I wasn’t particularly into “New Pokémon Snap” for the first couple of hours. I’ve been a fan of the franchise since I got my first Pokémon card on the playground in first grade, but the spinoff games have historically been hit-or-miss. Although Game Freak’s most recent release “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX” left me utterly disappointed, I had very high hopes for “New Pokémon Snap.” These hopes led me to unrealistic expectations, and upon starting the game, it felt repetitive to a fault and overall unremarkable. However, about two and a half hours in, I had a realization — this game was never meant to be a grand undertaking; it was meant to be simple and relaxing. As soon as I let go and let myself enjoy the simplicity, I was positively hooked.
“New Pokémon Snap” is the sequel to 1999’s “Pokémon Snap” for Nintendo 64. The game follows the same formula as its predecessor: take pictures of Pokémon while riding along a set path, this time in one of the wide range of natural environments in the all-new Lental region. Once the player returns to the appropriately named “Laboratory of Ecological and Natural Sciences,” biological researcher Professor Mirror judges the photos based on a four-star system that’s organized by the quality of the Pokémon’s pose, placement and size, among other categories. These photos are then saved in the “Photodex,” documenting each Pokémon in the game. The goals are simply to take photos that qualify for each of the star categories and to capture the “Illumina phenomenon,” which causes plants and Pokémon to glow.
There’s a story to pull the player through the game, which boils down to taking photos that provide Professor Mirror with more information on the phenomenon he’s investigating. With help from the professor’s assistant, Rita, and a few tools — including Fluffruits, a melody player and a scanner — the player can gain enough trust with Pokémon to raise their research level and discover exciting new Pokémon behaviors.
If you’re looking for an intense and complex adventure, this isn’t that game, but it’s still well worth your time. “New Pokémon Snap” feels like taking a vacation without an itinerary: just sit back, enjoy the ride and observe cute Pokémon in their natural habitats. In a world that typically presents its creatures as having some sort of purpose or benefit to humans, it’s a breath of fresh air to watch an ecosystem do nothing but exist. There’s no doubt that it’s repetitive, but it’s a joyful escape that’s surprisingly addicting. It also happens to have the most impressive graphics of any Pokémon game to date, so each picture can more accurately represent Lental in all its bright, colorful glory.
Due in part to the quality graphics, the game is also perfect social media bait. Sharing photos is explicitly encouraged both in-game and in reality. Online features include a built-in hub to share your own photos and view your friends’. Pictures can also be enhanced with the game’s editing capabilities, which allow the player to retake photos or add filters and stickers. Players can view their total Photodex score and see how their photography skills stack up against their friends and players worldwide. With the ability to save photos onto the Nintendo Switch’s album and then share them on social media, “New Pokémon Snap” is sure to explode online. The entire world needs to see Bouffalant in a flower crown, and I now have the power to grant that wish.
Of course, the game is not without its technical hiccups, a major issue being unprompted crashes. The game is currently on version 1.1, so hopefully, updates will soon fix the game’s tendency to freeze and crash. The music also grows old fairly quickly as it repeats over and over. Although each photography course has its own tune, by the time the player reaches the second research level, they’ll probably want to mute their Switch. There are many loading screens, but load times are fairly short and rarely interrupt the flow of the game. Minor issues certainly exist, but don’t let them keep you from playing.
Even if you’ve never played a Pokémon game or any video game for that matter, you’ll find “New Pokémon Snap” to be easily accessible. There’s no punishment and no battling. Pokémon fans may flinch at the lack of action — as I did — but we shouldn’t. I failed to give the game a shot initially because I wasn’t prepared for an experience so deceivingly basic. It’s easy to dismiss casual games as having less value than epic, story-driven, 120-hour RPGs, but “New Pokémon Snap” proves how ridiculous that line of thinking is. It understands that one of the purposes of video games is relaxation. While strolling through the beaches and deserts of the Lental region, I felt my worries disappear. All I had to do was let go of my incessant desire to win or reach perfection. As soon as I did, I could just exist in this fictional world like the charismatic creatures surrounding me.
“New Pokémon Snap” was worth every penny. If the thought alone of Bulbasaur cozying up next to you isn’t enough, the replay value, constant opportunity for discovery and the sheer amount of Pokémon should be. This spinoff sequel is enough just the way it is, and I think that’s more beautiful than a glowing Crystabloom flower.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.