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Venusaur leaps into a lake near some Sobble in a screenshot from New Pokémon Snap Image: Bandai Namco/Nintendo

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New Pokémon Snap is the portable safari we’ve been waiting for

This is the Planet Earth of Pokémon games

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Nintendo’s latest Pokémon game captures the magic of the fleeting moment.

The sequel to Pokémon Snap, a beloved Nintendo 64 game released more than 20 years ago, New Pokémon Snap expands dramatically on that now-quaint photojournalist adventure. Players snap digital photos of hundreds of Pokémon, save their pics to their Nintendo Switch, and share them with other Pokémon fans online.

New Pokémon Snap blends the excitement of going on a safari with the safety of a Disney theme park. Riding in a protective on-rails vehicle, players can comfortably photograph creatures in the wild without fear of being stomped on by a Meganium or scorched by a Typhlosion. The challenge lies in capturing the best moments on your journey.

Each leg of your trip offers its own unique sights and thrills. Players start off in an area known as Floria Nature Park, where Pokémon like Grookey, Pichu, Bidoof, and Bouffalant frolic. Taking photos of each helps complete one’s Photodex, an in-game catalog of Pokémon and their behaviors. Capturing specific moments (e.g., Bouffalant fighting each other, Scorbunny showing off with a Blaze Kick) is key to success. As players progress, they’ll spot new Pokémon, see new behaviors, and unlock new areas: jungles, deserts, reefs, and more.

This all takes place in a new region of the Pokémon world: Lental, an archipelago with a surprising variety of biomes, from white sand beaches to foggy forests to an active volcano. In Lental, under the direction of Pokémon researcher and historian Professor Mirror, players study the region’s indigenous creatures and a local phenomenon known as Illumina. Basically, the local Pokémon glow, and Mirror doesn’t know why.

A Meganium glows with Illumina energy in New Pokémon Snap
A Meganium glows with mysterious Illumina energy.
Image: Bandai Namco/Nintendo

To better understand those special Pokémon and unravel a light mystery, players set off on a photo safari in a hovercraft known as the Neo-One. Equipped with a camera and tools to attract wild creatures, including delicious Fluffruits and a melodic whistle, players snap photos of Pokémon in the wild to supplement the professor’s research. The better the photo, the more points you’ll score from Mirror when he reviews your work.

The professor wants to see Pokémon up close and personal, exhibiting wild behavior, or interacting with each other in exciting ways. Capturing the right moment, and capturing it beautifully, is more difficult than it may seem. The Neo-One’s built-in scanner helps locate Pokémon and other objects in the environment, but snapping a nice photo is up to the player.

What makes a good photograph is, for the most part, obvious. Professor Mirror wants big, clear images of Pokémon centered in the frame. If they’re doing something special, even better. If other Pokémon are also in frame, better still. But scoring in New Pokémon Snap can sometimes feel inconsistent; you may show a lovely looking photo to the professor, only to have him rate it one star (out of four). Meanwhile, an unquestionably lousy photo — like my shot of a Murkrow eating a Fluffruit, in which the scene was entirely obscured by grass — can earn a four-star rating. Trying to crack New Pokémon Snap’s algorithm can be perplexing, and a bit frustrating.

That frustration is abated by how enjoyable each run through a new area can be. I was constantly on the lookout for new Pokémon or new moments to capture. Playing next to my partner — who loves Pokémon by way of Pokémon Go — we delighted in witnessing adorable antics from the likes of Pikachu, Emolga, Squirtle, and other cute creatures. While I played, she pointed out things in the environment I missed. Figuring out how to both spot and elicit those moments using the tools at hand is like solving a puzzle. Discovering that I could summon a group of Bellossom to dance using both my scanning tool and my flutelike melody instrument in tandem resulted in more than just a stellar photo — it made for a delightful moment.

If a particular photo doesn’t turn out quite the way you’d hope, you can tweak it after the shutter snaps, like you would on your smartphone. The professor won’t re-review those edited pics, but your Pokémon snaps can be cropped, tilted, filtered, and decorated for sharing on social media or in the game’s online bulletin boards. This is Pokémon Snap for the Instagram and Snapchat generation.

A group of Bouffalant and Vivillon in a screenshot from New Pokémon Snap
A Dodrio chills near a group of Bouffalant and Vivillon.
Image: Bandai Namco/Nintendo

This is where the magic of New Pokémon Snap lies: watching Pokémon behave like wild creatures. That can be witnessing something grand, like a giant Wailord breaching, or something mundane, like Bidoof building a dam. And, of course, it’s capturing those moments on film. New Pokémon Snap encourages the discovery of these behaviors not just through better ratings for your photos, but also with a system called Lentalk Requests.

The professor, his assistant Rita, and fellow photographer Phil will often ask the player to snap a pic of a special moment or a well-hidden Pokémon. Completing their Lentalk Requests will earn the player some nice cosmetic bonuses (player icons, frames, name badges, etc.), but they also offer a sense of replayability — crucial for a run-based game like New Pokémon Snap, where you’ll be repeating the same trips through nature and seeing the same Pokémon over and over again.

Some Requests can be unclear or feel poorly explained, however, and missing the right moment — or believing you’ve captured something special, only to be told you haven’t — is frustrating. There were many situations where I found myself simply jamming on every button, throwing glowing balls and Fluffruit, desperately trying to elicit a reaction or lure an out-of-sight Pokémon from its hiding spot. These trial-and-error moments detract from what otherwise feels like an immersive journey through the natural world of Pokémon.

These nitpicks disappear, however, the next time you visit a strange new area, see an elusive new Pokémon, or discover an adorable interaction between creatures. New Pokémon Snap is video gaming’s equivalent of visiting Jurassic Park — without the whole eating-the-tourists thing — or landing a gig as a Planet Earth photographer. And you can make the trip from the comfort of your Switch.

New Pokemon Snap will be released April 30 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.


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