New Pokémon Snap Review
It’s Snap, but new! How close is it to perfection? One could say “You were close”…
It seems rather odd that it has taken 22 years to see a sequel made for the cult classic Pokémon Snap. The game was popular amongst the fanbase, and devices such as the Wii U seemed frankly ideal for it. But finally, Haruki Suzaki and his team at Bandai Namco Inc. have been handed the chance to take on the task with New Pokémon Snap, seemingly a reward for the success for the Pokkén Tournament titles.
So how did they go? Fairly well, it turns out, although the game might be slightly out of the picture frame at times.
Both the original and new Snap titles have a simple core gameplay. As a young photographer, you’re strapped to a vehicle that moves throughout a map populated with Pokémon – a rail shooter set-up. Thankfully you are armed with nothing more deadly than a ‘fluffruit’ (the newest in Not-An-Apple technology), as well as other tools such as loud tunes and a high-tech camera. The aim is to get points by taking the perfect photo of any and all Pokémon you encounter in the level, with the Professor of the game, Professor Mirror, ranking each submission you make once you complete the course. Factors such as the position of the target Pokémon in the photo, the direction it is facing, and other Pokémon that might be within the photo contribute to the score. Each Pokémon species can have four unique poses or interactions that are scored separately, and it is up to you to figure out what those are – and snap them in the act.
The scoring system is largely tied to progression. To level up a course, which increases the number of Pokémon species, events and even alternate routes available, you need to accumulate enough points. Unlocking a different version of the same course (e.g. a Night or Evening version), or opening up a new area, is often tied to this. The other method, or requirement for game progression, is typically to photograph a flower or Pokémon undergoing the Illumina effect – the gimmick of this Snap title.
You also can gain the ability to throw Illumina Orbs at Pokémon once locating the Illumina effect on each Island, which in turn enables even more interaction with Pokémon and hence events. It’s a pretty option as it makes Pokémon glow, and helps add to interactions available, although notably the Pester Ball item is nowhere to be found. Perhaps this is reflective of the franchise now – much more focus on friendship with Pokémon, and not inflicting any sort of pain on them. (Long gone are the days of throwing rocks or mud balls at Pokémon in the Safari Zone, for instance.) A music player is in as well, albeit not quite as pleasant a sound as the original Snap’s Poké Flute, and with only one drab melody available at that. There’s also a Scan option, which works fine if a little clunky at times to get the attention of some Pokémon or analyse your surroundings, and eventually a turbo option to unlock for going through somewhat faster. Zooming in or looking behind you will also slow you down, but beyond that there is no other way to control movement of your vehicle.
Certainly the use of different levels help keep a course fresh, as do the day and night versions. There are more courses than the original game had, and special Illumina levels as well where you have a sort of puzzle involved to be able to take a photo of the target Pokémon that Professor Mirror will give points for. While initially it seems that there aren’t many environmental puzzles compared to the former, they certainly do exist – it’s just that they’re used much less for unlocking progression to a new course this time around, and instead for unlocking access to unique poses of Pokémon (or species entirely). Some of these are obvious and simple enough, and others are on guide-dang-it levels, requiring different actions for multiple species of Pokémon across separate parts of the stage. That said, there is no way to evolve a Pokémon during a course, which was a particularly charming aspect of the original Snap game. Again, maybe this is a shift of the franchise away from any sort of violence against Pokémon – no knocking Charmander into a pit of lava causing it to become an angry Charmeleon here.
One other aspect are Requests, where characters will do just that – ask for a photo depicting a particular scene or event with a Pokémon. They are not tied to story or level progression, instead unlocking decoration options for your photos. That’s just as well, as their implementation hasn’t been the best. There are many requests and the variety speaks to the depth the game manages to have with a Pokémon cast of just over 200, but often I found myself receiving a request that I had just completed from the course I finished. The game will only accept photos submitted to the Professor for scoring after you receive a request – even if you can save photos separately in-game. This was, frankly, annoying the more this happened, and seems designed to artificially extend the gameplay time to get 100% completion. This can make it too repetitive for some, but the game is also designed for short stints and autosaves reliably, so as long as you’re not intending to binge the game and beat it 100% as soon as possible, I don’t think this should be a concern.
