How does one make a fun game of taking photographs of Pokémon? That was the question when Pokémon Snap came out on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, and 22 years later, with the the sequel we never thought we’d see, New Pokémon Snap, people are once again intrigued and wondering: Gyarado or Gyaradon’t?
The premise, as you’d expect, is very simple. A Pokémon research facility needs your help shining a light on the mysterious Illumina Phenomenon by taking photos of Pokémon. To do this, you sit in a little vehicle that autopilots its way through a Pokémon park, and you just point your camera and shoot - a very literal on-rails shooter. Once you’re done, you have to submit your best picture of each Pokémon for grading. Points are based on how large and central the Pokémon is in the shot, its pose and if there are any other Pokémon in the photo. The levels themselves play out like an interactive cartoon - if you do nothing, the same things will happen over and over, but you can affect what happens by running a scan of the area, interacting with things and throwing food to / at the creatures.
The fun and skill really come down to two things. Firstly, the element of surprise – the horror of turning around and jumping out of your skin when your see a Pinsir stood right in front of you, or the excitement of just catching a glimpse of a rare Pokémon. The second element is down to the skill of the game, which is really about remembering what you saw. As you replay levels, you’ll need to make sure you’re looking in the right place at the right time - get distracted for a second and you might miss that perfect photo or that one Pokémon you need to complete the area. As you take more / better photos, you level up in that particular park, which alters the area slightly, giving you the opportunity to see new Pokémon.
Visually, this is the best Pokémon have ever looked. It’s such a unique experience being able to see Pokémon in their natural habitat going about their business. This was one of the charms of the original, but there's nothing quite like being able to see it all in glorious HD. You’re also able to share your photos online with the New Pokemon Snap community, adding filters and effects to give it some extra flair.
Redoing levels over and over can be quite repetitive, and not being able to submit more than one picture for each Pokémon per visit seems an odd choice. It's a bit of a marmite sort of game - you'll either love taking photos of all the Pokémon, comparing scores with your friends and trying to complete your Photodex, or you just won't get it at all. It might not be for everyone, but New Pokémon Snap is certainly a charming and unique experience.