Pokemon Snap (1)

Genre: First person rail shooter
Year: 1999
Developed by: HAL Laboratory
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: N64
Feeling Like: Being candid

What a brilliant concept.

Take a franchise that was impossibly popular (and still is 19 years later) and tie it to a game mechanic that no parent could possibly object to; you ride a buggy, on a track, and take pictures of Pokemon. That’s it. The only “shooting” here is with your camera.

It’s a deceptively simple premise, but an endearing one. The name of the game is to take high quality pictures, including framing the Pokemon correctly, or getting them to do interesting things, or luring them out of their hiding spots. Because it’s on rails, and you’re unable to move or adjust the speed of your vehicle, you’ll sometimes have a very limited window to take the perfect shot.

Pokemon Snap (2)
If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of your pet, you’ll know how tricky it can be.

You’re not completely at the mercy of the Pokemon’s behavior. Your influences include apples, which can lure them towards you for a closer photo, or “pester balls” which just seems like a jerk thing to do, or the flute which can cause them to dance. Most scenarios are a win/win, as a failure to get a photo at least result in a hilariously inept photo. Professor Oak won’t give you high marks for the bad ones, but you also have a roll of 60 pictures to take each level. There’s a lot of room for experimentation, and error.

It’s a perfect mix of challenge and relaxation. Using the limited tools at your disposal to open new areas is exciting, finally figuring out an environmental puzzle is satisfying and even being slightly cruel to the magical critters will be justified with a really great photo. I somehow don’t think animal photographers in real life would dare throw nine apples at a Gorilla, but it’s encouraged here.

Pokemon Snap (3)
The last thing I’m doing if I see a flaming unicorn is taking a picture

Since there are only seven short levels, you’re encouraged to replay them to get the best scores possible. You’re likely not going to play Pokemon Snap for hours on end, but it’s a nice, casual distraction. You don’t have to be a fan of Pokemon to enjoy the game, and you certainly don’t have to master any difficult gameplay mechanics to enjoy yourself. You might resort to looking up how to unlock some areas, but it’s a much more sensible strategy to just throw everything you can at everything you see and find out what happens.

Pokemon Snap (4)
For example, you might be (un)lucky enough to see a Jigglypuff concert

When I think of Pokemon Snap there’s one overwhelming opinion that trounces all others. It’s not the originality of the game, nor the lighthearted joy I experienced, but the lost opportunity Nintendo had for making a sequel. It’s been nearly two decades, and no follow up exists. Now, there have been many Pokemon games and it’s not as if the series isn’t anything but incredibly profitable, but fans have been lamenting that the Wii U would have been the perfect system for a sequel. What gives?

You HAVE the Wii U gamepad as a potential camera. Or as a canvas to add in filters, or Photoshop effects, or a map to show you which Pokemon are coming up, or use it to control zoom, focus and other camera trickery that I’m woefully uneducated about. Regardless, the opportunity was there and Nintendo blew it. That’s the Wii U in a nutshell.

But that’s not Pokemon Snap’s fault in the least. I’d love to see more on-rails photography games, but I’m certainly not holding my breath for Pokemon Snap 2 anytime soon.

Previous 380 Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire                                 Next 378 Ice Hockey