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The hint is in the name: New Pokemon Snap is the long-awaited sequel to the N64 cult classic and despite 22 years and approximately 700 new Pokémon The basics of the game haven’t changed much since the original was released. You’re in a capsule vehicle driving on a solid path, you throw fruit, zoom in with a fancy camera, and snap photos of Pokemon for a professor to evaluate. But even though it’s a sequel, New Pokemon Snap reminded me of a completely different game: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Like many players who gathered on Friday to buy New Pokemon Snap, I played the original on the N64. My heart was excited for New Pokemon Snap, but my brain was tired. I got it all wrong. New Pokemon Snap is an invigorating vacation for your brain that works because it’s so full of hearts.

Do you remember anything

As with Animal Crossing, the appeal of New Pokemon Snap cannot be explained in words alone. Like Pokemon Crossing, New Pokemon Snap is more satisfying than it should be. As with Animal Crossing, New Pokemon Snap is just the ticket kind.

New Pokemon Snap has been dismaying among Pokemon fans since it was announced last June. In 2021, the Pokemon Snap concept, which was viable as a full price game in 1999, seems more suitable than a free iOS / Android title. How would the developers at Namco Bandai bolster the game up to make it feel substantial without expanding the concept?

Watching Pokemon eat, sleep, and play (or fight) is one of the enduring joys of New Pokemon Snap.

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Get them all

New Pokemon Snap isn’t a complicated game.

The movement of your vehicle is fixed so all you have to do is look around and take photos. To start off, Professor Mirror – because there’s always a Pokemon Professor – gives you a Photodex that you fill in by taking photos of Pokemon. Mirror rates your photos at the end of each level and gives you points based on factors like the size of the Pokémon and its central orientation.

The Photodex categorizes recordings on a four-star scale. Each star represents a different action: a photo of Pikachu sitting quietly can be a star, eating fruit can be two stars, a lightning bolt can drop three stars, and play four stars with a Pokemon friend. Different actions, different star rankings. To do this, you are given a variety of tools – throwing fruits, flares, a scanner, and a music box – to capture Pokemon in different actions and from different angles.

All of these stupidities are just an excuse to get you to pay attention to details. And it works well most of the time: repeating the same levels looking for different angles of the same Pokémon or trying to provoke different reactions is addicting.

Star rating divides different actions into different categories – they are performed on the one-star photo, listen on the two-star photo, and so on. To complete the Photodex, you need to capture all of the Pokémon in four different states.

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Photodex for Grookey in New Pokemon Snap

Sometimes the difference can feel arbitrary. All four of Grookey’s photos are similar but have been classified differently by the algorithm.

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That brings us to the real MVP of New Pokemon Snap: Level Design. It’s awesome. Each stage is an elaborately designed set piece. Not only is the game often beautiful, it is also effective in getting your attention. Large, irresistible Pokémon watch your gaze from one area to the next, but the screen is often filled with multiple moments worth capturing. By playing through a level for the third or fourth time, you’ll find that the same Pokémon you watched the first time was just a distraction and that an even better shot was to your side or behind you all the time.

To keep the gameplay up to date, the level designs change frequently. All the points Professor Mirror gives you for taking recordings count towards leveling each level, and each new level-up brings new elements. This can be a new Pokemon, the same Pokemon behaves differently, or slightly different routes open up. These changes sound small, but like changing the part shapes in the same puzzle set, you change the strategy drastically.

It’s not flawless. Systems don’t work perfectly, especially the algorithms that determine points and star categories. The star rankings are specific to each Pokémon, so I’ve often found that two-star activity for one species ranks differently for another. Also, I would snap multiple photos of the same Pokémon within a second or two to discover that nearly identical shots would fall into different star categories. In the meantime, the scoring system prioritizes the size of the Pokémon in the shot. As a result, you get more points for boring close-ups than for fun shots at close range: sometimes it feels like your creativity is being suppressed the man – Professor Mirror on this one. However, these are technical shortcomings that result in minor annoyance rather than major frustration.

The game’s level design is superb. Great, formidable Pokémon will steal your attention, but there are shootable moments everywhere.

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Daily short break

There are two types of Pokemon fans: those who religiously play each main title and those who only remember the original 151. Those in the earlier group likely already have plans to play New Pokemon Snap this weekend, but less hardcore fans shouldn’t be writing off New Pokemon Snap.

Make no mistake, the game is mostly fan service. Eating, sleeping, and generally watching your favorite Pokemon is a satisfying daydream quality Mood in the idyllic worlds of New Pokemon Snap. But you don’t have to be able to list all of the 893 Pokémon to enjoy this. You don’t even have to have played a Pokemon game to enjoy it. New Pokemon Snap is like a safari adventure, a getaway that you can immerse yourself in for 20 minutes at a time.

But while it can be enjoyed in bites, perhaps I was most surprised at how extensive New Pokemon Snap is. Thanks to the excellent level design and a deluge of Pokémon to capture, Namco Bandai managed to make New Pokemon Snap charming for the dozen hours of the main story. Even better, after seeing the credits, I feel like I’ve only caught a fraction of everything there is to crack. In an era of 50 hours of open world role-playing games, it becomes clear that more is not always more.

New Pokemon Snap is a relaxing game for taking photos of anime creatures. It’s not epic and doesn’t try to be a milestone in the game, but it will make you smile. Over the past year, Animal Crossing has proven that this can be more than enough.

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