New Pokemon Snap Review: Switch Gameplay Videos and Impressions

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021


New Pokemon Snap's long-anticipated arrival faces a plethora of challenges.   

It seems hard to imagine now, but the original Pokemon Snap on Nintendo 64 was something of a cult classic that flew under the radar a bit while the anime genre was really just getting off the ground. 

Twenty-two years later, developer Bandai Namco Studios is in charge of not only a juggernaut of a franchise with a classic property, it has to modernize it in the face of dramatically different technology. 

1999 was a long time ago. Snap's return boasts modernization, going from a time filled with rolls of film to straight-up Instagram-style editing of digitized snaps while aiming to retain that classical feel fans remember with such fondness. 

There was never any doubt a follow-up this long in the making was going to be an instant hit under the Pokemon umbrella.


Graphics and Gameplay

Snap takes place in the Lental region, which is typical Pokemon. Fans know what that means—luscious green forests, sprawling, sunny beach areas, deep, dark undertones to cave-like areas and a fitting classical soundtrack that always kicks in. 

Players of any Pokemon release over the last 20 years know all too well how varied and gorgeous the locales can look. This isn't competing for the best-looking game on Switch title by any means, but it's a looker nonetheless. 

The good-looking backdrops that smoothly take on new life during the night are merely a backdrop for what's really important, of course—the wildlife serving as the subject of the photographs. 

It's very apparent the art direction and presentation is going out of its way to bring out the personality of each Pokemon. This isn't a one-off situation where players (or trainers, technically) in the base game see the 'mons a bit during a battle and not again. It's seeing all sorts with different personality types in their natural habitat and merely observing, which is not only a great, immersive feat. 

Some Pokemon will approach the player, especially if prompted. Some will even wave or hit a pose. Others will ignore the player or outright become somewhat hostile. All make for good photos in some fashion or another. 

Assisting the immersion factor is the expected Pokemon sound design. The tunes are liable to get stuck in a player's head, and the ambient noises and monster-specific roars are in good form here. Maybe most jarring is the odd voice acting, which happens sporadically and often a person in the background makes a noise or quip that doesn't line up with the speech bubble the player has to read. 

Aside from that, this is a next-generation-feeling Snap game. It should be considering the series skipped three console generations, but it hits the high bar regardless. 

On the gameplay front, players plop down in the Neo-One and follow it along set paths in regions while snapping photos. The quest? Filling out a photo-version of the Pokedex dubbed the—you guessed it—Photodex. 

This is about as simple as it sounds, with some of the buttons on the controller not even featured in the game. There's a zoom function and a camera to rotate, plus a few odds and ends like scans and items. But this is a timing-based ordeal that's pretty fun, as even the slow crawl of the Neo-One can become tense while hunting for the perfect shot. 

There's a to-do list of challenges to tackle, sometimes on specific routes at certain times, sometimes not. Some of these can be as simple as catching a Pokemon at night yawning, others much more complex. 

That's where a lot of the fun in Snap resides—embarking on a route in pursuit of rare challenges or interactions. Oftentimes players get just one fleeting chance at these per run, which adds a surprising bit of tension to what is otherwise a slow-paced on-the-rails experience. 

There hasn't been a ton of innovation in the how to trigger some of these interactions, though. Throwing a fluffruit, performing a scan or even playing a Melody tool gives a chance at special reactions. 

Even if there aren't a ton of new ways to do it, the sense of achievement from getting that picture-perfect moment that will earn a huge grade from the professor is still gigantic. 

Professor Mirror grades pictures on a star-based system that weighs size, pose, direction, placement and other Pokemon. He grades photos once and players can't edit them until after the grading process, of course.

One important feature: The Photodex can only hold one photo of each 'Mon across four star ratings. Players have to choose wisely when it comes to keeping star-rated photos. And in a similar vein, it's a little disappointing players can only choose one photo of each Pokemon from a route per run. 

Editing is a smooth modern addition to the game that is easy to use. The expected subjects are here—players can crop, re-center, alter brightness, blur and focus. There are filters, frames and stickers, too. 

The editing experience is an eye-of-beholder thing. Players who just want to get out on the routes and gun for high grades won't use it much. But players who want to take their hard work online and check out what others have posted can find almost the same amount of replayability.


Story and More

Like the presentation department, longtime players know what to expect from Snap. 

The player character drops into the world and eventually stumbles his or her way into being an assistant to Professor Mirror while he combs the land for photos in the pursuit of mapping the region. His assistants Rita and Phil are the usual Poke fodder, with something of a rival in there for good measure. 

With the gameplay so engrossing, Snap didn't need much more meat on the bones for the story. But there's a little there via the Illumina phenomenon, which is a new revelation in the world players will have to investigate that features Pokemon out in the world glowing for a mysterious reason, which eventually leads to the players using the Illumina Orb.

The story weaves through the standard fare for the overarching franchise, with the real centerpiece the gameplay experience itself.

 Completing routes and tasks earns Expedition Points, which boosts Research Level for a given route. And doing this changes everything within a route, from which Pokemon appear on a specific route at what times to their behavior, which could lead to even better moments, scores and experience gains. 

Of course, it wouldn't be a modern Pokemon game without a discussion about inclusion and omission. 

The list of Pokemon these days is staggering. Back before the calendar turned to 2000, the original game hardly featured half of the original 151. The count here is well up over 200. That's not a ton compared to just how many Pokemon exist now as the series flirts with the 900-range (even Shield and Sword didn't have every Pokemon, which was a source of controversy), but it's a huge number regardless, never mind the different behaviors and, thanks to the story, versions. 

There is an interesting thing to keep in mind if the number of Pokemon creates controversy, though—there are only so many stages in the game. It's clear the idea was to keep a theme running for each one, so non-fitting monster types in certain stages wouldn't make sense. Maybe there's a chance more Pokemon enter the game if the team behind it adds more stages in the future as DLC. 

So far, the online functionality Snap promises seems robust enough to keep players coming back for more. Best of all, it should be interesting to see how this game takes on a life of its own over actual social media. Back in 1999, the original didn't have the takeoff potential. With all sorts of media platforms to interlink players around the globe, how this one develops and sustains itself over time could decide future innovations, both in the Pokemon series and gaming as a whole.  

Speaking of functionality, the game is yet another big hitter that doesn't suffer much in handheld mode, if at all. Taking a game like Snap on the go is just another stroke of brilliance on Nintendo's part after conceptualizing the Switch hardware itself. 

While Snap isn't bogged down with a ton of options for players to modify, it does come up huge with a critical one—the ability to change cursor and camera speed. Snap is slow by default, so players who wish to whip the cursor and camera around faster are free to crank it up to 10. 



It would be hard to imagine the Snap revival better than this. 

In fact, one could almost credit Nintendo for pumping the brakes on another entry in the series until the perfect hardware arrived. That's the Switch, which outputs superb visuals and has that important handheld functionality just perfect for this particular series. 

While the target audience is clearly children, the layers to the gameplay and the overarching status of social media globally make this one of the more engrossing titles on the Switch console. 

If there isn't another Snap for two decades, this one is better positioned than the last to stand the test of time.