Two decades after fans fell in love with the original, Nintendo’s long-awaited sequel New Pokemon Snap brings the captivating photography simulator into the modern-day with the perfect blend of nostalgia and innovation.
There have been plenty of Pokemon spin-offs throughout the years, from hidden gems like Pokemon Conquest to the franchise-spawning Detective Pikachu. But none of them have gained such a passionate and loyal following as the Nintendo 64’s 1999 cult classic Pokemon Snap.
With calls for a sequel finally answered after 22 years, expectations are naturally high. But in a modern gaming landscape where huge open worlds and realism are often considered markers of a great game, can a laid-back oddity like New Pokemon Snap shine?
Admittedly, it does feel a little strange at first to play such a linear game that, at its core, is little more than a cute photography simulator. But if you allow yourself to get swept away in its whimsy, you’ll find it’s far more charming than it has any right to be, and can actually be quite addictive.
With incredible attention to detail and a bunch of welcome new features, New Pokemon Snap has clearly been made with dedicated fans in mind, and it’s hard to see how any of them wouldn’t enjoy the ride.
New Pokemon Snap – key details
- Price: $59.99
- Developer: Bandai Namco
- Release Date: April 30, 2021
- Platform: Nintendo Switch
New Pokemon Snap launch trailer
Gotta snap ’em all
In New Pokemon Snap, players take on the role of a Pokemon researcher who’s traveled to the tropical Lental region to help Professor Mirror examine the Illumina phenomenon. With your research camera in hand – which also acts as your ID badge – you’ll explore gorgeous islands and take photos of the local Pokemon in an effort to learn more about them and their ecosystem, and eventually uncover the mystery behind Illumina.
As with the original, New Pokemon Snap’s gameplay is first-person and on-rails, but it never feels restrictive. If anything, it’s freeing to simply focus on the mission at hand.
Like any Pokemon game, the overall goal is to fill out your collection – although in New Pokemon Snap, instead of capturing the likes of Pichu and Pidgeot inside Poke Balls, you’ll be taking photos of them to complete your Photodex. All generations are well-covered, with a total of 214 Pokemon to be found from Kanto’s Bulbasaur and Squirtle all the way through to Galar’s Grookey and Frosmoth.
There are Legendaries, too, although we won’t spoil those for you here, as New Pokemon Snap’s biggest thrill is discovering new creatures as you play.
The Lental region is incredibly diverse, made up of six islands that contain several courses ranging from the sparkling sands of Blushing Beach to the lush greenery of Founja Jungle. Each course features its own unique Pokemon for you to discover, with both Day and Night modes switching up not only the creatures you’ll encounter, but also their behavior.
While traveling through Florio Nature Park in the daytime, for example, Hoothoot is sleeping inside a tree, but at night it emerges with glowing eyes for the perfect photo opportunity. Similarly, fan-favorite Eeveelution Sylveon only appears at night once you’ve reached a certain Research Level. Figuring out when and how to encounter specific Pokemon is what makes Snap so enticing.
The first time playing through each course can actually be a little overwhelming, as you’ll no doubt want to capture every single Pokemon you see – especially when you’ve not encountered them before. This is the closest the game gets to matching up to the excitement of the mainline games like Sword and Shield. Return to the course a few more times, though, and you’ll find the experience far more relaxing.
You’ll start to memorize where each Pokemon hangs out, allowing you to get more interesting photos of them, and slowly discover all of the little details you missed out on the first time. This is where players with wandering minds may lose interest – which is understandable – but for completionists and fans who want to learn all there is to know about their favorite Pokemon in their natural habitats, it’s a very rewarding process.
Taking great photos is a learning curve
While the core game won’t be much of a challenge for any gamer, casual or experienced, there is a level of skill required to take truly great photos, and a purpose to it besides just being a cute hobby.
At the end of each course, you’ll choose one photo of each Pokemon you encountered to present to Professor Mirror for evaluation. There are a number of things to take into consideration in order to get the perfect photo. Does the subject fill the frame? Is it looking at the camera? Are there any other Pokemon photobombing in the background?
These scores aren’t just for your own sense of achievement – earn enough and you’ll level up the course, unlock new routes, and discover even more secrets.
There’s also a star system, with a scale of one to four stars awarded for each photo depending on how unusual the behavior exhibited by the subject Pokemon is. Photographing a docile Bouffalant roaming around will only be worth one star, for example, but snapping a Dodrio while it’s flying – a very rare occurrence that requires preparation and quick reflexes – will bag you a sweet four-star rating.
