Pokémon Snap has amassed an incredibly avid cult following since its 1999 release, and for good reason. The long-awaited sequel is finally upon us, so let’s zoom in on why Pokémon collectors can’t wait to look through that viewfinder once again.
How many filtered selfies have you scrolled across on Instagram today? How many food pics?
With the ever-increasing technological advancements found in each new smartphone release, pretty much anyone can be a semi-competent photographer these days. What really marks a great photo, though, is its subject. What’s a better subject than the cute/ferocious/always-amusing critters known the world over as Pokémon? Pokémon Snap, the photography-based game developed by HAL Laboratory and released for the Nintendo 64 in June of 1999, combined the overwhelming popularity of Pokémon with a mechanic that had never before been seen on gaming consoles: technique-based photography.
The origin story.
Originally developed as a game called Jack and the Beanstalk (totally unrelated to Pokémon) and intended to be released for the quickly-scrapped Nintendo 64 peripheral called the 64DD, Pokémon Snap took a significant pivot to become the game we know today. At the time of its release, the only Pokémon games to have come out in North America were the original Pokémon Blue and Red versions, along with Pokémon Pinball for Game Boy Color the month prior.
After blowing on the cartridge and smashing that power button to “ON,” players were presented with their first-ever opportunity to witness their favorite little monsters in a 3D environment. Despite the limitations of rail-shooter-style gameplay (where movement follows a pre-set route while the player controls the view), there was something truly special about suddenly having the ability to view these creatures as fluid beings with movement and personality. Previously, they could only be viewed as 8-bit pixels.
As photographer Todd Snap, players take trips to seven environments on Pokémon Island where Professor Oak has summoned you to take photos for his scientific research.
Players can throw items such as apples or pester balls (gaseous orbs that Pokémon definitely don’t appreciate having lobbed in their faces) or play a special Poké-flute, all to elicit reactions that result in different poses for the camera. It’s a joy to witness a slumbering Snorlax awaken from the sound of your Pokéflute and begin to do an adorably goofy dance. To chuck a pester ball at a poor Electrode, make it explode, and then snap a pic of its photogenic frown is a delight, if not slightly evil.
Much like a photographer scrolling through hundreds of recently-snapped photos to decide which ones deserve an edit, even the seemingly procedural experience of picking which of your Poké-shots to show the Professor is a fun experience. The point system by which Professor Oak evaluates your snapshots takes into account the main tenets of most real-life photography: size of the subject in the frame, its pose, interesting action/motion, etc. I don’t doubt that more than a few Pokéfans were led to passions for photography by the mechanics of this game.
There are really only two sources of hefty critique for Pokémon Snap as a whole.
First, it is incredibly short (I swear I timed it once and did a new game run-through of every level in about 40 something minutes). Second, one can only snap photos of 63 out of the total 151 original Pokémon that existed at the time of the game’s release. Both can reasonably be attributed to development/technological/whatever limitations. However, Pokémon was and is a franchise based on the concept of collecting. A completist collector’s worst fear is the gnawing yet cruelly inescapable pain of knowing one can only ever capture frames of 63 out of 151 Pokémon….”BUT I GOTTA SNAP THEM ALL!”
On top of all the ingenuity in the game itself, players could also bring in their cartridge to certain Blockbuster locations and print out their photos onto stickers using special kiosk stations, which themselves have become collector’s items. This helped the game’s popularity. It added a new layer of collectability by adding a real-life physical element to the entire experience. After its release, it always remained a mystery to the mass of cult followers as to why a sequel was never made. It seemed obvious, especially upon the development of newer consoles.
They did re-release the game for the Wii and Wii U as Virtual Console titles. However, they were simply emulations of the original. Still, I remember fuming (probably to an inappropriate, unchill level) at what I viewed as one of the most glaring missed opportunities ever. The idea that they would release these consoles (which featured the perfect chance to incorporate even more lifelike camera-operating experiences through motion sensors/dual screens/etc.) without also releasing a new version of Pokémon Snap blew collective minds in a disappointing way.
Whatever the reason for having fans of the original wait so long, our fuming days may soon be over.
New Pokémon Snap, a fresh iteration of the title, was announced in June of 2020 and has a release date of April 30th, 2021 for the Nintendo Switch system. Now, we’re set in the Lental region. Players will once again be able to take photos of these wild creatures in fantastical environments. The fact that over 700 new Pokémon have been added since the original game’s release in 1999 should only give hope to us collectors that we will have a chance to “capture” even more of our favorite Pokémon, only to have Professor Oak say of our hard-earned photos: “Hmmm…It’s not very good.”