Since the earliest days of the Nintendo Switch, one game I’ve desperately wanted to see on the system is Pokémon Snap. The simple physicality of this Pocket Monster-themed on-rails photo shooter seemed well-tailored to the Switch hardware—perhaps even more so to the smaller Switch Lite. This week Nintendo and developer Bandai Namco Studios both answered my prayers and confirmed my suspicions. New Pokémon Snap supplements the fun and accessible gameplay of the Nintendo 64 original with a suite of new features and a bigger, better adventure spread across the exotic island chain of the Lental Region.
While Pokémon-proper is nigh synonymous with, well, battling adorable animals for sport, 1999’s Pokémon Snap took a gentler approach, tasking players not with fighting and trapping, but with photographing Pokémon in their native environments. New Pokémon Snap, a sequel 22 years in the making, again asks gamers to put away their Poké Balls and instead focus on a non-invasive ecological survey, completing your own personal Photodex as you go.
Right out of the gate you’re introduced to Professor Mirror and his assistant, Rita, who outfit you with a special camera and keys to the NEO-ONE, a literal all-terrain vehicle that can transport you across dense jungles, windswept deserts, craggy mountains, and all points in-between. From there, you and an expanding cast of characters will get your National Geographic on, seeking out Pokémon and capturing them… on film.
You’ll begin each island excursion on a straightforward daytime course, with additional options and even differing paths opening up as you rack up those sweet, sweet points and increase your Research Level across the individual islands. Since this is an on-rails affair, your tracks have specific starting and termination points, and you’re limited to 72 pictures per research mission.
I say “limited,” but 72 photos is a generous amount, and while you may start off conservatively snapping a pic here or there, you’ll soon be hammering that shutter-snapping A button like a madman (or, at the very least, a stereotypical sitcom fashion photographer) hoping to capture the perfect shot of your elusive quarry. You’ll also discover that your camera has more features than its faultless auto-focus, as you can toss delicious fluffruit, play a cheerful melody, and even scan the surrounding environment to both learn more about and elicit various reactions from nearby Pokémon.
Each session only takes a few minutes and resolves back at Mirror’s research camp where your photographs are grouped by their primary subject. You’re only allowed to submit one shot of each Pokémon, but if you’d rather not agonize over which you think is best, the auto-select command (mapped to the – button) can make your selections for you.
Once they’re shown to the Professor, he assigns a numerical grade to each picture based on six specific criteria—pose, size, direction, placement, other Pokémon in the picture, and background—and, alongside this point total, gives each a star rating from one to four. Of course, it’s not just a matter of catching ’em all… for posterity. You’ll ultimately want one-, two-, three-, and four-star shots of each Pokémon to complete your pictorial Pokédex. This means that sometimes your best shots aren’t your best shots, and a grainy far-away picture can be just as important as that well-framed zoomed-in photo if you’re looking to fill in those lower one- and two-star tiers. (Which is another reason I swear by that auto-selection option.)
You can save your favorite photos to your own personal album, which can then be viewed, alongside a list you’re your accolades (aka research titles) and an expansive research log, in the lab. You can also tweak your Photodex shots with filters, frames, and stickers, really making them your own, and upload your favorites to share with Pokémon photographers the world over.
As you can likely tell, New Pokémon Snap expects and rewards the simple act of replaying each and every island course, and subtle little changes in the environments or Pokémon behavior or even your own photographic expectations—like taking on specific picture requests from NPCs via the integrated LensTalk app—pair nicely with the unobtrusive pick-up-and-play nature of the title and truly help prevent that from ever feeling like a chore. Further, this helps to make the overall experience feel rewarding, whether you’re snapping your third in-flight shot of the ubiquitous Pikipek or discovering one of the title’s brand new, exciting Illumnia phenomenon.
For me, though, the best part of New Pokémon Snap isn’t its charming narrative, its soft and natural visuals, its evocative soundtrack, or even its expansive roster of photographable Pocket Monsters. The real MVP is the game’s elegant, intuitive control system.
By default, the left control stick moves the camera reticle within the frame while the right controls the framing itself. The A button takes a photo, the X scans for hidden Pokémon and other notable subjects, and the L/ZL buttons control the zoom. You can even use the d-pad to quickly turn around if a startled Pokémon dashes by you in a rush. The camera and pointer speeds can be adjusted independently, and I found kicking both up all the way up to 10 gave me just enough play to stay on target without blasting past my slower-moving subjects.
It’s a wonderfully uncomplicated (and perfectly serviceable) interface, but add to that the Switch’s integrated motion controls, and you’d swear you really were on a Pokémon photo safari!
Since the NEO-ONE has an all-glass canopy, you’re afforded a full 360-degree view of your surroundings, and there were many times that I—a man who routinely turns off motion-aided controls in any title that finds its way onto my system—found myself swiveling wildly in the center of my living room, pivoting to catch that one flawless frame, that missing piece in my proudly-assembled Photodex. And surely grinning like an idiot the entire time.
While we can’t live in a world full of Pokémon, New Pokémon Snap truly makes it feel like you do. It’s a perfect family-friendly gaming experience that even the youngest Pokémon fan can appreciate, and, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons before it, it’s exactly the video game we need right now to help us relax, regroup, and re-center.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. The only bad Pokémon photograph is the one you didn’t take.