The other issue was that often I had submitted a picture that seemingly clearly satisfied the request, but it did not work. One example was a request of a picture of Hoothoot with both of its legs showing. There are actually multiple ways to get this, but only one scenario will satisfy the requester. Other cases seem to be a case of being slightly off in timing, or difficulty in making sure a specific Pokémon is the target, even if the request clearly involves multiple Pokémon (and trying to switch to another during a brief period of time is not always easy to do!). It’s not a major issue, but it is definitely an area the game could have been improved. Furthermore, at the time of writing one of these requests is bugged with the current version of the game, and cannot be completed.
Given the range of environments, and the various interactions between all the Pokémon, this is the best looking 3D title for the Pokémon franchise. I think it’s little surprise that the Bandai Namco Inc. group that did Pokkén Tournament were given the reins here, but they went a step further and improved on animations and background areas from that title.
Granted, it’s not the best looking game on Switch, with some textures being on the ‘average’ side, and the human characters do look a tad odd to me. But they are not the focus, and the Pokémon look absolutely charming throughout. Nice attention to detail can be seen, from a Squirtle jumping onto the back of a Lapras, to an apple sticking onto the spikes of a Cacnea (who then gets tossed about through the air by a tornado). What’s not to love? The animations are far better than many seen in Pokémon Sword and Shield – to be expected, perhaps, given this is a rail shooter with a much more controlled region and scenarios that can ever be seen by the player, but it still seems like an immense difference is on show here. It helps when animations that hadn’t aged well, first used in the 3DS games that released several years ago, are nowhere to be seen here.
There have been a few minor graphical bugs, and sometimes boundaries of areas are obvious when an apple is thrown at an invisible wall – but I haven’t encountered anything game breaking here in regards to graphics. There are a few cutscenes as well, which truly look nice – there’s just not that many of them. They do tend to involve your character looking around or being surprised at things, which is a bit less interesting and repetitive the more you see it (i.e. every time you start a new Illumina Spot area), but it is a minor gripe.
So, the game looks great – a very strong improvement upon the original. But the first game did shine in the music department, composed by Ikuko Mimori (who incidentally has no other video game composition credits after Pokémon Snap) – so how was it here?
Music and Sound
The soundtrack is… fine, but nothing more. I have no qualms with the instrumentation – the quality is most certainly there. Hiroki Hashimoto, who also did the Pokkén Tournament compositions, knows his way around the sound booth. It’s just that the tunes aren’t particularly memorable. I liked the Research Area theme that plays when you go back to the main menu, and the scoring tune is fine. The stages with Illumina Pokémon are also generally a step up from regular areas.
That said, if you asked me to hum those tunes, I would struggle. Any other tune meanwhile I really just do not recall. They are not particularly catchy, nor hold their own identity, and that is the failing of the OST here – it is too ‘generic’, for lack of a better word. The ocean levels have songs that fit it, as does the desert level, but one could have just substituted any other similarly themed song. The original game’s soundtrack had much more personality to it, and dare I say was much braver with its instrumentation choices, including whistling and more repetitive, shorter motifs that led to more memorable tunes.
It was especially odd when the music playing during the game’s opening tutorial seemed to be in the same vibe as the original. But once the tutorials ended, such music also went away, never to be heard again.
Like the instrumentation, the sound effects are fine and inoffensive. I already touched on the melody player being an exception – it’s not particularly nice to hear, and I feel it would annoy some Pokémon more than please them. Perhaps a way to choose a different tune would have been nice. Happily, from the get-go there are options for adjusting the level of music and sound effects, which is good to see.
Pleasingly, compared to the Pokkén Tournament titles, the voice acting is a huge step up. Characters here don’t sound disinterested, and if it’s still not up to your liking, you can switch to Japanese voices or turn them off altogether. The only annoying voiced example would be when Phil exclaims mid-level how he’s jealous of my photos. But this too can be turned off – nice! And to be fair, it’s not a complaint on the voice actor for Phil – it’s more that he is a rather pointless character that adds little to the already thin story.
Speaking of… The original Snap title had little in the way of story, and so does this game. And that’s fine! This is a rail shooter game, and the focus is taking cute pictures of cute Pokémon. That said, it is still worth pointing out that there was a basis created for a story here, but it was found lacking. There’s a clear lore and history for the region, but once you encounter and take pictures of the last Illumina Pokémon, all that follows is that characters speculate on their findings and what might have happened in the past, and then the game ends. There’s no real climax to be had in the level, and while you gain a new version of an old area post-credits, there is no more to be said on the plot. Ah well.
