At 22 years old, the original Pokémon Snap video game is likely older than most of the people who will be enjoying its sequel. Nintendo’s 1999 nature-trip take on its flagship battle franchise was everywhere at the turn of the century — demo displays peppered hotel lobbies and if you brought a copy to Blockbuster you could select the photos you’d taken in-game and print them out right there onto sticker paper, like magic. In the two decades since, gaming has changed significantly, and the world along with it. But New Pokémon Snap, a new version of the game for the Nintendo Switch system (which is rated E for everyone) is proof that a great idea, when executed well, is timeless. It might even lead to some fights for Switch time between you and your kid.
The story of New Pokémon Snap is easy to dive right into: Players take on the role of a photographer who has been summoned to the Lental Region by Professor Mirror, a researcher running the Laboratory of Ecological and Natural Sciences, aptly acronymed to LENS. The Lental region is home to a variety of environments (meadows, rainforests, coral reefs, deserts) and the player’s job is to ride across them in an exploration vehicle called NEO-ONE and take pictures of all the Pokémon that can be found throughout — more than 200 in all. When players bring their pictures back to base, the Professor scores them based on a series of metrics, such as how well-framed the Pokémon is or the rarity of the action they are doing. Higher scores unlock new locations, times of day, and ways to interact with the Pokémon.
It’s a simple setup, and extremely accessible to players of all ages and skill levels. Most of the cues in the game are visual, so there’s little concern about reading level or comprehension. While certain tools the game implements, such as fruits you can throw or music you can play to attract Pokémon, are not immediately intuitive, the biggest joy of the game is simply riding through a beautifully rendered landscape and snapping photos. As an added bonus, the game’s lack of overly complex systems or complicated gameplay lets it put the focus where the focus should be: the Pokémon.
New Pokémon Snap showcases the world of Pokémon in vibrant and exciting ways. The animations are gorgeous, the Pokémon are lively and entertaining, and the ways they interact with the environment and each other are legitimately surprising. Every Pokémon in the game can be photographed in one of four increasingly rare states, and part of the game’s fun is trying to figure out how to influence a Pokémon to give you the shot of a lifetime. Overall, the simplicity makes this game so much more accessible for kids than the mainline Pokémon games, which — at their highest levels — require players to engage with battle strategy or long and winding storylines. New Pokémon Snap is an experience as much as it is a game, which makes it perfect for a kid looking to get lost in a world, or for an adult looking to unwind.
If there is any criticism to be levied at New Pokémon Snap, it is its story, or lack thereof. While there is a charming, small cast of characters on the island and a narrative reason for your exploration, it’s a thin attempt that becomes more of a distraction than a feature. But, with that said, the game manages to be a surprisingly deep experience. Between leveling up the various locations and diving back and forth between day and night shoots, it’s easy to squeeze more than 20 hours out of the game.
For parents who are wondering, there is a limited online function in this game, but it’s purely for kids to share favorite photos they have taken, which upload with only a username and brief caption attached. Kids can play the game completely offline without impacting the main gaming experience at all. However, after playing with the photo editing system — which lets players slap fun stickers and effects on their in-game pictures — kids might appreciate the chance to share their masterpiece with friends.
Pokémon has always been a game series for all ages, but as its original fanbase has grown up, the games have grown up as well — sometimes to the detriment of a new generation of fans who aren’t as worried about preserving the integrity of the originals. New Pokémon Snap manages to meet these challenges head-on, creating an experience that will delight new players and tickle the nostalgia bone of old fans alike.