The latest in what feels like the miraculous return of long dead video game franchises; Pokémon snap makes its shock return to the Nintendo Switch in the imaginatively titled New Pokémon Snap. The first game on N64 was one of those games I played to absolute death as a young kid. So the idea of coming to a brand new entry in the series over 20 years later is kind of bizarre to me.
It’s one of those situations where I find it really difficult to look at this game without comparing it to the first one. You might be thinking listing this game’s shortcomings in comparison to a game that came out on the Nintendo 64 might be a laughable venture. But there are some aspects of the first game I feel are lacking in this one. But I’ll get to them later on.
It might seem like I’m starting this post off on something of a down note. Which is pretty undeserved to be honest, New Pokémon Snap is a beautiful video game to look at. And seeing as how it’s a game entirely about looking at things. Like the first game, Snap keeps you on rails and takes you on a tour of pre-prepared safari, during which your goal is to take the very best photographs of Pokémon you encounter along the way.
I was kind of surprised to see that this game comes from Bandai Namco and the same team that brought us the Pokemon fighting game Pokken Tournament. It shows though, because the Pokemon in this game look amazing. Which is the biggest benefit that comes from the developers really restricting the amount of moving parts within the game.
In terms of gameplay, this sequel is almost identical to that of the first game. You follow your route through the stage and can alter the Pokemon’s behaviour by throwing fruit at them or playing music around them. Additionally, you can use a dash engine to better position yourself for better pictures.
The main new features come from a scan functionality that gives you some tips towards where hidden Pokémon may be and the pester balls are replaced with illumuna orbs; the main new mechanic of the game.
Within the story of this new Pokémon Snap, the Lentil Region; a collection of islands of vastly differing climates play host to a unique phenomena called Illumina. It’s source are a bunch of flower-like crystals. Or maybe they’re crystal-like flowers. They fell to Earth during a near disaster 2000 years prior when an asteroid almost hit the region.
The whole region is now littered with these crystal flowers that give you a whole new approach to interacting with Pokemon, especially at night. All centred around these “boss encounters” where you chase around one uniquely glowing Pokemon on each island before you discover the savour of the region all those years before.
The story is… Meh. It’s a Pokémon game though I guess, I mean the literal ending before credits is essentially yelling about how friendship is the best. Honestly, the whole thing could have been cut down to even barer bones than it already is for my liking.
What I come to the game for is taking pictures of Pokémon, and this game is dense with them. And I mean dense. I thought I was on the final map in the game and then three more areas popped up on my map. While the first game had six stages and a boss encounter at the end, New Pokémon Snap blows that out of the water by not only giving us 12 locations to explore, but also mixes them up several times throughout the run.
As you run stages more, Pokémon “get used to you”. In practice, that means each stage has three levels, which totally change the way the Pokémon behave throughout the run, and also adds more Pokémon to the trail as well. Not only that, most stages have a night time version of the stage which totally change the Pokémon within them and sometimes the route you take through the stage.
Which makes it so you end up with over 50 variations of stages in which you explore and snap pictures… Which actually ends up being a little overwhelming. You see, while the first game would accept a single picture in your records from each Pokémon, this sequel categorises Pokémon pictures into a one of four categories before even giving them a score.
So, in general a one star picture will contain the Pokemon behaving naturally, without your interference messing with it. A two star picture generally comes from you chucking apples at it or watching it eat. Three and Four star pictures come from more unique interactions specific to the Pokemon and their current situation.
It makes it so there is a ton of depth to actually filling up this photodex and makes it much more daunting task than it was in the first game. So here’s the part where I make a complaint about the game that a lot of people will tell me is something I should be praising.
I kind of feel like I, as the player, have much less ability to impact the world around me as I am traveling through it. Especially compared to the first game. While the game feels much more densely packed with activity thanks to the huge jump in technology since the days of the N64, it feels like the Pokémon in the world are much less malleable to my meddling than they were in the first game.
It feels like all of the tools at my disposal hardly have an impact on the Pokemon around me. In the old game, throwing thing at Pokémon would send them reeling, knock them into the background or have them fighting over it. In this sequel, throwing an apple at a Pokémon will cause them to flinch slighting and then going right back to their pre-prescribed path through the level.
Some Pokemon don’t even react to things you do to them. Playing music, which felt like something every single Pokemon reacted to in the first game, only seems to have an effect on a very select handful of Pokemon in this game. So much so that using it became an afterthought by the time I was approaching the game’s end.
The big frustration for me is that, despite the game giving you tips towards how to collect the tricky four star pictures through missions, it feels like my lack of ability impact the world around me. This coupled with just how many stages and variations there are within them turns the whole game into one giant game of trial and error until you find the right combination of tools that get the game’s desired result.
In my youth I probably would have delighted in the sheer amount of secrets and Easter eggs that come from finding these particular series of keys that result in the perfect picture of a Pidgeot. Now it feels like a lack of respect for my time. But again, this is the point where I am an old man and complaining about my particular approach to playing games these days.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the world was a little more intuitive when it came to figuring out which Pokemon react to certain stimulai. Like giving you pointers when you do something that might result in altering a Pokemon’s behaviour for later in the stage. God knows the characters never stop yammering on at you otherwise.
That’s my personal frustration I wanted to vent about the game though.
On the whole, I genuinely do really like this game. I’m probably going to use a guide to fill up the rest of my photodex at this point. But I’ll still get a kick out of this beautifully rendered world and the Pokémon that live within it. It’s funny actually, I spend a lot of time in this post moaning about how I can’t figure out how to get the Pokémon to do what I want, but I just remembered I had a prima guide for the game way back when I first played it, so I already know all of the game’s secrets the first time I played it.
So maybe I wouldn’t have ben quite as patient with it the first time I played the older game either. Or maybe I would have just been much more content with mediocrity.
Oh, the game also has a whole side feature where you can edit and post your pictures on a social media type feed. But as a grumpy old bastard in his 30s, the idea of adding filters and cartoon eyes to my photographs does not appeal to me in the slightest how it might appeal to my younger counterparts.
Man, this whole post just descended to a case of. “Old man yells at Altaria” didn’t it. New Pokemon Snap is a good game. I’m super happy they went and made it after all this time.