‘New Pokémon Snap’ is simple and endlessly engrossing
The best way to describe my relationship to the Pokémon franchise is accidental Pokéveganism. I like the games but strongly feel that kidnapping Squirtles and forcing them to fight as a hobby is weird. Even as a child I would look at a Pokémon and see a friend I’d like to cuddle and protect, which made traditional Pokémon games a little difficult for me to stomach. Thankfully, New Pokémon Snap is here to replicate the experience of being a normal person with a recognizably fine hobby in the Pokémon universe: zero impact wildlife photography.
New Pokémon Snap is, as the title suggests, a new and improved sequel to Pokémon Snap, the 1999 game that also revolved around taking pictures of Pokémon. New Pokémon Snap is a much bigger game than the original, with more than triple the amount of Pokémon to photograph and way more options in terms of courses, interactions, and photo editing. With its low-stakes setup and increased variety, the overall experience of playing New Pokémon Snap is a super chill series of adventures that add up to a constantly surprising and immersive Pokéxperience.
Most of the game’s story feels less important than the repeatable fun factor of finding new Pokémon and chucking fruit at them.
As in the original Pokémon Snap, New Pokémon Snap‘s gameplay consists of hovering along a set track in one of many safari-type courses brimming with wild Pokémon. The courses themselves consist of various ecosystems ranging from lush jungles to undersea caverns and are designed for infinite and necessary replay. Within these courses, a number of Pokémon scamper, meander, and otherwise appear in a set series of actions that form a repeatable tableau that the player can interact with from behind the lens of their camera. Those interactions include feeding them with Fluffruit (an apple-looking thing that is emphatically not an apple, since it is light and soft enough to cause no harm to Pokémon when tossed), illuminating them with glowing orbs that change their behavior, getting their attention with a scanning feature, and my favorite option, playing them a little song in case they feel like dancing.
When the player completes a course, their photos are tallied up and scored according to the subject and composition with bonus points added for snapping Pokémon engaging in interesting or unusual behavior. These points increase the research score for each course, which can eventually level up and unlock more complex variations on the original tableau. Leveling up plays into the alleged point of the game’s plot, which is to assist a guy called Professor Mirror in researching the Pokémon of the Lentai region, but most of the game’s story feels less important than the repeatable fun factor of finding new Pokémon and chucking fruit at them.
An archipelago of possibilities
The Lentai region, home to Professor Mirror’s lab and hundreds of Pokémon just waiting for their close-up, consists of several beautifully designed islands that host a handful of courses per biome. Revealing how many courses and how many biomes is absolutely a spoiler, but suffice it to say that each island is distinct with regard to its look, feel, and Poképopulation. Will anyone write home about the graphical glory of New Pokémon Snap? No. The courses are pretty but rooted in Pokémon’s cartoonish style, which is absolutely fine. Some games have 4K and 60FPS; New Pokémon Snap has Vaporeon. I’d say that evens out.
It’s a good thing that the courses in New Pokémon Snap are cute because players spend a lot of time running them. Leveling up courses requires players to take pictures in one, two, three, and four star categories (one is roughly a picture of a single Pokémon, four is that Pokémon doing some real weird stuff, and in between is in between) and earn individual scores within those categories. By the time players approach the endgame, they’ll have run each course dozens of times and racked up hundreds of thousands of points — and they’ll know each course like the back of their hand.
New best friends
After playing New Pokémon Snap for a few hours it’s easy to believe that you’ve gotten the hang of it and there’s not much else to learn. That is both totally right and absolutely wrong at the same time. The repetitious gameplay loop of “load course, see Pokémon, throw something at it to see what happens, take picture” is pretty much all there is. What saves New Pokémon Snap from being boring in its repetition is the Pokémon themselves.
For example: At one point playing New Pokémon Snap I felt stuck. The plot wasn’t moving forward, I had gotten as many pictures of Pokémon in the available courses as I thought was possible, and nothing was moving the needle. I went to bed, came back the next day, and threw an orb at a fish at the exact right moment to open up an entirely new route through a course. Dozens of new Pokémon were hiding in that route and I got enough points to level up and unlock 10 more hours of gameplay.
I had made the mistake of underestimating how complex and important every moment of every course is in New Pokémon Snap, and trying something different one time literally changed the game. The Pokémon interactions are not only delightful to witness and photograph, they’re genuinely surprising and full of secrets.
Some of those secrets are hinted at with New Pokémon Snap‘s Request mechanic, in which in-game characters ask for pictures of Pokémon doing specific things and it’s up to you to figure out how to catch them in the act. These requests are especially fun to complete in the endgame, when the main plot is over but you still want to wander the courses with purpose. Unfortunately, the request rewards range from minor (a new sticker for photo edit mode) or literally nothing, so it may be best to learn to take satisfaction in the snapping alone.
As a spin-off from the fight-filled Pokémon franchise mainstays, New Pokémon Snap is a calm, nonviolent love-fest that rewards observation, patience, and a pitcher’s arm for Fluffruit. In the coming weeks many places will publish guides on how to complete this Request or unlock that habitat, but New Pokémon Snap is best played without all of that. Just sit back, relax, and wait for the perfect moment. A perfect moment with Pikachu. What could be better?