I don’t believe there is any franchise in gaming that has stuck with me the way Pokémon has (although Final Fantasy might come close). Over two decades after receiving Pokémon Red as a birthday gift I still find myself eagerly awaiting every release in the mainline series. The spin-offs, however, have never received quite the same amount of love from me. While some of them have been interesting over the years, like Pokémon Conquest, they haven’t really been in my radar since the Nintendo 64. That was a golden time for Pokémon spin-offs with Stadium and Snap translating the franchise into forms I loved. Pokémon Snap was the real hit for me, with the game’s focus on photography and calm enjoyment something that I’d never experienced before. Now, 22 years later, we finally have a follow up in the form of New Pokémon Snap and it hits exactly how I hoped it would.
Just like the original, New Pokémon Snap has you walk in the shoes of a young budding Pokémon photographer. Working as a research assistant for Professor Mirror, your goal is to capture Pokémon’s distinct behaviours via photography, as you investigate the mysterious legend of the Illumina phenomenon. There’s a surprising amount of story to the game, with plenty of exposition and cutscenes exploring the phenomenon and the implications of the legend surrounding it. While it never gets particularly in-depth, the story provided just enough crumbs to motivate me to engage with it, instead of focusing solely on getting snaps of my favourite Pokémon. It’s not going to win any awards for its writing, but it’s good enough to keep you going.
How will you take those photos, complete your research and continue the story, you ask? By hopping aboard the NEO-ONE and exploring some areas, of course. Much like its predecessor, New Pokémon Snap is an on-rails experience that pushes you through a range of environments and areas as Pokémon roam around you. These environments and areas cover a range of different biomes, and each has unique Pokémon that can’t be found in other sections of the game. Each area, by virtue of covering different biomes, feels unique and has plenty of secrets to explore. Throw in different times of day, with unique Pokémon appearing and behaviours to explore, and you’ve got a massive amount of variety in the game.
That variety is aided and expanded through the game’s Photodex and mechanics. Unlike the original, New Pokémon Snap tasks you with capturing four distinct behaviours/scenarios for each Pokémon. These are triggered in a few different ways, but generally they will all include the usage of your accessories. You have flufffruit, which can be used to lure Pokémon closer to you and capture them as they eat; a scan, which can be used to find interesting spots or trigger new paths, as well as trigger unique Pokémon behaviour; illumina orbs, which can energise and surprise Pokémon; and a melody you can play, which can wake sleeping Pokémon or cause them to dance. I spent plenty of time in each area spamming these items, learning which ones would trigger behaviours in each Pokémon and giving me an indication of what I could try and snap in a follow up run.
These different behaviours, and therefore photos you capture, contribute to and layer into the Research Level of each area. Instead of being an overall score, your Research Level is unique to each environment and path, with unique Pokémon and behaviours unlocking as you reach higher levels. This is just another way the game keeps itself fresh as you progress, giving you even more reason to circle back and repeat areas, as you aim to uncover every single thing you can from them. You’ll also get requests for specific photos from the various characters in the game, which act as hints towards specific and unique photo opportunities. I definitely wasn’t left wanting for content, with credits rolling after roughly 13 hours and still plenty of Pokémon left to capture and research levels to unlock.
Underpinning all of this is a graphical style that is both great and underwhelming at the same time. Compared to Pokémon Sword and Shield, New Pokémon Snap is a massive visual improvement. Pokémon models are much more technically impressive, the environments are much more detailed and interesting to look at, and the animations are significantly more complex. With that said, there are still many other games on the Switch that look significantly better. There are also a couple of instances where the game chugs a bit, with a specific instance involving Wailord absolutely tanking the game’s frame rate, but it largely runs well. Musically, the game is honestly disappointing. There’s a focus on calm soundtracks, which impart little to no energy into the game. They’re so calm and lacking in energy that they largely disappear in practice and are utterly boring. While I can appreciate wanting to keep the audio clear so that Pokémon cries or environmental rustlings come through more clearly, the audio sucked the energy out of me.
My other main frustration with New Pokémon Snap comes in how slow it feels. The camera controls felt incredibly sluggish at their default settings and even after maxing their sensitivity I still felt like they were slow enough to impede me. The NEO-ONE moves at an absolute crawl, which can be a boon early on as you initially explore areas, but grows frustrating as you perform multiple runs. This is rectified via a late-game unlock, but it came way too late in the game for my liking.
New Pokémon Snap comes incredibly close to being the perfect sequel, but it falls just short of attaining that mantle. There’s significantly more content to explore than I expected, it looks pretty darn good and it really hits that comfy-cozy feeling I was looking for. It felt a little slow for my liking, and the music is largely forgettable, which were both somewhat frustrating as I played the game. Altogether, I really enjoyed my time with the game and it’s one that I see myself coming back to in the future to get one more run in. If you have even a passing interest in Pokémon or photography, this is definitely a game you’ll enjoy.
New Pokémon Snap was reviewed on a regular Nintendo Switch, with a review copy provided by the publisher. For more information on the game, check the official website.
- Fantastic comfy-cozy feeling to the game - Plenty of content to explore - Best looking Pokémon models so far - Plenty of secrets to discover
- Camera and general movement is too slow for my liking - Music is largely forgettable