With almost countless Pokémon video games since the series’ 1996 debut, the photography spinoff of Pokémon Snap has stood on its own for far too long. This unique peek into the world of Pokémon felt like it would be forever trapped on the N64 (and the Wii U Virtual Console). Until now, that is, with a fully fledged sequel for Nintendo Switch that fans have been requesting for years. New Pokémon Snap might not have the snappiest title, but it successfully builds on what the original offered back in 1999.
New Pokémon Snap is the dream game for Pokémaniacs everywhere. If you’ve ever wanted to follow Bulbasaur through the undergrowth to see what it’s up to when it’s not Vine Whipping the hell out of a Squirtle, this is the game for you. There is a lot to see out there, and I regularly found myself trying to share the cuteness with my girlfriend on the other side of the room — not easy to do considering the gyroscope moves the camera.
As the latest photographer to visit the Lental region, you sign up as Professor Mirror’s new research assistant at the Laboratory of Ecological and Natural Sciences (LENS). With the help of his assistants Rita and Phil, and franchise veteran Todd Snap, your mission is to go out and fill your Photodex as part of an ambitious ecological survey.
With 214 Pokémon out there to shoot, you have your work cut out for you. Not only do you have a series of dynamic environments to explore filled with your favourite Pokémon, you can do so during the day or night, spotting different Pokémon at different times.
The camera is your main way of interacting with the environment, which is handy because the photography feels genuinely satisfying — especially if you move the shutter button from A to R so that the Switch feels more like a camera.
As a true scientist, you’re not just trying to snap everything and move on — your mission is to document all of the endemic life across the Lental region’s disparate island biomes, from its jungle and tundra to its volcano and underwater reefs. Although the camera has a built-in Scan function, helping you spot Pokémon and objects of interest, you need to snap each Pokémon in four different poses in order to truly complete your Photodex.
In practice, this means jumping aboard the Neo-One — a submarine-like orb that follows a prescribed path through each environment — taking photos of everything that moves. Weirdly, the walls of your cockpit seem so dense that you can’t quite hear the cries of “Pika pika” as you float past a waving Pikachu. Although the reasons for cutting this audio are obvious, given the cacophony you might otherwise hear, it’s a bit of a shame.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert photographer here. It’s about as simple as any point-and-click camera on Auto, and there’s an imprecision to the photos of Pokémon completely obscured by the jungle canopy appear to count towards yours research. Unfortunately, you can only submit one photo per Pokémon per trip, which means that you’re going to be doing each route multiple times.
You level up each route as you play, getting XP based on the quality and quantity of photos you submit, unlocking more, rarer Pokémon to find as the local species get more accustomed to your presence. This, of course, is how you bring out the legendary Pokémon, like Shaymin in the first stage, but photographing these doesn’t have any fanfare. As far as the professor is concerned, it’s just as interesting as anything else you put before him.
Despite unlocking alternate paths through each course, it does little to abate the repetition. I found myself thinking of Bugsnax, which allowed you to travel around at will, taking photos at your leisure from every angle you can imagine. In this regard, Bugsnax felt a lot more like what I wanted Pokémon Snap to be — and having not played the original, I was extremely disappointed by the rail shooter mechanics. Without the autonomy to go where you please, you somehow don’t feel like you belong in the Lental region. Games like Bugnsax and Alba shouldn’t be a better Pokémon Snap than New Pokémon Snap.
There are ways to break the monotony, interacting with Pokémon by playing music or throwing fruit at them. These will unlock new poses, of course, but you do so at the cost of feeling like an ass, throwing imaginary fruit at your childhood friends just to see how they will interact. You may be unsurprised to know that the Pokémon do not enjoy it, although several of them do eat the fruit afterwards, which is frickin’ adorable.
As you play, the story of the Illumina Pokémon unfolds, figuring out why some Pokémon take on special glowing characteristics. You will unlock glowing orbs of light that temporarily infuse certain flowers or Pokémon they with Illumunia energy, making them glow briefly, while this generally does very little, there are cool effects like making Scorbunny kick blue flames.
Unfortunately, boss stages are poorly designed, asking that you throw either fruit of balls of light at the Pokémon in question. Given that you can’t control where you’re going, this adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. If you snap a photo of the Pokémon but it isn’t glowy enough, you fail the stage and are forced to go back out there and try again.
You are also tasked with a set of research requests that involve going out and getting a specific photo, such as finding out and documenting which Pokémon is scorching the fruit in one area of the park, or finding Hoothoot’s hidden foot — a cute nod to its Gold edition Pokédex entry. Again, it involves lobbing an apple at a defenceless little bird and photographing the carnage. Science!
More often than not, the requests I had pop up were to take photos identical to the ones I just submitted. Imagine you’re out on an expedition and you see a Wingull do a loop-the-loop, or a pair of Clawitzer having a shoot-out under the sea. Instinct kicks in, your finger triggers and you walk away with an excellent shot. The professor sees it, compliments you on your skills, and you return to the lab proud of your accomplishment. Rita then pops up and asks if you’ve ever seen this phenomenon, and demands photo evidence of it. No, not the photo you’ve just taken, but fresh new evidence.
It’s like the game knows its limits, and very slowly rolls out additional features to get you to play more. After a couple of hours, you get the ability to take photos at the home base (the LENS lab). It takes what feels like forever before you’re given an accelerator to make the Neo-One move faster when you’re hunting a specific photo you need. Finish the game and you unlock Burst mode, allowing you to do what mobile phones have done for a decade already. These additional features are well received, but in many ways they’re too little too late, and I can see a lot of more casual players falling off the wagon and giving up ahead of time.