Gotta catch the elusive Bonkerjerk!
Preconceived expectations and biases are the bitter enemies of the good critic. It is the sworn duty of any reviewer worth a dime to assume as much objectivity as possible before reviewing a game. You, the reader, care little for our pent-up aggressions and irrational rantings. You want clear and unbiased facts coupled with well-supported opinions.
That said, let me now state that I think the Pokemon phenomenon is the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse.
"Gotta Catch 'Em All"? Are you kidding? Has there ever been a more smarmy advertising motto? Might as well be "Gotta Nag Mom To Buy Every Little Useless Trinket, Kiddies." The Pokemon marketing blitz has reached critical mass - trading cards, clothing, pokeballs (really), breakfast cereals, vitamins, and, may God help us, the big stupid movie, which will hopefully invoke a mass scale version of the uncontrollable seizures caused by the Japanese cartoon a few years back. And for crying out loud, do the Pokemon actually do anything? I mean really - no removable parts, no plasma guns, no flying plastic projectiles on which to choke. They don't even have wheels. What's the point? I swear, The Transformers were NEVER this lame.
Ahem. That said, I was dreading the day I agreed to cover Pokemon Snap for Game Revolution. But to my surprise, this game actually offers some intriguing gameplay qualities and isn't nearly as horrible as someone with my 'Pokemonausea' would imagine.
The work of game design Jedi Shigeru Miyamoto, Pokemon Snap is Nintendo's answer to first-person shooting brutality. But rather than using a rail gun to make your point, you use a camera.
It seems that Professor Oak needs some help cataloguing all of the Pokemon on the aptly named Pokemon Island. Rather than hire one of the many Pokemon Trainers to catch all the Pokemon (remember: Gotta Catch 'Em All!. Ugh.), he has enlisted the help of you, Todd the photographer. It's your job to explore Pokemon Island and take pictures of the wild, free-roaming stuffed animals, er, lunchboxes, er...Pokemon.
Basically, you select one of 7 levels and glide along a fixed path. You have 60 pictures you can take each time through the level. If you see a Pokemon, you take its picture. It's sort of like being a pet voyeur.
When done with a level, your work is judged by the Professor, who will award you points for each shot based on Size, Pose, Technique (if the Pokemon is in the middle of the frame), and if Other Pokemon of the same type are in the shot. You can then save your best shots in the PKMN folder to show friends.
To find all 63 Pokemon, you'll have to repeat the 7 levels over and over again. However, this actually doesn't get too boring. Miyamoto is indeed a master designer, as the game progresses at a good pace without becoming stagnant. Eventually, you can get extra points for 'special' shots, which are usually obtained by luring the little beasties around with Pokemon Food, beaning them with Pester Balls (immensely fun, I might add), or forcing them to dance a merry Poke-jig by playing the Poke-Flute. All of these items become available to you as you find new Pokemon. .
The graphics are fine. All of the Pokemon (Pokemons? Pokemi?) are polygonal, rendered using the N64 hardware though some of the backgrounds and animations are still just sprites. The camera has a mini-zoom feature that works well and shows nice up-close definition of the monsters.
Like almost every other N64 game, the sound is bad. The music in particular will make even the most die-hard Pokemon enthusiast stuff his ears with Pikachu figurines just to block out the heinous, repetitive MIDI tracks.
As bizarre as it sounds, there's something strangely alluring about this game. I've already explained my disgust with the Pokemon craze, yet I can somehow manage to sit down with Pokemon Snap and not completely lose my mind. This is mainly due to the bizarre and innovative gameplay. Of course, this ain't no Goldeneye. All innovations aside, Pokemon Snap just isn't that much fun. It's not even a game so much as an exercise in good photography. While certainly plenty of fun for younger gamers, anyone over the age of 18 will probably grow weary of the freaky little bastards after a while.
Additionally, the fixed path setup is a letdown. Allowing the gamer to actually wander around Pokemon Island on their own would have added a much-needed layer of depth and exploration. It's also safe to say that the appeal of this game is very limited to Pokemon fans. Non-fans could care less about JiggleyPuff, Charizard, or PoogleyDooglePuss (Note: fictitious name. Do not attempt to catch.). Change the subject matter a bit, and you've got a much better game. I would have enjoyed it much more had it been called Mortal Kombat Fatality Snap or Playboy Centerfold Snap...but maybe that's just me (somehow, I don't think it's just me.).
Needless to say, Pokemon Snap is an absolute must-have for Pokemon fans and kids in general. Of course, most Pokemon fans went out and bought it the day it went retail. For the rest of us, it's actually a decent diversion, though certainly nothing to write home about. Besides, I'm all out of Poke-pens and Poke-paper!