See the video version of this review at the end of this page!
When a game lies dormant for over 20 years, there’s bound to be expectations when it rises again. There’s a delicate balance — and one not easily reached — to craft a game fairly, with care toward what made the original so beloved, while also accounting for appropriate modernization. As part of a prestigious, long-running series that at times seems almost too eager to rest upon its nostalgic laurels and as a follow-up to a game old enough to have started its own Pokémon journey twice over, New Pokémon Snap could have easily succumbed to such lifeless complacency. Instead, New Pokémon Snap rests confidently in the center of that target between nostalgic callbacks and necessary evolution. By thoroughly developing each facet of the game, New Pokémon Snap brings the world of Pokémon to life in the most complete way the series has ever seen.
Like its predecessor, New Pokémon Snap is an on-rails (photography) shooter. Your goal is to capture every Pokémon in the new Lental region by snapping photos of them to deliver to the professor. Controls are intuitive with motion controls you can toggle on or off, and the unobtrusive UI at the far edges of the screen serves as a constant reminder of your camera functions should you need it. You can snap your pictures from afar or zoom in, which also slows down your movement slightly. Extra utilities, such as tossing fluffruit and playing music, can be used to affect the Pokémon around you, starting New Pokémon Snap‘s ascent into a lively, dynamic, and complete experience.
Similar to the original Snap, your photos in New Pokémon Snap are scored based on a variety of factors, such as size and if there are other Pokémon in the photo. This time, however, Pokémon perform a range of behaviors categorized into “stars,” with 1-star actions being the most common, going all the way up to rare 4-star actions. Because you can only present one picture of a Pokémon species to the professor at a time, you retread ground to fill out your Photodex not only with each Pokémon but with each of their behaviors. The inherent addictiveness of wanting to complete your Photodex and get the highest score possible on each shot work hand-in-hand with the impressively deep level design to keep players coming back for more.
Despite having over 20 courses, New Pokémon Snap makes sure players want to repeat them through various intrinsic factors. It’s already worth your time to revisit stages because of the sheer number of Pokémon and the interactions they have. You likely won’t see every Pokémon your first time through because each course has dozens, some in plain sight and others tucked away into every nook and cranny. The visuals are stunning, naturally inviting players to look all around, and the sound design is top-notch as well: aside from Pikachu and Eevee, who are under obligation to speak their names now, each Pokémon has a new cry from the main series of games. The world is alive with all sorts of sounds that constantly surround you — what could be rustling in that grass? Which Pokémon let out that cry from right behind you? There’s just no way to get to it all in one sitting.
As if that wasn’t enough, New Pokémon Snap‘s impressive number of courses doesn’t factor in research levels. You gain experience each time you go through a course, eventually leveling up your rank. Each rank alters the course somehow, from the Pokémon themselves to the way they interact with the environment or each other. And while the courses evolve through this structure, you may in fact need to take a look back at lower levels, as some actions are only obtainable there. For example, Morelull appears in the jungle stage at night. They can’t be put to sleep — a 3-star photo action — at research level 2, but can at level 1. So even as you unlock the highest research level of a stage, it will never grow stagnant due to the number of things to do as well as the inherent value in checking back on older research levels.
While you continue to explore the Lental region’s vast and diverse courses, you’ll come across branching paths that expand the world even further. Not only do these branching paths reward you for thorough exploration — such as figuring out how to get a Liepard to jump out of your way in the jungle — but they also aren’t inherently better than the “standard” path. For instance, in the foggy forest level, following a branching path near the end will take you to an innately special scene with Pokémon performing high star actions, while ignoring the branch takes you to another space with entirely different Pokémon, including a special Pokémon not found anywhere else. You’ll want to explore and re-explore all possible places on your adventure to fill out and get the highest scores possible on your Photodex entries. You can’t just dismiss the “standard” path once you discover how to unlock a branching path, just like you can’t entirely ignore lower research levels as you gain course experience.
And there’s still more. Some courses have flat-out “random” elements — things aren’t always the same each time you visit. The aforementioned foggy forest will reveal different seasonal scenery, while other locations such as the research lab will start you out at various points, which changes the available Pokémon and their activities. The environments are living, breathing “characters” all their own, just as much as the Pokémon themselves.
Even then, the Pokémon are given more life in New Pokémon Snap than other installments in the franchise. They interact with each other and their environment in a wide array of ways that all feel natural and cohesive. Pikipek dutifully drill into trees by day and rest up in their nests at night, at once both consistent and diverse enough to establish realistic living patterns within a creature filled with personality. Pokémon that appear in different stages also exhibit appropriate levels of behavior diversity, such as Scorbunny. At the park during the day, it plays with its friends, and at night burns off a little energy before finally settling down to sleep. In the desert, however, it’s more likely to be rolling solo. Combine the vast number of activities with the sheer plenitude of Pokémon that surround you at any given moment, and players will always have something new to discover.
The only element of New Pokémon Snap that takes some life away from the experience is the request system. As you unlock new locations and research levels, the cast will request you take photographs of certain Pokémon performing specific activities. This is brilliant in how it hints at unique interactions without giving too much away — I never would have guessed that Florges had a special action other than the many I already found if not for the posted request, for example. It also offers a fun progression system to unlock extra goodies, such as stickers and player icons, rather than just making them all available from the get-go. But requests are, admittedly, flawed in how unclear they can oftentimes be. Despite taking a picture that seems to perfectly match the request, the request doesn’t clear most of the time.
