For the Pokémon community, a sequel to Pokémon Snap has always existed as a genuine white whale. The original itself was an anomaly born out of a fever dream of the 90’s PokéMania and a small internal studio Nintendo put together of folks who never worked on a game before in their lives to create an entirely new genre. While the Nintendo 64 game shows its age now, the team did manage to make something relatively unseen for the time – a photography game with Pokémon—and it was a hit among hardcore PokéNerds. So naturally, The Pokémon Company wouldn’t make another one unless they could find some way to make the idea feel even more fresh. Finally, they found a hook, and we now have New Pokémon Snap.
To get the obvious out of the way: primarily New Pokémon Snap is MORE Pokémon Snap. The primary gameplay is still extremely similar to the original game which, if you were late to the party, is an on-rails safari with the player tasked with trying to take the best pictures that they can. After the trail ends, the player can pick their best picture of each Pokémon they saw and get a score that contributes to the overall progress of the game.
That said, while an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach is welcome for the baseline experience, the good news is that the team at Bandai Namco also found ways to expand out these basics. Instead of only cataloging one photo of each Pokémon, you’re tasked with getting four at different ranks. Courses have multiple states that unlock as you play through them, along with times of day and even splitting paths. These tweaks mechanically guide you into revisiting courses with more gusto than the original game, but also lead the player to engage with the world differently.
It may seem unfair to spend so much time focusing on comparison in this case, but it’s also unshakable how much of New Pokémon Snap’s design feels like a reaction to the first game. Previous items that were meant to push Pokémon into certain behaviors and positions have been changed—reasonably—into more humane tools. Replacing the apples of the original game is an in-universe fruit that are explained as being extremely soft and native to the region as to not be invasive. Pester balls, which were pretty much just tear gas capsules you could throw to irritate Pokémon, are completely yanked and replaced with the gimmicky “Lumina Orbs” that are supposed to react with the Pokémon in the area and cause unique behavior. These Orbs are particularly leaned on as each major section of the game has their own set to unlock as well. While these tools were definitely designed as a response and deviation from the original Snap, they don’t feel nearly as designed to respond to the game they actually are in.
“Flufffruit” and Lumina Orbs are definitely better ideas that fit well into the Pokémon franchise. The game just doesn’t have much use for them. Most Pokémon ignore the Lumina Orbs entirely, even as their bodies react in a beam of colored light. This flips completely around for the game’s “bosses” which are larger Pokémon that both look and move with a different pattern, expressing a traditional sequence of player engagement that Nintendo fans are very familiar with.
Instead, they can only be photographed after being lured and then lit up by the orbs. As for the new fruit, while they don’t bonk Pokémon anymore, the creatures also tend to not react in a timely manner for shots. Gone is the ability to guide Pokémon to specific locations to get special pictures. The testing of this led to 3-4 Flufffruit scattered around the Pokémon in the shot, and the scoring system isn’t interested in them beyond the one a Pokémon managed to get into its mouth before you can’t see them anymore. Both sets of items encourage overuse, but New Snap’s versions feel less fulfilling to do so.
This fundamentally halts the game’s progression, an aspect of the original Snap that was particularly fun. Instead of interacting with Pokémon and the environment to make discoveries and unlock new areas, New Pokémon Snap chooses to simply reward repeat play. Score enough points and the maps will change times of day or populate a handful of different Pokémon. As these changes happen, situations trigger new paths and progression through the main game. Progression being scaled this way is better for the overall content. If you’re concerned about there not being quite enough game to justify the price, there’s a lot more going on here than OG Snap ever had. Even so, it feels like a part of why the original was so iconic was completely overlooked. You’re not leaving any footprints, which is good, but you’re also so much more passive, even as there’s way more opportunities for pictures.
To reiterate, this feels like bullying the game for not fitting expectations created by nostalgia. However, the game really wants to remind us of the Snap that came before, including bringing a character back from the original to do nothing besides shout “Remember Pokémon Snap?!” It begs the question: what new idea justified bringing this spin off out of retirement, and what was holding them back for so long? The answer is in what makes New Pokémon Snap stand out far and beyond its predecessor. In a post Share-button era, we are freed to share our experiences in games with more ease than you’d think game companies would be comfortable with. Because of this New Pokémon Snap isn’t a novelty; it’s a perfect fit.
The entire game is one big photo mode, and in this context it is extremely fulfilling. Progression may be more passive for a returning player, but the trade off is way more opportunities for unique shots. You’ll also unlock stickers, frames, filters, and other effects through progression through the main game, just like you’d find in any other modern game’s photo mode. After completing a course, we’re even given the ability to pull any shot taken to adjust settings and retake it, just in case something wasn’t quite right. The game has a built-in online photo board to share to, but the real magic is in the one-click way to move photos from the game to the Switch’s onboard screenshots folder. From there, New Pokémon Snap recreates the energy of the original’s Blockbuster photo printing promotion without needing to convince your mom to take you to Blockbuster Video.
Nintendo even partnered with Fujifilm to revive old school photo printing to capture that magic further. This takes the simple and nostalgic “take pictures of Pikachu” concept and combines it with our modern age of “take pictures of everything.” Being able to not only get an excellent shot but easily show it off to everyone is just as fulfilling as taking a really solid selfie. It’s surprisingly fulfilling.
New Pokémon Snap could never really meet the expectations of a fanbase waiting 20 years, but it was absolutely designed by people who knew why people wanted another one, deep down. There’s something calming and satisfying about getting that perfectly put together shot, and there’s an even more satisfying feeling about being able to show your friends. This will definitely join the rotation of casually pick-up and play games that really makes the Switch shine for a lot of people, and rightfully so. Let’s just not wait another two decades to get another one out, okay?
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 30th, 2021
Copy Purchased By Reviewer