New Pokémon Snap updates an old classic for the Nintendo Switch, with an eye for detail and an artistic flair.
Nintendo is not often inclined to give its most ardent fans what they want. Just ask those waiting for the release for Mother 3, a new F-Zero game, or the long-rumoured HD update of the Metroid Prime trilogy.
Another game on that wishlist for the longest time was a sequel to Pokémon Snap, the cult 1999 Nintendo 64 photography adventure from HAL Laboratory.
After a two-decade wait, a follow-up was announced last year and development assigned to Bandai Namco, whose work on Pokkén Tournament sufficiently impressed Nintendo. It was a good pick. Like the studio’s acclaimed fighter, New Pokémon Snap exudes a level of polish that makes it stand apart from the plethora of other recent spin-offs like Pokémon Café Mix and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX.
New Pokémon Snap is not a remake or remaster. Instead, it’s a ground-up reimagining focused on capturing the original’s spirit while developing its own identity through an expanded suite of features and a substantially increased cast of Pokémon to discover.
The core gameplay loop is as before. Equipped with a camera – and some apples – you are tasked with traversing a range of picture-postcard locations to photograph wild Pokémon. Each trip is (mostly) on-rails, with control limited to aiming your camera and flinging items into the environment to provoke reactions from the Pokémon you encounter. Advice, instruction, and research tasks come via the tutorage of the enthusiastic Professor Mirror and his crew of cheerily creepy disciples. It’s the loosest of frameworks to get you exploring, but it works, and the story is thankfully light.
After the first couple of excursions, New Pokémon Snap pretty much shows its hand, and honestly, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Was this really a game worth waiting two decades for?
Gradually, however, the game starts to develop its identity, and the role of photojournalist becomes an increasingly tempting middle-age career pivot.
The pleasures begin with the sights and sounds of the Lental Region. This is a frequently beautiful game, with environments ranging from overgrown jungles and ice caverns to volcanic mountains and sweltering deserts. Each location is teeming with life and colour, and each journey has something different to offer. On one trip, you might spot a Quagshire taking a refreshing swim. Next time around, it will be on an afternoon stroll with a Wooper. The more trips you make, the more you discover. And the more discoveries you make, the more you want to make sure it is catalogued, filed, and indexed.
Each safari is enhanced by a glorious tapestry of ambient noise and animal sounds, be it the hollow knock-knock of a Pikipek or the snores of a slumbering Bouffalant. Playing the game with headphones is recommended, and also, helpful to locate Pokémon hidden out of sight – or those trying to avoid your prying lens.
New Pokémon Snap is the second game I’ve played on Nintendo Switch this year that has enchanted me with the splendour of the natural world, albeit not our natural world. Like Monster Hunter Rise, it’s an evocative study of flora and fauna. In Capcom’s game, photographing creatures and plant life is an enjoyable break from the daily grind of slaying beasties. In New Pokémon Snap, documenting wildlife is the whole game, and, in its own small way, it’s revelatory.
Shorn from the RPG trappings of combat and levelling, the Pokémon you discover are revealed in a new light. They are wild, mischievous, and often majestic creatures. (Just wait until you visit the seabed.) Capturing them through the camera lens is immensely gratifying. And I guarantee that following this adventure, capturing a Pichu within the confines of a Pokéball will feel more despicable than ever.
The Pokémon franchise has always held an appeal to those of us who like journaling, categorising, organising a sock drawer, or dedicating a basement to boxes of unopened amiibos, all arranged by colour. New Pokémon Snap is just as successful at tapping into these comforting pleasures as the mainline RPG series. Completing the game’s Photodex is perhaps even more rewarding than the traditional Pokédex due to the number of shots and ratings required to complete each entry. It’s both a visual record of your game experience and an exhibition of your artistic talents.
A modest suite of online sharing and customisation tools also give your pictures life beyond the solo campaign. Poring through the work of others is compelling and can often be an inspiration for taking new photos. It’s one of the many ways the game provides an impetus for repeated trips to familiar courses.
There’s a soothing quality to New Pokémon Snap that is all too rare for this usually hyper-energetic franchise. Aside from an obtuse piece of late-game objective signposting, this is a thoroughly chilled-out adventure and one to enjoy at a leisurely pace.
I suspect it won’t be for everyone, however. If the prospect of taking hundreds of snaps in search of the perfect image isn’t for you, you’ll quickly find the game repetitive. But, if you get a kick out of exploring the great outdoors and the state of mind gained from an afternoon organising a bookshelf, New Pokémon Snap is well worth the 20-year wait.
New Pokémon Snap Review
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: Out now
New Pokémon Snap is a game for players exhausted by the franchise’s increasingly complex RPG titles. It’s low-key but rewarding, and its laid back, violence-free approach puts a welcome focus back on the design and behaviour of each Pokémon.
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