‘New Pokémon Snap’ review: a wonderfully charming outing let down by gruelling grind

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    ‘New Pokémon Snap’ review: a wonderfully charming outing let down by gruelling grind

    For many ageing millennials, the mere mention of Pokémon Snap is enough to send eyes glazing over with warm, fuzzy nostalgia. Released in 1999, the N64’s camera-led curio struck a chord with ’90s kids by offering a rare glimpse of our beloved Pokémon as living, breathing 3D creations. Or so I’m told, anyway. As a PlayStation 1-owning 10-year-old, I was gleefully smashing crates as a colourful bandicoot, not guffawing at pictures of Pikachu. Now, 22 years later, the AWOL Pokémon Snap has been revived for Nintendo Switch – and I finally get to see what all the fuss is about.

    With Pokémon now raking in more cash than Star Wars – and Instagram having raised a whole generation – it’s easy to see why Snap is back. But with New Pokémon Snap hits hitting shelves alongside Returnal, Bravely Default II and Resident Evil Village, is there really enough game here to justify the hefty £40 price tag?

    Picking up where its predecessor left off, the creatively named New Pokémon Snap tasks players with photographing over 200 different ’Mon across the all-new Lental region. If you’re one of the aforementioned misty-eyed Snap stans, by all accounts New Pokémon Snap does exactly what its name suggests. Packed with Pokémon spanning nine different generations, boasting detailed graphics, and touting online features, this unlikely sequel offers what you’d expect from a modern revival. For those Pokémon fans with little affinity for the 1999 camera-led curio, however, New Pokémon Snap’s charming but shallow world might be a harder sell.

    New Pokémon Snap
    New Pokémon Snap. Credit: BANDAI NAMCO Studios

    Abandoning Pokémon games’ usual trainers and gym battles, New Pokémon Snap sensibly trains its lens on the Pokémon themselves. Swapping Gamefreak’s usual free-roaming RPG shenanigans for an on-rails, Attenborough-esque adventure, this safari sim shifts the charming creatures’ personalities to the forefront. It’s a smart choice that fits in with The Pokémon Company’s newfound tact of bringing us closer to these colorful creations than ever before. Still, this is a Pokémon game after all – so between gawking at Torchics and lobbing apples at Magikarp, prepare to endure a few annoyingly upbeat anime ‘pals’.

    While far from a story-driven epic, there’s a basic narrative thread tying New Pokémon Snap’s Kodak moments together. Put in the shoes of an excitable young photographer working with local Pokémon expert Professor Mirror, you’re tasked with documenting the behaviour of the Lental Region’s many ’Mon.

    Somewhat predictably then, the best thing Snap’s resurrection has going for it is just how stunning its HD Pokémon look. Taking its cues from the light gun shooters of old, this first person camera-clicker sees you documenting the wild Pokémon’s activities as you speed around on a hovering Neo-one safari craft. With no onscreen avatar to render or big maps to load, it feels as though every ounce of the Switch’s processing power has gone into rendering these beloved creatures.

    For arguably the first time in a Pokémon game, Gamefreak’s beloved creations are teeming with personality. Caterpies scuttle through the undergrowth. Water coats your lens as a screen-filling Wailord emerges from the ocean. Scorbunnies hop around with a mischievous bounce. And Wobbuffetts… well, wobber.

    If you’re the type of person who’s poured hundreds of hours into a Pokémon adventure or find yourself rewatching the anime, there’s a level of personality and charm at play in New Pokémon Snap that will undoubtedly delight. But you’ll first have to endure the worst aspect of New Pokémon Snap: its gruelling grind.

    New Pokémon Snap
    New Pokémon Snap. Credit: BANDAI NAMCO Studios

    Despite the soothing, accessible mechanics that define the ‘point-and-click’ New Pokémon Snap, there’s a classic XP chase at the game’s heart. As you progress through Lental, your photographic research is graded by the ever-enthusiastic Professor Mirror. The more dazzling the photos you take, the more points you receive. And with your cumulative scores ‘levelling up’ each biome, new Pokémon and interactions are revealed on each subsequent visit.

    Once your works of art earn those prestigious four-star ratings and rack up scores, you’ll find yourself with a shiny new set of tools. While in the early game you’re merely trying to get a clear close-up of a wild Pokémon, the real points come when you manage to engineer some magical moments. Starting with just a camera, you soon unlock more tools in your photographic arsenal: from the ability to chuck apples at wild Pokémon, to attracting their attention with an incredibly irritating lullaby, to bathing them in a mystical glow with the Illuminate Stones.

    It’s these tools that transform once-dull locations into a land of exciting possibilities. The only problem is: in order to witness or engineer these awe-inspiring moments, you’ll have to replay these same bustling biomes. Once you take enough photos to suitably level up each location’s research level, you’ll then unlock a nighttime variant of the same course. Clear that, and you’ll unlock an entirely new area to shoot. Rinse and repeat.

    The system completely destroys the game’s sense of flow, swapping discovery for a dull grind. Sure, new Pokémon sightings and encounters from each return trip mix things up, but this ultimately turns laid-back fun into a bit of a chore.

    Persevere and you’ll be rewarded with documentary-esque moments of magic that truly make this game. Whether it’s the thrill of chancing upon a sleeping Onyx and rousing it out of its slumber or watching a ballsy Monferno terrorising a Tyranitor – these are what I wanted from Pokémon Snap. Stumbling upon these moments are akin to the feeling of awe and wonder you get from watching things play out in a nature documentary. It’s just a shame that these moments are too few and far between – and they largely don’t occur until you’ve sunk over 10 hours into New Pokémon Snap.

    In other words, Nintendo’s latest is a bizarre collision of charm offensive and gruelling repetition. While diehard Pokémaniacs will undoubtedly get a thrill from coaxing a Sandshrew out of its shelter, New Pokémon Snap‘s meandering grind isn’t for everyone. It’s hard not to think that a shorter, more focused outing would have resulted in a far more exhilarating ride.

    ‘New Pokémon Snap’ is out now on Nintendo Switch.

    The Verdict

    New Pokémon Snap sees Pokémon at its most visually stunning, giving the titular creatures the level of animation and care that they deserve. For the first time in recent memory, the starring Pokémon feel less like interchangeable party members and more like living, breathing creatures. Yet sadly, a bafflingly arbitrary scoring system and entirely unnecessary XP grind quickly replace fanboy delight with empty repetition.

    Pros

    • Pokémon are charming and gorgeously rendered
    • The few moments of magic are awe-inspiring
    • Pokémaniacs will find plenty to love

    Cons

    • The grind is gruelling
    • Repetitive gameplay
    • The game only starts rewarding players after 10 hours of play

    Published at Sat, 15 May 2021 06:00:19 +0000

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