete these Requests. You must present the picture you believe fulfils the conditions to the Professor, meaning you have to wait through the whole level until you get to the right moment. This also means you need to waste your evaluation for the Pokémon in question, which is tough luck if you happened to have snapped a different photo you know will get a great score. You cannot select a photo from your album to complete Requests, which is especially infuriating when you’ve already taken a photo of the Request by accident.
It’s a major buzzkill, as it brings to the surface some other minor flaws that might otherwise not have been a problem. When the game already has you replaying a bunch of the areas for other reasons, it begins to feel a bit too grindy. The camera not recognising the Pokémon you were aiming for becomes infuriating if it means you’ve once again missed out on completing the Request. The tougher Requests, the ones that require a bit of puzzle-solving, are now not worth the trouble. You can’t even access the Request info when you’re at the evaluation stage to check which is the best photo to submit to the professor.
Honestly, it’s such a good idea that I’m sad to have to criticise it this way. It’s not all Requests, but it’s enough of them. The good news is that they are easy to ignore – most of them provide no reward, and when they do, it’s just a new sticker to edit your photos with.
It’s a shame, because with better implementation I may have given New Pokémon Snap the 10/10 my heart wanted to give it. But the rest of the game is overflowing with enough charm to make up for it, and then some.
- Improves on everything we loved about the N64 classic
- Overflowing with charm
- Pokémon have never been more lifelike
- Lots of reasons to replay levels
- Requests are frustratingly finicky
- The camera will sometimes mistake which Pokémon you're aiming for
New Pokémon Snap is a fantastic sequel to a much-beloved N64 classic. It improves on everything from the original game, and the opportunity to snap cute pics of our favourite Pokémon with upgraded graphics is worth the purchase alone. Due to a few small annoyances, it falls short of being a masterpiece, but it’s certainly nothing that will ruin your enjoyment. New Pokémon Snap was worth the wait, and it’s a must-have for any Pokémon fan.