In the long and extensive history of Pokemon spinoff games, one of the most beloved entries is Pokemon Snap. Released on the Nintendo 64, Pokemon Snap was one of the first 3D Pokemon games, and was unlike anything else in the series at that point. Though it never became an ongoing series like so many other Pokemon spinoff games, Pokemon Snap garnered a cult following, one that would clamor for a new installment for years on end. Over two decades later, the Pokemon photography game is back with New Pokemon Snap, launching for the Nintendo Switch. Though it may be more of the same, it’s hard to say that fans won’t be happy with it.
Snap to it
Set in the Lental Region, New Pokemon Snap once again follows the story of a character tasked with studying Pokemon in their natural habitats, taking as many pictures as possible. Working in association with Professor Mirror and his assistant Rita, players will fill out their Photodex with pictures of Pokemon they take throughout their journey.
Just like its predecessor, New Pokemon Snap is entirely on-rails, meaning that each stage has a preset path that you follow at a steady pace. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed, as it would’ve been really cool to freely explore and capture Pokemon in a more safari-style setting. That said, keeping the game on-rails makes sense for the mission and story structure.
However I do wish that there was an option to speed up or slow down the NEO-ONE, the vehicle that takes you through the courses. New Pokemon Snap forces players to go through a given track multiple times, either to complete specific challenges or visit the stage during the nighttime. It’s a bit frustrating having to go back and spend a full five minutes going through a course for the umpeenth time, just to get a picture of a Torterra yawning.
Living in a Pokemon world
I found the level design to be really excellent in New Pokemon Snap. Each stage is stuffed with detail, and you’re guaranteed to miss most of it on your first stroll through. It really encourages repeat playthroughs, especially when you unlock the nighttime variant of a map, in which you’ll find new Pokemon exhibiting new behaviors. There’s also a good deal of visual storytelling done over the course of a level. For example, I watched a Grookey and a Pichu follow each other around for an entire stage, playing games and eating food. When I came back in the evening, I saw them nestled together sleeping off in a corner.
Although the games are pretty similar, the major ace up New Pokemon Snap’s sleeve - and what gives it the advantage over the original - is its much larger Pokedex. While 1999’s Pokemon Snap was confined to the original 151 creatures featured in the Kanto Pokedex, New Pokemon Snap is able to select from an exponentially larger roster of Pokemon. Although they aren't all included, there’s still a plethora of Pokemon for players to discover. As a longtime Pokemon fan, it’s really charming to see different generations unified under one banner. Whether it be a Scorbunny taking a nap on top of a Torterra, or a mother Swanna watch over her Duckletts as a Magikarp flails frantically a few meters away, New Pokemon Snap feels like a living and breathing Pokemon world.
Gotta capture them all
In New Pokemon Snap, players are graded by the quality of the images they take on their journey. Picture quality is rated on a scale of 4 stars and is graded based on pose, size (in the frame), direction, placement, other Pokemon in the frame, and background. The game encourages players to take multiple pictures of a given Pokemon during a track, as getting the perfect shot could result in a 4-star image. Players earn experience after turning in pictures to the professor, which will increase their research level. Replaying a course on a higher research level means new species and behaviors to observe.
There’s a nifty scan feature that sends out a digital wave that will identify any Pokemon in your view. It’s really helpful for spotting Pokemon that are partially obscured, or blending in with their surroundings. Some Pokemon will even react to the scan, allowing you to catch them in a rare pose. You can also toss a Fluffruit to the Pokemon and it just might take a bite, as if some of them couldn't get any cuter.
With pictures being ranked on a scale of 1-4 stars, a player's Photodex entry for a given Pokemon isn’t truly complete until they’ve got images that fall under all four stars. This means that any completionist out there is going to find themselves doing quadruple the work in order to hit 100% completion. Though it’s great that the game has this replayability, it feels a bit silly having to go back and deliberately snap pictures of a Pokemon that might not be as good as ones you’ve already taken.
Taking pride in your work
It’s genuinely exciting trying to get the perfect capture of the Pokemon you discover, taking all of the grading factors into account. There’s several shots in my Photodex that I’m really proud of, and can’t wait to share with my friends once they start playing the game. It’s that social aspect that is going to be a major seller for New Pokemon Snap.
When a player is deciding what pictures they’d like to save permanently, there’s the option to customize the images and tweak them before saving. There’s a decent amount of customization options, as players can apply filters, stickers, and frames to spruce up their image. It helps give more personalization to images and I hope the developers add more customization tools to the game over time.
One of the coolest things about New Pokemon Snap is its use of gyro controls. In addition to the analog stick, players can move their in-game camera by moving their Switch (handheld mode) or their controller (docked mode). I found gyro controls to be far superior to using the stick, and it also felt super immersive. Sitting in my office chair, I constantly spun and rotated as I used my Switch console to quickly maneuver my camera and snap pictures of Pokemon.
Though the original Pokemon Snap is quite beloved among its cult following of players, it's often been heavily criticized for having little appeal outside of childhood nostalgia. New Pokemon Snap more or less stays inside the confines set by the original, though it does add some neat new features and mechanics. A much larger Pokedex, gyro controls, and gorgeous level design all make New Pokemon Snap a step up from its predecessor, even if it does follow strongly in its footsteps. It may not be the next amazing Pokemon spinoff, but fans that have been waiting for over 20 years won’t be disappointed with New Pokemon Snap.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. New Pokemon Snap releases on April 30 for the Nintendo Switch and costs $59.99
New Pokemon Snap
- Diverse roster of Pokemon to discover
- Gyro controls add to immersion
- Massive replayability thanks to challenges and alternate courses
- Solid picture customization tools
- Still on-rails with no speed settings
- Does very little to deviate from or experiment with the Pokemon Snap formula