Until recently I never had an N64 or even knew someone that ever had one.
Yup, it’s true. In fact, I wasn’t even born before Nintendo made the leap into 3D gaming. Heck, later than that even. By the time I came around people were already wavedashing in Smash Bros. Yes, I’m sorry to tell you that I’m an adult and I grew up with the Wii. We are living in the future and you are old now.
POINT IS. Even though the N64 was way before my time and I’ve never gotten close to playing the original Pokémon Snap, I sure as heck knew what it was. People were always talking about it online, and it seemed somewhat of a “hidden gem” on the N64. For years people begged for a sequel – and it really seemed as though one was imminent. The gameplay would clearly work great with gyro controls, all of which were in the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Nevertheless, DECADES passed while Pokémon rumble games and similar spin-offs got sequel after sequel instead.
Finally, a mere 22 YEARS after it’s predecessor hit store shelves, the sequel to Pokémon Snap was released for the Nintendo Switch. Developed by Capcom, the hopes were high that they would do a better job matching the game’s quality with the 100 billion dollar franchise it was covering than Game Freak did with Pokémon Sword and Shield. So, did they miss their.. shot with this rare opportunity?
Although you may not realize it, New Pokémon Snap has to fight hard to make its sales. Sure, it does feature the wildly popular franchise but it is missing quite a lot of what people associate with Pokémon in the first place. You catch and train ZERO Pokémon throughout the game, much less partake in battles. In fact, you could argue watching the TV series is more similar to playing the mainline games than playing New Pokémon Snap is. Really, the only thing that resembles the traditional gameplay of the series is the collecting aspect, as (some) of the pictures you take of Pokémon are stored in a “Photodex”. This is where Capcom’s level of effort really began to shine through. Because holy cow, this is a SPIN-OFF game and it has a better Pokédex than the mainline series do. I know it’s technically called a Photodex but this thing has everything a Pokédex does and more. 3D Models, data entries, and now 4 of your best pictures of the Pokémon are all included – so not only is the Pokédex more fleshed out than ever since the 4 pictures will always show different types of behavior (I’ll explain later) but it is also topped off with an absolutely gorgeous UI that I haven’t been able to stop staring at.
Now, as I mentioned, the main thing you are doing in this game is taking pictures of Pokémon. This happens while you are automatically riding down a course in the NEO-ONE vehicle, and I must say, for a game where you are traveling down set paths and taking pictures of the same Pokémon, the gameplay is surprisingly deep. First off, each and every Pokémon has a variety of behavior that can be observed, either through different environments or the way you interact with it. Similar to the original Pokémon Snap, Pokémon will eat the fruit you throw at them and react to music when played. However, this game introduces Illumina orbs, created by Professor Mirror after you take a picture of a Crystabloom flower. These are a replacement for the pester balls of yesteryear. Instead of, well, pestering Pokémon, they cause them to glow in a variety of different colors and perform different actions. For example, Caterpie will spin in a circle and shoot its webs, while Scorbunny will jump up and do a fire kick. You can also perform a scan with X, which will reveal the location of all Pokémon in the area and give some insight into weird bits of the terrain, such as the age of some ancient ruins or the appearance of a sandstorm. All of these tools combined means you will likely be getting a different experience every time you head out for research, as long as you make sure to actually use them.
Of course, if you are heading into a course looking for a specific few Pokémon and would like to speed things up, you can do so with the turbo function that you unlock partway through the game, which obviously makes the NEO-ONE move faster. On the other hand, if you are trying to take pictures of several different Pokémon all grouped around each other, zooming in or looking back will automatically cause you to slow down. None of this is even to mention that you can unlock a variety of secret/alternate paths on several courses by doing anything from a simple scan to solving puzzles, which I won’t spoil. In short, you are given quite a decent amount of control over what happens in front of you and it really helps gamify (yes, that’s a real word) what would otherwise be a movie-like experience.
There is also some lore for us to bite into, which is awesome to see in a spin-off game. Everything you do takes place in the Lental region, were rare “Illumina” Pokémon are known to live. If you somehow didn’t make the connection, this phenomena is related to the Illumina orbs and Crystabloom flowers. You hear murmurings about some other researcher who studied the same lands long ago, and the many ruins scattered about strongly suggest some grand society used to live here. It’s nothing groundbreaking but is nonetheless appreciated and helps immerse you in the world of Pokémon even more than you already have in the last 25 years.
Finally, there is a robust online feature at your fingertips. Gone are the days of taking your games to blockbuster to print out the pictures, now you can simply upload them online and share them with your friends! Plenty of special effects, stickers and more are unlocked throughout the game, all of which can be used to make some pretty funny scenes. And, if you are more into the competitive side of things there are leaderboards for those with the highest photodex score. None of my friends have me beat yet!
Once again I have a game that is quite difficult to relate to the faith. There is little human interaction/weighty decision making so there aren’t really any actions to praise or condemn. However, it can serve as a great reminder of how beautiful a gift nature is. Most of the courses in the game resemble real life environments, so if you do decide to pick this one up I encourage you to take a walk outside after a gaming session and try and make comparisons from what you saw in the game to what’s all around you in real life, if possible.
Occult: Some of the Pokémon are themed after/possess powers like telekinesis or the like, others are themed somewhat like Deities, possesing great power that humans don’t have
Language: There is an online feature that allows people to edit and share photos with captions, although this can be turned off as with all Nintendo Switch games if you prefer
Violence: Some of the characters act rude or disobey the Professor, which funnily enough includes theft of the NEO-ONE to try out it’s shrinking feature