Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 05/02/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
For 22 years, every millennial Nintendo fan has been waiting for a new Pokemon Snap game. It seemed odd that the Wii never got one. It seemed weird that the Wii U never got one. It seemed downright bizarre that the 3DS never got one. At long last, though, on the Switch, a dream 22 years in the making has been realized. We finally have New Pokemon Snap. Stupid title aside, this game is everything I had hoped and prayed that it would be.
In terms of the basic game mechanics, this is pretty much exactly like the original Pokemon Snap but smoother, modernized, and streamlined. You can zoom your camera, you can take pictures, you can throw apples, you can throw a non-edible projectile, and you can zoom. You can also play a flute of sorts and – after you beat the story part of the game and see the credits – you can enable burst fire to take three, four, or six pictures in rapid succession with a single button press as opposed to just the one picture. It’s still a rail shooter at its core, so you don’t get any free movement, but even if you didn’t go into this game expecting that to be the case, you get used to it pretty quickly.
The story has you play as a young aspiring photographer who travels to the Lental region to work with Professor Mirror (it bothers me more than you would think that his name isn’t a type of tree) to help him work on an ecological survey of the region. He’s also assisted by a young girl named Rita, Todd from the original game, and Todd’s annoying apprentice, Phil. You go through each of the region’s six islands (a total of twelve locations) taking pictures of the Pokemon there and investigating the “illumina” Pokemon, powerful Pokemon which exhibit a strange bioluminescence ability. Each Pokemon you photograph gets entered into your Photodex, and each Pokemon has four types of poses you can photograph denoted by one to four stars. The number of stars has no impact on the photo’s score, but the score will determine whether the photo is awarded a bronze, silver, gold, or diamond star. That’s my first complaint with the game – it can be difficult if not nearly impossible to tell exactly what the game wants you to photograph the Pokemon doing in order to get each of the four-star categories. Most of them I just stumbled upon, but there is still a lot that is blank in my Photodex because I got frustrated and gave up on figuring out.
There are a total of 214 Pokemon in New Pokemon Snap of which ten are legendary. As far as I’m aware, the legendary Pokemon aren’t available until after you beat the story portion of the game and see the credits. Each of the areas you can explore has a research-level from 1 to 3 (you can level up from 3 to MAX but it doesn’t seem to change anything), and the higher the research level, the more Pokemon will appear. While I still have a couple of areas at level 2, you’ll need at least most of them at level 3 in order to photograph every Pokemon in the game, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to photograph them all. The models are absolutely gorgeous – especially the illumina Pokemon – and while the character models in Sword and Shield looked fine in my opinion, New Pokemon Snap really harnesses the full extent of the Switch’s power to make these Pokemon as good as they can.
While it’s pretty limited and only functions as a leaderboard and for picture sharing, New Pokemon Snap does have online connectivity. You can compare your Photodex rating with the other players around the world, the other players of your language, and the other players on your friends list. You can also edit pictures saved to your album with borders, filters, and art and upload those (up to six at a time) to your profile for the world to see. Other players can give your pictures “Sweet” awards; these don’t do anything except make you feel nice, but it is cool to see which pictures of yours catch the interest of random folks online. You can also customize your player icon, your badge, and your catchphrase. At a certain point in the game, you can enable the option to have Professor Mirror automatically upload his favorite pictures to two additional slots on the side of your profile although I never did figure out the criteria for what he considers worth uploading. You can see a screenshot of my profile below for reference.
New Pokemon Snap may not be a perfect game, but it’s damn close. It’s definitely everything I ever dared to hop a second Pokemon Snap game would be. Pokemon spinoffs are rarely big enough to be considered “system sellers” on their own, but honestly, I had enough fun with this one to be willing to say that it deserves the title. It took me right at 26 hours to clear the game to credits (although I did admittedly spend six or seven of those hours obsessive-compulsively scouring the first area until I gave up on completing every optional request the game throws at you) and an additional four or five hours to hunt down the legendary Pokemon and the last couple that was missing from my Photodex. It may not be the longest game in the world, but it took me longer to reach the credits than Pokemon Shield did, and it’s significantly longer than the original Pokemon Snap. If you’re a fan of Pokemon, you absolutely have to at least check this game out. The rail shooter genre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s an enormous amount of chill fun to be had here.