For me, Pokémon spin-offs have always been intriguing and fun diversions. I get to go somewhere new, discover a new mechanic or two and sometimes even get the opportunity to add a Pokémon to my collection I otherwise couldn’t. Sometimes in a particularly roundabout way – yes I’m looking at you, Pokémon Channel. I never had access to a Nintendo 64 as a kid, so Pokémon Snap was one spin-off I’d heard about but never got the chance to play in its time. So I was surprised and super excited when New Pokémon Snap was announced, as I would finally get a chance to see what all the fuss was about in a more modern form. Given how much I’ve used and enjoyed the photo tool in Monster Hunter Rise I had a feeling this game would speak to me, and while there are a lot of details that I must keep to myself I can say there is a lot to like in this photo safari adventure.
New Pokémon Snap sees the player travel to a new island archipelago called the Lental region. It’s here, on Florio Island, that you head to the Laboratory of Ecology and Natural Sciences (L.E.N.S) to meet Professor Mirror (I see you, Nintendo). Mirror is planning the first ecological survey of the Lental region, following in the footsteps of Captain Vince, an explorer from 100 years ago. You join the Professor and his assistant Rita as a part of the research team, tasked with taking photos of all of the wildlife that you find as well as any historical information or evidence of glowing Pokémon that are unique to the region.
Starting up the game you’re able to choose from English or Japanese voice acting and from eight player character appearances (four male and four female). The opening tutorials are pretty quick and painless. The left stick moves the pointer which allows you to pick the subject of the photo and the right stick allows you to simultaneously move the camera up to 360 degrees. With the A button for the shutter and the left trigger for zoom you’re good to snap away. You can also use motion controls to move the camera if you prefer, but I personally found the manual approach more comfortable. Though in handheld with motion controls on it’s like you’re using a real camera which is pretty neat. The UI is clean and simple, as are the menus, making it easy to find everything.
The characters and writing are both great
Professor Mirror is the final judge of your photography prowess. Just like the Snap of old, pick a photograph from each Pokémon you captured, or none if you like, though this does reduce the amount of experience you receive so it’s better to do it anyway. In the past, only size, position, a technical multiplier and whether other Pokémon were present mattered in scoring. In New Pokémon Snap photos are ranked initially by stars based on quality and rarity of the content such as behaviour. Then they are scored based on pose, size, direction, placement, other Pokémon and background, giving a number that affects a star level from bronze to diamond. These photos are added to your Photodex which receives a page for each Pokémon and requires four photos, one of each star ranking, to be completed. Collectathon aficionados gird your loins cause this is just the beginning.
It’s time to let loose in the wild via the NEO-ONE, the high-tech pod within which you teleport to and from each level and ride in as you traverse each area. From the starting area you can tell how beautiful this game is. There’s so much to look at as you play I Spy with Pokémon across the varied environments of the different islands, from jungles to deserts, as well as different times of day. All of the Pokémon look great and their behaviours and movements are believable. The game performs well and doesn’t chug, though occasionally I spotted textures or details loading in, but I was usually too busy hunting for new subjects to photograph to notice or care. Large Pokémon can stutter when they appear but again it wasn’t enough to hurt the atmosphere. The music rounds out the experience and matches each landscape but isn’t too loud to drown out the cry of a Pokémon hidden from view.
Evaluations have added levels of complexity this time around
When you start the game you’ll only be taking photos but as you progress you can access fluffruit (looks like an apple but is softer and lighter) to attract or bother Pokémon if you hit them with it. There’s also a scan function which identifies objects of interest and can get a Pokémon’s attention or label Pokémon on screen. Later on you’ll get the Pokémon song function and the special Illumina Orb that can make things glow. Trying any combination of these tools can result in rare behaviours occurring but also new alternative pathways becoming accessible. There were times when I’d replay a level and find that I was able to go somewhere new, which added to the replayability and also drew me in to continue exploring. These changes are also tied to the area level which is based on the points you get for your photos, so take lots of snaps and level up each area to see new events and Pokémon.
One of the biggest concerns eager fans might have had with this game is the breadth of content on offer. Compared to the original’s roughly four hours of content, New Pokémon Snap took me a rushed twelve hours to roll credits on the story. After finishing the story, new things unlocked, I started seeing new Pokémon and additional quality of life options also became available. In addition to completing my Photodex, I also still have heaps of research title achievements and photo requests to do. Yep, you heard that right, a Nintendo game with inbuilt achievements. After you tie up the main story each level also records a course score based on your activities within them. These scores, as well as your photos, can be shared online, though this function was not active during my review. All in all I think the content and replayability of this game fits the standard Nintendo game price point. The game is fun and fulfilling to chill with over brief plays but also longer sessions – the pick-up-and-play aspect of Nintendo Switch games is certainly strong here.
There are plenty of title achievements and photo requests to complete
Given the 22-year gap there are obviously a fair few quality-of life-improvements in this Pokémon Snap sequel. You can take even more photos than before (up to 72 per level), and when there are too many to sort through quickly for scoring you can press the minus button to have the game pick what it thinks is best. Any of the photographs in your album can be saved, scored or not, and these are kept separate from your console screenshots so you don’t reach your screenshot capacity, which is appreciated. You can also expand this photo storage by taking up more saved memory if you wish. The movement speed in game is nicely balanced, being fast enough to add a challenge, but the game slows as you zoom and you eventually unlock an accelerator option allowing you more chances for photos or to improve your relative position to your subject.
Sometimes photos require specific conditions to be eligible for photo evaluation which can be an occasional pain. But I suppose this is akin to taking photos and finding your pudgy finger over the lens of your favourite one – knowledge and practice always helps. My one pet peeve though, is that photo requests would often pop up after I finished a level within which I had just achieved the requested photo, but I would have to retake it for it to count rather than being able to go through my album and select the photo in question. This is an annoying design choice but it’s far from game breaking.
If you’re alert you can capture lots of interesting and sometimes derpy moments
New Pokémon Snap is a vivid escape into a new region with a diverse array of Pokémon. While it may not be the chonkiest Pokémon spin-off ever, the content on offer and the style of gameplay makes it a calming, replayable experience that will make Pokémon fans and collectathon gamers happy. Snap fans have been waiting 22 years, but I think it’s absolutely been worth the wait.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- BANDAI NAMCO Studios
- Nintendo / The Pokémon Company
- Nintendo Switch
- April 30, 2021