Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Pokémon
I’ve discussed my love for the Pokémon franchise before, both in my Nuzlocke post and my review of Pokémon Platinum. While I’ve been playing the main series since childhood, I’ve hardly spent any time with any spinoff game. Sure, I played a little bit of Pokémon Stadium at friends’ houses as a kid and I dabbled in Pokémon Conquest for a short time, but I’ve never played a Mystery Dungeon game, XD Gale of Darkness, or Pokken. Nintendo is about to give fans a new Pokémon Snap game, something they’ve been clammering for since the original released on the N64 in 1999. I thought now would be a great time to play the game and see what makes it one of the most beloved and well-remembered spinoff games in the Pokémon series.
Although you can name the character at the beginning of the game, canonically his name is Todd Snap. You play as him after he has an encounter with a rare Pokémon and Prof. Oak asks him to help him with research by taking pictures of wild Pokémon. You travel across Pokémon Island where Pokémon roam wild and carefree. The island reminds me of Monster Island from the sillier of the Shōwa Era of Godzilla movies. Despite the game taking place on a single island, there are many different environments to see from scenic beaches to fiery volcanoes, dank caves to lush jungles.
The visuals and music are always colorful, upbeat, and cheery, creating a very peaceful and pleasant experience. The graphics have aged just fine in the over twenty years since Snap’s release with the highlight being the Pokémon models themselves. Pokémon Snap was the first time players got to see Pokémon in 3D and, while the models of the creature suffer from the usual N64 blockiness, they are all charming and well animated in the game. One of the biggest appeals to Snap is just seeing Pokémon in their natural habits, enjoying their days, getting into mischief, and just living their best Pokémon lives. It’s something you just couldn’t portray effectively on the original Gameboy games and it’s an aspect of Pokémon that no other game has really tried since. The closest we’ve seen to a return of watching Pokémon roam free is the Wild Area in Sword and Shield, but the frame rate issue and constant pop-in never made that feel organic. Seeing these creatures frolic through their environments adds to the feeling of Snap being a very peaceful game. And that’s before you even account for the gameplay.
Snap is different from most other Pokémon games because you never battle any Pokémon and the only capturing of them you do is with your camera lens. It’s a very “leave only footprints” mentality—well, besides the tracks Prof. Oak apparently left all over the island for the Zero-One, the tracked vehicle you used to navigate the island. Pokémon Snap is a rail shooter similar to a House of the Dead or a Time Crisis, only with a camera instead of a gun. Pokémon will run around, hide, fly, and perform silly acts and it’s up to you to find the best time to take pictures for Prof. Oak to rate.
Oak’s rating system is a fickle thing. It’s based on the size of the Pokémon, the pose they are making, how centered they are in the frame, and sometimes if they are doing a certain action. The guidelines are simple enough for someone like me, with pretty much no skill or knowledge of visual art, to understand, but it seems a bit inconsistent. When comparing two pictures of the same Pokémon, I swear sometimes the one I honestly thought was better got the lower score. It’s not really a big problem though since the game encourages you to replay levels multiple times so there are always new chances to get better photos of Pokémon. The score in general is mostly used as a way to progress through the game.
Reaching a certain score on your Pokémon Report will unlock new levels to play and new items to use in those levels. There is an apple for luring Pokémon closer to you or other areas, the pester balls that stun Pokémon with noxious gas, and the Pokéflute whose medley inspires Pokémon to dance and perform actions like Picachu using Thundershock. Getting these new items are always fun because they make you look at already completed levels in new ways. Often, you will see Pokémon hiding amongst the environments, but there will be no way to get a good photo of them. If you lure them close with an apple, it becomes possible. The beach stage has a sleeping Snolax you need to wake up with the Pokéflute for the best photo and the pester balls are great for stopping quick Pokémon long enough to take a picture or draw out Pokémon from their hiding places. While levels can sometimes get dull due to being stuck to one track and the Pokémon acting the same way every time, leading to having to mesmerize the levels and the best times to capture a Pokémon’s good side, there are enough secrets to discover in Pokémon Snap to keep it engaging.
From opening up new levels to performing certain tasks to have Pokémon evolve to just finding hidden Pokémon, there are a lot of secrets to discover in Pokémon Snap. It feels a lot like Star Fox 64 in a way with both games being rail shooters and both having secret requirements to unlock new stuff in them. However, Pokémon Snap is much better at informing the player on how to unlock its secrets with clues in the environments. For example: there’s a carving on the wall of the tunnel level showing a large egg with lightning bolts and musical notes over it. So when you see that egg in the level, you know to lure the nearby Picachu over to it and play the Pokéflute. When Picachu uses Thundershock, the egg will hatch into a glittering Zapdos.
I purposely played through as much as Pokémon Snap without looking up any secrets and it was very satisfying discovering things on my own. However, I feel there are some things in the game that an average player would never think to do on their own. Best example of this would be discovering Gyrados. This requires in the valley level knocking a Magicarp up a slope into a Mankey, who will then yeet the fish over a nearby mountain. Later in the level, the Magicarp will fall on land in front of a waterfall and you must quickly knock it into the waterfall where it will evolve into Gryados. It is more obtuse and requires more steps than anything else in the game that it feels sort of out of place—I don’t envy anyone who had to figure this out on their own.
Pokémon Snap is a perfect playground game—a game you and your friends would swap secrets and advice about at school. It’s a breed of game that excelled in the 90’s before the internet was the omnipresent force it is today, where being stuck in a game only lasts as long as it takes to type in the problem into Google. Because of this, I wish I had played Pokémon Snap as a kid more than any other game I’ve reviewed for Critical Miss. The game is still very enjoyable playing today with its serene and chill gameplay and being able to see Pokémon roaming wild in a way we haven’t really seen since. It is a short game, able to be beaten on a first playthrough in a few hours, but that’s becoming less of a fault for me as I grow older and my amount of free time is growing smaller and smaller, like a Lapras swimming into the ocean horizon.