Review by Snow Dragon
Reviewed: 04/02/03 | Updated: 04/02/03
If I'm prey to anything, it's a good marketing ploy. And what a whizzbanger this one is! Pokémon Snap (Nintendo, 1999) follows the path of milking the pocket monster cash cow - or rodent, as it were - with little diversion from time-tested formulas. Aimed toward very small children who think that an N64 controller is a highfalutin teething ring, it's basically a photo safari on wheels, as you take the helm in a spherical steel vehicle that looks somewhat like a gold Pokéball with a headlight into the wild to take pictures of rare Pokémon. Unlike the ill-fated Hey You Pikachu of the same system, this actually isn't an idea that crashes and burns before it even hits the drawing board. It is easy to see how a game featuring the itinerant trio all youngsters seem to love - Ash, Misty, and Brock - snapping photographs of Pokémon would be a blast. Maybe we will see it again in a remake of sorts, because this is not that game. This is where Pokémon Snap begins its journey on the downward spiral to mediocrity.
The show's three most popular characters, the three who appear in almost every episode with few exceptions, are absent from this game. Instead, you are relegated to the role of a VERY minor character at the wheel of the ZERO-ONE: Todd, a redheaded amateur who often gets himself into sticky predicaments in attempts to capture Pokémon (on film, not in balls) up close. And who has been in maybe three episodes - four tops.
So it lacks the main characters that just about every Japanese and American child can recognize in an instant, and leaves you with Todd and Professor Oak, whom fans of the show know as a slapstick buffoon that somehow, against all odds and characterization, still manages to exude an aura of frumpiness. What you, Todd, and Oak are set out to do is take the best of pictures that you possibly can. There are very few stops on the road of any given course, and many of the pictures are taken while you're still in traction, adding quite a challenge for that lucky gamer behind the camera. Given a roll of 60 shots per trip (and the ability to return to a course as many times as you like), you ride along the one-way path in the ZERO-ONE looking for photo opportunities; Pokémon at rest, Pokémon at play, Pokémon in fights, Pokémon engaged in rituals that seem like once-in-a-lifetime occurrences at first but, you soon find, happen every time you approach and trigger a reaction with some item you happen to be carrying.
Todd is at no loss for an inventory here, either. He carries infinite supplies of apples for distracting hungry Pokémon or clocking them in their innocent heads, and Pester Balls, blue and purple oddities that in most cases act as an irritant or wake-up call and are somehow 100% ozone-safe. These items will often help them keep a pose long enough for a decent snapshot, which you need plenty of to score points and access more areas for your travels. As well as unlocking new locales to explore, you'll also receive items that aid you in stirring, enraging, and even hypnotizing mass groupings of Pokémon for pictures that add up to massive points in Oak's book.
Funnily enough, it seems as though Professor Oak, in addition to knowing his Pokémon inside and out, is quite the astute judge of amateur photography in his spare hours. After completing your rounds through any of the game's courses, which range from a beach to a volcano to a raging river to a trip on an astral plane where your only chance for a picture is the elusive Mew, he will peruse the pics you pick as your personal favorites and judge them on several distinctive criteria: how easy it is to identify the pocket monster in question, how close the subject is to the center of the picture, any special activities or rituals it may be engaging in, and whether there are multiple types of the same Pokémon in a single snapshot. Some pictures are even graded on the evolution of certain ones that are able to do so.
This reviewer will not lie to you. Many of your initial pictures are going to be total crap. After hearing some of Oak's rather harsh judgments, it soon becomes apparent that catching a vague, blurry shot of, how shall I say, a Rapidash's hinderparts is not going to cut the mustard. Fortunately, this game is based on a credo that's perfect for the youngsters that make up this game's target demographic: ''If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.'' Pokémon Snap gives the player unlimited stabs at looking for a picture worthy of those nature yearbooks Reader's Digest circulates every year for about $200. This is the perfect way for children to hone their photographing skills and for those older ones who pick up on the basics quickly to hunt for the one pose that will net the absolute maximum amount of points possible for one shot. To this end, there is never really any true completion of the game; the only way to ''beat'' it is to best your own scores, which as long as you leave yourself room for improvement can be done continually, even if only by increments of ten points each time.
