Real innovation isn’t especially common in the world of video games. That’s not surprising; it’s easier to make money doing what’s been proven to work, after all, and “real innovation” often takes the form of something that’s not especially enjoyable or interesting to play. Sometimes a developer takes a risk and strikes gold, though, as was the case back in 1999 when Pokémon Snap came out for the Nintendo 64. It was a sort of non-violent rail shooter and at the time there wasn’t much like it – even today that’s still the case, in fact.
It’s hardly surprising that Nintendo would eventually return to the formula, especially given the success of the Switch. Trading original developer HAL Laboratory for Bandai Namco, New Pokémon Snap has arrived and makes for a pretty great object lesson why this idea worked so well back in the day – and still does.
It’s time for another trip to the wonderful world of Pokémon, a lovely place that somehow manages to hold together despite consisting largely of world-ending mega-monsters and the ten-year-olds who command them. We’re off to the Lental region, where monsters abound and warmongering ten-year-olds are surprisingly scarce. Instead of Pokémon battling, Lental’s a more relaxed location where the focus is on studying the creatures in the wild. You’ll work with Professor Mirror and his assistants as a research photographer capturing Pokémon on film.
Much as in the original game, you’re set up with a rail-shooter style cart and a photo-shooter style camera that you’ll use to take pictures of Pokémon as you’re driven along automatically. Your goal is to take the biggest, clearest and most interesting possible photos of wild Pokémon in order to assist with Professor Mirror’s research. At the end of each trip, you’ll present these photos for the good Professor’s review, gaining points in various categories such as how well you framed the Pokémon, how many there are in your photo and what the Pokémon was doing at the time.
Later, you’ll obtain special items like fruit, Illumina balls that make their targets glow and a flute that can encourage Pokémon to behave in different ways for your photos.
That’s all pretty familiar to fans of the first, but given it’s been over two decades since the original game’s release date, though, there’s been some changes. For instance, each Pokémon has several star level categories listed in the Photodex, with these corresponding to different poses and situations. Instead of just finding the “best” pose for a given Pokémon, in other words, you’re encouraged to experiment and look for numerous different options to truly complete your collection. It’s a nice touch that adds a lot of longevity to the game.
Additionally, while the game’s still largely a rail shooter, you’re able to unlock different paths to check out using a new Scan feature that can lead to numerous different outcomes for a given expedition. Given the game’s all about playing through each area repeatedly, the ability to switch things up is nice.
A game that’s all about taking pictures ought to have interesting creatures and nice-looking environments and New Pokémon Snap doesn’t disappoint. It’s a Pokémon game, of course, so there’s a much greater focus on style and aesthetic than hardcore realistic graphics. That’s well in line with the series, though, and anything else might be a little off-putting, so it’s for the best that the game stays in established lines here. Along with the solid presentation, New Pokémon Snap includes some cute online features like photo-sharing to help modernize the experience and keep players snapping.
New Pokémon Snap is, well, a new and fresh take on Pokémon Snap, updating the fan-favorite framework from the original game for a new generation. There’s no shortage of players out there who remember being hungry for any sort of new Pokémon content, a hunger the original game served nicely, and in the modern era where Pokémon’s a worldwide phenomenon it’s nice that Nintendo isn’t churning out games just to churn them out. In other words, a pretty solid adventure that’s still unique two decades later with only obscure indie game Penko Park doing anything close. If you’re into Pokémon at all, you’ll want to snap a shot of this one.