New Pokémon Snap Review: Slightly Under Picture Perfect

Snap is back—is it better than ever? Roughly 22 years have passed since the debut of this incredibly niche idea, a polar opposite to the RPG classic that spawned Poké-mania in the late '90s. With so much hindsight (and a thousand more pokémon), there's no place to go but up for New Pokémon Snap.

New Pokémon Snap Review: Slightly Under Picture Perfect Cover

Like many back in the late ’90s, I was quite fond of Pokémon. What may be different from some, however, is that I didn’t start with RedBlue, or Yellow. My first experience with any handheld console from Nintendo came after a long run with the Nintendo 64. And with the Nintendo 64 came two very prominent Pokémon games of my childhood: Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Snap. While the former ended up getting a sequel a year later, the latter sat dormant for a long while. In 2020, The Pokémon Company dropped a bomb and revealed a sequel in the works: New Pokémon Snap, twenty-plus years after the original.

Fast-forward to now, and the sequel that many have been clamoring for has finally arrived. With hindsight in mind and a well-established formula in tow, what more could new developer Bandai Namco do for the series? The answer to this and much more may end up being less important to consider when faced with this: Pokémon Snap is back. That’s all that matters. At least to those with the photography itch.

New Pokémon Snap is available now on Nintendo Switch for your regional pricing. (As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)

New Pokémon Snap - Get Your Cameras Ready for the Lental Region! - Nintendo Switch

Story – For the New Kids

Fans of the original Snap will be the first to tell you that the story to the game was hardly important. Some others may argue that the lack of any narrative importance was crucial to the immersion and mystery of the adventure. Like Metroid purists, simply going out and exploring the world at your leisure, full of mysteries and secrets, remains a crucial detail to its appeal. New Pokémon Snap doesn’t deviate too far from the original’s aloof take on story. Only difference is that it incorporates something that modern Pokémon games have used as a crutch since the third generation.

Without going into spoilers, the “Illumina” phenomenon ends up being bigger than the initial synopsis lets on. So big, in fact, that it dedicates substantial amounts of exposition and stage segments to hyping it up for the player. Essentially, a bunch of large, glowing pokémon inhabit the Lental region for unknown purposes. As one goes about each area of the region, more is revealed behind the history of the Illumina phenomenon. By the end, one is playing archaeologist almost as much as photographer.

This sort of “epic” tale that seeps into the foreground of the game is one that is pretty typical of the franchise lately. To provide an experience for the player that will end up fantastical, passed down as some historic event in history, never to be forgotten. In my view, this constant push for something outlandish and spectacular is exhausting. Thankful as I am that it doesn’t take too much precedence here, it does end up slowing the pace down, forcing the player to watch a number of things they likely don’t care much for.

No more

No more “Well done!” in that charming, stupid voice.

Yet with all they build up, the ending is little more than an oft-parodied declarative statement. “The journey was the friends we made along the way.” Quite anticlimactic.

Gameplay – Oh, Snap! (Couldn’t Resist)

Someone once asked me, “What’s up with Pokémon Snap? Is it really that fun just taking pictures of things?” If you asked my mother, whose gaming experience perpetually lingers in the tutorial stages, she would say yes. If you asked me, with years of begging for every Nintendo console that had ever existed prior to earning my own income, I would say yes. There’s a strange intoxication with capturing these unique, colorful creatures in ways opposite of the traditional sense. But it’s certainly not for everyone—namely those not keen on the creatures that made such a fuss in popular media.

Some will inevitably gravitate to the more RPG-esque, battle-heavy alternative. New Pokémon Snap provides an alternative for those more keen on exploring the world of Pokémon and studying behavior. A zoologist and photographer in one, interacting with environments to better understand individual pokémon. This ends up being a majority of one’s experience with this game—quite literally, one takes photos of pokémon and gets them judged. Fans of the original will not be shocked at all to know that that foundation is still present.

So uh... this vehicle I'm in protects me, right?

So uh… this vehicle I’m in protects me, right?

To keep it simple, if you liked the original, you’ll adore this, too. If this is all you came here to discover, you have my permission to click off your tab. For those staying, the fundamental gameplay hook of the first Snap game is still in play. Interacting with courses via items, music, etc., leads to a very, very high number of different things to photograph. Each course available is jampacked with material to cover, which will lead to repeated playthroughs to get all that one can discover.

I couldn’t help but notice that the courses present in New Pokémon Snap may actually be a tad smaller than the previous game’s. This is alleviated through sheer quantity—the number of stages in general and the amount of scripted events within them. One can even “level up” one’s research in stages to alter the behavior of pokémon within them for future playthroughs. Such dedication to get players coming back is one of the primary things that make this game not only addictive, but a natural evolution of the original’s foundation. I even wondered if the game would be worth the $60 asking price (in the United States), given how short on content the original was. The final product certainly gives credence to “Yes.”