There is a fair bit of entertainment and general self-amusement to be found in going back to polish your Pokémon-snapping skills. However, there is a strong limit imposed on this sort of fun. Of the 151 Pokémon that America knew of when this game reached stateside shores, a paltry seventy were featured in the game. This leaves less than half of the potential that the game could have reached sitting around gathering dust. These seventy Pokémon also appear in the same places in the same levels every time, so it's no big thing to go back in with the Pokémon flute and make them all dance for your happy little 10,000-point picture. It's easy to see how this quickly becomes a sleep aid, and after you've pretty much taken all the cool pictures your scrapbook is fit to hold, it's to the Plastic Tub O' Cartridges™ for this game. With no venerable names from the series to back it up and fun that lasts, like so many fast food deals, for a limited time only, Pokémon Snap remains a sure monetary investment for that rare person who likes taking pictures of imaginary living plants and animals.
Graphic-wise, however, there's always a lot going in on Pokémon Snap at once. Upon entering the volcano course, you are immediately accosted by a stampeding herd of Rapidash that require quick timing to get a good picture of. Other Pokémon sit around engaging in ambient activity until you approach in the ZERO-ONE, at which time some will get up and run away from you (as if we all know what a fearsome, intimidating figure Todd is) and others practically scream out to have their pictures taken. Many of the lighting effects seem to be a bit off, and many places are either way too bright or way too dark, depending on the mood they intend to create. There is also a tendency to be thrown off when a particular Pokémon is way up in your face, resulting in random snapshots that don't look very good because they were taken in the blink of an eye with little thought to aim. The fog effects that cover some of the Pokémon like a shroud are a bit off, and though pictures in that vein may be centered as well as possible, the vagueness of the fog creates an inhibitor that won't get your Lapras shots at the beach as high a score as that which you might desire. All of the Pokémon that made it into this game make a great transition from the small screen to three-dimensionality, even if the scenes of nature they inhabit are disgustingly generic.
Kids should have an easy time learning the intricacies of the camera as well as seeing all their favorite Pokémon in this game, including the myriad inevitable Pikachu cameos that infest more than half of the courses you go sightseeing in. Aiming the camera is performed with a single button, and you use the stick in the middle of the controller to center the shot as you hold the camera in focus. Taking the first picture can be such an oddly exciting experience that you just waste your first few rolls in a matter of seconds soaking up everything possible, even if it's a close-up of a rock that scores you absolutely no points whatsoever. In time, after learning the ropes of capturing poses and clicking snapshots, you slowly accrue more points that allow you to unlock levels and gather the items that are beneficial to better poses and subsequently more points. Courses that move slowly or where you just so happen to get the pictures you need at the beginning can be conveniently sped through by holding down A, allowing you to get what you want and unlock the locales you crave faster if necessary. When a control scheme is made with tots in mind, it has to be easy to use, and Snap's is, making it a thrill not only for children who are just picking up video games but also that older person looking for a stark contrast from sucking blood and blowing up aliens.
Though the game is easy to pick up and get into for a while, none of these quality technical and stylistic features keep Pokémon Snap from becoming a bore and doing it fast. After finding the pittance of the creatures added into the game and becoming a master of freezing them in time and your scrapbook for Professor Oak to judge, there's nothing ahead save for championing your own best close-ups. A roll of film dropped off at the one-hour booth and this game both take about the same amount of time to fully develop, and after looking at them both once and remembering the good times, each is destined for an unproductive life in the closet, to be pulled out once every couple of years or so and given remembrance with foggy eyes and lots of laughter.
Well, maybe the former, anyway.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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