Pokemon Snap is a very unique game that tries an idea that has yet to really be brought to fruition in quite the same way by any other game, whose main mechanic and premise is based on taking pictures of Pokemon “in the wild”, using your camera.
The closest game that uses a similar mechanic that I can think of is the Fatal Frame series, which also uses a camera to take pictures. That game however is a 3rd-person adventure horror game where you use the camera as a weapon to fight and capture ghosts. In Pokemon Snap you simply go through levels that are “on-rails” (your vehicle automatically moves through the level on a track) from a first-person perspective and all you do is take pictures of the creatures inhabiting the world. Thus something like the yet-to-be-released Afrika on PS3 may be closer in premise to Pokemon Snap than the aforementioned Fatal Frame (You can read our Fatal Frame review for more information on it).
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But while Pokemon Snap is unique, that doesn’t necessarily make it good or worth playing . . . although it all depends on what your idea of fun is, how much you care about Pokemon, and simply what kind of mind-set you have going into playing Pokemon Snap. If you keep things in perspective, then it may be worth a look . . . May be.
System: Nintendo 64 (N64)
Also On: Wii Virtual Console (Costs 1000 Wii Points)
Debut: JP March 21, 1999 – NA June 30, 1999 – EU September 15, 2000
Wii Version: JP December 4, 2007 – NA December 10, 2007 – EU December 14, 2007
Genre: First-Person Rail Shooter (Or “Picture-taking first-person on-rail adventure!”)
Players: 1-Player (On Wii you can send your Pokemon photos to friends online using the Wii Message Board!)
Save: 1 Save File (No auto-save, Save from the menu)
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Rating: E for Everyone (No descriptors)
In Pokemon Snap the storyline really serves no importance and does not come into play at all during the game. But just to set up the premise, here it is:
Professor Oak is a famous Pokémon researcher, and he’s currently doing research on Pokémon Island. There are no people on Pokémon Island, only wild Pokémon live there, making it the perfect place to study Pokémon in their natural habitat! Professor Oak thought of asking Pokémon trainers to help him, but they might be too interested in catching Pokémon.
So Professor Oak invited Todd Snap, a talented young photographer, to come to Pokémon island and take pictures of Pokémon in their natural setting. The pictures would be used to complete the Pokemon (“PKMN” for short) report.
So Todd left for Pokémon Island to take pictures of Pokémon and complete Professor Oak’s PKMN Report. He is equipped with nothing but a camera and his vehicle, known as the “Zero-One”. There are 6 courses that contain a total of 63 Pokémon. Each time you go through a course you are equipped with film good for 60 shots. Now you’re ready for some exciting picture taking action!
The premise of Pokemon Snap could not be simpler or more fitting to the Pokemon license . . . simply take pictures of Pokemon! And given that this was the first ever Pokemon game for a console system, it’s actually quite a unique idea and is done well on it’s own merits.
You start the game off in the menu screen which is Professor Oak’s “Lab”, on this screen you’ll see a big animated picture of him (where he looks just like he does in the anime) and the game will use a minimal amount of voice work during these sections. You will be taken to this screen whenever you are done snapping pics of Pokemon in the various stages.
Pokemon Snap intro:
And here you will see a menu on the left-side with the following options: “Go to Course”, “PKMN Report”, “PKMN Album” and “Save”. Selecting “Go to Course” is how you get to the game’s stages. On the “PKMN Report” screen you will see how many types of Pokemon you have collected and your overall score, and be confronted with two more options: “PKMN Report” and “Best Shot”. Selecting “Best Shot” gives you a frame of your highest scoring Pokemon picture, while “PKMN Report” lets you view all the Pokemon you have taken pictures of in a list. Selecting “View” will show you the best picture of that specific Pokemon that you have taken as well as tell you what course you took the picture on and your score for that picture.
In the “PKMN Album” you have slots for up to 60 pictures (Hopefully the Wii version will allow you to save as many as you have space for) of Pokemon that you have favorited, and you can look at them without obstructions as well as leave a comment for each one and Arrange or Delete them.
And of course “Save” will save your game and allow you to quiet or continue playing.
When you select “Go to Course” you will be taken to the level select screen. Initially you will only have the very first level, Beach, open. But obviously you will be able to open more courses as you progress through the game, and eventually you’ll have unlocked seven courses total.
