Of all the Pokemon spin-off games, none have captured fans’ affections like Pokemon Snap. The Nintendo 64 game turned Pokemon’s world into a photo safari, and it made such an impact that it was re-released on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Consoles, modified to let you save and share photos online (instead of printing them at sticker kiosks that no longer exist). Those same fans have been calling for a sequel for years, and now they finally get their wish. The $59.99 New Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo Switch is a fun and faithful follow-up to the 1999 classic that resurrects the unique photo-snapping concept, while offering a new region to explore and ways to interact with Pokemon.
Welcome to the Lental Region
New Pokemon Snap takes you to the Lental region, an archipelago with multiple environments filled with Pokemon. The Lental region is also the home of the Illumina phenomenon, which makes Pokemon glow for unknown reasons. To research this phenomenon, Professor Mirror and his Laboratory of Ecology and Natural Sciences (L.E.N.S.) have set up shop in the region, and he’s sending you out to these different biomes to snap Pokemon pictures.
It’s the same setup as the original Pokemon Snap, only it’s set in a new region and with a new cast. Of course, it’s all an excuse to send you on photo safaris across the Lental islands. Although there are numerous Pokemon to photograph, they’ll all be familiar; new Pokemon are generally reserved for mainline series games, such as Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Like in the original game, New Pokemon Snap places you in a protective vehicle that trundles through the game’s various courses. This makes Pokemon Snap feel as much like a rail shooter as it feels like a photography game, forcing you to carefully time your pictures and interactions to get the best angles. A free-exploration, first-person Pokemon Snap game similar to Bugsnax would be much more liberating, but then it arguably wouldn’t be a Pokemon Snap game. The preset track through the different areas is a fundamental part of how the game is structured. It also keeps the game organized in bite-size chunks; each course takes only a few minutes to complete.
How to Take New Pokemon Snap Photos
You’re tasked with taking photos of Pokemon in each course, spinning around in a 360-degree, half-dome formed by the NEO-ONE vehicle, and zooming in on every interesting sight you find. The controls are simple, with the right analog stick moving the camera in a wide swath and the left analog stick moving an in-frame cursor that shifts the camera for precise aiming. You can also enable motion controls to move the camera around by tilting the Joy-Cons, Switch Pro Controller, or Switch Lite. Pulling the ZL trigger zooms in a fixed amount, and pressing A takes a photo.
You can freely snap pictures, and have enough camera memory for several dozen every time you go through a course, but angles and timing aren’t the only factors for getting the best shots. You can throw fruit at Pokemon to feed or disturb them with the B button, throw Illumina balls to make them light up with the Y button, and play melodies to make them dance with the R bumper. You can also scan your surroundings with the X button, which emits a pulse that flushes out Pokemon. That said, the scan is much more useful for highlighting interesting sights where Pokemon may be hidden, and displaying alternate course routes.
An Eye for Framing
This is a photo game, but don’t expect photorealistic graphics. New Pokemon Snap looks sharp and colorful, but it ultimately has about the same level of detail as Pokemon Sword and Shield, just much more close-up. Characters are modeled after the anime, and Pokemon look similar to Sword and Shield’s in-game models. The Pokemon are much more animated, however, with far more movement and a wider number of actions as they play around in each environment. New Pokemon Snap looks good for a Pokemon game, but it doesn’t seem to be pushing the Switch particularly hard in terms of detail. Compare that to the almost disturbingly realistic Pokemon in Pokken Tournament, which was also developed by Bandai Namco.
You’re scored on each new photo you add to your Photodex, based on a number of criteria. The bigger and more centered the Pokemon is in frame, the more research points you get. You receive more points if the Pokemon is facing you, and if there are multiple Pokemon in the picture. Size and position are the most important factors in your photo score, which shows that Professor Mirror doesn’t have much respect for photographic composition and the Rule of Thirds.
Each Pokemon has four photo slots for capturing their different behaviors, from one star (the most common actions) to four stars (the rarest actions). More stars mean more points, but that isn’t as important as the fact that each star is its own slot in the Photodex. This means you can keep up to four photos of each Pokemon in your Photodex, and collect four photos’ worth of research points for them.
Multiple photos of the same Pokemon in the same pose won’t get you higher photo scores, though. You generally only get more research points if your new photos are framed better and scored higher than whatever’s already in the Photodex. When you take new and better photos of the same Pokemon you captured before, you can replace the current picture in your Photodex for more research points.
This becomes necessary as you play more of the game, because research points aren’t just a scoring mechanism: They’re how you advance. Research points are counted for each course, and as you amass more research points, the research level for that course goes up. Higher research levels means more and different Pokemon appear in the course, giving you more opportunities to get more points. More importantly, reaching certain research level thresholds unlock more courses, each with their own research levels.
It’s a consistent loop that constantly provides new places and Pokemon to see—to a point. Unlocking higher research levels becomes tedious, since you must keep finding better angles and poses for your Pokemon. The process is made that much slower by the fact that you can only submit one photo per Pokemon for scoring at the end of each course. This means if you took an amazing one-star photo of a Pokemon you know will get a ton of points, but you also captured the Pokemon in a four-star pose that’s harder to get, you need to choose which one you’ll add to your Photodex. Get ready to repeat each course multiple times.
Places to Go, People to Help
Fortunately, there are numerous courses in New Pokemon Snap, and each course has a good amount of variability. Besides research levels changing the Pokemon you find, many courses also feature alternate paths that you unearth by scanning the environment. Some courses have day and night versions, each with their own routes and Pokemon. There are at least twice as many courses as there were in the original Pokemon Snap, and they all have their own ways to mix things up.
Besides getting research points, you can fulfill dozens of requests as you play through the game. Every time you unlock a new course or increase a course’s research level, you’ll receive a series of prompts tasking you with photographing certain things. These are usually unique Pokemon interactions, such as snapping a Pokemon napping on another Pokemon, and tend to be even harder to find than four-star poses. Taking these special photos won’t give you more research points, but you can unlock new customization options, such as photo frames and effects.
That brings us to New Pokemon Snap’s online content. You can save any of your photos, whether you submit them for scoring or not, to the in-game album. From the album, you can edit each photo by adding stickers, frames, and filters, then save the edited photo directly to your Switch’s photo album for sharing through the console-level sharing system. You can also upload your photos directly to the game’s servers for other players to look at and like, though we were unable to use this feature during the testing period.
If you focus specifically on unlocking every course, you can probably “finish” New Pokemon Snap in maybe eight hours. This isn’t really the way to play the game, though. It’s a photo adventure that invites you to keep coming back and find new things in each area, steadily adding more and more as you play. The requests add even more tasks. The game is loaded with things to see if you keep at it, and try to increase your research levels as much as possible.
A New Pokemon Snap
New Pokemon Snap is a faithful sequel to the Nintendo 64 classic that doesn’t change the formula, but significantly beefs up the content. It isn’t a main series Pokemon game, and isn’t nearly as long as one, but that’s not the point. New Pokemon Snap takes you on safaris to photograph Pokemon in their natural habitats, and watch all the things they can do; the game wildly succeeds at that mission. New Pokemon Snap’s gameplay is an acquired taste, and it can be repetitive at times, but it’s still a fun, engaging romp in the world of Pokemon.
New Pokemon Snap (for Nintendo Switch)
The Bottom Line
New Pokemon Snap on the Nintendo Switch is a worthy follow-up to the N64’s beloved photo game. It blends the classic gameplay with cool, contemporary touches.
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