Several new additions are also thrown in for accessibility purposes. One of the biggest things is the “scan feature,” which shoots a burst around the general area to identify pokémon and points of interest. This, I assume, was implemented to help out players in finding things in each course. When it comes to finding everything, it will definitely take plenty of tries and experimentation with items. Scanning ended up being one of the most frequently used items in my playthrough, and I’m definitely thankful. It can be a little overwhelming to try and get a grasp of everything that’s happening. Scanning slows the game down just enough to have everything onscreen (or off) easy to register.

Day and night cycles being included is a neat parallel to the jump from Gen 1 to 2.

Day and night cycles being included is a neat parallel to the jump from Gen 1 to 2.

Other neat things include photo editing and “requests” from various characters in the game. Editing photos tend to be a neat, albeit skippable portion of the game that’s about as specifically appealing as the game itself. If you want to give googly-eyes and some cute blush on a Machamp, you have the option to do so, as well as share it online. Requests, on the other hand, end up being crucial hints to filling one’s album.

A substantial difference between New and old Pokémon Snap is that every pokémon is encouraged to be photographed in four different ways. Behavior is the name of the game, and finding unique instances adds a ton of replayability. Requests provide hints on how to acquire the rarer three-star and four-star behavior. Often I would use them as a means to gauge what I would have to do, though they aren’t always entirely clear. Like the game itself, it can be overwhelming to try and get everything for completionist purposes. “Grindy” is a common descriptor for it, though as a grind-heavy enthusiast, this was hardly a bother. Reminded me of old-school Pokémon.

Gee, I wonder how you get this one?

Gee, I wonder how you get this one?

Graphics & Audio – Beauty and the Beasts to Capture

What would a photography-based game be without colorful, captivating environments to take in? Pokémon inhabiting such pleasant, photogenic locations as forests, parks, beaches, and volcanoes is as striking an appeal as any, I think. And if the trailers weren’t indication enough, Sword & Shield, this is not. With a much smaller scale, environments and creatures look as gorgeous as the Nintendo Switch can allow. There will be no mention of tree texture here… except to marvel at it, I suppose. My personal favorites include a course set underwater and another involving traveling inside a volcanic crevice. That sort of parity is a huge part of the visual appeal; both are showcased beautifully.

Although, I can’t quite give the same praise for the appearance of humans. While not outright terrible, they have something of an uncanny touch to them. Lighting effects are rather simple, especially outside of cutscenes, giving them a sort of Play-Doh exterior. Overall design is also somewhat forgettable, with even a returning Todd Snap looking borderline unrecognizable and streamlined. In a game already attempting to place human prominence in the story, it doesn’t help when visuals feel just as stagnant as the writing.

Pretty lava.

Pretty lava.

The soundtrack… is an interesting discussion in waiting. Far more atmospheric this time around, with some gentle tunes to whisk one away. Almost elevator-like (if you’re into that). What ends up working against it is in knowing that the soundtrack to the original is so groovy. Upbeat, catchy tunes that perfectly encapsulate the stages they provide—this new title cannot compete. Frankly, it ends up being one of the most disappointing aspects overall. It’s fine for what it is—just doesn’t have the smooth energy of the original OST.

One final auditory thing worth mentioning is that New Pokémon Snap has voice acting! Quite a lot, too! The very moment it gave me the option to turn off voices, I did. With all due respect to the individual performers, I’m well aware enough of this franchise to know that they tend to overindulge in the dialogue department. And I was right. At a certain point, random characters will start commentating on your trek through courses. Generally, they will compliment you on your picture-taking or urge you to scan things. This happens every course, every time, without end. So even if the voices weren’t offensively bad (nor meme-ably bad, a la the original), the option to turn them off is greatly, greatly appreciated.

New Pokémon Snap was reviewed via Nintendo Switch.

Summary
Some may ask if New Pokémon Snap lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor. If some were to ask me, I'd say it well exceeds them. Gorgeous environments, a reason to keep playing, and tons of content—this new addition to a once-thought abandoned series is everything a sequel should be. Some personal gripes about how it handles its story and characters prevent me from praising it any further, but my adoration should not be understated. This is the best Pokémon game in some time, including mainline games. If the world of Pokémon is as exciting and wonderful as it ever has been, there is absolutely no reason this shouldn't be in your hands immediately.
Good
  • Gorgeous scenery and pokémon
  • Adds a ton of content and replayability
  • A natural evolution of the original game
  • Good accessibility measures via new items
Bad
  • Soundtrack is a huge step down
  • Story is lacking and eventually anticlimactic
  • It'd be pretty cool if characters would shut up
7.5
Good

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