Get Your Cameras Ready!
While I hope this doesn’t come across as grandiose, here goes: I feel like I was destined to review New Pokémon Snap. After all, I’ve been an early adopter of Pokémon since the very beginning. I still remember taking my Game Boy to school, complete with link cable, to trade friends during lunch. It’s been a wild and prosperous ride for the now-dominant series, and I’ve been there for all of it. Yet, despite all that, I somehow had never owned the original Pokémon Snap, which strikes me as odd, especially considering my predilection for taking tons of screenshots when I play games. Regardless, I saw the chance to correct an error with my New Pokémon Snap review for HPP. Keep reading to see how this OG Pokémon fan feels about the Lental region.
The Good Professor Mirror
New Pokémon Snap revolves around helping Professor Mirror conduct research into the history of the Lental region. He works at the Laboratory of Ecology and Natural Sciences (L.E.N.S. for short), located on an animal park. Years and years ago, an explorer by the name of Captain Vince mapped the region and made several astonishing discoveries, an important one involving something called the Illumina phenomenon. Found only in this region, it was noted that certain pokémon exhibit a kind of bioluminescence, which causes strange and wonderful things to happen. Additionally, these so-called Illumina pokémon are generally hard to find despite being enormous examples of their breed. Your goal is to help the good professor explore this phenomenon while learning tidbits about the Lental region, including the many wonderful creatures that populate the group of islands.
Have NEO-ONE, Will Travel
After the game starts, you choose your avatar’s look and name, and then it’s off to the races. The good professor has an assistant named Rita, a plucky young girl full of enthusiasm. She’ll help explain the mechanics of the game through a series of tutorials. These happen naturally as the game progresses, and they don’t outstay their welcome. While your main goal is, of course, to take tons of photos of the many creatures of the Lental region, you eventually have a few more tricks up your sleeve. You can toss Fluffruit to lure pokémon towards you, or even to irritate them into reacting. You can also play music to encourage them to dance. One especially helpful mechanic is scanning the surrounding area, revealing key items of interest. These can include historical structures as well as hidden alternate paths. Additionally, the scan shows which creatures are close by, at least if you’ve already encountered them before.
Once you’ve photographed a plant called a Crystabloom, you’ll also be able to utilize something called Illumina orbs. There’s one per major area in Lental, each colored a different hue. These may look like neon pokéballs, but they work entirely differently. If you strike a Crystabloom with an orb, it’ll light up. Often that will draw pokémon to frolic nearby, but the results can be unpredictable. Just be ready to take a photo once you light things up. You can also throw these orbs at pokémon to have them glow brightly for a few moments or give them a boost of power to perform interesting moves. Where they really shine? During the Illumina pokémon levels — mostly because you won’t be able to accurately photograph these mystical pokémon unless they’re lit up. Thankfully, you have an unlimited supply of all your items, so you can toss without concern.
A Vast Region to Explore
The way the game plays out is essentially like a delightful pokémon safari. You take pictures while your vehicle, the teleporting NEO-ONE, moves along a set track. You can switch routes via branching paths, but there’s another way to mix things up. As you take photographs, your research level for that area go up. When you increase your research level, not only will you get gifts such as frames, titles, and icons, but you’ll mix up the pokémon you’ll encounter. For example, one route might have a ton of Luvdisc at level 1, but at level 2 might instead be swarming with Wailmer. These changes can be minute, but they really help Lental feel like a living and breathing region. After years of playing Pokémon games, this is the first one where I felt as though they were actual animals!
As you explore New Pokémon Snap, you’ll see all manner of pokémon in a variety of situations. Sometimes they’ll be agitated and puff out their chests. Others will be mellow or napping. Often they’re mischievous, jumping about or even disappearing suddenly. What’s amazing to me is how well-rendered each and every one is. The Lental region really comes to life thanks to this artistry, and it’s truly fun seeing some of my favorite critters doing their thing. It gives you tons of opportunities to take wonderful pictures, which you can then share with others via Your Page or online functionality. Keep in mind each picture is scored by the professor, and you can only upload one photo of each pokémon per expedition. Each picture is scored for a variety of factors, such as how well centered it is, how large the pokémon, if others surround it, etc. You’ll get 1-4 stars as well, ranging from bronze to silver up to gold.
