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New Pokémon Snap Review -- Pokémon Geographic

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Conflict and stakes are typically a core element of video games. Some of the most memorable games tell stories about the clash between the forces of good and evil, battling to prevent or overcome great calamities, or the struggle to survive. Of course, there are also competitive games that are built around the conflict of gamers pitted against other players or teams. And then there are games like New Pokémon Snap, games without any of that. What is the point of a game without conflict or stakes and is such a game worth the time it takes to beat? Well, I suppose that depends on what you are looking for in a game.

Over twenty years ago, capitalizing on the burgeoning Pokémon craze, Nintendo released Pokémon Snap, a “rail-shooter” that tasked players with taking pictures of Pokémon in their natural habitats. Pokémon Snap was a drastic departure from the gameplay of the core games of the franchise and this experiment was beloved by fans who have implored Nintendo to release another entry over the years. Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, Nintendo announced a sequel as part of the Pokémon franchise’s twenty-five year anniversary celebration.

New Pokémon Snap follows the story of a research team led by the non-tree-inspired Professor Mirror that sets out to unravel the mysteries of the Lental Region. Pokémon in the Lental Region have been observed exhibiting a strange glowing phenomenon, and Professor Mirror’s goal is to understand why. Of course, this is the Pokémon universe, so that translates to preparing a self-propelled hovercraft and sending a child to explore the mysterious forests, active volcanoes, unexplored tundras, undersea caves, and various other areas that comprise the Lental Region with not much more than a camera, and endless supply of fruit, and a song that gets more annoying the more you spam it. Along the way, players encounter over two-hundred different Pokémon drawn from the franchise’s eight generations. Although there are some I would have preferred to not see included (like the myriad of Magikarp that seeming inhabit ever level), I was pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of Pokémon featured in the game.

In case it was unclear, the heart of New Pokémon Snap is about taking pictures of Pokémon. Sure, you might occasionally come across two Bouffalant crashing into each other or a pack of Mightyena angrily chasing after a Furret, but this is a largely peaceful game without a lot of conflict. Players travel through each course taking pictures of Pokémon in the wild to fill out the Photodex, New Pokémon Snap’s photography-focused take on the traditional Pokédex. Each picture is then evaluated and given a star rating, from one to four stars, and a numeric score.

The simplest way to think of the star rating is as a measure of excitement in your photograph. If you take a picture of a Charizard that is simply standing still, it will only be worth one star, but capture a shot of that same Charizard unleashing a flamethrower at an angry Tyrantrum and it might be worth four stars. At the same time, the quality of the photo earns a point score which determines if your photo receives a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum rating. Was the subject facing the camera, was it centered, and were other Pokémon in the shot, are all questions that affect the number of points a photo receives. Honestly, the rating system is not great. I have talked at lengths about my sentiments regarding games that encourage or offer avenues for improvement and the importance of feedback in that process. New Pokémon Snap does not really tell you what went wrong or why a particular photo received its rating, so players are largely at the mercy of a system that can often feel subjective.

Completing the Photodex only requires capturing a single picture of each Pokémon at any rating, but players are encouraged to capture the best photo of each Pokémon at each star rating and that is the challenge of New Pokémon Snap. While the routes and encounters on each stage are essentially fixed, it is a puzzle to figure out how to elicit the unique behaviors from the different Pokémon. Sometimes it is as simple as throwing a fruit or playing a tune, but some photo opportunities require triggering reactions from nearby Pokémon or solving environmental puzzles. One annoyance is that the game only lets players evaluate one picture for each Pokémon from each run which felt like a cheap trick to boost replayability. Given this limitation, I found the best solution was to let the system pick the best photo, rather than deciding for myself. While it is the most optimal solution, it also removes some agency from players which is admittedly not a great feeling. The game keeps track of your highest scores and after each run, the points are tabulated which contribute to the Research Level of the course. Increasing the Research Level makes the Pokémon more trusting which creates new photo opportunities, causes new Pokémon to appear, and can unlock alternative routes.

