Pokémon Snap is one of the earliest spin-off games in the Pokémon series and it remains one of the most unusual. The game was developed by HAL Laboratory, the studio behind the Kirby series, and released on the Nintendo 64 in 1999. Its focus was not on the RPG adventures of the main series or the competitive battling of Pokémon Stadium. Instead, the idea was Photography. The player would take on the role of Todd Snap, a specialist Pokémon photographer, as he helped Professor Oak record the habitats of Pokémon living on a unique island. This is actually part of what makes the Snap unusual within the series; it is one of two games in the series that is directly tied to the anime. Todd was a character that appeared in a number of episodes in the Kanto series. He was a photographer same as he is here and travelled with Ash, Misty and Brock. The anime connection is something that ties greatly into the game’s aesthetics as well.
The main menu uses artwork that appears to be ripped straight from the anime; Professor Oak and his lab. It’s a nice familiar sight, having the Professor explain the basic idea of the game and asking your name. It’s very reflective of the overall art style, which is very bright and colourful. The central gameplay is focused on moving through one of a number of courses, each with their own native Pokémon. It’s an on rails experience that moves slowly to allow pictures to be taken. All the Pokémon move on their own and some will interact with each other. One notable example is a Meowth in the opening Beach course. It is chased and attacked by Pidgeys that it appeared to upset during your time on the course. Not every Pokémon is in plain sight. Some will emerge from various areas, such as a Doduo running out from tall grass. The tunnel course has odd, floating lights in a few places. Taking a photo of one will show that it is a Haunter when it’s developed. Once a course has been completed, the player selects a picture from those taken in the course for Professor Oak to evaluate (one per each species of Pokémon). In his evaluation, a score will be given for each one based on a number of factors. It’s here the game becomes a score attack, trying to obtain the best score for each Pokémon’s photograph.
As the game progresses, with more courses being unlocked, a number of items will be unlocked to make more and better photographs possible. This is one the strongest aspects of Pokémon Snap’s re-playability. You will not see everything about a course on the first time through. The first thing received is the Pokémon bait. These apples can used to attract Pokémon out of hiding or just bring them closer to the camera. It’s also possible to lead Pokémon to spots for special photos that grant a point bonus when being evaluated. Using it to lead a Pikachu to a conveniently placed surfboard creates one such opportunity. The pester ball is just used to get a reaction of Pokémon and is really another way to bring them out of hiding. However, it can also be used in other ways. By using it on other Pokémon or objects, it is possible to make Pokémon evolve. The Pokéflute returns as well and is used to create more unique situations. Everything here adds up to create a living world in this game. This is also helped by the fact that Pokémon Snap is first game in the series to have voice acting for all the featured Pokémon (some of it is taken directly from the dub for the anime).
Pokémon Snap came at a time when the brand for the franchise was still being established. It was a game that probably could have only worked with Pokémon. There was something very personal about the photographs taken. At the original release in the US, it was possible to take the game cartridge to Blockbuster and have player taken photos printed out as stickers. It is game that comes highly recommended to play for its creative and fun experience. Fans have been wanting new version of Pokémon Snap for years, and it is definitely an idea that is worth returning to. Game Freak director Junichi Masuda has said that he would want to see that happen and wouldn’t stop it from being made. Here’s hoping that one day it does get made. Currently Pokémon Snap is available as a Virtual Console game from the WiiU eshop.