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Game Reviews

New Pokémon Snap Review

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Pokémon Snap is one of my favorite games on the N64. One of the most unique games in existence, it tasked players with using their problem solving skills and quick trigger finger to take the best pictures of Pokémon that they possibly could. To this day, I can’t think of a single other game that’s combined puzzle solving, first-person shooting, and quick reflexes all at once. Now, over two decades later, Nintendo has finally released a sequel, appropriately called New Pokémon Snap and it was absolutely worth the wait!

You play as a new research assistant, helping Professor Mirror and his band of generic anime characters in their efforts to learn more about the Lental region while hunting down the mysterious illumina Pokémon, previously tracked by a famous explorer. New Pokémon Snap is, at its core, identical to the N64 title in many ways. The main objective in each level is to ride through an environment on rails, taking the best pictures of Pokémon possible, with the professor scoring your images at the end based on factors like size, positioning, and pose. Aiding in this effort are the various tools unlocked along the way- food to attract Pokémon, a scanner to unlock new details about the environment, illumina orbs to activate special behaviors in the Pokémon, and the Pokéflute getting them to dance. The gameplay loop of going through levels, finding different Pokémon, and unlocking new types of poses with the tools is just as addicting as before.

There’s also a few new mechanics to keep things fresh. First is the addition of a star rating. Each Pokémon has 4 different star levels of pictures to take. Each of these is counted separately from one another and given its own score, so while getting a super-rare action shot of a Pokémon will net you four stars, a well-shot picture of the same Pokémon will usually be worth more points. This mechanic is novel, but it does take away some value from the tougher shots, so it might have been better for each star rating to automatically give higher scores, but also have higher thresholds for getting diamond stars. There’s also the addition of research levels, unlocking new Pokémon and routes in the same environment after getting enough points. It’s cool seeing how different setups in the same environments can change the gameplay, with a maxed out level often being seriously tricky to reach without the help of a guide.

However, there are some issues. While the game is beautiful overall, many of the textures in the environment can be GameCube-level resolution, standing out amongst the otherwise well-designed levels. And the pop-in and low framerate in some areas is really distracting. There’s also the addition of illumina spots, where players will need to figure out how to take pictures of gigantic Pokémon throughout a single level. While additional routes will have more Pokémon, the first run throughs are often incredibly long and boring since you can only show one picture per Pokémon to the professor at a time. Which brings me to the worst offender in the game- its pacing. The game really wants to convince players that they got their money’s worth out of their purchase, stretching what should have been a 6 to 8 hour campaign out to 12 or more. For one, players don’t unlock the speed boost until the very end, meaning that until then they’re stuck at the slowest speed on additional runs. And those runs will be necessary since each star rating still counts as a picture of a single Pokémon, meaning that at least 4 runs are needed to get every kind of shot. The game definitely should have allowed players to at least show the professor one star rating per Pokémon, but instead forces the player to replay the same levels over and over again.

With all of that said, New Pokémon Snap is still an absolute joy of a game on the whole. Despite the repetition, it’s guaranteed to have you coming back for more and making a new discovery is always worth the effort. I’m glad the series is back and can only hope that it doesn’t take another 20 years for the next game to arrive.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Carto

Video review can be found here.

(Carto is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac, and Xbox One.)

I find maps to be one of the most boring things on the planet known as Earth (as well as other subsequent planets with civilizations that also utilize the power of “maps”). I understand the practicality behind them, and you won’t catch me doubting their importance any time soon. Still, stating my appreciation for maps isn’t suddenly going to lift them from the trenches of boredom. They’ll remain down there forever, sloshing around in the grimy boredom sludge as it bubbles and broils deep within a metaphorical well. Nothing could possibly ever make maps remotely interesting in my eyes. Nothing, except for a video game with a primary mechanic focused mainly on all things “mappy”.

Here’s my two cents on “Carto”.

Story

The premise in Carto is fairly straightforward. There isn’t much room for ambiguity here, on account of the fact that this tale is practically a children’s bedtime story come to life. You take on the role of an adorable cartographer in the making named Carto, as she travels from land to land, searching for her grandmother. Why is she searching for ol’ gamgam? Because Carto has this power that allows her to rotate pieces of the land around her by moving pieces on this map jigsaw puzzle thing, which inadvertently leads to her and her gammy getting caught up in a thunderstorm and subsequently separated from one another. Look, I know it doesn’t make much sense, alright? I get that. It doesn’t help that major story moments are shown through still images either. But at the same time, the game isn’t a non-fiction piece, and it still conveyed it’s messages well enough for me to understand, even if the on-screen action is lacking.

That isn’t to say the entire game is devoid of dialogue though. It’s honestly quite the opposite. This game has a fairly decent roster of side-characters for you to talk to, learn about the world from, and even adventure with. The writing that brings these characters to life is consistently light-hearted, while managing to maintain a strong focus on family, culture, and tradition. It was something I was quite appreciative of, as the light-heartedness reaches beyond the dialogue. It’s found throughout the game and the game’s world. There are no combat sequences in Carto. There is no primary antagonist to contend with. No darkness to banish or end of the world to stop. Personally, I haven’t had such a laid back experience since I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons when that came out. Go at your own pace, combat-free titles aren’t something we see very often in modern day gaming, so I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. 

