Pokemon Snap (Nintendo 64) review
"We -- yes, we! I need your help here -- have been given a task of dire importance by our scientific superior, one Professor Oak of Palette Town Laboratories. As he toils and sweats in his cramped research facility, poking at specimens and jotting observations in data tables, we’ve been asked to go out into the field and document the various species in their natural habitats, hopefully recording their unique behaviors on film and bringing them back for his approval. Initially equipped with just a..."
We -- yes, we! I need your help here -- have been given a task of dire importance by our scientific superior, one Professor Oak of Palette Town Laboratories. As he toils and sweats in his cramped research facility, poking at specimens and jotting observations in data tables, we’ve been asked to go out into the field and document the various species in their natural habitats, hopefully recording their unique behaviors on film and bringing them back for his approval. Initially equipped with just a camera for this expedition -- funds are tight at the lab nowadays -- we hop into our high-tech buggy and take to the sandy shores of an exotic isle, brimming with untamed wildlife and mysteries waiting to be captured.
It doesn’t take long for these creatures to greet us. Almost immediately a flock of birds flutter about our constantly roving cart, curious of the unusual vehicle now inhabiting their territory. Snap their photo quickly though! A two-headed ostrich suddenly springs out of the tall grass to our left, prancing across the railroad tracks and aimlessly high-stepping along the shoreline. Pressing on further with this safari ride, we’ll witness a sleeping giant lounging amongst the dandelions, a distinctly female kin of the Loch Ness monster far out at sea, a fox gleefully giving chase to a rolling ball and an undomesticated feline caught up in a miniature whirlwind. Or hopefully we will, if we want to impress the professor and have him send us to the even more uncultivated reaches of the island.
Does this premise sound interesting? Ambitious? Maybe even fun? Keep these answers in mind when I tell you the name of the game is Pokemon Snap.
Nintendo may have done themselves a disservice in the eyes of many critics by capitalizing on a flourishing Pokemon franchise and releasing this spin-off to the series. They’ll forever be accused of “milking their cash cow” with this title, while the same halfwits making these accusations praise their latest portable re-release to high heaven however blatant the cashing-in attempt is (because we can never have too much NES Excitebike!). But while Pokemon Snap may have been overpriced at the time of its release for such a short-lasting jaunt, it is far from the fruitless, worthless trifle those trying to wage crusades would like you to believe. Call it a guilty pleasure, or just call it fun.
Granted, we don’t seem to be given a great amount of options here. Coasting along in our perpetually rolling cart, exploring beachfronts and tunnels and river basins, we’ll be frantically glancing in every direction, trying to take photos of every creature that hops into view. Returning to Oak with such rushed photography though -- snapshots of beasts far in the distance with their backs turned to us -- will not yield lucrative point totals, and in turn not lead to worthwhile rewards. Once we slow down and start taking into account size, pose, and technique -- up-close portraits of reacting Pokemon in the center of the frame – we’ll be provided with the tools necessary to take even better pictures: apples to lure the creatures closer to our vehicle, pester balls to agitate wildlife for impressive action shots and a Pokeflute capable of altering behavior for unique photo ops. And this is when the real fun begins.
The third of the six eventual safaris isn’t just a skin-deep affair, though it certainly is gorgeous on the surface too. Pools of lava bubble and boil along both sides of the rocky path our buggy climbs, an overlooking volcano puffing dark looming smoke clouds against the lucent, crimson sky. A heard of Rapidash immediately gallops past us, their white hides accentuated by their flaming tails and the hanging clouds of soot in the backdrop. A friendly pack of Vulpix saunter right in front of us for closer investigation before continuing to frolic about the barren landscape. This picturesque volcanic setting is the ideal site for photographing fire Pokemon in the wild, and luckily that’s just the task we have to accomplish.
But we haven’t even begun to take advantage of all the tricks in our bag. Two Charmanders play on a desolate hunk of soil; throw a few apples in their direction, and watch as a heard of their friends emerge from the horizon to feast on the treats, giving us the chance to photograph them in mass for bonus points. A pairing of Magmars stands by idly as we scroll past, but try throwing one of the tasty fruits between the duo. Watch as they butt heads, and then attack each other with dueling flamethrowers to try and claim the prize. Close to the exit, a lone Charmeleon circles around a brewing crater filled with magma. Fire a pester ball to topple him into the pit, and watch in awe as his evolved form, a fearsome, fire-breathing Charizard, emerges from the smoking abyss for his photo shoot. It’s not just the mountainside either; from the gushing rapids to the dreary caverns, secrets are hidden all about this island, and deductive experimentation is the only way to reveal them.
Unfortunately, there needs to be more.
Six locales are scant enough, but when the ride through each lasts approximately seven minutes, we just don’t have an enduring title on our hands, even if we travel through a few times. Barely one third of the one hundred and fifty Pokemon available at the time of Snap’s release are roaming the terrain waiting to be captured on film as well, another disappointing facet in the grand scheme of things. Snap’s problem is not whether what’s presented is fun; it most certainly is enjoyable, a relaxing break from more taxing titles where we’re constantly on our toes. It’s just that there’s not enough game here to last for more than one afternoon, and that’s a shame because we want this childhood innocence to last as long as possible.
But I still heartily recommend Pokemon Snap for that one delightful afternoon. You’’ll laugh when a dormant Snorlax awakes and dances upon hearing the Pokeflute. You’ll smile as you strike the ball that the Eevee was chasing, and it reveals itself to be a fellow Pokemon, Chansey. You’ll be mildly irked when the professor disapproves of a Polaroid you really liked, but not enough to deter you from giving it another go. Yet most importantly, you’ll have fun, if but for a few fleeting hours.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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