During a visit from my family, I played Pokemon Snap on my impressive television. I loaded up a cavernous stage, and it dropped my character in her little all-terrain-bubble pod in with an impressive show of graphics. The pod started rolling down the track, and my father, whose experience with Pokemon entails mostly Pokemon Go, looked up to identify Steelix as it started zooming. We both watched as I flung glowing balls at the creature to light it up, and my father figured out that I wasn’t doing quite enough to get the creature to glow.
In that moment, my dad and I both sort of experienced the good parts of this game. Pokemon Snap is something of an experience as much as a game. You’re locked onto a path and rolled along a stage, twisting around and capturing pictures of Pokemon in various habitats. It plays out more like one of those quasi-interactive show rides at an amusement park, except you can fling fruit at the various performers without getting in trouble.
That is part of where the interactive element comes into play. You take the pictures, but you also get an array of tools to force the Pokemon to react to you. Sometimes it’s flinging apples (they call them something else: they’re apples) to bonk the Pokemon and then to get them to start eating. Sometimes its flinging balls of glitter to light them up and get reactions (they call these “Illumina Orbs”; they’re glitter balls).
Each track has Pokemon in set locations, and it becomes a matter of learning where they are and how they’ll interact with the tools and the other Pokemon around them. It becomes a reoccurring puzzle, and the game encourages you to replay the stages several times to master them.
You are then graded on your photos from “Professor Mirror,” who gives a ranking based on the pose, the framing, and the size. Here’s a clue: size is what matters most. A dumb looking picture that has a large shot of the Pokemon will almost always get more than a fascinating or well positioned shot.
In fact, often the scoring system feels arbitrary. What makes a picture one star over two? I have no idea, and the game barely offers hints toward it. And, again, size matters far more than any other element. There are rewards for getting the Pokemon to do cool stuff though.
And the game has an interesting way of providing hints. The various characters (more on that in a bit), have a sort of social feed where they’ll vaguely suggest that they saw Pokemon doing something cool or have a question. These are sometimes frustrating, and the only real reward for doing so is to see the cool stuff.
But then again, that’s kind of the point. Pokemon Snap is not a game for the story. oh, there is one. It involves your character interning under Professor Mirror. You work alongside Girl and Boy, who are both cheerful and literally have their hair as defining personality characteristics (Girl has twin-tails; Boy’s hair spikes). Later on, they introduce Todd, who was the protagonist of the Pokemon Snap game on the 64. I admit this hit my nostalgia, as Todd looks older and it was all too easy to imagine myself in his position.
So the game does try to hit some nostalgia. But it really is about the cool experience. I can’t count the number of times my mouth would drop and I’d go “that is so cool!” or “this is adorable!” at moments. Clapping eyes on the Wooper/Quagsire family for the first time had me cooing like a proud grandmother. And getting Scyther and Pinsir to fight and snapping a pic at just the right time was thrilling.
The issue is that you have to repeat courses and go through some monotony to do it. Fortunately, the game has a lot of stages (there’s something like thirty), and each stage has different levels depending on the score. The idea is that the more time you spend in the area, the more the Pokemon grow used to you and start relaxing and/or coming out. It’s a neat in-game way of explaining things.
Oh, and there are boss fights. These are by far the most awkward sections of the game, as you follow a singular pokemon across a stage. This is the Steelix moment I talked about, and while I emphasized my dad and I reacting, a large chunk of that was us watching a cave. It’s boring, and it’s not very well implemented, but it’s a decent attempt.
So your experience will vary. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have a feeling I’ll be putting it back in whenever I want a quick game or just something kinda fun or different. It very much comes down to your experience and how cool you think seeing Pokemon in action is going to be. If you’re a fan, you’ll like it. If not, you may like something different, but this probably isn’t your game.
8 for me, boosted from nostalgia and moments of cool; it’s probably a 7 for most players.