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'New Pokémon Snap' Review: A Wonderful Return, 20 Years Later

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'New Pokémon Snap' Review: A Wonderful Return, 20 Years Later

It's been 22 years since Todd Snap stepped into the ZERO-ONE and set forth on Pokémon Island to capture candid images of the indigenous inhabitants for the purposes of scientific research - all under the judgemental gaze of Professor Oak. And the original Pokémon Snap was wonderful. An on-rails exploration into a world of Pokémon previously unseen in the top-down view of the mainline Game Boy games or battle-based experience in the N64's Stadium series. For the first time outside of the anime, players were put face to face with their favourite monsters, seeing with their own eyes how the creatures acted in the wild. Despite the fantasy antics of some, it made wild Pokémon feel grounded and tactile. It made the World of Pokémon one step closer to reality - what more could a nine-year-old me want?

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Well, a longer game would have been nice.

Check out our review in video form below:

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So here we are in 2021 and New Pokémon Snap has finally arrived, a sequel fans have been waiting over 20 years for. But is it a worthy sequel? Can the Lental Region hold up to Pokémon Island, and can a follow up without Professor Oak's iconic analysis really hold up to the classic game? Well yes, yes it can.

New Pokémon Snap is a much more fleshed-out experience than its predecessor. The range of Pokémon on a course is considerably ramped up, and each creature feels solidified in its surroundings, and more natural in their behaviours. Liepard will jump down from trees and stretch on the ground before walking on; Bidoof carry twigs in their mouths as they build a dam; and Pidgeot will straight up murder a Magikarp if certain events play out properly.

'New Pokémon Snap' - Pidgeot murders a Magikarp
'New Pokémon Snap' - Pidgeot murders a Magikarp
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Where the original Pokémon Snap had only 63 monsters to take pictures of, New Pokémon Snap seriously expands that number. I'm not allowed to say exactly how many, but a quick look on Serebii.net, where all the Pokémon seen in the trailers so far have been collated - will show around 130 have been revealed... and obviously that's not all of them. On a similar note, the original Pokémon Snap only had seven courses, and of course there are more here, too.

Each particular course has its own dedicated Research Level, which is increased by taking the best pictures possible and getting them graded by new franchise addition Professor Mirror. The total score of all the graded snaps goes towards increasing the Research Level of that particular course. Once an area levels up, different Pokémon can appear and some returning Pokémon will display different attitudes. Along with this, alternate routes can be unlocked as you progress - some of which deviate so completely from the original course, it can make them feel like a completely different one.

On top of that, some courses also have day and night variants, which as you'd expect feature different Pokémon at different times, exhibiting alternative behaviours. The different variants of a course also have their own Research Levels, each of which can change the featured Pokémon further . This means there's always a good reason to go back and explore courses you've previously moved on from to discover new Pokémon and behaviours.

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You can also pick which Research Level you want to experience a course in, if you missed something on your first time around. Which can be handy when going through and completing the side-quest-style Requests, which I'll touch upon later.

'New Pokémon Snap' - Onix in the night
'New Pokémon Snap' - Onix in the night

As a long-time franchise fan, there were several times in this game where I straight up giggled like a child when I coaxed out one of my favourites, or Pokémon reacted in a cute and dynamic way to one of my actions. After 20 years of knowing the original courses back to front, it felt incredibly satisfying to dive into new ones and make those discoveries for myself all over again.

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This is a surprisingly important aspect to New Pokémon Snap, as the narrative is only around six to eight hours long if you focus solely on completing the main tasks, which could leave you feeling short changed when the credits roll. This shouldn't be a surprise to fans, as the first game's full Pokémon Report (a snap of every Pokémon) can be achieved in around 80 minutes. Thankfully, that eight-hour narrative here doesn't account for a full PhotoDex, and 18 hours into my playthrough it seems like there are still plenty of creatures out there to snap!

When it comes to filling up your PhotoDex, each Pokémon has four picture slots, each dedicated to a different star rating (one star through four stars). You don't need to fill all four for a Pokémon to be registered in your PhotoDex, but for completionists out there (which is kind of the point of the game, really) this will keep you playing courses over and over to try activate events which will lead to taking snaps of each Pokémon in each star rating. As mentioned above, with such a short narrative in the main game, having these additional star ratings represents another reason to keep playing.

'New Pokémon Snap' - The Four Star Rating System
'New Pokémon Snap' - The Four Star Rating System

The array of Pokémon in the game is a pretty solid one, featuring a spread of monsters from across every generation. This isn't just a big Gen 1 celebration, like many recent Pokémon projects, but instead encompasses all of Pokémon's history. The only generation to not get decent representation is probably the most recent one, featuring as Snap does what currently seems to only be the starters.

