New Pokémon Snap Review
When something comes back or gets a sequel after two decades, it rarely works out as well as the first time around. Sequels so far after an original release has a lot to live up to: satisfy the people who were there the first time, the ones who want more of the same, and get newcomers excited as well.
Twenty-two years later, Pokémon is in another world of popularity. Can an on-rails photography game still grip us as it did at the turn of the century? The answer is yes.
On paper, getting rolled around a course with no control where you go while taking photos of Pokémon might seem a little mundane. But it’s the Pokemon who make the game what it is. In New Pokemon Snap, the world feels alive with Pokemon in ways other Pokemon games never do. There’s no trading or fighting; there’s no Pokéballs or captivity. Seeing Pokémon living their lives, having fun, and just existing is something we’ve not seen since the Nintendo 64 – and it’s what makes the game.
There’s a story in New Pokémon Snap; sure you want your photos graded by the new Professor Mirror. However, the good professor has a story to tell, the Lental Region where this game takes place has a mysterious phenomenon called Illumina. Pokemon and plants are reported to glow, and you’re sent on an ecological survey to figure it all out. The game features beautiful cutscenes, as well as partial voice acting.
Your survey takes place within the safety of the NEO-ONE, a floating vehicle that takes you over, in, and around all sorts of terrain. You’re sent off on your tourney with just your camera, but eventually, you’ll unlock several different tools to help on your way. Like the original game, there’s fruit (which looks like an Apple but isn’t, I don’t know why) which can lure in Pokémon or knock them about to get them to react. There’s also a new Melody function to play a small song which is super annoying to get a reaction from Pokémon. Illumina orbs are earned in each level with research, and that’ll further affect how Pokemon react.
The most significant change is the scanning ability. Pressing X puts out a wave that pings Pokémon in the wild (if you can see them), shows alternative paths, highlights points of interest, and can also be sensed by the Pokémon. It won’t let you find all the secrets on a level, but is just another tool so you can see what you’ve caught or not, what Pokémon is what, and more things to find. You’ll want to go through courses multiple times to see what happens at various points and try different things in different places.
So what do you do with all these photos you take? Like the original, you’ll take them back to the professor, and he’ll grade them. Photos are judged on various criteria, including pose, size, direction, placement, other if other Pokémon feature, and background. From that, you’ll get a score.
However, new to this game is a new system of “star” ratings, which are independent of the scores. So when you take a photo of something and receives a score, it’s also given either one to four stars. One star photos are usually a Pokémon just sitting or walking; two stars could be it laughing or playing with another Pokémon. Three and Four stars are more complex to get, and the requirements are different for each Pokémon. A Squirtle surfing on a Lapras is a four-star moment; Blastoise shooting his cannons is a three-star. Like the original game, the problem with this is you can only submit one photo of each Pokémon at the time of assessment. This submission system was fine in the original game because you can only have one photo of each Pokémon in the Photodex. Because now each Pokémon in the Dex can have four photos, you’ll have to run through multiple times to get a one, two, three and four-star Pokémon moment. You also might not be able to get all of them on one course either, as Pikachu, Squirtle, Magikarp, and others can appear in multiple courses.
Luckily taking a photo is simple, and you can now take pictures without being forced to “Zoom in” like the original. The target space for snapping a Pokémon is also much wider, and as long as you get it in the viewfinder it should pick it up – you just won’t get a good score for it. In the original game, you had to get the Pokémon super precise and get the Pokémon in the middle of the cursor. New Pokémon Snap is more lenient, and the addition of motion controls makes it even easier to get a better shot.
Everything about Pokémon Snap is chill; the music, the concept, and just rolling around snapping Pokémon as they pop up is super inspiring. As new Pokémon appear, you’ll be pointing Leonardo DiCaprio getting all excited about seeing new creatures. Early on, you’ll unlock things at a good pace and snap more and more Pokémon at a fair clip, but then you’ll run into one of the sore points and not very chill parts of New Pokémon Snap.
The original Pokémon Snap had you grind to unlock new courses by taking a certain number of Pokémon, and then more courses would open. It didn’t tell you where to find things, but you knew what you had to do. New Pokémon Snap does have a levelling up system for each course. As you take snaps of more Pokémon and get better photos eventually, you’ll level up, and that course will change – or you’ll get a course at a different time of day. Story progression is also tied to this… except when it’s not.
Between levelling up, courses can change, and the story can progress, but the game doesn’t tell you this. You can do a course again and again, and it’s the same, and eventually, you milk out as much XP from it and wonder, “How can I get any higher?” So you go to another course, grind on that and get nowhere there. But head back to another course at some invisible time, and hey, the course you were on previously has changed just a little. It might be another path or a couple of new Pokémon appearing that weren’t there before. Each course has four “levels” unlocked with XP, but it seems more obfuscated behind the scenes. It took me hours to figure this out.
You have to fish around levels getting better and better and then hope you stumble on the course that’s now got enough for you to progress. The characters can tell you to look out for something new, but you’ve got to go into a course to see that. The game doesn’t need this padding. New Pokémon Snap is fun and chill, and this grinding is decidedly not.
I completed New Pokémon Snap in around 12-15 hours, but that’s just the story – the game doesn’t stop there because there’s more to do. I’m now more than 30 hours in and still finding new Pokémon and paths through courses, still finding new ways Pokémon interact with each other. There’s even an achievement like system where the research team ask you to find certain Pokémon and Pokémon doing certain things. It’s an excellent way to find hints as well, especially if you get stuck trying to unlock more courses.
The game has some fun online content as well. You can create your own profile and pin your favourite photos to your account. Other people can then see these photos posted in the game’s internet section. You can give awards for pictures you like, and yours will get them too. The most popular photos get featured on the “wall” and other trending photos and the course of the day. We’re going to see some great memes come out of this feature.
New Pokémon Snap is a gorgeous game, each of the courses the game have a unique feel, and you never know what’s going to happen in each. The courses never just run through from beginning to end with events and surprises along the way. All of the Pokémon look like they’re just chilling out in nature and having a blast. The game runs at an acceptable framerate, although larger Pokémon can sometimes cause the framerate to stutter. Also, the game renders Pokémon weirdly at a distance and they can appear to animate all stuttering. The game’s shadows are also rendered at half the frame rate – although they are detailed. The game’s lighting brings locations and the Illumina phenomenon to life.
The game’s music follows on with the same chill theme as the rest of the game, possibly to a fault. None of the music stands out, but it’s there in the background, just quietly doing a job. The loud boppy music of the original game is nowhere to be heard. By the end of the game one thing is for sure: you’ll want to kill the Melody button.
New Pokémon Snap manages to defy the odds and live up to the original game, despite being released so much later. It’s not just for those with nostalgia for the originals either; this is a way better game than the original and should get newcomers excited too. The only thing that gets in the way is the game’s progression system, which is at odds with the mood of the rest of the game.
It was worth waiting 22 years for this; The best Pokémon spinoff game in a very long time.
+ Equally relaxing and exciting to play at the same time
+ So much to see and do, even after the story is done
+ Fun to see Pokémon in their natural environment having fun and living life
+ Editing photos after the fact, plus all the stickers and effects are terrific
- Progression system is at odds with the relaxed nature of the rest of the game
- Only submitting one "Star" type of photo at once might be considered padding
- Taking a "good" photo doesn't mean it'll get a good score