New Pokemon Snap on Nintendo Switch
It was difficult to keep my expectations in check when a sequel to Pokemon Snap was announced for the Switch 22 years after the original game released on the Nintendo 64. As a child, I spent countless hours capturing photos of my favorite Pokemon across the N64 game’s seven courses. Back then, each one felt magical and grand.
Looking back on it as an adult, I realized how simple and short the game was. Despite its simplicity, I always held the game near and dear to my heart. I never forgot the sense of discovery it made me feel.
I knew that the sequel, titled New Pokemon Snap, had big shoes to fill, especially after making fans like myself wait two decades after the first game to play it. It was long overdue.
As a big fan of the original game, I can say with confidence that New Pokemon Snap is a worthy sequel, and despite a few shortcomings, I anticipate that I will continue to play it to its fullest for many more hours to come.
If you’re unfamiliar with Pokemon Snap, it’s essentially an on-rails shooter, but instead of hurting your targets, you’re snapping photos of them. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what makes this type of gameplay fun. Taking stunning photos is one part of it, but a bigger part is all about the discovery and finding hidden secrets in the courses.
In New Pokemon Snap, you’re tasked with taking photos of Pokemon in the Lental region to help Professor Mirror investigate the mystery of the Illumina phenomenon, which makes the flora and fauna of the island glow.
You start your research nearby the laboratory on a course called Florio Nature Park with nothing but your NEO-ONE vehicle and your trusty camera. Before long, you’re expanding your studies to other courses and islands, and you’re given a variety of new items to aid you with your research.
These items allow you to interact with Pokemon and the surrounding environment in a few different ways. For example, using an apple-like item called a Fluffruit can draw Pokemon out of hiding spots so you can take a photograph of them. Items can also be used to elicit rare behaviors from Pokemon.
Unlike in the original game, photos are scored in two ways. First, they are given a 4-star rating based on how rare a Pokemon’s behavior in the photo is. For example, a photo of Pikachu eating a Fluffruit is uncommon, so it would be awarded more stars than a photo of Pikachu standing completely still.
I like this 4-star rating system because it adds content to the Photodex. Instead of logging only a single photo of a Pikachu, you log one for all four star ratings. When complete, each page features four photos of a Pokemon exhibiting four different types of behaviors. This encouraged me to interact with Pokemon during the courses in a variety of ways, much more than I normally would have if only a single photo counted for the Photodex.
Photos are also given numbered scores called Expedition Points that are awarded based on the Pokemon’s size, direction, placement, and if other Pokemon of the same type appear in the photo. These scores count towards each course’s research level. Raising the research level can unlock course variations and new areas, which serves two purposes: progressing through the story and discovering new Pokemon.
As you obtain a higher research level on a course, the course changes slightly. Different Pokemon may appear, and in some cases, you can find branching paths to reach areas you couldn’t before.
While most of the research levels produce minor changes to a course, every course has at least one major variation that makes it remarkably different in terms of what you can find (for example, daytime and nighttime variants). Additionally, each island has a boss-like course variant that progresses the story.
The game often nudges you to revisit previous courses to take more pictures and discover more about the Illumina phenomenon before you can continue onto new areas, but thankfully, it doesn’t feel like a chore to replay the same courses several times. In fact, I was impressed with how many new things happened on subsequent trips after I raised the research level on the course.
The first half of the courses do feel a bit too similar in the variety of Pokemon you find—so similar that for the first few hours, I worried if there was anything else coming at all. Luckily, after a slow stretch in the game, the courses became much more diverse. By the end, I was satisfied with the different types of areas despite the odd pacing to get there.
New Pokemon Snap’s story is just fine. It’s better than the original, in which the story was non-existent, but it’s not very engaging, and it usually takes a backseat to the actual gameplay. You just collect the same type of data from Crystabloom flowers on every island to investigate why things are glowing. There’s a lot of repetition in the formula. It’s not bad. It’s just not going to win any awards for brilliant storytelling.
The build-up to the ending is more exciting than the actual ending itself. It wasn’t boring or terrible, but it also didn’t have that “Mew on Rainbow Cloud” shock factor from the original game. In its defense, I honestly didn’t predict the final Pokemon until the moment it was revealed, so there was still an element of magic there. I do recommend trying to stay completely unspoiled until the very end to experience that reveal on your own.
As for the other characters, they provide useful commentary and good enough entertainment. Cutscenes have full voice acting, but regular in-game dialogue only has one-word exclamations from the characters. Phil, the “rival,” could be totally erased, and nothing would be any different. I honestly forgot he existed for the majority of the game. I wish he would have been used for an additional feature, such as challenges to see who could score the most points or something similar.
Don’t let the lack of an engaging plot put you off. Story isn’t what makes New Pokemon Snap a great game. There were many times I felt the same magic and sense of discovery that I remember feeling with Pokemon Snap as a child. For example, rare Pokemon appeared after I experimented with the environment by doing things like lighting up a circle of Crystabloom flowers.
The game has several beautiful, distinct moments that made me say “wow” aloud as I frantically snapped as many photos as I could before the subject went away. Even many hours after I beat the main story, I continued to have these types of moments as I revisited courses.
Some other positive things to mention about the game have to do with how well-polished it is. There are optional motion controls with a wide range of sensitivity levels for those who enjoy precision aiming. The game has full touch screen support, which is helpful for navigating menus in handheld mode. Load times are very fast compared to other games on the Switch, and the draw distance for seeing Pokemon far away is very good.
Visually, the courses in New Pokemon Snap are absolutely beautiful with vibrant colors, even at night, thanks to the Illumina phenomenon. I wish that the main series Pokemon games looked like this game with the Pokemon having such realistic movements and behaviors.
I think at first fans will be critical of the number of unique courses in the game. However, when you consider the number of course variations, branching paths, and differences in research levels, it is easy to see that there’s a lot of content here (much more than there was in the original game) and enough, in my opinion, to justify a $60 purchase.
Casual fans will get around 10-12 hours out of a main playthrough from start to credits if they only do what’s mandatory. Fans who want to make the most of the game will spend many hours beyond that, capturing photos of every Pokemon, completely filling in all pages of the Photodex, and finding every secret the courses have to offer.
New Pokemon Snap is easy to recommend to a wide audience. It’s a fun game for Pokemon fans, a worthy sequel for those who enjoyed the original, and a unique experience for those who are looking for something new to pick up and play in short bursts.
Progression feels repetitive at times.
Full voice acting is only during cutscenes.