When "Pokemon Snap" was released 22 years ago, it marked a departure for the popular monster-collecting video game franchise.
Rather than capture the titular creatures and train them to be ruthless combatants, "Pokemon Snap" allowed players to leisurely photograph them while taking a slow-paced journey through their habitats.
It stayed true to the series catchphrase "gotta catch 'em all" and found an audience with those who wanted to focus on the collecting aspect of a standard Pokemon game.
It took more than two decades for a sequel to emerge, but "New Pokemon Snap," out now for the Nintendo Switch, is as much an interesting diversion from the series as its predecessor.
It's a laid-back safari through a variety of environments, with the only goal to take photos of Pokemon in their element. No need to worry about capturing the creatures in those tiny red-and-white balls and preparing them for battles against other trainers.
Taking place in the new Lental region in the Pokemon universe, the game takes players through a series of varying environments. Each has its unique physical features, vegetation, and, of course, varieties of Pokemon.
The trips through the environments are on a set path, so players won't be able to freely explore. It could take a few runs though the same course to become familiar with the patterns of the Pokemon in the area and prepare for the perfect photo.
"New Pokemon Snap" does have a perfunctory story to move players between locations, but the real goal is to fill out a photo album known as the "Photodex." There are 214 Pokemon to be photographed in the game, and to complete the list players will need to take at least four photographs of each one.
After completing a course, players will have the option of submitting one photo for each Pokemon they capture on camera. The affable scientist Professor Mirror will evaluate the photos based on criteria including pose, distance and whether the Pokemon is facing the camera.
A photo will be given a numerical score based on those criteria and a rating of one to four stars. Getting a higher star count requires capturing Pokemon doing something unique. Taking a photo of famed series mascot Pikachu sitting calmly in the grass would be a one-star shot. Photographing it firing off a bolt of lightning could be worth three or four.
Getting four-star shots will often require the player to set up the environment. Players have several tools to get a Pokemon's attention. Throwing fruit can lure a Pokemon into the open, or make them irritated with a direct hit. Playing music can awaken a sleeping monster, while a scan function not only indicates where Pokemon may be hiding, but its flash can also get a reaction out of some critters.
Each sub-region in the game has its own "illumina orbs," a resource that is unlocked once a player completes certain objectives. These orbs of light can be used to illuminate the environment or attract Pokemon. Each area has its own large Pokemon — this game's version of a "boss character" — that needs to be photographed under the effects of an illumina orb in order for those pictures to be available for evaluation.
Players particularly proud of some of their photos can upload them online, where others can rate them. Looking at other players' photos can also give players hints on something they might have missed at one of the locations.
For the most part, player objectives are intuitive in "New Pokemon Snap," but the game is not without a few irritants.
A player might get a great shot of a Pokemon in a candid situation, but if there is another critter hanging around in frame the game might choose that as the subject of the photo. Players won't find out until the evaluation stage, and suddenly a potential four-star photo becomes worth a lot less.
Occasionally, it may not be immediately clear what a player needs to do to unlock a new area of the Lental region. Professor Mirror will usually drop some hints in this case, but the game could stand to be more explicit.
Minor issues aside, "New Pokemon Snap" has a lot of appeal for fans of the series, particularly those who enjoy the collecting aspect. It's enjoyable to see the often adorable, sometimes aggressive creatures living in their own space, and there is enough variety to make several trips though the game's environments worthwhile.
"New Pokemon Snap" is rated E for gamers of all ages, and retails for around $80.
A digital copy of "New Pokemon Snap" was provided for purposes of this review.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2021.
Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press