Video game fans can be an entitled bunch. When they latch onto a popular series or genre it isn’t long before they begin demanding the next iteration meet certain criteria and levels of excellence. But game companies don’t always give fans what they want, and many times the most invested players can have a difficult time accepting this reality.
When Nintendo and the Pokémon Company announced their plans to release Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee mere weeks before E3, the internet was set ablaze. Here was the generation one console reboot longtime fans had been wanting for years and years, but it wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. With simplified controls and tweaked gameplay it was obvious the Let’s Go titles were crafted for a younger audience, or those who were new to the series.
Despite Pokémon Company CEO and president Tsunekazu Ishihara stating various times that the Let’s Go games were not the next main series entries, and that said entries were coming in late 2019, there were still plenty of players crying, “This wasn’t what we wanted!”
Seeing the hostility towards the Let’s Go games reminded me of a personal reaction to a Pokémon spin-off that took place nearly 20 years ago.
In the Spring of 1999 the initial Pokémon fever still had its claws in the deepest reaches of my overactive nine year-old mind. My friends and I had read about Pokémon Snap in the months leading up to its late June release by way of Nintendo Power magazine. It was the first official Pokémon game for the Nintendo 64 — that was all the incentive we needed to put it at the top of our list. In fact, I made the decision to purchase Snap in place of the hotly anticipated Super Smash Bros. For a kid whose only income was a meager allowance and the occasional birthday check, I knew buying any game was a serious investment.
It wasn’t like Nintendo Power was pulling the wool over our eyes by promoting Pokémon Snap as anything other than a first-person photography game. Even my prepubescent brain could comprehend that the game would focus on moving through environments and snapping pictures of wild Pokémon. But part of me hoped they were burying the lede. That there was a secret surprise mode or feature that Nintendo didn’t want to spoil ahead of the game’s release. Maybe you could catch the Pokémon, battle them, and level them up. Something, anything besides taking pictures.
Of course, as we soon found out, taking pictures was all there was to Pokémon Snap.
As my group of friends and I played through this newest Pokémon game over the first few days of July we began to express our overall disappointment with the content, or lack thereof. It was slow. It was short. Heck, it didn’t even feature all of the Pokémon from the first two games. We became the outraged fans all agreeing, “This wasn’t what we wanted!”
But we were also children, and most of us had broken the bank to add Pokémon Snap to our game library, so we kept playing. Weeks later, after dozens of Pokémon had been perfectly framed, I convinced my mother to take me to the local Blockbuster, where one could print off their favorite pictures from the game at a special Pokémon Snap station. A novel idea at the time, and by far my fondest memory of the game.
I’ve gone back to Pokémon Snap on a few rare occasions over the last twenty years. Every time I do, I find something new to love.
It is a rather slow affair, but it was obviously designed as such. The game wants players to have time to check their surroundings and take everything in. The rustling of a Meowth slinking through the foliage or the splash of a Poliwag diving into a nearby river. I realized that Pokémon Snap was providing an aspect of this fantastical world the original games never had — witnessing Pokémon in their natural environments. Red and Blue’s top-down view never truly portrayed Pokémon in the wild. It hid them away within the tall grass of Viridian Forest or the dark corners of Mt. Moon. Pokémon Snap was all about giving players a less stressful look into the world of Pokémon. An interactive field trip of sorts.
Though Snap’s Pokémon Island only consists of seven areas, each has a distinctive theme and soothing soundtrack, featuring Pokémon not seen elsewhere in the game (aside from Pikachu, who rightly shows up everywhere). The areas are detailed, and well designed to keep the player’s head on swivel.
Getting Pokémon to pose in a certain way, or appear in general, can take some experimenting with the game’s various items. In this way Pokémon Snap expertly mixes quick thinking and action, becoming more of a puzzle game than a simple photo shoot. Thinking critically about how Pokémon will react to elements like food and music allows players to strategize their shots, and get the most out to each level. Younger fans (such as myself twenty years ago) might not have the patience to sit through the slow rolling levels over and over, but players who don’t mind the ride can find plenty of new or slightly altered content in each go.
Something far less important that I discovered while researching the game was that, although players were able to rename the main photographer, his official full name was Todd Snap. The protagonist of Pokémon Snap... is Todd Snap. A detail so silly and terribly on-the-nose that it somehow manages to add another small layer of charm to the game’s already somewhat laughable storyline.
Pokémon Snap’s photography-based gameplay was distinctive for its time, and years later there sadly hasn’t been another Pokémon game quite like it. In the grand scheme of things, as a part of the most profitable media franchise of all time, the game is just a blip on the radar. It won’t be remembered as the best Pokémon spin-off, or the worst, but it will certainly go down as one of the most unique. A relaxing change of pace for any Pokémon fan who was weary of the main series RPG grind.