Given that this is a game about photography, it should come as no surprise that New Pokémon Snap does not slack on the visuals. This is not a hyper-realistic take on Pokémon, like Detective Pikachu, but the world and Pokémon still look great while maintaining the franchise’s traditional cartoon appearance. Pulling from the diverse collection of Pokémon that have been created over the years, most of the game’s different biomes are occupied by a unique selection of Pokémon (baring a few exceptions like the aforementioned Magikarp that reside in almost every environment) that look at home in their specific settings. Two-hundred Pokémon does not seem like a lot, especially given that there are currently probably over one-thousand unique Pokémon (counting the various forms), but each course is packed with Pokémon and photo opportunities.

When New Pokémon Snap was announced, there were two vocal camps. One wanted the game to adhere to its predecessor’s roots and stick to the on-rails format, while the second hoped the game would offer more freedom, drawing inspiration from the open-world games that have become the norm in gaming lately. I can understand both sides of this argument. The on-rails aspect was part of the charm and simplicity of the original game, but at the same time, that was over twenty-years ago and gaming has changed. In the end, New Pokémon Snap does not deviate too much from the original. The Neo-One, the aforementioned self-propelled hovercraft, slowly follows predetermined paths, albeit with the ability to follow forks that can be discovered as players play through each course.

When I started this review, I mentioned how games are often built around stakes. If Mario does not succeed, no one will stop Bowser and save Peach; if you fail to claim a Notorious Monster, you do not have a chance at the drop; if you lose a game of Overwatch, your rank goes down; if you do not pay off your loan from Tom Nook, you cannot go further into debt. New Pokémon Snap has none of that. If you fail to capture a shot, you can run the course again and the Pokémon will return to their original positions and perfectly recreate the opportunity. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the decision to make the game a rail-shooter, but that decision also means the game does not have consequences or urgency. From a game-play perspective, I can understand why New Pokémon Snap is designed this way, but it also makes the game feel completely scripted. New Pokémon Snap is supposed to be about capturing photos of Pokémon in their natural habitats, but the Pokémon end up feeling like Disney Animatronics following pre-programmed directions. While there are variations in some of the courses, it does not do enough to make the Lental Region really feel alive.

This brings me back to the questions I posed at the start of this review, what is the point of New Pokémon Snap and is it worth the time investment it takes to beat? Honestly, New Pokémon Snap is something of an oddity for me. Although I played the original as a child, we did not actually own a copy. I remember playing it at one of my friend’s houses, and later renting it from Blockbuster, back when that was a thing, but that was my exposure to the game. The original Pokémon Snap was also incredibly short, able to be finished in five hours or less, so it was a quintessential rental game. New Pokémon Snap is thankfully much longer, but the story is minimal and not especially engaging. I can’t tell you how many hours it took to finish, but I have sunk over twenty hours across the past few weeks in an effort to take pictures of all the available Pokémon and earn diamond ratings for all four photo options (a goal I am still working to complete). While this is not a game I have loved and I have my issues with the rating system, the challenge of capturing the perfect photos has been a puzzle I have personally enjoyed.

A huge part of the appeal of New Pokémon Snap is that there has not been a Pokémon Snap game in over twenty years. It is great that Nintendo finally decided to revisit this franchise, but at the same time, the game does not reflect over twenty years of evolution in gaming. I think the most accurate description of New Pokémon Snap is that it is more Pokémon Snap. If you are someone who has fond memories of the original game, have nostalgia for that experience, or want a simple, low stress game, New Pokémon Snap might be for you. New Pokémon Snap is a game that makes no secret of what it is offering. The game invites you to snap pictures of Pokémon and that is the exact experience the game delivers.

Gotta snap ‘em all!

All images owned by Nintendo.


  1. 6souls -
    6souls's Avatar
    this is a largely peaceful game
    Except for the moments where you kill a Pokémon to get the prefect shot.