Pokemon Snap was first released in Japan in early ’99. A year and a half later, we got to play it. It’s been a fan favourite of the franchise since. Let’s take a look and see why.
You take on the role of a Pokemon photographer challenged with travelling through various locations to get wildlife shots of Pokemon. So, not a story driven game by any means.
There are two characters, the photographer who barely speaks and Professor Oak who looks through your pictures and measures them to make sure the Pokemon you photographed is in the exact centre. Honestly, Oak comes across as kind of an anal old shite in this. You can take a very nice sideways picture or action shot and have him complain because “the Pokemon wasn’t in the centre” or “Wasn’t facing the camera on account of being sideways.” I suspect he might not be much of an expert on photography.
The game controls very simply. You’re on a rail, going at a consistent pace through various stages. As you progress you unlock items like apples, pester balls and the poke flute to make it possible to get better shots of certain Pokemon, unlock new paths and find secrets.
That’s one of the game’s strong points. There are a lot of secrets to uncover. And, to its credit, there aren’t any that are overly obtuse or finicky. About the most difficult they get is “use an apple to get Pikachu into position, play the poke flute, quickly photograph Zapdos.”
There are, however, enough to make the six main stages highly replayable. Yeah, I know there are technically seven stages. But the last one is just a stretch where you’re getting photos of Mew so I’m not counting it here. You also want to go through stages multiple times to get shots of specific Pokemon since you only have sixty possible pictures per stage and there’s always a certain window you have to get shots of any given Pokemon or special event. Some of which you can’t get in the same run. For instance, if you’re really going for pictures of the Charmander horde at the Volcano, you probably won’t get pictures of Moltres. Or if you’re going for the Arcanine pictures at the end of that stage you won’t get the Charizard pictures.
It really is impressive how much content they crammed into those six main stages.
About the worst thing I can say for the gameplay is that Oak’s ratings can be a bit stupid at times. He basically looks for a few things, the size of the picture, whether the Pokemon is facing you, whether it’s in the centre of the picture and if there are other Pokemon of the same type in the shot. Which can mean some nice looking shots get low ratings.
But it is a very consistent rating system, so you shouldn’t have trouble taking pictures he approves of. And there is the option of saving pictures even if you’re not using them for his Pokemon Report. So, you can keep the nice shots that he isn’t going to like.
For the Nintendo 64, this was some very nice artwork. By modern 3DS/ Switch standards, it can look a bit polygonal but for back then, this looked fantastic. For comparison’s sake, when this came out Generation 2 hadn’t been released and the 3D models we were used to for the franchise were from Pokemon Stadium. Which came out shortly before this and looked nowhere near as good.
The music is nice and fun. The Pokemon make noises both when they move around and when they cry out. They pretty much nailed the sound design. One interesting aspect is that the poke flute actually plays different melodies at different points. Which is a nice bit of variety.
Pokemon Snap is a fantastic game. The photography element is pretty unique and the exploration is surprisingly deep given the limited stages. I’d give it a 9/10. That being said, I’m sure you all noticed the lack of “Areas of Improvement.” That’s not because the game has none and there’s a reason I’ve been wanting to discuss this game in particular.
In early July, an interview with Game Freak director Masuda Junichi resulted in him basically saying there wasn’t a sequel to this game in the works, because they can’t think of something very unique to do with it. After all, they can’t make the same thing again.
Now, putting aside how absurd that is when the Pokemon franchise itself is built on very small, incremental changes from generation to generation and the most unique they’ve gotten was trading gyms for trials that are basically like gyms only with fewer trainer battles.
We’ll ignore all that and focus on ways they could change up the Snap formula to make it more unique. Now, if anyone from Game Freak happens to see this, these ideas are free. Use all or some of them to your heart’s content. Which is why this time around I’m trading the usual “Areas of Improvement” segment for
- Add in various filters. Here’s the thing, I hate all those stupid filters you can put over your photos on your phone or when uploading them. However, a lot of people absolutely love them and I could see people sharing their in game photographs online using the in game filters and just having a grand time.
- Have various Pokemon in stages that you can feed to befriend. At this point, they can follow you around throughout the stage and do various special things. Imagine having a Growlithe following you, doing backflips and other various cute things you could snap pictures of.
- Have actual branching paths. I know, the N64 hardware wasn’t really at the level where you could do this. But on the Switch, you could absolutely have points in a stage where you could go down different routes for pictures.
- Give the photographer a partner Pokemon. I’m not going to say that this should be transferable to other games, but if you had a partner Pokemon they could help open various paths, be sent out to interact with wild Pokemon. Hell, you could even let players dress it up in little outfits. Eevee would be good for that. So would Vulpix.
- Have a Transforming pod. Here’s what I’m thinking. Give players a ride pod similar to the one you’re in in the first game, but this one can transform into a submarine for underwater stages/ stage segments or into a zeppelin for aerial parts.
- A proper zoom lens. The first game pretty much has no options for sizing pictures. In this one, let players zoom in a fair amount. This could be used to get some nicer close ups or get good aerial shots of Pokemon on the ground.
So, there you go. Any two of these ideas will give you more of a difference between Snap & Snap 2 than most main franchise Pokemon games have from their closest sequel. You’re welcome.