Review by Suprak the Stud
"Needed a Bit More Time to Develop"
Somewhere along the way, pokemon became so popular that the executives at Nintendo realized they could slap a Pikachu sticker on rocks and market them as pokemon Battle Stones, and the things would still sell faster than hot dogs at a Weight Watchers convention. For years, Nintendo used the winning formula of pokemon + garbage = enough money to genetically engineer their own pokemon. The pokemon license was stuck on just about any other generic type of game to help it sell, but by now I've realized that the pokemon stamp on anything other than the main series of games is pretty much an equivalent to the Surgeon General's warning on cigarettes. Yeah, they're pretty much letting us know it's garbage, but all the junkies out there need their fix and the garbage still sells. However, before attaching the pokemon name to various uninteresting games became a trend (and before I became so jaded by Nintendo that I could still approach one of their games with a sense of something other than dread), Pokemon Snap was released for the Nintendo 64. Now, Pokemon Snap is by no means a terrible game, and while it lasts it is actually one of the better pokemon side games. However, all the signs here point to it being a rush job, released solely to cash in on the success of the name while cutting corners at every opportunity. The end result leaves the game playable, but extremely light on actual gameplay and entertainment.
In Pokemon Snap you play as a young kid, solicited by Professor Oak to travel around this island in order to take photos of Pokemon. This premise leads to a complex story with all sorts of pertinent questions. Why are Professor Oak's research assistants always under the age of ten? How could taking pictures of pokemon possibly help in his research (unless he's researching methods of how to make a collage for his mom)? Why am I stuck with this job, when all your other assistants are out in the field capturing monsters and forcing them to fight each other? How long until the cops bust in and break up Oak's ring of child employees? Will Chris Hansen ever show up? To my dismay, none of these questions are ever answered, because there is no story here to speak of. Although, if you're looking for a story in a game called Pokemon Snap, you wouldn't have been able to read it anyway because you clearly couldn't read the title of the box. All you need to know is this: here's a camera, there are pokemon, take their pictures.
The game sort of plays like a rail shooter, but instead of a gun with bullets you have a camera with pictures, and instead of trying to murder you, your enemies will try to overwhelm you with their cuteness and desire to move at the last second before you snap your shot. You start off with just a camera (and an outfit that will ensure you always get beat up at recess), but you earn addition items as you progress throughout the game. Apples attract pokemon, pester balls annoy them or force them out of hiding, and you can rock out on your pokeflute to make them dance. You have sixty shots to use on each course, and at the end you select whichever photo you believe to be the best for each pokemon and present it to Professor Oak. At this time, he judges it and rewards you points depending on how close it is, what kind of pose it is making, if the picture is centered, and other factors. In the above four sentences, I have completely summarized everything you need to know about the game, which is appropriate because it only has around three hours of gameplay.
Despite how basic Pokemon Snap is, it still is fairly enjoyable while it lasts. While acting as a photographer that can't actually move around to take the pictures you want sounds about as enjoyable as working as a welder that can't use his or her hands, there is something fairly clever about the way the game is presented. It feels like a puzzle game/FPS-for-kids hybrid, and it almost works. Snapping simple shots is easy enough, but if you want to get the good ones there is usually some sort of trick to it. Finding some of the pokemon requires some fairly clever tricks to either lure them out of hiding or force some other pokemon to lure them out of hiding. Finding the right way to get the perfect shot and frame it just right is surprisingly enjoyable and at least offers a bit of replay value.
While the basic concept here is fairly enjoyable, I am less enthused about how it was implemented. It seems like it would be hard to mess up the central pokemon tenant of gotta catch them all. Sure, it might be a little different. Gotta shoot them all sounds like you're playing as a pokemon poacher, and gotta photograph them all doesn't really have the same ring to it. So, Nintendo sidestepped this problem entirely by not including over half of the pokemon. I can't think of any reason for this other than they were in a hurry to get things out and didn't have enough time to come up with creative ways to showcase all of them. The game is very short, and it probably won't take more than an afternoon to reach the end, so I can't figure out why they would want to omit such a large portion of the cast. It feels like they ran out of ideas about halfway through designing the game and just gave up.
