By entering a new generation of games, with higher frame rates, increasingly complex storylines, and shorter load times, it’s easy to forget how awesome previous generations were. But in 1999 the original Pokémon Snap impressed me. I remember the first time I played it when I was 9 years old. For my Pokémon-obsessed young self, the 3D rendering of the Pokémon universe, along with its easy-to-love gameplay, was overwhelming.
I have not played the original Pokémon Snap for decades, but I remember one critical detail: As much as I loved the game, I was never really good at it. Maybe it was my bad reflexes or my lack of coordination, but I clearly remember fumbling around on all my photo attempts. Now as an adult I find a similar enthusiasm for New Pokémon Snap, but also that old feeling of total insufficiency. Yet the more I play, the more I realize that the problem may not be with my ‘bad’ photography skills but rather the game series’ approach to ‘good’ photography.
I spent last week playing New Pokémon Snap, and while I liked it, I also found myself less excited about a game that isn’t so much interested in encouraging me to get weird with my photos. But first of all, let’s talk about the game.
New Pokémon Snap begins as an extended (and probably unpaid) university internship. You take on the role of a young, slightly customizable Pokémon enthusiast who has been invited by a researcher named Professor Mirror to conduct an unprecedented ecological investigation of the Lental region. A new addition to the Pokémon universe, the Lental Region is an archipelago of islands with diverse climates teeming with wild Pokémon, mysterious ruins and a new phenomenon “Illumina” that seems to make Pokémon glow at night. It’s this Illumina phenomenon that really stirred Professor Mirror, and it features a lot in the overall history of the game.
As you can guess, the primary research method for your expedition is photography, and a very narrow style of photography on top of that. Much to my dismay, Professor Mirror doesn’t want an abstract, interpretive photo of Bulbasaur’s front paw or a blurry snapshot of Dodrio running across the horizon; he wants good old normie portrait photography. Consider “dating an Instagram influencer” style photography. Indeed, after each research cycle, Professor Mirror will critically evaluate your photos according to its five fundamental parameters: the pose of the Pokémon, its size, the direction of its orientation, its placement, the presence of other Pokémon, as well as the quality of the background of the photo. For Professor Mirror, the larger and more centered the photographic subject, the better. The photographs are also categorized by color for their quality and in a range of one to four stars depending on the behavior of the Pokémon.
After a quick tutorial covering the basics of photography at the camp, you are sent to Florio Natural Park, the first of a lot the research areas you will be visiting. As in its predecessor, your photography is a bit confined here, as you’re forced to stay in a NEO-ONE vehicle – a throwback to the 1999 game’s old ZERO-ONE – which slowly travels through each area. If you were hoping to run free in the Pokémon universe, you’ll have to wait for the remaster of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl end of 2021 or the long awaited open world Pokémon Arceus in 2022.
In another homage to the original 1999 game, players are finally given access to a few tools that can be used to attract – or coerce – Pokémon into a variety of poses. These include an edible apple-like Fluffruit, music for Pokémon to dance to, a scanner to find hidden creatures, and a variety of Illumina orbs that make Pokémon glow. Later in the game, you even get your NEO-ONE boosted, which comes in handy on the repeat visits you’ll inevitably make to the many habitats in the area.
And indeed you will do a lot repeat the photo tours. Aside from the moments that advance the story and unlock new habitats, players will be pushed to rack up “Expedition Points” for each area by capturing more and more “better” blueprints. These expedition points ultimately increase the “research level” of each site, which in turn introduces new Pokémon to the landscape or slightly alters the behavior of other Pokémon. The safest way to accumulate Expedition Points is to take photos of new Pokémon, but after your first time in an area, you may need to get repeated photos of Pokémon doing new activities that fall under each of the few. little nebulae one to four. -Categories of stars. After spending a considerable amount of time in this game, I’m still not entirely clear what distinguishes a two star from a four star photo – something that has kept me constantly coming back to explore different angles.