Bookending (hopefully) the pandemic have been two great mellow games with the lockdowns and restrictions kicking off with Animal Crossing, a game that allows you to escape to your perfect island and ignore everything else as the world burns while you pay off your virtual debts instead. It was the shot of escapism that so many people used to get through the challenging year ahead, although on the same day Doom released so that could well also be the perfect game for lockdowns but this time as a way to vent frustrations. Either way, whether you regard Animal Crossing or Doom as the first prop, the other half of the bookend is certainly Pokémon Snap, the chill adventure where you visit habitats that you can’t in real life and snap photos of Pokémon instead of your Mediterranean meal. Snap came out on the 30th April and over the Bank Holiday it has taken up a lot of my time due to its addictive replay cycle and charming little environments it drops you in.
For those of you who don’t know what Pokémon Snap is, the game throws you in as a Pokémon photographer tasked with taking photos of Pokémon across a variety of different environments and scores you on the quality of the photos, ranging from focus and space to the rarity of the activities taking place within the photo. This is a very simplified version of what you do as there is a lot more functionality within the game but for now lets leave it at that. And the reason I say that is because if you consider everything I have said about the Pokémon franchise up until now it has been largely about the way the Pokémon Company are simplifying the game and stripping it down to its barebones to make it accessible and appealing to a wider audience… and on paper this game sounds very much like a quick cash grab but for me I couldn’t have bought in more to this instalment.
Its simplicity with hidden layers of puzzles is one of its biggest draws for me at the moment. It is a great pick up and play game where you can complete a stage in a few minutes and sometimes come out finding something new, be it a new route or simply learning something about a Pokémon you have seen. It has immersed me in the world more than any other Pokémon game because I feel like I am hunting (such a weighted word) the Pokémon and seeing them interact with the world outside of me. In most other games, you are the focus and these Pokémon interact with you mainly through combat and seem to be in the world but not a part of it. Snap shows you that these digital critters are part of their environments and have a life outside of the protagonist’s need to capture and battle and honestly it is charming and refreshing. You see them play with each other, scare each other, fight each other and sometimes even help each other. There is personality here, there is life and it is a breath of fresh air that we can sit and enjoy this evolve around us without conflict. It is for this reason that it makes the game feel calming and mellow in a time when it’s so easy to be swallowed up in games that require a competitive approach.
This isn’t to say it can’t be competitive. I have been playing this with my daughter and she loves it but her competitive spirit does make her constantly strive to take better pictures than me. Control wise, it is straightforward enough for her to pick up and play quickly but also intuitive enough for her to play around with some of the more advanced controls too. She knows how to use the utility items to get better pictures but more impressively she picked up the photo editing very quickly. Now I am not to say this is Photoshop levels, but it requires you to scale and rotate items and move them around if you like and she has managed it very well because she is showing a surprising awareness of space and positioning for a seven year old. To get the photos to edit we often play through the same levels trying to get the best pictures of each Pokémon and see who gets the best score and it can be very entertaining with some of the outcomes. As much as she enjoyed Let’s Go Pikachu, she has said she prefers this game because it is much more fun cause she can take photos of lots of cute Pokémon and do you know what… I get it. The main games can be complicated sometimes when you consider type match ups, move pools etc whereas this game says ‘if you like the look of that Pokémon, take a photo of it.‘ Aside from the competition with a seven year old girl, there is also the online aspect where you can see how your scores stack up across the world as well as getting people to give ‘sweet’ points for photos you have taken. It’s not likely to become an eSport but its nice to see how you compare to other photographers globally.
Graphically as well, the Pokémon look great and it makes me hopeful for what future mainline titles could look like if they are able to incorporate this into new games. Pokkén has already taken a similar level of graphics to it’s game so its not hard to believe this approach being replicated within future games down the line. If you combined the battles and style of Pokkén with some of the habitats seen in Snap as well as the way Pokémon interact with the world you would have yourself a very immersive Pokémon Journey. The environments as well look great, and although maybe not the highest quality, for me it doesn’t draw from the grandeur of the safari. One minute you can be in a volcano with lava dripping all around you and the next you could be underwater swimming through a reef with Pokémon all around you. One of my favourite levels starts you off in a mysterious foggy forest before suddenly thrusting you into a bright seasonal forest filled with life. It’s honestly just great.
I am not here to tell you that this is Game of the Year or even the best Pokémon game we have had but I am here to tell you to give it a try. If you played the original Snap on the N64, you will likely love it as it captures the charm and feeling of the original and gives you that nostalgic shot everyone needs. If this is your first time then its a great way to whisk your mind off to new fantastical worlds while your body is stuck indoors while restrictions are lifted and the weather makes up its mind. It can be bogged down by menial story dialogue and sometimes repetitive early levels but for me I came away feeling much better after playing it.
In a society obsessed with taking photos of everything that they do, you would hope that this game resonates on some level with the feeling of wanting to capture special moments and share that with the world. I ask you to withhold judgement on this game and if you are able to try it out, give it a go. I appreciate that as a Pokémon fan I am bias towards this experience but I genuinely believe that this game stands out from all the other games released so far this year just due to the pure feelgood hit it can provide.