It isn't just the pokemon that were left out, as the entire game feels like it was only half done. There are six levels and one bonus level, each of which last around 3 minutes. Why they only designed a handful of levels is beyond me, because it feels like this game was put together in a day and everyone was still able to leave early. And despite the fact that there are only six of them, none of them are really that well designed. They all have a generic, uninteresting backdrop that looks like it was put together using the tools in Microsoft Paint. Worse, in each of the levels there are too many portions that are unoccupied by pokemon or where one pokemon occupies the screen for far too long. Both of these problems could be remedied by simply including the entire catalogue of pokemon and not just only those they were able to remember off of the top of their head.
The game does have a decent amount of replay value, and you will most likely be motivated to play through each level several times just to optimize your score. After completing the game, you can also go back and try to photograph all the pokemon you missed, but the game does its best to spin you around and mess with you by not telling you exactly how many pokemon there are in the game or which ones you should be looking for. After completing the game, you also have the option to go back and search for certain hidden signs or go for the high score on each level. These things to give the game a bit more longevity, but it doesn't change the fact that you are only playing through the same handful of levels over and over again. It is nice that there things to do if you want to replay the game, but it would have been better if there was more to do during the first play through.
The game also has a monumentally stupid save system, but part of the problem might be due to the fact the Nintendo 64 still used cartridges, which in retrospect was really cute. The primary problem is that there is only one save file per cartridge, which would make sense only if Nintendo sold their games to single person household. There isn't a lot of stuff on the cartridge, so I'm assuming it would have been easy enough to include multiple save files if Nintendo had allocated more people to its problem solving division and less people to its money counting division. One extra save file would have been nice, because as it stands only one person can play the game at a time. Less annoying is the fact that you have to go in and manually save everything at the title screen. Autosave isn't really something you notice until it isn't there, and while this is more the fault of my own forgetfulness than some design problem in the game, it is frustrating to lose your progress just because the game needs to be told to do everything itself
Overall, I suppose you could do worse than Pokemon Snap. Snapping photos is more entertaining than it sounds, and figuring out ways to maximize your points actually makes the game longer than the sum of its courses (which tops out at about 25 minutes). Still, the game wasn't designed particularly well, and the levels are fairly bare and a large chunk of the pokemon from the first generation are completely absent. Pokemon Snap feels more like the trailers preceding a film than the actual film itself. Sure, they weren't particularly bad, but they aren't exactly memorable and you're going to be upset if that's all you got for the price of your ticket. While it is a fairly obvious attempt to cheaply cash in on pokemon's popularity while exerting as little effort as possible, the game is pretty enjoyable while it lasts, which is more than you can say of the most recent stream of pokemon products. Pokemon fans are probably going to check this out regardless, but it still would be nice if it offered more than 30 minutes of game time. I tend to like my games to last a bit longer than a television show.
Picture Perfect (THE GOOD):
+Fairly clever implementation of gameplay
+Discovering ways to optimize your photographs is fairly enjoyable
+Maxing out the score offers a decent amount of replay value
+Unique premise that mixes some light puzzles with a sort of FPS style
+Easy and intuitive to control
Out of Focus (THE BAD):
-Game is extremely short and has only around half an hour of unique gameplay
-Large portion of the pokemon from the first generation are omitted entirely
-Levels are poorly designed and feel relatively empty
-Only one save spot, making it impossible for more than one person to play at a time
-Game feels like it was rushed out, and isn't as polished or complete as it could be
I Left the Lens Cap On (THE UGLY): Professor Oak brags about how great an invention his pokeflute is, but I'm 99% positive he just crudely jammed a normal flute through a pokeball and called in a pokeflute. If that's all you need to do to invent something, I wish I had known when I drunkenly invented my pickleflute, because I could've made a fortune.
THE VERDICT: 5.50/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 05/27/10
Game Release: Pokemon Snap (US, 06/30/99)
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