The new cast of characters are fine, and I guess you could say there's a story here, but it all flies by so fast because developers Bandai Namco know you don't really care. You just want to get back out there taking photos of Pokémon, something it handles almost perfectly.

On the actual gameplay front, New Pokémon Snap should all feel very familiar to players of the original game. The right stick moves the camera around the screen while the left stick controls the cursor, that helps dictate where to throw Fluffruit and Illumina orbs. Tapping A will snap a photo (although this can be altered to the right bumper, if you want a more authentic shutter finger experience) while ZL will zoom in. All the good stuff.

There is the option for gyro controls if you want to be fully immersed, but I preferred sitting comfortably on the sofa with a Pro Controller over having to constantly spin around trying to snap the Pokémon behind me!

The main changes in New Pokémon Snap are the tools at your disposal. Obviously apples return, this time named Fluffruit, but Pester Balls are nowhere to be found, replaced with Illumina Orbs. These first and foremost make Pokémon glow when hit, but sometimes they will react in different ways, like maybe giving you a little spin. On your way around a course you'll also find Crystabloom flowers, and throwing an Illumina Orb at one of these will cause it to glow and may attract Pokémon, and cause them to react in new ways.

The PokéFlute from the original game is now gone and has been replaced with a Melody Function, which works pretty much the exact same way so I'm not entirely sure why the Flute was replaced - bringing it back would have been a nice bit of nostalgia for classic fans. Finally there's scanning, which can be done to uncover new routes, but also can cause certain Pokémon to react and draw their attention to you.

If you ever feel yourself wondering what to do next, there are requests from the main cast of characters which often offer a hint to a Pokémon you may not have found yet, or a new interaction. One particular hint regarding a happy Pokémon in a field of flowers was particularly rewarding when I worked out what to do. Completing these tasks will sometimes offer up free gifts like photo frames and stickers, which can be used in the photo editor mode. So if you want to make the silliest possible edits to your photos, you're going to need to complete all these tasks.

'New Pokémon Snap' - Research Requests
'New Pokémon Snap' - Research Requests

The new additions go a long way to making the experience feel fresh, but I can't help but wonder if more could be done. Throughout my time playing I would often feel limited by the field of view, especially in more cramped surroundings. The option to change lens would have been a welcome addition, and could have added a whole new dynamic to the grading system. A wide-angle lens that captures a range of wild Pokémon in their natural habitat would have come in handy in several scenarios, and I hope the option appears in any potential sequels (which hopefully won't take over 20 years to come out).

That's not my only concern. There are also situations where the game detects the wrong Pokémon in the frame - such as this example showing a photograph of a Swanna mistagged as a Ducklett. Annoyingly this is the first time I had caught this action on camera but it's now lost as the game believes it's a shot of a different Pokémon.

'New Pokémon Snap' - Pretty sure that's not a Ducklett
'New Pokémon Snap' - Pretty sure that's not a Ducklett

This isn't a rare occurrence either, as there's a good chance that one picture per course will end up being mis-identified. There are also times when smaller Pokémon ride on larger ones, and it can be very difficult to get the smaller Pokémon to be the subject of the picture even when they're center frame in the final shot. I'm hoping this is an issue that can be patched out, as too many of my photographs have been lost to this inaccuracy.

To an extent the game is voice acted, the extremely short pre-rendered CG cutscenes do have full voice acting, which is nice to see finally in the franchise. But during actual in-game dialogue and during the research grading process, the same soundbite of "great timing" looping over every single photo analysis can be grating - especially for anyone sat with you in the same room not playing.

'New Pokémon Snap' - The game decides Pikipek is the subject, not Aipom
'New Pokémon Snap' - The game decides Pikipek is the subject, not Aipom

It should be noted too that there is online functionality, to upload photos for other players to see, along with score leaderboards, but this wasn't active at the time of review.

The main gripe I see some people having with New Pokémon Snap is that it's a full-priced game. If you're the type of person expecting a deep narrative that will last for over 10 hours, and have no interest in sticking around after the credits roll to pump up your PhotoDex, then you're going to have a bad time. But if you're like me, you're gonna stick around, max out the research levels on each course, complete all the research requests to unlock stickers, and discover all the cool secrets, fun interactions and hard-to-uncover Pokémon. And you're going to love it.

For me, there's only one word to describe New Pokémon Snap. Wonderful.

Pros: A surprising amount of replayability, all generations highlighted, moments of pure joy

Cons: Sometimes the wrong Pokémon is registered, repetitive dialogue, short story

For Fans Of: The Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Snap in particular

8/10: Excellent

New Pokémon Snap was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using code provided by Nintendo. New Pokémon Snap releases April 30th for Nintendo Switch. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Pokemon, Review, Nintendo Switch

Tom Ryan-Smith
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