New Pokemon Snap isn’t the calm, meditative sightseeing tour I was expecting. As one of few who never played the Nintendo 64 original, I’d always imagined Pokemon Snap to be pretty laid-back. You’d sit in your car, take a picture of a Pikachu eating an apple, then you’d call it a day. Little did I know I was actually becoming a member of the Poke-paparazzi, desperately trying to capture the perfect shot while acutely aware of the myriad of photos I’m missing out on taking.
Pokemon Snap instills a great sense of FOMO in me. If I spend too long looking at a Crabrawler, I’m worried that the Exeggutor standing behind me is pulling a cool pose behind my back. If I pass a new Pokemon, I desperately throw fruit, orbs, and play a musical ditty for it in the hope that it’ll do something interesting. I’m stuck on an endless quest for the perfect shot, fueled by the satisfaction of taking high-scoring photos.
Developer Bandai Namco, entrusted with this sequel after its work on Pokken Tournament, does a good job of making on-rails photography consistently satisfying. While I’ve no doubt that nature photography has its moments, I can also imagine that it’s a lot of standing around and waiting for a bird to look at you. New Pokemon Snap forgivingly shortens this experience, with each of its courses being a brief run of adorable Pokemon doing adorable things while you try to catch them in the act.
As unnatural as Mewtwo
After each course, Professor Mirror — a younger, floppier-haired Professor Oak equivalent — evaluates your photos and assigns them points and stars. Points are dished out depending on the quality of the photo, while up to four stars are given based on which of that Pokemon’s four behaviors you captured. Both ranking systems work in tandem, with the number of points also determining whether you will be given bronze, silver, gold, or platinum stars. As such, even if you’ve taken a photo of a rare four-star behavior, if it’s a shoddy snapshot then you’ll only be rewarded four bronze stars. Improving your ranking increases your research level, which can unlock brand new areas or different versions of the same course.
While this system encouraged me to compete with my own library of photos, its evaluation methods don’t always reward the best images. Professor Mirror troublingly values a Pokemon’s size above all else, so some of my more unique snapshots were overlooked in favor of ones where a Pokemon took up most of the frame. This may simplify things for those who don’t necessarily have a great eye for a good photo, but it does wind up making your Photodex entries look incredibly similar.
However, New Pokemon Snap’s online features do encourage more creativity. You can upload any of your photos to your online portfolio which can be viewed by other players, with them freely awarding medals to snapshots they like. You can also tinker with your photos before uploading, adding new frames, stickers, or filters to them in order to make your shot more ideal. I enjoyed throwing a pair of sunglasses on a Tyrantrum and basking in the adulation of other users, while I also liked browsing through my friends’ photos and seeing what they’d been up to.
Dropping the Pokeball
It doesn’t help matters that the Pokemon’s interactions with their environment can be routinely mundane. There are the occasional scripted scenarios that are fun to photograph, such as a Wailmer screaming directly in an Octillery’s face for no discernible reason, but they mostly just dawdle around. I didn’t notice any Pokemon naturally interact with their surroundings, with them being almost as on-rails as your car. Sure, you can throw fruit or play a tune on your flute to get them to eat or dance, but they don’t do much of interest of their own volition.
This makes New Pokemon Snap often feel like you’ve taken a camera on Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride. It’s pleasant enough and there’s a nice sense of nostalgia, but ultimately it feels like you’re just taking photos of animatronics rather than actual Pokemon. The concept is fertile ground to show these Pokemon in their natural habitat, without teenagers beating them half to death before capturing them. Instead, the fact that they’re mostly on a set rotation is far too apparent and it spoils the magic of the moment.
New Pokemon Snap also drops the Pokeball when it comes to its progression. While raising my research level in each area to unlock the next was understandable, the game consistently threw curveballs at me without me even realizing it. In one location, I unwittingly had to wait for a particular Pokemon to spawn, throw an Illumina orb at it, then wait for it to break down a set of rocks. In another, I had to throw orbs at a series of crystabloom flowers in order to stop a sandstorm. I can almost guarantee that many players will either accidentally progress through the game, or will be forced to Google how to advance.
Professor Mirror provides a vague outline of where you should be headed next, but that’s mostly limited to him telling you there’s something you should take a look at on a particular island. When that thing you’re supposed to be looking at is a randomly spawning Pokemon that’s your sole method of progressing to the next area, this ambiguity is more frustrating than it is mysterious. Some actual puzzles that locked away secret areas would have been welcome, but instead Snap is far too reliant on prolonged guesswork.
This guesswork stretches to its LenTalk requests — optional missions that see you being asked to take specific photos. One may ask you to take a photo of a hidden Sobble, while another may want you to catch an Emolga as it’s electrocuting some fruit. While working these out is less frustrating given that it isn’t directly tied to progression, there were some instances where my photo had to be incredibly precise in order for the request to work. It enhances Snap’s replayability for sure, but it’s also implemented quite haphazardly.
However, nothing is more emblematic of New Pokemon Snap’s tedious padding than its Illumina Spots. These levels are the final stages of each island, with them letting you photograph a single special Illumina Pokemon rather than the hordes of creatures usually found in a course. Bandai clearly intends for these to be awe-inspiring moments, but they’re instead incredibly slow slogs through an area while a giant Pokemon pops in and out of view. You’re given a boost button towards the end of the game which I would have appreciated much sooner, so that I could have zoomed through these levels and got them out the way as soon as possible.
New Pokemon Snap Review: The final verdict
Handing in a four-star, 4,000-point photo of a Pokemon having a great time is satisfying, but New Pokemon Snap’s tedious progression makes it far more exhausting than it should be. I just wanted to see these beloved creatures frolicking with one another in their natural habitat, while simultaneously doing my best David Attenborough impersonation and capturing their antics on camera. However, its levels are far too structured for me to believe in its weird world, while its secrets are more laborious to uncover than they are fun. I had a reasonably enjoyable time with New Pokemon Snap, though it’s still a missed opportunity to do something with these creatures other than beat them up.
New Pokemon Snap reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Copy provided by publisher.