The most egregious example is “Houndoom’s Breather:” Prof. Mirror wants to know if Houndoom “ever gets tired.” I submitted a photo of it sleeping but didn’t complete the request. So I tried again, this time submitting a picture of Houndoom drinking water, which the game automatically captioned as “A quick breather.” But this still didn’t count as completing the request, and I still haven’t completed it to this day. Even though I’ve actively tried to complete most of the requests given to me, I managed to finish less than 20% of them.
After a certain point, it’s easy to simply ignore the requests, but it’s disappointing all the same. New Pokémon Snap features more than enough difficulty due to the sheer number of featured Pokémon, the depth of their behaviors — as well as triggering the more rare ones — exploring the expansive environments, and getting the highest possible photo scores. Enigmatic quests to complete don’t add to the game in any meaningful way, despite the positives that come from their subtle hints and non-essential goodie unlocks.
The almost necessary decision to sideline requests aside, players can discover, develop, and pursue their own external interests as they go along their photography journey. Whether you want to create artsy photographs that follow the rule of thirds or you want to make some spicy memes, New Pokémon Snap gives you the tools to liven up your pictures as you please. The re-snap feature in particular is phenomenal, with the ability to zoom far in or out on a scene and even tilt the image, allowing you to get the perfect shot that you may have only just barely missed while in the midst of the stage. After tweaking your picture with re-snap or saving it directly as you took it, you can apply stickers, filters, and borders to make whatever your creative vision wants and extend the life of the game far beyond the basic goal of completing your Photodex.
When it comes to the topic of the players’ wants, nostalgia is bound to crop up. It’s simply inevitable when it comes to the steadfast Pokémon franchise. Yet New Pokémon Snap has a genuine life of its own precisely because it isn’t tied down exclusively by nostalgia. An obvious area where this shines is in the cast: Prof. Oak was an iconic factor of the original Snap, but he was hardly unique to the game’s primary purpose. Instead of reusing or redesigning him like Sun and Moon and HOME opted to, New Pokémon Snap makes the deliberate choice to include a new professor and alternatively bring back the original game’s player character, Todd.
Todd, with a glow-up so impressive it makes even Instagram filters jealous, works alongside the new characters in a perfect blend of new and nostalgic. The resulting cast is innately charming, with Rita’s helpfulness, the professor’s insight occasionally joined by humorous obliviousness, Phil’s excitability, and Todd’s practical experience all meshing in a fun and fresh way, adding a welcome liveliness to the game’s story. New Pokémon Snap doesn’t forego its roots altogether but stands strong on its own thanks to its inclusion of an endearing new set of characters, specifically honing in on nostalgic references in an effective way rather than making everything a callback. The game truly takes the wise Prof. Oak’s words to heart: “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.”
This clear understanding of when and how much nostalgia to include is abundantly apparent in the choice of Pokémon appearing throughout the game. Over 200 Pokémon inhabit Lental, which is a wonderfully high number considering how in-depth their behaviors are. What makes it even better is there’s a fair mix of Pokémon from across all the different generations rather than overly focusing on the most iconic and most nostalgic. You’ll still find the likes of Pikachu, Eevee, and Charizard, but they don’t take center stage — they share their space with the underexposed likes of Stunfisk, Mantine, and Tyrantrum. All the while, you’ll find the rest of the levels populated by unique choices such as Unfezant, Hippowdon, and Vivillon. In the bright and lively setting of Lental, these Pokémon finally get their opportunity to shine, showcasing exuberant personalities that may not come across as clearly in other facets of the franchise.
All of New Pokémon Snap‘s successes culminate in the Illumina Pokémon encounters — giant-sized Pokémon with unique patterns that come to life when lit by an Illumina Orb or crystabloom. These encounters comprise an entire course all their own, and also have research levels that add extra Pokémon for the Illumina Pokémon to interact with. The final Illumina Pokémon especially encompasses what New Pokémon Snap stands for: awoken after years of slumber, the Pokémon’s “gimmick” is similar to the final encounter with Mew in the original Snap. But once revealed, the Pokémon — a fitting, non-first generation choice — interacts with its environment, a fleshed-out territory rather than an abstract cluster of clouds, and the diverse collection of Pokémon around it. It’s the perfect blend of subtle, meaningful nostalgia and new depth that the Pokémon world is capable of thanks not to nostalgic stagnation but rather 25 years of series evolution.
It’s clear how New Pokémon Snap so thoroughly thrives: with so much to see and even more to discover, the entire experience instills a sense of childlike wonder and amazement without needing to fall back on the same nostalgic tropes the Pokémon series sometimes takes too far. I recently had to ask my friend how to get Heracross and Pinsir to fight each other — he started playing the game after me, but due to the inherent differences in the way people play, combined with the sheer amount of content in the game, we ended up discovering completely different things. There’s enough multi-faceted and meaningful content to truly bring New Pokémon Snap to life, with each players’ resulting experience as unique as their own life’s adventures.
New Pokémon Snap is the perfect blend of nostalgic and modern, accommodating for the fact that Pokémon is so much more now than what it was over 20 years ago. Just as the series has developed a life all its own, New Pokémon Snap gives the Pokémon, region, and cast the polish they need to truly shine. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and New Pokémon Snap proves it, as it captures everything there is to love about Pokémon into one package.