Lord knows that the pokémon have been shafted into all kinds of ridiculous spin-offs in their time. That crappy DS launch game where you rubbed Pikachu’s butt to run, that voice-recognition thing that had absolutely no clue what you were saying… there have certainly been some stinkers.
But Pokémon Snap. Pokémon freaking Snap. This little doozy makes us forgive all of the hideous abominations the ‘mon have spawned.
A 1999 N64 release, this was one of the series’ early attempts at this newfangled ‘3D’ thing. But that doesn’t make it a conventional entry by any means. It’s an on-rails photograph ‘em up (because that’s a thing), which is the kind of crazy proposition you have to hear more about.
You play as Todd, a curly-haired little dude who has never appeared in the franchise before, a trainee working for Professor Oak (who most certainly has). He has dispatched you to Pokémon Island, one of the world’s few undisturbed poké-sactuaries. There, you are to document them in their natural habitat, and relay the photographs back to the professor.
You follow a brief course around the area, aiming and shooting as the wild pokémon cavort around you/ignore you entirely/use Explosion and presumably kill themselves. At the end of the stage, you review the snaps you’ve taken and pass the best of them on to Oak to be judged. He scores each on pose, centering within the frame, whether there are others of the same species in the picture, that sort of caper. Perform well enough, and you’ll be authorised to continue to the next area on the island.
The levels are fairly standard: your regular woodland place, cave-y place, volcano-y place, and so forth. Each are populated by the appropriate Pokémon, and fans will love seeing their old favourites in their natural setting. You know, sort of.
Pokémon Snap seems quite a brief, rudimentary game, but there are some hidden depths. Later, the Professor will give you three different items, which allow you to interact with the wildlife rather more. In the very first stage, for instance, there’s a sleeping Snorlax. A photograph is worthless, as you can only see its stomach from that angle; it doesn’t even register as a Snorlax. After you’re given the Poké Flute, you can return and wake it up.
The joy of the game is in replaying levels, and discovering secrets you didn’t know of. Safari Zone-style pokémon food can coax out something that was hiding, and Pester Balls will cause all kinds of reactions. With these, you can return again and again to experiment, and reap the rewards. High scoring photos result if you can capture something special.
When you perfectly time a shot of a band of Pidgey attacking a Meowth with Gust, you appreciate the bizarre majesty that is Pokémon Snap.