Review: New Pokemon Snap is too much grind, but it's oozing with nostalgic charm

"New Pokemon Snap" is a Pokémon game that capitalizes on Gen 1 nostalgia. Is that enough to overcome the grindy nature of the game?

Video Transcript

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SHANNON LIAO: "New Pokémon Snap" is a game that's about taking beautiful photos of over 100 kinds of Pokémon. In my 24 hours of playing "New Pokémon Snap," the most thrilling moments were when Pokémon surprised me. One time I looked to the ground and realized that the fallen fruit on the ground, were actually not all fruit.

Other times, Pokémon were fast asleep in a tucked away corner or behaving in unique ways. Like when Pyukymuku hopped into Pelipper's beak for a free ride. After a long sojourns through jungles, beaches, woods and the deserts, these small interactions provided a glimmer of joy because New Pokémon Snap feels like the grindy game, despite how short it is.

And while the grind can be fun, it can also feel empty. But it's hard to be mad at a game that knows exactly what its purpose is and delivers on its promise. Breathtaking Pokémon Vogue-worthy shots set in daylight and on festive jungle nights.

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"New Pokémon Snap" is a 2021 version of a 1999 game, originally made for the Nintendo 64. Playing through "New Pokémon Snap" can feel like craning one's neck at Disneyland on a children's ride. The game's core mechanic is that the player must take photos while riding a self-driving vehicle, the Neo-One, which moves on a predetermined route that can't be changed.

The game's controls are mostly for the camera, to aim and Zoom in on the Pokémon that fly away, stomp across the ground and sometimes make all kinds of efforts not to be photographed.

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The player is put in the shoes of a young adventurer in the Lental region, traversing all kinds of terrain to bring back pictures of Pokémon for Professor Mirror's kind of valuation. I say "kind" because, oftentimes, the professor will say a photo isn't a bad shot at all, when reality the picture is quite bad and has earned a very low rating.

Photos are scored by points and rated by stars for how large and well framed a Pokémon is, and whether the backdrop is engaging. The game also gives little clues found on the Request tab as to how to unlock Pokémon reactions that will give you the highest rating.

"Pokemon Snap," unlike other Pokémon titles, actually gives players a view of Pokemon in their natural habitats and a chance to witness what shenanigans they get up to in the Savannah or wilderness. And compared to the 1999 version, the 2021 graphics are stunning. The settings are well crafted and I'm always turning my camera every which way to ensure I'm seeing every little interaction.

'New Pokémon Snap" takes the game-play of snapping Pokémon across different maps and repeats it for around 25 hours, which is where the game's problems start to arise.

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'New Pokémon Snap" feels like a grind, even though it's short. There are a few ways to interact with Pokémon, tossing fruit at them, which can be mean or a nice treat depending on where it's aimed, or playing a Melody in hopes of seeing a dance or scanning the area. To get the best photos and progress further in the game, you're forced to repeat courses and some of this can get old.

On some visits to maps, I snapped one-star, two-star and even four-star images of a new Pokémon. But I can only select one of those to be included in my photo-dex album. Meaning if I wanted to work towards completing the page, I would need to return to that map again.

The new skills unlock over time in the early game and the player starts off with just a scanner, meaning once you get new skills, completionist must loop back to the early game with their newfound abilities to see every Pokémon's reaction. One key feature, the illumina orb doesn't even unlock until the player combs the maps of a given region enough times.

In other words, the grind is built into the game and there's no way around it. I had a few low points in the game where I would revisit a map to grab some jaw dropping shots and then have Mirror tell me the photos I took this time were worth fewer points than the ones I got on a previous trip. After my pride over the accolades that Mayor showered me with had faded, I was left with a strong feeling that I wasn't having any fun.

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Despite the grind, the game wields Pokémon nostalgia to its advantage. Classic Pokémon are strategically scattered throughout the Lental region. Pikachu, this entire franchise's mascot is, of course, one of the easiest to see in the tutorial but returns around the mid-game at the Beach as well.

Charmander comes slightly later. Gengar is a standout star, popping out in dark purple pools across the cave and ready to prank other Pokémon. Seeing each of these reinvigorated my will to keep playing and made replaying maps to complete my photo decks more exciting. The OneNote nature of the game hearkens back to the 1999 version and maybe nostalgia is what fans are after.

But just like the game expects players to be able to find Pokémon in the dark, and to nail all kinds of mechanics for the special four-star star ratings, I expect the game to spring a few more surprises and keep me on my toes.