New Pokemon Snap is the 22-year sequel to a cult-favourite Nintendo 64 game. The original, released in 1999, was an inventive, if ultimately shallow, brand exercise. Players hopped into an on-rails rover and took photos of Pokemon in the wild. You had no control over the rover itself, it would wind through each level at a steady pace so that you could catch every Poke in your viewfinder. Players could throw apples to tempt Pokemon into clearer view or pester balls to flush them out of hiding.
Shoot em up (on film)
This forms the blueprint for New Pokemon Snap, a game that recreates the odd magic of its forebear with modern hardware. Its iterations are mostly quality of life upgrades — smoother camera controls, new biomes, the inclusion of more than just the original 150 Gen 1 monsters, and internet connectivity for photo sharing. What it’s rather better at is homing in on that central loop of heading out to shoot.
In the original, things wouldn’t really change in the level no matter how many times you ran it. You would learn its secrets through experimentation and that would change your run in turn. New Pokemon Snap, aware that repetition is a key facet of the game loop, takes a smarter approach — it treats you like a real wildlife photographer. With each run you make on any level, the Pokemon that live there will grow a little more accustomed to your presence until they barely notice you at all. This changes their behaviour, sometimes run-to-run, depending on how much XP you were able to generate from your photos.
Photos are graded by Professor Mirror. Points are awarded for image composition, framing, subject activity, background, and more. Depending on the score they receive, photos will receive a final grade of between one and four stars.
Among the new additions are Night shoots, allowing players to rerun levels after dark. Night shoots result in totally different Pokemon, some nocturnal and others prey animals that feel less threatened than during the day. Pester balls have been replaced with a scanner that can agitate Pokemon with its high frequency whine. Another new addition is that, over time, some levels will subtly change to open up deviations in the rover’s route. One level involved a colony of Bidoof building a dam. Over the course of six or seven runs, the dam slowly took shape. When it was completed, the rover automatically veered onto the dam concourse to open up new photo opportunities.
These are the strongest arrows in New Pokemon Snap‘s quiver. It understands that repetition sits at the heart of its design and so it does a lot to make each run feel if not unique then at least useful.
And that’s really all there is to it. New Pokemon Snap, like its predecessor, is not a terribly deep game. I suspect its why Nintendo took so long to make this sequel. This isn’t to suggest that it isn’t good, or fun, because it’s definitely both. But, particularly if you’ve never played the original, it may not be as complex as you might expect, and the inherent reptition may cause it to wear out its welcome faster than the average game.
Those who did play the original and have been baying for a sequel ever since will be delighted with New Pokemon Snap. It is, in every way, the modern update you’ve waited 20 years to play. For everyone else, it may be a fun weekend distraction.
THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Adorable visuals; Extremely chill experience; No wrong answers
Lowlights: Repetition may be a bit much for some players
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Review conducted on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release review code provided by the publisher.