By the end of 1999 Pokémon Snap was the sixth best-selling Nintendo 64 title of the year and by the console’s retirement it was the the 11th highest title of all time. The novel spin on what was already a massively popular series flew off rental shelves in the U.S. By any metric, the game was a success and I am still flabbergasted that it took over 20 years to get a new iteration.
Newcomers might have a hard time understanding what all the hubbub is about, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of a 12-year-old in 1999. Until Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium, Pikachu existed in a solely 2D world. Its physical representation was limited to Game Boy graphics, the anime, and a kid’s imagination. Pokémon Snap was the first time players got anything representing a naturalistic, immersive approach to the Pokémon world. Those pixelated monsters that players bonded with over battles and navigating twisting paths were no longer just random encounters in tall grass. They were expressive creatures and, if you timed it just right, you might capture a cute photo to remember the moment.
New Pokémon Snap revitalizes much of what made the original Nintendo 64 game enthralling while also ensuring a high-level of replay value. Once again, you sit within the safety of a yellow buggy vehicle on a predetermined course. Players can utilize a few different implements (unlocked gradually over the course of the game) to lure, pester, soothe, feed, or wake up the Pokémon in the area in hopes of getting unique shots. Each Pokémon can display a variety of behaviors that rank from common to unique for a total of four different poses. You’ll want to capture each one in order to fill up your Pokémon Photodex; a completed Photodex includes 214 different Pokémon with four photos each.
Completing that ‘dex is an investment. For players that who want to know how much time they’re going to get out of a game before dropping the cash, New Pokémon Snap’s gameplay is devised specifically to ensure that players replay each course dozens of times. Each run will take approximately five to 10 minutes, although this will shorten as you approach the end game content and are able to speed up the NEO-ONE, and you can only show Professor Mirror one shot of each Pokémon each time for points. If you want all four pose photos, that’s going to mean at least four runs per course. Then, there’s also different course levels to factor in as well. Earn enough points and the course levels up, new Pokémon appear, new behaviors are exhibited, and new forks in the path show up as well.
Now, I’m an obsessive completionist when it comes to these sorts of games. I spent several hours in older areas before moving on to the next one because I wanted to see what had changed and feel like I’d observed as much as I could before starting in a new zone. If your play style is the opposite of mine, you might be able to get through the negligible story aspect and unlock access to all of the zones in roughly eight hours whereas my playthrough was closer to 12 hours. But, I took a four day weekend off work to play this and was squarely dedicated to getting the absolute most out of it. More importantly, I was never bored. There was always something more to see each time I set out on an expedition.
There’s also Requests, which you can consider similar to achievements, where Professor Mirror, Todd, or the two other kid assistants ask you to take a specific photo. Sometimes it’s a pose missing from your Photodex and will serve as a “hint” on how to get the pose. Other times it’s a Pokémon displaying a funny or unique behavior. Fulfilling these requests will earn cosmetic rewards, like stickers in the photo editing area or profile photos and titles for the “My Page” section (more on that in a bit). I would have liked a little more variety in how to get the poses, which over time turns into mashing fruit, Illumina orbs, and music at every Pokémon to see what happens. I remember the original requiring a little more thought on how to cause certain things within the environment to happen, but I might have nostalgia goggles on.
If I had to levy a few disappointments, the first would be in the graphics area. Now, I’m not looking for hyper-detailed realism in a Pokémon game, but I was hoping for a little more texture in the monster models. We don’t have to go the full Detective Pikachu route, but there are some species that could stand to be a little more fluffy, slick, or scaly. A primary example of a Pokémon lacking furriness is Lycanroc in the desert area. Or there’s the Hippowdon in the same area. One surfaces from a pool in an oasis. Make its skin look wet and shiny like a hippo! Instead, I’d describe most of the models as some variation of “smooth.”
I was also surprised to see very few Pokémon from Sword and Shield in the game itself. Of course there’s no way that everyone’s favorite critter will make an appearance even with the variety of locales to choose from, but across the the entire game there are only eight Pokémon from the newest installment. None of those are Wooloo, which I consider a personal affront. I also would have liked something a little spookier than Elsewhere Forest to get my Psychic and Ghost Pokémon snaps, although almost getting mauled by a Bewear was genuinely frightening.
Beyond the gameplay itself, New Pokémon Snap also has a social area that as near as I can tell, could be implemented better. The “Lab” includes areas to compare your Photodex scores, course scores, edit your photos, and create a baby MySpace page to share six of your favorite snaps. There’s also a system similar to Facebook “likes” for the shared photos. What I could not find for the life of me was a way to easily look at the pages belonging to my Switch friends. While browsing the most liked photos is great and all, like actual Facebook I have no interest in the Pokémon algorithm. I just want to see my actual friends’ pictures!
New Pokémon Snap recaptures the magic of the original game while greatly expanding on its primary concept. I can only hope that Nintendo decides to keep the series moving forward, potentially with future DLC or additional entries. Until then, this Pokémon Research still has more ‘mons to see.