I’ve never been one for grinding in games. Having to do potentially hours of busy work for no benefit but to have some arbitrary numbers go up so I can move into the next area of a game makes me bin it faster than you can say ‘skip the grind’. To be clear, if what you’re doing for those hours is fun and engaging, then I’m ok with it. But if all you’re doing is going through the same process over and over to raise some stat then you can jog on. And this brings me to a bit of a confession of sorts, the only Pokémon game I’ve ever completed is Pokémon Snap on the N64.
I always get to a point in Pokémon games where in order to get through the next gym or beat the trainers on the next road I need to level up my whole team by spending hours running through the long grass fighting the same wild Pokémon over and over again. And that’s where it stops for me. I like the idea of Pokémon, I’ve bought loads of the games since the original Gameboy up until the 3ds, but every single playthrough ends the same way. The only game in the series to really gel with me was Pokémon Snap. And now, 21 years after the original, there is a sequel on the Switch - New Pokémon Snap. I’ve been taking a look at it to see if it lives up to its older sibling.
For those not in the know, New Pokémon Snap is an on-rails photography game. You’ll be tasked by Professor Mirror to travel throughout the Lental region taking pictures of all the Pokémon that call the region home. You travel around in a sort of self-driving pod that will take you from the start to the finish of the level. On your journey, you’ll travel past plenty of different set pieces where you can see Pokémon hanging out and doing what they do. At the start of the game, all you have is your trusty camera. You can use it to take photos of each of the different Pokémon you find on your travels.
Once you reach the end of the course, you will get a chance to show one picture of each Pokémon you found to Professor Mirror who will rank them against certain criteria such as size, whether the Pokémon is looking at the camera and if it is doing something interesting like fighting or eating.
You’ll be awarded points for each of these photos and the points are used to level up your ranking on that course. As you get to better rankings you will open up alternative routes or different Pokémon may be in the area for you to spot. You can also unlock a night mode for each course which will generally have a completely different set of Pokémon to try and snap. You start opening up new areas pretty quickly and each one will generally have a completely unique roster of Pokémon in them. Except for Magicarp, that guy seems to be everywhere.
Getting in Focus
The other thing you’ll be unlocking as you go along are new ways to interact with the Pokemon while you’re on your travels. You’ll get a scanner that helps you spot points of interest. Some Pokémon will also react if you scan near them, some may pose, others may get angry. Either way, that’s how you get rarer photos that earn you more points, so get scanning!
You can also get fruit to throw to try and attract pokemon into the open. A lot of the different critters hide in the leaves and are quite tricky to get a clean photo of. Making them come out of hiding for some fruit is a great way to earn extra points. Also, sometimes you can just wang an apple at their head to wake them up or annoy them to make them do something, this isn’t Attenborough here.
The central core of the story is a group of Illumina Pokémon. These Pokemon seem to glow with a strange energy and have never been captured properly on film before. As the game progresses you unlock the ability to throw these Illumina orbs as well. These can light up the area or can even modify the behaviour of Pokémon if you manage to hit them.
As the story progresses you will meet more characters, including the hero of the original Pokémon snap game. These characters will issue little challenges which you can try to complete to unlock bonuses. Sometimes these will be something as simple as finding a hidden Pokémon in a specific area, but sometimes they can be valuable hints to help you figure out how to attract a new Pokémon out into the open.
Posting for Likes
The challenges are designed to look a bit like a social media platform. Interspersed with these challenges, you will find photos taken by other players which you can give badges too. It’s a light social feature, but again, sometimes it can give you little hints on how to progress. You may see a picture of a pond you recognise with a Pokémon you don’t. That may give you a cue to go and investigate that area a little more thoroughly as you’ve probably missed something.
What is nice about these photos is that you get the chance to do a little postproduction on them. You can reframe your favourite pics as well as adding blur and filters. All the standard stuff you expect to see in a modern videogame photo mode. A lot of the challenges you complete will also unlock new stickers, frames, and filters to use in your pictures. This again, gives the online photos sharing an element of social media in 2021.
If You Like It So Much, Take a Picture
Graphically the game is lovely. The characters look good, and the environments are nice and varied. It’s all nice and bright and the UI is nice and clear. The different courses are a lot more detailed than the original game and there is a lot more going on. The sound is also really good but lacks surround sound for some reason. It’s an odd omission in a game that is all about spotting audio and visual clues and reacting to them.
The controls are also solid. I’m reminded a lot of Splatoon 2 in the way aiming feels. You can use the control sticks to get you in the general area. Rhen use the motion controls to fine adjust. It works really well, and I would definitely recommend turning the motion controls on.
One way I quite enjoyed playing was sitting on a swivel office chair when in handheld mode and then spinning around and aiming up and down entirely with the motion controls. Now, you will look a bit odd if you try it, but it is a great way to play!
Unfortunately, it’s not all happy snapping here. I found the ranking scheme a little opaque. Each Pokémon has space for 4 pictures for star ratings between 1 and 4. These star ratings are assigned depending on how interesting the pose in the photo is. But a lot of times I found it incredibly difficult to discern why one picture would get a 1-star rating, but the one taken a second or so afterwards was given 3 stars.
With the story progression tied to the points value of the photos saved in your album, there were some frustrating times where I found myself repeating the same course trying to get certain Pokémon to do something different in the hope of filling up an empty star value in my album so I could level up and unlock the next location.
It kind of reminded me of playing the mainline games and not in a good way. I found myself grinding the same levels repeatedly to try and eke out a few extra points so I could unlock the next area to sometimes just be faced with more grinding.
Composing That Perfect Shot
Now, I will say this only happened occasionally but for a game that, in my mind, is supposed to be light and breezy it was definitely a bit jarring. That said, on the whole, I really enjoyed my time with New Pokémon Snap. It is a great sequel that still has the core of what made the original great and adds some nice new mechanisms and dynamic environments to really elevate it. I would recommend it to any Pokémon fan who likes investigating and exploring and has a knack for puzzle solving.