Pokemon Snap (Nintendo 64) review
"It seems that for every great Pokemon RPG we get on handhelds, we get six thousand lame spin-offs on consoles. See, a few people have yet to realize this, but the earlier Pokemon games for Game Boy mark some of the greatest RPGs of all time – they are massive, extraordinarily deep, expansive, immersive, open for all sorts of play strategies, and, as we've seen, accessible to all ages. Pokemon Snap came around the beginning of the great Pokemon revolution – and just wh..."
It seems that for every great Pokemon RPG we get on handhelds, we get six thousand lame spin-offs on consoles. See, a few people have yet to realize this, but the earlier Pokemon games for Game Boy mark some of the greatest RPGs of all time – they are massive, extraordinarily deep, expansive, immersive, open for all sorts of play strategies, and, as we've seen, accessible to all ages. Pokemon Snap came around the beginning of the great Pokemon revolution – and just when we figured we'd be getting a nice console version of the RPG's we all loved, Nintendo decided that we'd be happier snapping photos of these Pokemon rather than capturing and training them. Well, uh, they were wrong.
Let me just make this clear: Snap has a good idea behind it. You can put Snap next to BreakThru, Viewtiful Joe and Polarium on the list of games that have great concepts, but did nothing with them. The realm of photography is a world not often ventured into by game developers – to the point that, off the top of my head, I can only think of one other title (Beyond Good & Evil) that uses photography as a key element of gameplay. In real life, I like taking pictures. You'd think a game based around snapping photos of wildlife – in this case, Pokemon – would be a blast. And, pulled off right, it could have.
Snap lost its thunder the very moment that Nintendo made the decision to not let Snap become anything more than an extended tech demo. The game does two things right:
#1: This was the first time that a Pokemon game had been done in 3D, and it looked rather good. Seeing all of these familiar Pokemon fully rendered with the N64's graphics engine was very reminiscent of the first time you saw Mario or Link on the system. For what it's worth, it was kind of exciting. (The Pokemon also have voices to matches their TV show counterparts, which you can't even say about Pokemon Stadium.)
#2: Snap proved that if Nintendo ever wanted to make a really good photography game, they could. The mechanics for aiming and focusing are all spot-on, and the game actually has a rather robust point system that judges your photos based on a number of factors. Is the shot centered? Is the Pokemon close to the camera, but within the frame? Is the Pokemon facing you? Is the Pokemon doing something interesting? It's a cool grading system that would feel at home with a more complete game design.
The team makes several mistakes in Snap's development. The first? Putting the game on tracks. Players will get through this short-lived adventure in a little machine that runs along a very specific path. You will have absolutely no control over where you move. I realize that some games (namely shooters) have been able to utilize the on-rails design rather effectively, but a big part of wildlife photography is patience and careful examination. On a track, I constantly feel rushed, and it's uncomfortable. If I were able to walk around these environments freely and take pictures at my leisure, I'd be all set. As is, I was never quite enjoying myself because I never had the freedom that I ought to have had.
This leads into my other major complaint. On rails, every level has a very specific length and will end at a set time. Thing is, there are only seven levels (which is kind of pushing it, given how the last level only has one Pokemon in it), and they're all extremely short. Granted, you're not going to find every Pokemon and secret on your first run, and you'll have to play through some levels multiple times. But I was done with Snap – and by that, I mean that I had found everything, and had taken pictures of every Pokemon – within a couple of hours. What the hell kind of game is that?
Add to this the annoying side objectives (like “opening” routes to new levels, or searching for Pokemon “signs”) and the fact that only sixty-three of the (at the time) one hundred and fifty Pokemon types made it into the final game, and you've got a Pokemon title that wasn't anything close to what it could have been. Maybe a Pokemon Snap 2 (yeah, right) would rectify my qualms.
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