This review originally went live in 2016, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the game's arrival on Switch as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.
There are moments during Pokemon Snap where — upon finding a hidden path — the game ditches the first-person perspective to show your character looking on in amazement at the new discovery. Despite being a (relatively) low-poly Nintendo 64 release, the game still manages to convey a sense of wonder, something it does throughout your time with it. That sense dulls which subsequent replays, but there's a lot happening in the stages which makes the experience a lot more engrossing than you might imagine if you've never snapped a 'mon before.
Professor Oak needs photos of Pokémon and you are the youngster who has been tasked with getting them. Essentially an on-rails shooter, Pokémon Snap has you sitting in your "Zero-One" vehicle which leisurely moves along a set path as you look around and photograph the various Pokémon enjoying themselves in their natural habitat. The game is very relaxing, often feeling like a more interactive version of one of those panoramic view titles that appeared in the early days of the Wii U. You just sit back, take in the sights and snap away when you see the potential for a good photo. Initially you just point and shoot, but as you progress the Professor provides you with items to lure out the creatures for a better photo opportunity.
The behavior of the Pokémon is fun to observe whether they are relaxing, running about or interacting with each other. As you replay a stage you'll know where to look out for certain creatures and it's very satisfying when you capture a spectacular-looking shot or spot something lurking in a corner that you hadn't noticed before.
Playing through, it's baffling that fans had to wait over 20 years until 2021's New Pokémon Snap for a follow-up. The gyroscopic capabilities of the Wii U GamePad or the 3DS would have been perfect for a game like this. The analogue stick is used to look around here, the 'Z' button switches to camera mode and you click your shutter with 'A'. The C-buttons enable quick, sharp turns for when a creature is quickly disappearing from view, and you're able to invert the vertical axis from the options menu should you wish.
The presentation of Pokémon Snap is a big part of its appeal, with fun, breezy music accompanying the colorful visuals. Those visuals hold up quite well, too. Yes, you get an abundance of 64-bit straight edges and angular scenery, but strong character designs and the cartoony style work well for the game. A good range of locations helps to keep things interesting, with you starting on a beach, but your playthrough also takes in the likes of caves and rivers. Sound effects such as splashes, bumps, more 'mysterious' noises, and just the various Pokémon calls are also very effective.
The game is divided into courses (seven in all), but you do not simply reach the end of one course and proceed to the next. Professor Oak will require a certain number of Pokémon to be photographed, or for you to have achieved a minimum score before you can get past certain points. Scoring of your photography is done by Professor Oak himself following completion of a course when you hand over any snaps you want him to take a look at.
You'll be marked on the size, pose, and technique, and he really likes you to get them in the center of the frame. Further points can be earned from having additional Pokémon of the same species included in the picture or if something special is happening. This grading can be a little hit-and-miss — Oak certainly ain't no art critic — although ridiculing the prof's taste is arguably part of the fun. You just can't please some people.
Having to replay courses can get tiresome, but for the most part it's not really a problem as you'll be heading back in with a new item or an idea that'll help you get an additional picture. Even replaying just to get an improved photograph is entertaining due to the way a new angle or slightly different use of an item can lead to a new reaction from different creatures. Your best pictures can be saved to the Gallery.
As fun as the game is to replay, the short length does limit its long-term appeal and the low number of Pokémon included will be off-putting to some. Released relatively early in the history of the franchise, Pokémon Snap only features species from the first generation and not even all of those have made it across. In total just 63 of the Gen I Pocket Monsters are included, and whilst each area introduces plenty of new creatures to keep things feeling fresh, it won't take long to snap 'em all.
Sitting in a vehicle moving along a set path as you take photographs might not seem like much fun, but Pokémon Snap quickly proves to be a highly enjoyable, if short-lived, experience. The quest to find a few more Pokémon or score better to open up new stages or get a useful item keeps you engaged for the game's brief duration and the variety of creatures and their actions keeps things interesting when replaying stages. There are only 63 Pokémon to find, and it can be cleared very quickly, but there's plenty of opportunity for new and improved (or funnier) photos with each playthrough. There may not be much reason for an immediate return once you have snapped 'em all, but whenever you do, this spin-off's inhabitants will surely bring a smile to your face.