After 21 years, gaming’s least violent on-rails shooter triumphantly returns to usher in a new generation of Pokémon paparazzi. New Pokémon Snap adds layers of complexity to the monster photo safari without straying too far from what made the original so damn lovable.
New Pokémon Snap tasks you with helping Professor Mirror and his research assistants explore the islands of the Lental region, cataloging its Pokémon population by taking snapshots of critters in the wild. It’s actually a rather cozy gig. You’re given a place to stay, top-of-the-line camera equipment, and an unlimited supply of fluffruit to throw at Pokémon to get their attention. You’re also given unlimited access to the NEO-ONE, a high-tech vehicle capable of teleportation and able to survive in the harshest of environments. You aren’t allowed to steer the NEO-ONE, only ride in it as it patrols set paths, giving every course in the game an amusement park ride feel.
Though developed by Bandai Namco Games, New Pokémon Snap is a Nintendo-published game, and early access to Nintendo games means there’s certain information I will not be able to impart over the course of this review. I can’t reveal the exact number of Pokémon in the game, the number of islands in the Lental region, or the number of photo-shooting courses and their variants. There are certain creatures I cannot mention, and aspects of the game’s story Nintendo would rather we keep under wraps until the game officially launches this Friday.
I understand the restrictions. As much as I would love to tell you... certain things about the game, it’ll be much more exciting for you to discover these things on your own. That, or wait until after the weekend when everyone runs their guides on how to get the best pictures of Whosiwhatsit in the secret underground cave that may or may not exist.
I can tell you that taking pictures of Pokémon is still a damn fine way to spend an evening. More than 200 pocket monsters are waiting to be captured on film in New Pokémon Snap, spread across several colorful and varied biomes. Initially, you’re a passenger, a passive NEO-ONE rider who can only snap pictures until the ride comes to a complete stop. But soon you gain special tools that allow you to interact with the region’s fauna. Toss a fluffruit at a Pokémon to catch it eating a snack or shake it out of hiding. Play music to make Pokémon dance or sing. New to the series are Illumina Orbs, glowing spheres native to region that illicit all sorts of strange and magical responses from pocket monsters.
Each ride in the NEO-ONE is a chance to uncover new Pokémon and hidden secrets, sort of like the action version of a hidden object game. The environments are filled to the brim with little details, layers upon layers of foliage thick with life. Depending on the tools you use and where your camera is pointed you can discover ancient ruins, explore alternate paths, and capture the coolest pictures of Pokémon possible.
Pictures like this stunning shot of Florges, captured by yours truly during a daytime run through the Florio Nature Park. It could use some more pocket monsters, but the size is excellent. Florges is well-framed and looking directly at the camera. According to Professor Mirror’s grading system, the picture is worth 4,543 points. Those points are added to my Research Level for Florio Nature Park. Unlocking higher Research Levels changes up a course, adding new monsters and even more secrets to discover.
Note that my Florges picture is rated three stars. Filling out your Lental Photodex isn’t just about grabbing the best shot. There are four star levels for each Pokémon, and each star level is rated bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. A shot from far off with the subject looking away from the camera might rate a single star, while capturing a critter in a perfectly centered rare pose earns four stars. While the urge to get the best possible photo is strong, sometimes you need to curb your virtual photography skills to grab something lower quality. The mechanic is a little counterintuitive, but it does wonders for replayability.
And this is New Pokémon Snap, so the photo fun doesn’t stop when the NEO-ONE ride is over. You can fiddle around with your captured snaps in several nifty ways. For example, once a course is over and your pictures have been graded, you’re given the option to re-snap pictures, adjusting focus and filters to make your pic the very best, like no one photograph ever was.
Also, you can do this.
Back in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, if we wanted to share Pokémon Snap photos we had to invited people over (gross) or have our cartridges stolen by ex-girlfriends (true story). Now we have the internet, which we can fill with be-stickered pictures of Pokémon until the cloud runs out of space, which will never happen because clouds are magical.
New Pokémon Snap is pretty magical as well. It takes the unique formula of the 1999 original and expands on it just enough to feel like a completely new adventure, without diluting the simple joy of riding and snapping photos of impossible creatures.