As mentioned above, the goal of Pokemon Snap is to take pictures of Pokemon in the wild using your camera and each stage will offer a variety of Pokemon to snap pictures of, from the most popular like Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle to the obscure (Jynx and Ditto) to various Legendary Pokemon like Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.
Your vehicle, called the Zero One, is on-rails and has the ability to hover or go over water, in addition to going along it’s pre-set track. Since the game is on-rails you thusly have no control over where it goes. The game uses a first-person viewpoint though and you can look around your vehicle in any direction. On the N64 controller, you use the Control Stick to look around and the Z Button trigger to focus your camera. With the camera focused you can snap a picture with the A Button. More buttons will eventually come in to play, but the controls are never complicated and the first level will tell you tell you the basics.
Once pictures of Pokemon are taken and you’ve completed your run of a course, your Pokemon pictures will be rated by Professor Oak. He will rate your pictures in three categories: Size, Pose and Technique. You must not fail a category or he will not entirely rate your picture, so you want to try and fulfill the qualifications for a good picture with each snap you take of a specific Pokemon, particularly if it’s a new kind that you haven’t seen before.
To get a good “Size” rating, you want the Pokemon to be large in the frame, although they can’t be TOO big (as in close-up). If they are too close to you and thus you only see part of their body then you will be marked down (the Pokemon also must not have it’s back turned to you when you snap the photo, or you won’t get any points because you have “embarrassed” the Pokemon). “Pose” is an interesting category and this basically depends on the demeanor of the Pokemon and whether or not it is doing a special pose for the camera, but I’ll get to that in a bit. And finally, “Technique” is simply whether or not the picture of the Pokemon is centered in the frame. If it is, then the score of the other two categories is doubled. You will also get bonus points if more than one of the same type of Pokemon is captured in the frame. For each rating you are given more or less points depending on how good you met the criteria. So while you may get 1000 points if the Pokemon is very large in the frame, you may only get 400 if the size is “so-so”, etc.
Now if the Pokemon simply stood there and let you take pictures of them, then that wouldn’t exactly be too exciting would it, so thankfully the game does get a little more complex than simply taking pictures of Pokemon. Although in the initial level things will be as easy going as they come, and you will only take photographs. Thus the first level is like a training ground and should allow you to get a grasp on how the game works.
The Beach is home to several varieties of Pokemon, and during the first seconds of the course you will come across a Pikachu chilling there on the beach, Butterfree and Pidgey flying around, and a Doduo prancing around the area. You will also see a Meowth pop-up, a sleeping Snorlax (although you won’t be able to tell what it is initially . . . the game won’t anyways, even though it’s obvious what Pokemon it is!) and if you look way in the distance you will spot a Lapras swimming about in the ocean.
And after your first taste of photography you may realize that it’s not exactly as easy as it all sounds to snap pictures of them. While not all the Pokemon move, many of them do and this includes you having to wait for them to be facing you before you can snap the photo, making it more difficult if the Pokemon pops in or out of a bush or spins around. It is harder than it looks when you realize that you can only focus on one side of the track (unless your really fast and a good shot), meaning that you will be missing the action on the other side (if there is any).
And not only that, but you also will have to track any moving Pokemon with your camera in order to get a good shot, and if there are multiple Pokemon around then the slight indecision about which Pokemon to follow and snap may cost you . . . . because eventually your little cruiser will move past the Pokemon and they will be too far away to shoot. It’s interesting that at times your cruiser may seem to be a really slow vehicle and the pace of the game will seem to crawl, and yet, when trying to snap Pokemon the pace can seem a bit frantic and you may find yourself wishing for a break button so that you have time to snap everything that you would like.
Of course, not having a break button is really the only thing that makes this game difficult, because it means that you will have to go back through the levels multiple times before you are able to see everything, although you can use pause and go to Exit Course and you will not lose the pics you have taken, they will still be graded by Professor Oak which can allow you to take pics without having to dredge through the whole course. Not everything can be seen in Pokemon Snap though until you take enough photos of new Pokemon or score enough points to be rewarded by Professor Oak.
There are a few ways to progress in Pokemon Snap, and this will either be by reaching a certain number of specific Pokemon photographed, or by discovering new paths along the way. And that second objective can only be met by using items. I must point out though that typically as long as a picture of a new Pokemon isn’t rated horribly, then that’s all that matters in unlocking new courses (the ones that require a specific amount of Pokemon snapped to open). This though serves to lesson the importance of your score since it is really only the shots of new Pokemon that matter, and I think that could’ve been balanced better if they, say, gave you a goal of a certain amount of points to reach for each Pokemon or something to that effect.
