Pokémon Snap came out almost 20 years ago, and in retrospect, it was ahead of its time. Years before Instagram, Pokémon Snap was about capturing and sharing the best possible version of a moment. When Snap came out, the easiest way to save or share game photos was to go to Blockbuster and have them printed as stickers — a true, ultimate 1990s experience.
Now that most people have a camera on them at all times, we treat photography differently; picture-taking itself has become a form of play. The fun part of Instagram or Snapchat filters is playing around with them, and the photo is just the end result. Or consider purikura photo booths. Popular in Japanese arcades, purikura allows users to customize and alter their photos before printing.
Pokémon Snap evoked the experience of using a digital camera before digital cameras became mainstream; it was all about the fun of taking pictures. You line up a shot, capture a photo and get scored on your work. And if you didn’t get it right, you could always have another go.
Which was also a downside of the game. The clockwork nature of the Pokémon’s movements meant that each playthrough was very similar, which made it easier to get the perfect shot, but didn’t allow much freedom of expression. This is where modern games are finally starting to catch up; photo modes provide the same experience but with creative freedom. They let you engage with familiar and beloved worlds in new, fun ways by providing a landscape that can be manipulated however you want, like digital legos.
Although it’s a stand-alone game, Snap extended and enriched the Pokémon universe. It made familiar monsters three-dimensional, and I don’t just mean graphically. It created an ecosystem where Pokémon interacted with each other in meaningful ways.
The formula for Pokémon games hasn’t evolved much over the years, which is fine — because Pokémon Snap was, and still is, a great game. Watch the video above to learn just how far ahead of its time this game really was.