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.