As far as items go, initially you will not have any items except your trusty camera, but before long you will get your first item in the apple shaped “Pokemon Food”. You throw it with the A Button when your camera isn’t focused, and you can use it to not only bop Pokemon in the head but also to attract them closer to you.
Pokemon Snap gets more interesting once you have the ability to toss apples, since you can now interact with the Pokemon which in turn can allow you to interact with the environment, although only in a very limited way (almost exclusively reserved for opening up a previously undiscovered path which will net you a new course).
Typically throwing Pokemon Food will result in that specific Pokemon becoming happier, and this will net you more points in the Pose category. But you can also hit certain Pokemon to get a different reaction out of them, typically that of anger. Snapping a Pokemon when it’s angry will also net you a greater amount of points given the Pokemon’s special pose, and will be the key to opening the path to the third level which you get to by throwing an apple at an Electrode, who will then explode himself and thus the wall behind it, revealing the next course.
Another example of how the Pokemon Food can be used is regarding the aforementioned Pikachu on the Beach course. Nearby the Pikachu you will see a surfboard, and if you can successfully lure the Pikachu onto the board it will net you a bonus special for “Surfing Pikachu“, which avid Pokefans will recall as the name of a hidden mini-game in the Pokemon Yellow Game Boy title. These special Pokemon types are quite rare but very satisfying if you can figure out how to get that special reaction out of the Pokemon to net you the special bonus (The most obvious one is of a Singing Jigglypuff, “Jigglypuff On Stage”, but you’ll have to figure out how to get that one on your own).
This type of interaction permeates the game and it only gets more complex as you unlock the later stages and items. For example you will get Pester Balls that can be used to bother, knock out or awake Pokemon from sleep (remember the Snorlax mentioned above?).
And not only that, but you will also have opportunities to evolve Pokemon (which counts as an all new Pokemon discovery). An obvious one will come at the end of the Volcano stage, where you will see a Charmeleon wandering around a pit of lava. Time your it right and you will be able to knock him into the lava, resulting in an evolution into a Charizard. A lot of times you will spot particular parts in levels where you couldn’t interact with a Pokemon at that particular time, and so when you do get new items you will want to go back through all the previous levels to see what else you can discover with your newfound abilities (and some of these will be obvious when you get the new item). And remember that capturing photos of new Pokemon that you haven’t seen before is key in opening up newer stages. So the combination of increasing points by capturing better shots of Pokemon than ones you’ve previously taken as well as interacting with the Pokemon in specific ways, which leads to newly discovered paths, is how you progress in Pokemon Snap.
The levels in the game are basically themed, and will have you exploring the aforementioned Beach, a Tunnel, a Volcano (where you will encounter Fire Pokemon), a River (where you will encounter mostly Water Pokemon), and a few more. There are also two other abilities that you will gain that I have not mentioned.
Once you have completed your snaps of Pokemon on a course you will need to submit the pictures to Professor Oak. You can however only submit one picture of a specific Pokemon type, and you will see thumbnails of all the pics you took. The number of shots you can take during a course are limited but the number is very high so it’s unlikely that you will be jamming on the button enough to use up all your shots, although it is possible. On the thumbnail screen it shows the pics you took in the order you took them, although it will also display how many shots total you took of a specific Pokemon. You will want to select the best shot to submit to Professor Oak. Selecting a thumbnail will take you to a larger shot of the photo, where you can use the Control Stick to compare shots of that specific Pokemon, whether you took two shots or twenty. Once you’ve selected which shots to submit, you can then mark any shots you want to keep in your Photo Album with the corresponding “Album Mark” button on the left side of the menu, this allows you to keep photos that Professor Oak would reject, since you may want to keep the photo just cause it’s a cool or pretty one. On the Wii version I imagine that it is the Photo Album pics that you will be able to send to your Wii Menu and subsequently to any friends online.
Graphically, Pokemon Snap is . . . . oogly. Yes oogly. What do I mean by that? Well I mean it looks like an outdated N64 game, not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. The detail is slight, the textures are blurry and the game has lots of aliasing. But you know what? It’s a freakin’ Pokemon N64 game, and it gets the job done. The animations with the Pokemon aren’t too shabby either, although far from being great by any stretch. But if you are playing Pokemon Snap you assuredly aren’t going to be playing for the graphics, so that should be expected. As far as the music goes, there is none. Okay the game does contain music but it’s so forgettable that I can’t even recall what it sounds like. So once again, it gets the job done.
