I have been waiting 22 years for a new Pokémon Snap. That Nintendo 64 original was a brilliant example of pure, unadulterated, quality game design, and it’s crazy that Nintendo has gone through multiple generations of consoles that are absolutely perfect for games based around photography that it never bothered to make a new one. The Wii U, for example, was a misfire on just about every level, but when it came to photography games (hello, Project Zero), it was spot-on. But, anyway, we do now have New Pokémon Snap, and it has been giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling all week.
In the most important ways, New Pokémon Snap doesn’t mess with the formula that made the original so enjoyable. It’s still a rails “shooter”, only that instead of killing things, you’re taking their photo, and the better the photo (in terms of the size of the pokémon, the framing, what it’s doing), the more points you get. The goal is to get the best photo of ’em all, and with some 200-odd pokémon in New Pokémon Snap, that’s going to be a lengthy quest for fans.
What I immediately loved about New Pokémon Snap is the vibrancy of each level. They’re fairly short to play through at a couple of minutes each, but they’re so busy that you’ll want to go through them over and over again. You’ll spend most of your time on one “run” being fascinated by what’s going on to the left side of you, and then the next time through you’ll see something out the corner of your eye that will fixate you on the right-hand side, and then you’ll realise that there was a whole lot of stuff going on last time that you missed. You’ll also need to spend time looking in the sky for flying critters, and tossing fruit and other objects around to coax more shy Pokémon out or investigate suspicious areas. If you were to tally up raw content then New Pokémon Snap is fairly thin. On the other hand, it’s so vibrant and replayable that it’ll never matter that you’re moving through the same courses over and over again.
It’s not easy to get great snaps, either. Movement in the little cart that whisks you around New Pokémon Snap’s worlds is fairly slow, but you have no control over it, so if you miss the split-second opportunity to get the perfect shot, you’re going to have to wait until your next run through to give it another go. This is why it’s wise that the developers have made levels fairly short – can you imagine how exhausting perfecting the photo album would be otherwise? At the end of your run, each photo of each pokémon is given both the aforementioned score, and a star rating. One-star photos are of the pokémon doing something basic and dull. Four stars are for catching it do something exciting (usually you have to do something yourself to coax them into that). To 100 per cent complete the album, you need to get one photo of each pokémon in all four “star” categories, meaning that the 200 pokémon actually means 800 photos. Oh, and you can only “save” one photo of each pokémon with each run, so if you get both a 1-star and 2-star rated photo in a single “run” you’re going to need to choose which of those you want to keep.
This does come across as too much. As does the reward system, which throws all kinds of little profile icons and other “treasures” at you at a constant rate. New gameplay features and levels to go through also drip-fed at a rate the feels like you’re being constantly rewarded, in a very modern approach to game design. If I have one criticism of New Pokémon Snap, it’s that. The game becomes exhausting with its obsession with rewarding players. The original Pokémon Snap was nice and clean, and the reward was squarely on the joy of taking the perfect photo. All this window-dressing that gets thrown into New Pokémon Snap is there because otherwise the gamers would be furious with how little content there is, I know, and my criticism here is more to do with modern game design than New Pokémon Snap in isolation, but it really does come close to behaving like a “premium” mobile title at times.
With that being said, nothing can detract from the joy of taking photos of the little critters and then printing them out for a real-life photo album. I know it’s a fairly expensive outlay, but I consider the Instax Link Mini to be essential to the Pokémon Snap. Prints from the game come up beautifully on the “polaroid” paper, and with so many Pokemon, all doing so many charming little things (especially in their four-star form), the resulting album or scrapbook becomes quite the souvenir of your time in the game. It’s no wonder that Nintendo decided to make this game the one that would be the basis for an official partnership with FujiFilm
New Pokémon Snap is a delight to play. It’s bright, colourful, and overflowing with personality and while it does become a little too “grindy” for its own good, the core gameplay hasn’t evolved much from the N64 original, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Nintendo may have launched this in and around a lot of big blockbuster stuff (Returnal AND Resident Evil Village has been a big win for Sony over the last week), but then those games are so darned hardcore that New Pokémon Snap is exactly the antidote to them that I have needed.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb