Nintendo is no stranger to remaking Pokémon games, so when the company announced plans for another remake, fans were surprised but not shocked.
The news broke in June 2020 that the company was working on yet another sequel for the Nintendo Switch. The company said that they would be releasing a remake of their 1999 Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Snap — the on-rails first-person photography game that features the popular Pokémon creatures in 3D for the first time in the history of the franchise in America.
Pokémon Snap was developed by the independent game developer HAL Laboratory, Inc. after a previous Nintendo project called Jack and the Beanstalk fell apart, leaving many of the game’s mechanics to be utilized elsewhere, including an in-game camera feature that became the core premise of this 3D first Pokémon game.
Much of what made Pokémon Snap iconic for Western audiences was the new 3D models — a game design that surprised players who were accustomed to 2D sprite models.
The game New Pokémon Snap was officially released for the Switch on April 30 by Bandai Namco Studios. The game has evolved almost as much as the Pokémon franchise during the two decades that have passed between the two games, but enough has remained the same to leave the core concept intact and stronger than ever.
Like the first game, there are several environments where Pokémon characters can be photographed. The first course serves as the perfect training ground for both new and returning players. However, as the habitats change and ecosystems become more advanced, the number of hiding places available for photo subjects increases.
The game progresses as the player gathers points from taking pictures, but getting enough points to move forward and filling the Photodex for your mentor, Professor Mirror, is harder than it was before.
Originally, a Pokémon only needed to be photographed once to complete its entry in the encyclopedia, but this time, each Pokémon has four different entries to fill, one for each level of pose it is captured in. After the player has gone through a course, Professor Mirror will instruct them to select one photo per Pokémon. Each photo will be assigned a star level which refers to the behavior featured. A one-star photo is normal behavior, such as sleeping or walking, while a three or four-star photo will feature Pokémon engaging in rare behavior, such as performing an attack.
The game is expectedly repetitive, but the varieties in Pokémon poses, the possible paths available in each stage and the level system for stages keeps the game from feeling overly boring. Most of the characters, including Professor Mirror and a pair of eager photography pupils, are largely forgettable.
Players will find themselves wondering why the developers didn’t opt for a more memorable professor, or perhaps somebody from the past, like Professor Oak. Thankfully, the main character Todd Snap returns in the new installment with an updated design that looks refined and adds to the sense of familiarity for returning players.
The game takes its largest departure from the old ways in its inclusion of ‘illumina’ Pokémon, but it may be easier to think of them as ‘boss fights’.
As the player progresses through the game, they will learn of a phenomenon called ‘illumina’ that causes Pokémon to glow and sometimes act in spectacular ways. Professor Mirror equips the player with illumina orbs that bestow the effect on any object it strikes. Before long, a large Pokémon with its own stage will appear and no other Pokémon can be photographed. This Pokémon can only be photographed if it is under the illumina effect from the orbs. If a picture is successfully taken, the boss locale will automatically ascend to level two, where additional Pokémon can be photographed along with the boss Pokémon.
The most devastating loss from the original game is undoubtedly the apparent loss of Pokémon evolutions in New Pokémon Snap, a major highlight from the first game. Evolution is a key aspect of life in the Pokémon world, and cutting it is a major misstep.
All said and done, New Pokémon Snap is a picture-perfect resurgence of the original Pokémon Snap into video game modernity. The game is not without issues, such as the occasionally subpar visuals and frustratingly useless photo-editing tools. The new scanning function is a nice feature, given the high volume of Pokémon that can be on screen at one time. The scanner also causes species of Pokémon with the ability to sense electrical fields to react, another nice touch that adds to the realism that Bandai Namco appears to be trying to achieve.
Overall, New Pokémon Snap manages to build upon the original, and succeeds in painting a Pokémon world that is just as wild, complex, beautiful and dangerous as our own.