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These two scoring systems don’t always align. At one point I captured a Swanna in the Illumina state, which was rewarded nicely with three stars. Despite this, the photo got a pretty sub-par score of 2,024 as it was flying off into the distance and facing away from the camera.
Getting both a four-star rating and a high score is where the real challenge comes in, and it’s surprisingly addictive. Revisiting the same course multiple times may feel a little stale eventually, but you’ll always feel compelled to beat your high scores.
There’s plenty of replay value
Each course only lasts around five minutes, but there’s loads of replay value on offer. As mentioned before, courses have day and night modes, and as you progress you’ll unlock alternate routes with new sights to see. You’ll also have a few useful gadgets and items to help you on your mission, all of which will change the way Pokemon behave.
Running a scan by pressing X will highlight any unusual activity, and can also get the attention of nearby Pokemon. Then there’s Fluffruit, which can be used to tempt creatures out into the open so you can get a better shot. Later in the game, you’ll even get a ‘Melody’ upgrade for your camera which can make certain Pokemon wake up, dance, or even unlock alternate routes to explore.
Finally, there are the Illumina Orbs that Professor Willow is so enamored with. Once you’ve made enough progress through a course, you’ll be able to unlock that island’s Illimuna Orb. These are special balls you can throw at Pokemon to make them glow, or chuck at Crystabloom flowers to attract rare creatures. Some creatures will respond to Illumina Orbs, others will only be enticed by Fluffruit, so there’s an element of trial-and-error that keeps you coming back for more.
Illumina Orbs have another use, too. Visiting special Illumina Spot courses will lead to one-of-a-kind encounters with Illumina Pokemon like Meganium, Volcarona, and a surprise final Legendary that you really shouldn’t spoil for yourself. Even these have replay value, as a return to Meganium’s course leads to the discovery of Eevee.
Optional bonus quests are provided by Professor Mirror and his assistants through Lentalk. These can be anything from simple missions like getting a Torterra to yawn, to more bizarre ones like taking a photo of Hoothoot’s hidden foot. Some will also give you hints that lead to new discoveries, like telling you that a mystery sleeping Pokemon will only appear if there are other creatures around.
There’s little incentive to complete these beyond unlocking a few photo frames or stickers, but there’s a real sense of achievement when you manage to pull off a difficult shot – especially when it also gets you a four-star rating in the process. All of this provides plenty of replay value that makes it worth the entry cost.
Pokemon look better than ever
While taking photos is the name of the game, the real highlights of New Snap are simply seeing your favorite Pokemon in their natural habitats. Each creature has its own personality and adorable animations, and they’ll often interact with each other for some pretty special scenes.
Seeing a small Scorbunny relaxing on top of a giant Torterra really gives you a sense of scale that the mainline games haven’t always offered, while a Pidgeot snatching a Magikarp from the water and carrying it off to its doom provides a terrifying insight into the Pokemon food chain.
Because there’s so much to take in on the screen at any one moment, witnessing these unique interactions feels really special, like watching a standout moment in a nature documentary. If you manage to capture them on camera, that feeling is even more thrilling – and you’ll definitely want to show your photos off.
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Much of this is thanks to the beautiful graphics on display, from the lovingly detailed environments to the Pokemon themselves. With developers Bandai Namco at the helm, the game does borrow from Pokken Tournament with its clean and crisp models, although things are far more candy-coated here. It’s fair to say New Snap blows other Pokemon games out of the water when it comes to looks.
Another welcome addition in New Pokemon Snap is the ability to edit your photos with Re-Snap mode. It’s entirely superficial, of course, but being able to adjust the framing, focus, and brightness of your favorite pictures – and then adding stickers and filters – is a nice feature.
This also provides a small community aspect, as you can share your best snaps online and see how other players are editing their own photos, awarding “Sweet!” medals as you browse. There are global leaderboards in a variety of rankings, too, for the competitive photographers out there to test their skills.
Not many video games earn themselves a sequel two decades after the first game was released, but it’s a testament to Pokemon Snap’s strangely enduring appeal that it’s finally happened. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. New Snap takes the cult classic N64 game and transforms it into something even more wonderful.
New Pokemon Snap knows its audience, and it plays to them well. Whether you’ve been a fan for 25 years or you’re just beginning your journey into the Pokeverse alike, this is a delightful experience that offers a break from the traditional ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ gameplay with a hefty dose of that classic Nintendo magic.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch