New Pokémon Snap
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Genre: Adventure, Photography
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 30/04/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Welcome Back to Snap!
In 1999, Pokémon Snap was released for the Nintendo 64. One of the first console-based games as a spin off for the Pokémon series, and featuring Pokémon rendered for the first time in real-time 3D, it remains a fond memory for many. It was something unique and much different from the mechanics in the main line titles, with first-person rail shooter gameplay.
Fast forward to 2021 and inspired by the original game, New Pokémon Snap has been released on Nintendo Switch! The news of its release spurred a wave of nostalgia, but sadly not for me. Too young for its original release, I was excited to experience the magic for the first time and become a Pokémon photographer! However, does being a newcomer to the title affect the nostalgic appeal which it relies on? Keep reading my Rapid Review to find out.
Explore the Lental Region
In New Pokémon Snap, it’s your job to help Professor Mirror and his assistant Rita in capturing the variety of Pokémon roaming the Lental Region. Starting on Florio Island with its lush green forests, you move on to places such as the blistering deserts in Voluca Island, to Durice Island’s snow covered mountains. There are over 200 Pokémon for you to discover and view in their natural habitat. Snapping photos enables the Professor to find out more about each Pokémon and how they behave in the wild! This will subsequently build your Photodex.
But, it’s not just about freely taking pictures, as there is a storyline too. Research has revealed the existence of the Illumina phenomenon and Illumina Pokémon. Finding glowing flowers called Crystalblooms and picking up readings on each island will uncover the Lental Region’s greatest secret. Initally discovered by an explorer named Vince hundreds of years ago, it’s up to you and the team at the L.E.N.S research lab to finish what he started.
Admittedly, there is a greater focus on gameplay rather than the story, and the story itself isn’t exactly groundbreaking. However it does give context and adds another layer of depth to the immersion. The use of fully voice-acted cutscenes, which I’ll discuss later, only enhances this! Going into the game thinking it was just a matter of taking pictures of Pokémon, I was pleasantly surprised with the story and it gripped me. I was eager to find what the next Illumina Pokémon would be, and all the new Pokémon I hadn’t snapped before across the islands. I would audibly gasp whenever I saw one of my favourite Pokémon for the first time!
Hop in the NEO-ONE
For those like me who never played the original, the gameplay mechanics of New Pokémon Snap are vastly different than a mainline Pokémon game. Forget throwing Pokéballs and third person, you will be sitting first person in a NEO-ONE, a hover craft following a set rail through each of the locations. Using the left joystick, you can turn a whole 360 degrees to survey the area and scan for Pokémon using the X button. Spot a Pokémon? Quick! Zoom in using ZL and snap a photo with A. Simple, but you won’t be rewarded for snapping willy-nilly.
At the end of each round, Professor Mirror will rate your photos, which go toward expedition points. These points contribute to your research level for the area, and a new research level can open up new areas in the region, or even different paths within that area. Keep an eye out for new Pokémon to discover too! It’s always worth replaying an area each time you progress for this reason. Your photos are rated from bronze to platinum; this focuses on the composition of your photo, it being better for the Pokémon to be central, up close, or facing the camera. A Pokémon in the distance running away from you will most likely get a bronze.
Not only this, you can achieve 1 to 4 star rated photos. 1 star photos are generally a Pokémon in its usual or calm state. More unusual behaviour will increase the star rating, for example seeing a Pokémon fighting or chasing another, or if its expression changes to happy or scared. Some behaviour occurs naturally, but you can also encourage this using different actions. You have Fluffruit at your disposal to capture a Pokémon eating, or shock it with a bonk on the head! Illumina orbs, which vary on each island, can also cause a Pokémon to react, and playing a melody can wake it up or make it dance.
A Change of Scene
There are also times of day in the areas of New Pokémon Snap, where you can capture new behaviour. Pokémon also differ between day and night within an area. It’s a clever use of extending both the game and the same areas, but they really are different so it works well and doesn’t feel too cheating. There are also Illumina spots which are from an alternate perspective within that area, again extending that play time.
The Illumina Pokémon were breathtaking and I found myself saying ‘woah!’ throughout the game in general! Having the various biomes offered a constant change of scene and colours, each unique but as vibrant as the last. Maricopia Reef is brimming with tropical blues and pinks, whereas Elsewhere Forest features creepy, foggy grey forests and seasonal changes. The night time scenes are no less impressive; the star studded sky above Sweltering Sands is simply stunning, and blew me away when I first saw them. Though I can show you pictures, it really is best experienced for yourself and there are some moments that would be a crime to spoil!
The Pokémon themselves are animated so beautifully and it really does feel like you’re on a safari watching wild animals in their natural habitat. The characters look great too, featuring Todd from the original game with a bit of a makeover! The cutscenes are a fantastic addition, providing a break from the first-person gameplay and giving a cinematic spin. The Switch was able to handle the visuals well too, which I found a problem in one of my latest Switch reviews. Both handheld and docked worked great, but my personal preference was handheld while snuggled under a blanket while it pours with rain outside!
What Does the Pokémon Say?
As well as keeping your eyes peeled, your ears must be too to help you spy what Pokémon are around you. It really adds to the safari style atmosphere too, hearing the squeaks of Piplup and rolling crunches of Graveler from behind you. An unusual and perhaps controversial feature of New Pokémon Snap is the voice acting which I mentioned earlier. I personally think it works really well; yes, it’s a little cheesy much like the English dubs of anime, but it’s fun and adds substance to the characters.
Though the cut scenes are fully voice acted, the other sections feature the characters saying short phrases alongside their text dialogue. I’m still a little unsure how I feel about this, as it was strange having them audibly say something that wasn’t in the text. But overall, I think it shows that voice acting can work in a Pokémon game, and its approval with fans may change the future of Pokémon titles.
The soundtrack was spot on, feeling fantastical while also suiting each environment. For some reason I thought it was very Ghibli-esque at times, particularly in Elsewhere Forest’s Illumina spot. It wasn’t distracting and simply blended in with the overall experience.
Gotta Snap Them All
The story of New Pokémon Snap took me around 17 hours or so to complete. Initially expecting a short experience, I was happy with this length. I do think the pacing was a little off however. At first, I had to do the same areas quite a number of times before I unlocked a new place, and it wasn’t made clear this was how you progressed. But then once I did this, I was unlocking areas left, right and centre without much effort. Then, it would go back to grinding again. Fortunately, it didn’t feel too repetitive as almost every expedition you went on, you would discover something new. Personally though, I would have liked to have kept the pace consistent and it felt like the grinding was simply to prolong the game.
Once the story is done however, this is not the end. The game features requests by your fellow lab mates, where they ask you to take specific photos of Pokémon. It’s likely you will have a lot of these to do unless you specifically went for them during the game. Filling your Photodex will also require taking a 1, 2, 3 and 4 star photo of each Pokémon’s behaviour, which can take a while. Playing each area and increasing their research level to max will also help you do this. You also unlock course scores at the end which are added to online leaderboards.
Speaking of online, you can share your snaps with people from around the world! Perfect your photos by adding filters, stickers and frames in the hopes of gaining a like from other avid Pokémon photographers. This of course requires a Nintendo Switch Online membership, and the game is perfectly playable without this.
A Newcomer’s Opinion
New Pokémon Snap is perfectly suited for me; as an animal lover, a game where you take pictures of species in their natural habitat in the great outdoors was a joy. Make these species magical and intriguing Pokémon and you’ve got a winner! It very much felt like a safari where I was ‘ooh’ing and ‘ahh’ing at every turn. I could play for hours at a time, and I wasn’t affected by the fact there wasn’t the nostalgia element there. In fact, it was probably a little more exciting, as the first person rail mechanics were fresh to me.
Any other game has been forgotten about this week and I have been completely engrossed. I can’t wait to get back to it and keep playing levels; my aim is to find some more Eveelutions, some legendaries and of course fill that Photodex. I actually quite like taking photos in real life too, so it was satisfying to get that perfect shot.
The gameplay in New Pokémon Snap won’t be for everyone though. It is very different from mainline Pokémon games, and some may find its lack of action or focus on photography rather than fighting boring. However, if you loved the original Snap, I can’t see a reason why you would dislike the new one. The visuals are fantastic and there’s plenty to do. Even if you’re new to it like me, if you love the design of Pokémon and are looking for a more relaxing title, you can’t go wrong. What are you waiting for, go snap them all!
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase New Pokémon Snap from the My Nintendo Store here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.