Thursday, June 3, 2021

New Pokémon Snap Review

Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $60

Gotta snap 'em all! Gotta snap 'em all! That's how the song goes, right? No? Well, that's what New Pokémon Snap is all about, taking pictures of Pokémon. If you remember the N64 game from 21 years ago, you have a pretty good idea of what this game is. New Pokémon Snap is about as safe as sequels get.

New Pokémon Snap is the videogame equivalent of going on a Pokémon safari. You ride on a vehicle through different environments and take pictures of Pokémon in their natural habitat. There are no railroad tracks on your path, like on N64, but your vehicle is still "on-rails" and you have very little control over where it takes you. I say very little because you can take alternate paths through some zones by scanning certain spots in the environment with your camera. Yes, like Metroid Prime scanning.

Besides filling out your "Photodex", one of the main goals in New Pokémon Snap is getting pictures of each Pokémon in 4 different poses. You get Pokémon to strike a pose for you by luring them into place with Fluff Fruit, hitting them with Illumina Orbs, scanning them, playing music, or making them interact with other Pokémon by doing those things. For example, you might wake up a sleeping Pokémon at the beginning of a level by pelting them with an apple, see them later and hit them with a ball that will make them glow, and have them strike the perfect pose for you.

Once you're done with a trip, the Pokémon Professor will grade your photos based on pose, size, position, background, what direction the Pokémon is facing, and whether or not there's other Pokémon in the picture. The Professor is just a videogame AI, though. He wouldn't know true Pokémon photography art if you hit him over the head with it! Your best pictures won't always get the best scores. Luckily, you can just press the - button and have the game auto select the best pictures.

Each zone has 4 levels and the scores you get for your photos after a trip are the experience points. Leveling a zone makes more Pokémon appear and also appear in different places. But you don't get a lot of XP from just going through each zone over and over. You have to keep finding new Pokémon and better poses to get enough XP to level the zone. The problem is some Pokémon are very well hidden, and it'll take some experimenting to find out what will get you new poses. The game does give you hints in the form of side quests, or "requests", but these are usually very vague. If you want to discover things without a guide, you’ll be going through these zones a lot. Leveling up a zone to level 2 during the main story isn’t a problem, but once you beat the game and are trying to get all the Pokémon pictures, this becomes a very boring and grindy road block.

The progression through the main story is also a problem area for me. It's not enough to simply go through a zone and take pics of most of the Pokémon. There's a story about the Crystalblooms and some ancient ruins going on, and you have to keep it moving to unlock new zones. And you do that by taking pictures of things that are not Pokémon. The problem with this is that the game isn't great about telling you what you need to do or when you need to do it. Sometimes all you need to do to unlock the next zone is get it to level 2, but other times you need to take a picture of a Crystalbloom. There’s a bunch of these things in every zone, though. How do you know which is the right one? I often found myself redoing zones to level it in hopes of unlocking the next one, only to have the Professor pop up after a few trips and tell me I need a picture of a flower. It’s very confusing. Or maybe I just had trouble paying attention to the sub-Pokémon anime quality story. I'm not ruling out that possibility.

New Pokémon Snap puts the N64 game to shame in terms of content. This is a much bigger game. The N64 game had 6 levels and only featured 63 out of the original 151 Pokémon. Including Day and Night versions, New Pokémon Snap has 24 levels across 12 different biomes. It also features 214 Pokémon spanning from Red and Blue to Sword and Shield. There’s a lot of content here and it will take a lot longer to complete the Photodex than on N64.

Back in the day, you could take your N64 cart to Blockbuster and get stickers of your Pokémon Snap pictures printed out, but Blockbuster isn’t really a thing anymore. Instagram is what people are into these days. So instead of using that, the developers of New Pokémon Snap made their own PokeGram (it doesn't actually have a name). I would say Nintendo's gonna Nintendo, but this game was made by Namco. Here, you can caption your photos, apply filters, and put sunglasses and googly eyes on your Pokémon. Then, you might get lucky and get the algorithm to show your picture to other people, but most likely, it’ll be ignored. Just like with Super Mario Maker levels, nobody is going to pay attention to your pictures unless you’re some kind of Internet celebrity. I posted this picture of 3 Bidoofs swimming in sync a few days ago and it only has 6 likes. What more proof do you need?

Pokémon Legends Arceus might take the top spot someday, but as of right now, New Pokémon Snap is the best looking Pokémon game I’ve ever seen. It still has that simple cartoony Pokémon style, with low res textures, simple lighting, and the same Pokémon models they use in every other Pokémon game, but there is just so much going on in each zone. Every zone is full of plants, water, ruins, mountains, and of course, tons of Pokémon running around. The framerate is really smooth too. It actually maintains 60fps most of the time, with some drops into the 50s. That’s pretty impressive. I wish Pokémon RPGs looked this good.

New Pokémon Snap’s soundtrack is very soft and mellow, so you might not hear much of it over the sound of you hitting Pokémon with Fluff Fruit, but it's pretty good! I really like the smooth Jazz and acoustic guitar themes. The little bit of voice acting there is in the game is nothing special, but it’s not bad. I have to say that they did a wonderful job with the sounds of all the Pokémon running around. You can get a pretty good idea of where a Pokémon is just by listening. Pikachu's VO steals the show of course.

New Pokémon Snap has more Pokémon, more levels, and much more to do than the N64 original, but it’s still just more Pokémon Snap. I played the original back in the day and I always imagined something more complex for a sequel. I hoped that it would be in 3rd person and let me freely run around taking pictures, like the photo modes in many recent games do. New Pokémon Snap is cute, relaxing, and fun for Pokémon fans, but I just don’t think it’s very compelling or exciting. I had trouble really sitting down and playing it for more than half an hour at a time. If Blockbuster was still around, I’d say this is a rental at best.