As far as replay value goes, Pokemon Snap is not a long game. In fact it can be beaten in a matter of hours, anywhere from 5 to 10, depending on your photo skills. Although beating the game does not equate to seeing all that there is to see, that will take you a while longer. But again, this is not a long game and so don’t expect to spend probably 20 hours max on the title, although most people will probably be done with it before then. And once you’ve beaten the game you probably will not pick it up again unless you are one of those people who loves topping their previous high scores.
Pokemon Snap gameplay video:
Therefore, Pokemon Snap can only be recommended to two types of people: Those that are Pokemon fans, or those that are curious to see what a photography on-rails shooting game is like . . . because it is still a somewhat unique concept that has not been capitalized on in the video game realm, thus it makes a nice addition to the ever expanding library of classic games available for download on the Wii Virtual Console.
If you are not a Pokemon fan then I’d steer clear of Pokemon Snap unless you are the aforementioned who is simply curious to check the game out. It will give you a few hours or perhaps a days worth of entertainment and I must say that it is quite fun if you approach the game knowing what you are getting into and not expecting greatness.
There are also a few minor quibbles I have with the game. Namely, if you do not know anything about Pokemon, then you will not learn anything from this game, outside of the name’s of the various critters you come across, because there is absolutely no info on the Pokemon species themselves, which is quite head-scratching considering that the Pokemon Encyclopedia that is the Pokedex plays a significant part in the Pokemon games and mythology, so why the Pokedex is not included here is beyond me. There is also no Pokemon checklist, so there is no way of knowing exactly how many Pokemon you have yet to discover unless you know how many Pokemon are in the game (63 total), which is also bewildering.
But putting all that aside, Pokemon Snap is fun for what is . . . a Pokemon photography game that plays like an on-rails shooter, and as an N64 title and the first Pokemon console game, it isn’t half bad.
FUN FACTOR – 8.0
This is as fun as creature photography is going to get for some people. The game is fun for what it is, it’s a Pokemon picture-taking ride. It is fun to interact with the Pokemon and to go back through the old levels with your new items, and there is a slight sense of discovery when you interact with the Pokemon correctly, particularly when it results in an evolution, or the opening of a new path that leads to a new course. But as far as the scoring goes and actually keeping pictures, there’s only so much to the game and what it really lacks is depth. But regardless, it is a fun Pokemon game and if you are a Pokemon fan and haven’t played it, then by all means, check it out. Just don’t expect more than a day or so worth of entertainment.
Graphics – 5.0
Bleh . . . it works, but nothing special at all.
Sound & Music – 5.0
It’s there. Could’ve benefited from more Pokemon sounds and there is some voice acting, but it’s only a few lines that are repeated so . . . yes, it does contain sound effects and it does have music. Yes.
Ingenuity – 8.0
You take pictures of Pokemon while riding on a track through various courses . . . original? For it’s time it was unique, and even now it hasn’t exactly been duplicated so yes, it is unique enough to be considered original, but only because it’s a formula that hasn’t been picked up again yet. Let’s hope Nintendo tries their hand at a modern Pokemon Snap using the power of the Wii, because I think it’d be a great fit and it could greatly benefit from a modern update. Especially considering that the whole game is made up of first-generation Pokemon.
Presentation – 7.5
The presentation isn’t bad. The Professor Oak sections are done well, with a few bits of voice thrown in for good measure, and the menus are all clean and easy to navigate. The camera lens itself and snapping photos could’ve been spruced up more, but like the rest of the game it works well for what it sets out to do.
Replay Value – 7.0
There are quite a lot of Pokemon to find (63 to be exact, as mentioned above) and there is an unlockable Challenge Mode where each stage has a “Pokemon Trainer” score to beat, and you can always try to top your own scores . . . if you’re the dedicated score-beating type. But outside of that Pokemon Snap can be conquered in a day. Although being able to send pictures to your friends via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection with the Wii version definitely will add a new dimension to the game by giving you the ability to show off your photos, which is just what this game needed. Particularly since the “Pokemon Snap Print Stations” that used to exist at Blockbuster Video stores for you to print stickers from your Pokemon Album are long gone in the year 2007. So being able to show off your pics to friends is the next best thing and Nintendo should be commended for adding that feature and not leaving it at a direct port.