We all live in a Pokémon world
The best part of the Pokémon anime was learning about the personalities of the Pokémon. It lent attitudes and mannerisms to what was only ever represented in the early games by blurry sprites and shrill electronic calls. Learning that Psyducks got a sore head, or that Wobbafett was prone to interruptions, those moments – and the voices associated with them – are easy to recall for any child that grew up shouting “Who’s That Pokémon?” every Saturday.
New Pokémon Snap is fantastic in the exact same way. For those unfamiliar, New Pokémon Snap is a modern sequel to the Nintendo 64 game, Pokémon Snap. In both titles, you roam through on-rail tours of various habitats, with your aim being taking the best picture of the Pokémon that live there. Extra points are given if you can get them in a specific pose, or if you can catch them interacting with other Pokémon.
While that sounds very simple and time-consuming – it is. There’s a level of depth to New Pokémon Snap that’s crucial to engage with if you want to impress the professor. You’re equipped with fruit you can use to entice a Pokémon out of its hiding spot, or to donk them on the head. You also have ilumina orbs, special glowing balls of light that will give the Pokémon a glorious sparkle, or, if you throw them at special flowers throughout the courses, will illuminate the environment making for some great photographs.
Once you’ve taken your photos, you’re sent back to the professor for evaluation. He’ll grade you on things like the Pokémon’s pose, size and whether or not you’ve also captured another Pokémon in the frame. While some of these grading metrics are obvious, I’ve more than once had a picture of a Quagsire’s arse receive a much higher rating than a beautifully framed snap of him yeeting himself into a waterfall.
The process of getting your pictures evaluated is also strangely laborious, you’ll quickly get into the habit of holding down the A button and checking your phone while the professor flies through your grades.
Each Pokémon in your photodex has four slots, ranging from one to four stars, and in order to complete that entry in the dex, you have to get a photo that is good enough for each. For example, a picture of a Bidoof off the side of your frame and facing away from the camera will get you one star, but if you later find that Bidoof’s dam, encourage them to climb to the top of it, and give you a big smile, that’s a four-star Bidoof. The requirements for each are vague, and it’s not obvious what separates a one and a two-star photograph, but honestly, I found myself not remotely caring. I’m here to take pictures of Pokémon, not to impress you, man.
There’s a large variety of environments, each of which is teeming with Pokémon. All of these look great and some environments, those set in water specifically, end up being some of the Switch’s most visually impressive set pieces.
The feeling of wonder every time a new Pokémon would appear never wore off. I literally found myself getting angry when I’d hop on Twitter and YouTube and see people sharing pictures of Pokémon that I hadn’t yet encountered. In Pokémon Sword and Shield, every Pokémon seemed to just stoat about the wild area, completely disconnected from the environment; New Pokémon Snap gives the Pokémon a purpose in this world. Corsola dance around on reefs, Ariados are stalking from high in the trees, and Bouffalant roam in large packs across the plains.
This is the first Pokémon game that has actually felt like the Pokémon are a part of the world, not simply awkwardly shuffling obstacles. Another thing that contributes greatly to the size of immersion is the size of the Pokémon. Finally, we have a game that takes the proportions of Pokémon into account. Caterpie and Applin are so tiny you’ll probably miss them and Wailord is so huge that it’ll consistently half the Switch’s frame rate when it bursts out of the water.
As well as a large selection of Pokémon, many of which are very well hidden, there are also 5 Illumina Pokémon. These are special encounters with luminous beasts that roam their own bespoke arenas. While these are mostly used to finish an area before moving on to the next, be sure to revisit them after you’ve finished the first expedition, as even these areas have a lot of hidden depth, and Pokémon.
New Pokémon Snap is the best Pokémon game in over 10 years. Not only does it finally capture the world of Pokémon in 3D, but it also does so with a mountain of charm, fantastic visuals, and a brilliant soundtrack. There’s a clear amount of effort and attention paid to making sure each and every Pokémon is represented in a way that’s true to their species, and it might even make you look at an old favourite in a new way. Not only was I never bored playing New Pokémon Snap, but I was also having fun from the moment it started, all the way up until the credits rolled, save for the downtime listening to the professor.
While the scoring system doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and some of the puzzles required to find some of the hidden Pokémon are so complex you’ll probably need a guide, the journey is worth taking – if only to see what Todd Snap has been up to, 21 years later.