Before this point, I have never even had the slightest interest in photography. On Instagram, I post once every couple of years, while my phone’s camera is one of my least used apps. Take a look at my camera roll, and instead of the stunning landscapes and landmarks that you may expect to see from someone from the Isle of Wight, it is instead filled with information that I take a photo of to remember later, or sometimes the occasional meme. Even as a child, despite being generously gifted a digital camera, it never held my attention for long, always prefering a physical souvenir to remember a place.
However, that has somewhat changed recently with the addition of the 1999 video game ‘Snap’ onto Nintendo’s ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ service, which allows users to play a variety of their retro games for a fairly reasonable monthly or yearly fee. After playing lots of ‘Metroid Dread’ and ‘Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards’, I eventually found the time to play this spin-off adventure. Although I am a massive fan of Pokémon, initially I was unsure whether I would enjoy ‘Snap’ due to its subject matter, one that contrasts greatly from the usual grand RPG-adventure focus of the franchise.
In the game, you assume the role of a budding Pokémon photographer, traveling to Pokémon Island in order to take photos which help the loveable Professor Oak in his research. Across the game, there are seven landscapes to discover, each one taking around five minutes to travel through in a ‘rail shooter’ style situation; this is a bit like one of those theme park rides where you have to shoot something from a travelling cart, like Toy Story Mania at Disney World. During the adventure, several items can be unlocked to help you out, including an Apple to lure Pokémon out from hiding spots and a Poke Flute to awaken them from slumber.
Although each level is short, the numourous playthroughs which you’ll need to discover all the different Pokémon scenarios quickly makes ‘Pokémon Snap’ a far more content-heavy game than it may first appear. Despite this, its sense of exploration is never too difficult to the point of frustration. While there are moments in which a clearly triggable object, such as a giant egg, may pose a challenge as to how it can be interacted with, the game’s relaxing soundtrack and often-humourous (and always cute) visuals makes it a joy to try out each item’s possibilities. There is something uniquely serene about floating down a river, attempting to get the best angle of a Psyduck, or luring out a jungle-dwelling Polywag to get a high-scoring shot. It’s something that the main series Pokemon games can’t quite capture for me, and makes me want to explore this art form a little more in the real world. Can striving to get the perfect shot always be such a joy?
To a professional, the game’s sense of actual photographic skill required may seem laughably weak. However, as a complete beginner, Professor Oak’s way of scoring each picture serves as an easy-to-understand way of entering the scientific photoraphy world. Each shot is rated on a range of factors, such as: the closeness of the Pokémon, how many of them are in the photo, whether its in an interesting position or displaying a move (which can be often triggered through items), and how close to the shot’s centre the Pokémon is. With the game focusing on investigation over creativity there is understandably little room for subjectivity; low points are guaranteed if the picture doesn’t meet Oak’s strict critera. Therefore, landcape shots, as beautiful and tempting as they may be, are discouraged. However, to me that only adds to the game. While scientific photography is likely not a form of the art that I would choose to dabble in, it forces you to carefully consider your shot for the task at hand. What good is a stunning photo of a luminous waterfall to the study of a Rattata?
After years of silence regarding the spin-off franchise, a sequel to ‘Pokémon Snap’ finally released in 2021. Inventively titled ‘New Pokémon Snap’, the game looks as though it seriously fleshes out the original’s scoring system, all while providing top-notch graphics that can make the game feel even closer to reality. While I have not played it yet, I plan to in the coming months alongside hopefully exploring an interest in real photography that the original game has given me. Sadly I do not expect any Pikachus to ambush me as I play a flute, but I imagine my personal scoring system will be at least a little farier than Mr. Oak’s!