Unlike the first Pokémon Snap game which allowed only one photo per pokémon in your gallery, New Pokémon Snap asks players to capture four separate photos of each species — one 1 star, one 2 star, one 3 star, and one 4 star photo. The differences between each rating varies per pokémon, but the idea is to photograph them in a variety of scenarios. A 1 star photo might be them simply walking around and a 2 star may be of them eating a Fluffruit you threw at them; simultaneously, a 3 or 4 star photo might be a more uncommon instance, such as when they decide to attack another pokémon or when they are playing with a friend—the more unusual the behavior, the better. Like the first Pokémon Snap game, you’re bound to catch Pikachu(s) in a ton of adorable situations, including riding a Mantine through the reefs or a couple watching an Inkay light up in the night sky. We love a good nostalgia nod!
Keep on Scanning
Speaking of replay value, there’s a metric ton in New Pokémon Snap. Besides replaying levels to get choice shots and advance the plot, there’s also a bunch of optional quests you can fulfill. You can find these in a window called LenTalk, where various characters relay their requests. Some of these are pretty easy to understand, but they all require patience and quick timing. With 100+ requests that ask players to snap a photo of any given pokémon doing something specific, like riding another species or getting caught up in a tornado. They run the gamut from fairly simple to pretty challenging, and they easily account for what you’ll be doing after you roll credits. Of course, your hard work won’t go unrewarded — by fulfilling these requests, you’ll unlock stickers, frames and other goodies for your all your photo-editing needs.
A Visual Smorgasbord
Visually, this is a stunning adventure, and it does a wonderful job showcasing the beauty of the pokémon designs. I think I must have been a biologist in another life, cause I take great joy in assessing the biological diversity of the many creatures found herein. Clocking in at a whopping 214 distinct creatures in the game, they show off a wide range of types and species; taking into account you need four photos of each to complete your Photodex, that’s a total of 856 photos, not including the objects of interest! Fan favorites like the original starters are here, as well as some Legendary pokémon (one fans of the original Pokémon Snap might recognize…). Besides looking fantastic, they’re very realistic in their reactions. Most impressive are the massive Illumina pokémon. The first you’ll encounter is the docile Meganium, but I refuse to spoil the others. Suffice to say, they’re all very different and won’t disappoint. And did I mention the environments? It’s awe inspiring travelling under the depths of the ocean, through glittering caves of ice and much more besides. Musically, the game is a lot more laid back, but that’s understandable — you’re not gonna go on a safari with a rocking soundtrack playing to scare away the animals. All in all, the sound design is on point: you’ll hear pokémon cry out and communicate as you explore, and it not only helps them feel alive, but it helps you ready your camera in time.
Nobody Needs Rivals, Phil
Another thing fans of the first Pokémon Snap might recognize is all the secret puzzles scattered throughout the levels. Bonk a pokémon at the right time or play a little tune at the exact moment you light up a Crystalbloom and you may coax a previously unseen Pokémon out of its hiding spot. Also, like the original, this is how you’ll discover secret pathways hidden within the levels, with alternate routes featuring completely different pokémon in sometimes wildly different environments. At first, you may not even realize there’s another route waiting to be uncovered, but if you read what the NPCs tell you on the map page before choosing a level, you’ll catch them trying to hint at it. Struggle with it long enough and they’ll eventually spell it out for you. Although it’ll likely just be faster to look up assistance online, the key is to just really take in your surroundings and not get too stuck on a routine — after all, trying different things is how you’ll discover something new, right?
Sneaky Little Buggers
One fairly major frustration I had was with the picture sharing. To share a picture online, you can do it via Your Page or your Album. If you’ve shared a pic with Professor Mirror, it will show up in the Photodex. But if you want to save a picture to your system memory and thus share it online, you have to save it to your Album first. You can’t just import it from your Photodex. What’s annoying is that if you don’t save a picture to your Album, you won’t be able to share it later unless you manage to take another picture of the same pokémon with the same star rating. At best, I’ve had mixed results with the picture sharing, especially since you can only have 48 pictures saved at a time. Sure, I could expend more system memory to increase that number, but it all feels awkward. In a game all about sharing images with others, why not make it intuitive and easy to share said pictures?
A Safari Worth Taking
Despite my issues with the game, I really did enjoy New Pokémon Snap. Even after completing the game’s storyline, there’s still a ton more to do after the credits roll. To this old Pokémon fan, this is a must-own title. If you love photographing wild creatures and exploring a vibrant new region, this is the game for you. And if you really want to feel like you’re a budding photographer, play the game using the optional motion controls, swinging the Switch around like a giant camera. Now to spend hours and hours more to fill out my Photodex and unearth all the secrets of the Lental region!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company; Developer: BANDAI NAMCO Studios; Players: 1; Released: April 30, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone – Users Interact; MSRP: $59.99
The author purchased a review copy.