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Here’s a funny story. I’ve been working my way through two of the biggest games of April, in the form of Returnal on the PlayStation 5 and New Pokémon Snap on the Nintendo Switch. Housemarque’s latest game is like a reflection of life itself, an unrelenting and unforgiving run through lethal obstacles where each victory is earned after hundreds of failures.

New Pokemon Snap in comparison, has been an absolutely amazing palette cleanser, catharsis through a digital camera lens in a fictional world that feels like the kind of getaway that you crave from a merciless planet. This isn’t the first time that Nintendo has hopped on the idea of giving fans a proper safari zone to explore and enjoy without needing to consult an elemental strengths and weaknesses chart, as Pokemon Snap set the stage for shutterbugs back in 1999 on the N64 console.

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More than two decades later, and the spirit of that game lives on in a proper follow-up. Just like the previous game, the core idea of New Pokemon Snap is to shoot Pokemon. With a camera, not a gun you sicko. Set in the Lental region, various islands and eco-systems have begun to experience a strange phenomenon that causes the various pocket monsters to glow, which in turn has resulted in you being roped in to assist Professor Mirror’s research team in documenting these events one photo at a time.

Mechanically, New Pokemon Snap is an on-rails shooter (again, with a camera), as you’ll find yourself being chauffeured around the numerous biomes that make up the Lental region, safely allowing you to take photos of the various Pokémon that inhabits these lands, oceans, and skies. The result is a world that feels far more alive than anything that has come before it, teeming with iconic critters who go about their business that is unique to their species.

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You might encounter a Scorbunny who’s being a mischievous rascal, you may spot a Pikipek drilling into trees with its beak, and you might even see a Legendary Pokemon illuminate the entire night sky. This is your chance to shine as well, as Professor Mirror requires images of the Pokemon that he can grade, leveling up these locations, and unlocking more zones for you to explore.

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At times, it may seem like you’re just that little bit short of the research points needed to progress to a new island, but that’s the entire point because New Pokemon Snap is all about replayability. Sure you’ve taken a great two-star photo, but how about taking a better one? Instead of going snap-happy with the camera, bide your time, focus on your subject and grab a picture that you’d be happy to print and frame. It’s that drive for added perfection, which adds a layer of subtle complexity to New Pokemon Snap that just about any age group can understand and pursue.

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And that’s where the real charm of the game unfolds, as you’re not just looking to grab a quick photo, you’re after that one perfect shot. Each Pokemon is capable of filling four slots in your PhotoDex, on a star-rating scale of between one to four A regular snapshot is an easy one-star photo, but catching that Pokemon in the center of the frame, uniquely animated, and against a background that highlights its majesty? That’s your four-star ticket right there.

To do just that, you’ll soon unlock a few handy tools that can be used to grab the attention of Pokemon. You can chuck a perfectly safe assortment of fruit at them, which some Pokemon will happily gobble up and perform a merry jig once their bellies are full. You can lure the pocket monsters into a dance-off with a melody tool that has hilarious results depending on the situation, scan for hidden Pokemon, and use illumina orbs at night to make the cute creatures stand out more in the darkness.

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Illumina orbs also have the handy ability to energise a Pokemon, filling it with life energy and setting up new scenes for you to capture on film. It’s that celebration of life, exploration, and creativity that makes New Pokemon Snap’s locations so much more fun, as exploration opens up new moments of character within the game.

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Thanks to the Pokemon franchise continuing to evolve much like its mascots do, New Pokemon Snap also has access to a much wider ecosystem of critters. This in turn creates levels that feel wonderfully organic, with entire menageries of Pokemon waiting to be preserved for all eternity in a snapshot. The combination of Pikachu running around on the beach, Alolan Raichu surfing the waves, and Slaking being the patron saint of not having a care in the world isn’t just a treat for the eyes, it’s a glimpse into what Pokemon’s mainline entries could be one day in the future.

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On top of all that, your most treasured photos can make the leap over to this realm of reality as well. New Pokemon Snap goes into full InstaGranbull territory on this idea, allowing you to not only use hardware such as Fujifilm’s Instapix to print photos sent to your smartphone, but also personalise them. All the usual tools are there, from colourful borders to artistic filters, focal points, and zoom. Photo-editing further augments these pictures with stickers and other extras, allowing imaginative players to create quirky compositions and save them for a print-out with a personal touch.

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Heck, you can even share those photos provided that you have a Nintendo Switch Online, raking in kudos from the New Pokemon Snap community that will spring up once the game goes live. In an industry where photo modes have become the norm for many a AAA game, having one game focused purely on that idea doesn’t sound like a system-seller on developed paper.

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And yet for New Pokemon Snap, it works magnificently. It’s a chance to get outside (kind of), to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of seeing four-armed muscle monsters strolling on the beach or watch a swarm of Yanmega dance across a pond. It’s relaxing yet challenging enough to keep your mind in focus, and a terrific implementation of Pokemon’s gotta catch ‘em all attitude. Only this time, on film.

Last Updated: April 28, 2021

New Pokemon Snap
New Pokemon Snap captures the magic of the original game without ever losing focus, expanding on that game with a vastly increased collection of Pokemon, colourful zones to explore, and a few other interesting developments behind the lens. It's a delightful adventure that imagines the world of Pokemon as a lively and cathartic safari.
8.5
New Pokemon Snap was reviewed on Nintendo Switch
80 / 100

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