There was a very cheesy pre-credits scene, which I suppose is fine for a younger audience, but really didn’t add anything or round out the story. Yes, Pokémon are great and we should all be friends with them as we purchase more video game titles from the franchise, but this isn’t exactly engaging storytelling.
It was nice to see Todd return, but he doesn’t do very much. He’s a source of a few requests, at one point suggests we explore the main camp for a new level, and that is pretty much it. And then there is Phil, Todd’s self-appointed student. What exactly is his purpose in the game? A rival who never challenges you? The rest will give advice or interact with other characters, while Phil is just there and if removed from the game would change nothing. He reminds me of another recent rival character from Pokémon Let’s GO, Pikachu and Eevee… Maybe this is another aspect that “feels” at home with the Pokémon franchise as a whole, rather than this specific game. If he had some scores of his own that we had to beat as a challenge, then Phil could have been fleshed out and given some value.
In short, while it doesn’t matter for this game, there’s no strength in its story or characters. And poor Professor Oak was quite the character to see replaced – he is the original Professor, after all.
The game loads quite quickly throughout – I haven’t been annoyed at any point on this front. Navigating the requests list is untidy with no way to look at more than one new request at a time without filtering, nor recently completed ones. However, the rest of the UI has seemed to be fine and responsive to me.
The selection of Pokémon is decently spread out, all things considered. Yes, Kanto has the most Pokémon in number (slightly edging Hoenn), which isn’t surprising when obvious fan favourites like the Eeveelutions and two of each Kanto Starter line are included (more representation than any other set of Starters). On the other hand, Johto has only a few less Pokémon, and only a hundred to begin with – so hence has a bigger percentage representation. Later generations number in the mid-twenties each, except for generation eight where a surprisingly small number of… well, eight Pokémon have been included thus far (if DLC becomes a thing).
The choices for Illumina Pokémon have been pretty good. None have been outright obvious or super popular Pokémon, with at most two coming from the same generation (and none from the first). Kudos there.
It has been mentioned before, but Fluffruit are a weird substitution for apples. The concept of a lighter, fluffy version of the fruit that appeared in the original game, and also in Pokémon Sword and Shield in two variants as an item, is weird. What gives here? It doesn’t really add to lore or appear in any other aspect within the game. Is this a decision by The Pokémon Company to discourage throwing of hard apples at Pokémon? I’d be curious to hear some developer thoughts about this decision. I’m also curious on why the game has the title of New Pokémon Snap – what if there’s another Snap game down the line? Newer Pokémon Snap? They really should have gone with the 2 numbering instead.
One can decorate your photos before uploading them, which is a nice touch. It’s simple to add stickers or frames you’ve earned in editing a photo you saved or submitted. Furthermore, there are online features, such as a leaderboard and ability to share photos and get ratings on them from other players. It’s a nice option, and also useful if you want to see other possible shots you could make to try and figure out. And if you don’t want to see events you haven’t encountered yet, the game hides them behind a spoiler warning! It’s a thoughtful addition.
A final word goes on glitches. I mentioned there being minor visual glitches at times, but one has to really go looking for that sort. One request is also bugged, while others are annoyingly hard to complete, to the point that I don’t feel the game is quite optimised or set up correctly on some. There have been a couple instances where the game seemingly hangs on a rating screen, but going to the Home menu and back fixes this, and the game autosaves reliably anyway. Otherwise, the game has been fine in this regard. Please improve on the request system, is all I ask!
- Surprisingly high number of scenarios of Pokémon interactions
- A pretty game with high replayability
- Plays smoothly and quickly
- Music is largely forgettable
- Requests are finicky and hard to satisfy at times
It’s been a fun experience, and frankly a way too long break between titles. One hopes that we’ll see another Snap title much sooner. Overall, this one is a solid addition – it’s fun, and easy to find yourself thinking ‘just one more run at this course!’ while playing. If rail shooters or Pokémon isn’t really your thing, or if you are on the fence, then it may be worth waiting for a sale as full retail is a large ask – but otherwise there is no worries on the amount of game time on offer if you see yourself making a serious attempt at 100% completion.
There’s a few areas that could have been better or stand to be polished, but it is one of the better, if not best, of the spinoff titles Pokémon has seen in several years.
Thanks to Nintendo Australia for granting us a review copy of the game.
Edited by Aldo, Kitty, Ranko and Sheep.