By Joe Delaney
In a previous article, my colleague Spencer beautifully explained how Pokémon Gold and Silver are the pinnacle of the Pokémon series. And for the most part, I agree that Generation 2 is truly the best of the Pokémon RPGs. However, I would argue that they are not, in fact, the best games in the series. No, that honor belongs to a game that isn’t even an entry in the main series.
Pokémon Snap was released in 1999, and over the last 20 years, it’s the only game in the franchise that I find myself coming back to time and time again. I’d say about once a year, I spend a lazy weekend afternoon playing through this short, yet sweet adventure, and each time, I love it even more. And I’m obviously not the only one, because when Nintendo finally announced a long overdue sequel last week, the reactions all over the Internet showed just how loved this spinoff game is.
Honestly, I never need a reason to revisit Pokémon Snap, but the announcement of the sequel just gives me even more of an excuse to jump right back into the best game in the series. Let’s have a look at what made this game so special, and what the new game can do to both recapture the magic of the original, while also improving and expanding on it.
The first thing that makes this game better than most games in the series is that there is no combat. I’m not a pacifist or anything, but the turn-based battles in the Pokémon series are more basic than white girl with a “Live. Laugh. Love.” plaque in her house. I enjoy the mainline Pokémon games, but I like them despite their grindy, repetitive mechanics.
But none of that is in Pokémon Snap. This game boils down the series to what makes it great: discovering cute and cool monsters. You automatically scroll through different environments, and take pictures of Pokémon in their natural habitats, and that’s basically it. It might sound boring on paper, but when you actually play it, you discover there’s actually a lot to it.
First off, despite the fact that there are no traditional battles in the game, there is a surprising amount of action and violence. The game starts out peaceful, but soon enough, you’ll find yourself using apples to bait two Magmars into fighting to the death, and knocking a Charmelion into a pool of lava, making him evolve into Charizard. The coolest moment of the game is when you get a Mankee to kick a Magikarp across a canyon, into a waterfall, where it transforms into a ferocious Gyrados.
What this game accomplished that so many others in the series fail to do though is make the Pokémon feel real. As you roll through the levels you see Pokémon just living their lives, like an Eevee chasing a Chauncey like a dog playing with a ball. In the RPGs, when you come across the rarest, legendary Pokémon, they’re presented with barely any more fanfare than a Pidgey is. But in Snap, when you come across one of the legendary birds, they’re awe-inspiring. You watch as Moltres rises from a river of lava, and soars overhead as fiery embers shed from its wings.
And while all this happens, you’re trying your best to get the absolute best shot of these Pokémon. There’s a lot more skill required than you’d think. Sometimes you think you have the perfect picture, but then you present it to Professor Oak, and he says “You were close…” and your heart breaks as he discards your photo of Rapidash because it wasn’t in the exact center of the frame.Despite the fact that I adore this game, there are some things I hope they fix in the sequel. First off, I hope it’s just a bit longer than the approximately 3 hour original. Nowadays, gamers get pissy even if a game is less than 30 hours and doesn’t feature an open world with side quests.
Speaking of that, if there’s one series that might actually benefit from an open-world approach, it’s Pokémon Snap. The original game was an on-rails, linear experience, so you only had so many different ways you could take a picture of each Pokémon. For the sequel, it would actually be really cool if you could walk freely around each level, approaching each Pokémon differently, trying to get the most interesting angle possible.
And finally, and I think that this might be a hot take after the Dexit debacle of Sword and Shield, I don’t think they need to include every Pokémon ever to make this game great. The original Snap came out during Gen 1, and didn’t even include half the roster, and yet was still great. I hope they have more than 60-something monsters in the sequel, but I’m not gonna get upset if they don’t include Luvdisc and Vanillite.
It’ll be hard for Nintendo to mess up New Pokémon Snap. It could end up being the definitive Pokémon experience for Switch, easily outshining the fine, yet forgettable Sword and Shield. But even if it fails to meet the hype, I won’t be too broken up about it. Because no matter what, I’ll always be able to blow the dust out of my N64 cartridge on a rainy Sunday afternoon, arrive on Pokémon Island and hear kindly old Professor Oak say “Welcome back.”