I didn’t watch the credits roll on Carto at the end of my roughly 5 hour playthrough and immediately reflect on my past life choices or the greater impact of culture and tradition on the societies that form and surround themselves with them. What I did feel, however, was a fairly decent sense of accomplishment for completing what turned out to be a rather challenging puzzle game.

Gameplay

Now let’s talk about gameplay, because it is, without a doubt, the central focus of Carto. As I mentioned in my introduction to this review, Carto’s primary game mechanic is it’s map. Or maps, I guess I should say, since Carto will take you through a variety of levels neatly disguised as different locales. We’ll touch more on these locales once we reach the “presentation” section of the review (that’s the next section coming up), but for now, let’s talk about the map itself. 

See, this map is a special map. It’s a supah dupah vernacular spectacular bad bitch map. It’s a “sell your gold laced glass eye and your hair follicles for good measure” type of map. This map is going to not only allow you to rotate pieces of it like a jigsaw puzzle whenever you want, it’s going to allow you to do so much more. It’s going to allow you to help worms eat dirt, organize a library that may or may not contain the knowledge of everything that has happened and/or will happen, cook a live bird through the power of volcanic ventilation, play Tetris with glaciers, and much more. To say that Carto’s use of it’s primary mechanic is imaginative and consistently enjoyable would be an understatement. This game is practically the Mario Odyssey of maps. (I never thought I’d see the day where I’d say that in a review.)

That isn’t to say the games puzzles are all enjoyable or of consistent quality, either. There were sadly a few obstacles I came across in my journey that brought my progression to a halt and required the use of a guide. I’m happy to inform you that this only happened twice throughout my playthrough, though in a 5 or 6 hour game, having two roadblocks impede progression can feel rather substantial. It didn’t ruin my experience with Carto or anything of that degree, but I did still find it to be worth noting anyway. 

When you aren’t playing Beyblades with map pieces, the only other thing you’ll really spend your time doing is conversing with people. Talking with everyone in any given level is oftentimes vital to progression, as well reminding you where to go if you ever forget your current objective. If you aren’t one to enjoy text-based games devoid of any voice overs, with a focus on world building and character relationships, Carto may not be for you. If you are into those things however, Carto may be worth adding to your video game wishlist, as it supplies dialogue in droves. Not at the level of say, Disco Elysium or Pillars of Eternity, but still enough to where you’ll easily spend a few hours in this game solely on reading. 

Carto sports a unique mechanic that helps it stand out from the crowd of generic, by-the-numbers video games constantly fighting one another for a chance to suck your wallet dry like a mosquito buzzing around in the middle of the Everglades during summertime. It’s a mechanic that’s utilized in enjoyable and creative ways, oftentimes leaving me excited to know what gimmick would come in to play next. However, if Carto were any longer in it’s runtime than what it actually is, I think I would start seeing diminishing returns on my experience to time invested ratio. I also think that while the story-telling and world-building are nice touches, I could have done with a little bit less of it. Dialogue is fine and all, but it’s not something I really expect to see in a puzzle game. So, my patience with conversations tends to be a bit shorter in those situations. 

Still an enjoyable experience from a gameplay standpoint.

I think that’s a great way to summarize Carto as a complete package: enjoyable. The story-telling is enjoyable for what it is, the gameplay is enjoyable despite its flaws, and…

Presentation

The presentation is absolutely adorable, from it’s hand-painted aesthetic down to the design of Carto herself. This game absolutely nails the feeling of visuals reminiscent of a children’s bedtime story, with its centralized color palettes brimming with vibrancy and it’s textured surfaces that help the environments “pop” ever so slightly. Though I was initially worried about a potential lack of environmental variety, I was happy to have those doubts quickly squashed upon visiting my third or fourth locale. Carto starts in somewhat monotonous woodlands but eventually gives way to underground tunnels, deserts, tundras and more. I enjoyed the variety of places Carto journeys through during her quest to find her grandmother, which is a sentiment I initially didn’t think I’d walk away with. 

There isn’t too much to comment on in regards to the games music and sound. While Carto does have a simple, unobtrusive soundtrack, I couldn’t help but occasionally feel annoyed by it. Namely in the moments where I was stuck, but also in moments containing puzzles with more complex solutions. Hearing a few tracks for longer than I would have liked didn’t sit well with me, but aside from this happening on a few occasions, the soundtrack is serviceable, if a bit forgettable.

Sound effects are also fairly generic, with nothing really standing out here, either. The key difference between the sound effects and the soundtrack of Carto being that the former didn’t ever annoy me during my time with the game. As was the case with the soundtrack, sound effects here are serviceable, but they aren’t anything to write home about.

Like the other components we’ve previously discussed, the presentation in Carto is enjoyable, save for a few short-lived occasions. It may not personally be my cup of hot lava, but it works decently within the confines of Carto, which is sometimes all you can ask for when it comes to presentation in video games.

Verdict

Carto is an enjoyable game for both map-lovers and map-deniers alike. Though it’s gameplay may suffer from a lack of variety, and it’s story and presentation leave something to be desired, there are still plenty of things here deserving of your time. There are just the right amount of puzzle mechanics to warrant playing Carto, while an endearing art style helps give reason for enjoying this game passively, be it with a friend or via your favorite content creator. It may not be perfect, but it is perfectly deserving of a verdict of “Definitely Worth Sale Price”.