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October 10, 2013

Pokémon Snap

Pokémon X and Y come out tomorrow! Oh my God oh my God ohmygod ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod! Wait, it's gonna be on the Nintendo 3DS only? Well, that sucks. Kinda. You know what doesn't suck? Fully original ideas! Pokémon has created a good number of spin-offs. We've got the Mystery Dungeon series, we've got Trozei, we've got Pokémon Frontier... You gotta admit that the franchise has found ways to become more diverse, instead of keeping to the “catch 'em all, battle Gym leaders, stop a criminal team, defeat the Elite 4” format.
This dates as far back as the early Game Boy games, too: Have you heard of the Pokémon Trading Card Game video game? It came out on the Game Boy Color, in the early days of the franchise, even before the second generation! We also got two other games before the second generation came around. Those games? Pokémon Stadium... and Pokémon Snap.

What's the concept behind Pokémon Snap, you ask? Well, to explain the concept, I have to explain the story. Anyone remembers Professor Oak? You know, the middle-aged man with the least symmetrical hair of all time?

Well, he's going to scientific conventions and the like, so he needs good pictures of Pokémon. Thus, he asks the help of Todd Snap (dumb name), an expert photograph. Todd will travel around six sections of a very, very large island and take pictures of the Pokémon he sees. Yeah, imagine that: Looking at Pokémon in their natural habitat. Isn't that wonderful? I mean, that has to be one of the few things you never do in any of the other games! This is, really, the very first time – and the only one so far – in the games in which a human character simply looks at those animals interacting with each other in the wild!

Getting ready for the most epic Pokémon photoshoot ever!
After Prof. Oak finishes telling you how the Zero-One (a buggy on rails that can also go on water and float in the air) works, you are sent to the level selection screen, in which all you have for the moment is the beach. That place is pretty calm, birds are flying... WOAH, what is that? ...A two-headed bird? Why, that's a Doduo that just came out of nowhere from the left! However, the buggy won't stop, so you are brought to more Pokémon in the wilderness, such as a Pikachu on the beach, a flying Butterfree, and even a Lapras in the distance! ...I never thought those were so big... Anyway, the buggy keeps moving, so you see a miniature mountain sleeping – the camera doesn't recognize it as a Pokémon, but we all know it is one, actually – and then to a Meowth atop a hill. Oh, he makes faces at Todd! Isn't that funny! As the level goes, we meet more Pokémon, such as an Eevee chasing a pink ball, and a Kangaskhan facing the wrong way so you see only its back. After maybe two minutes, you reach the end of the level.

Sadly, you lose points if you take pictures of the Pokémon from behind.

After which, you must pick what you think are the best snapshots you took for each Pokémon. It can be a little tricky this early in the game, as you don't have all the tools with you for the moment. Once your snapshots are chosen, those are brought to Professor Oak, who will then judge the pictures. Oh, but don't worry, he's not that harsh of a critic. He mostly looks at the pictures on four criterias: If the Pokémon is close to the camera, its pose (if it is facing the camera, if the photo was taken while the Pokémon is on the side, if it is turned away from the camera), if the Pokémon is entirely in the frame... Also, if a Pokémon was snapped while doing a funny or interesting pose, bonus points are awarded. Those are known as the Special poses.

I didn't know there was a circus zone in Pokémon.
Once all the snapshots you chose have been reviewed by Oak, he will welcome you again in his laboratory, and say that he found a new zone for you to explore. So, out you go again in your buggy, this time in a cavernous area. We'd expect more Rock-type Pokémon, but instead we get an Electabuzz chasing an... Electrode? Wait a second, that isn't right. Those two are Electric Pokémon. They're not in their element. Big doors open to reveal another room, this time with machinery located on the right. Wait, machines in here? And a Pikachu there? Near a giant egg? Well, that's kinda weird... There's not much to do in this room. Unless that energy ball at the back is something... Anyway, the level continues and we meet the little Diglett sprouting from the ground. Hey, this place looks like a factory now! ...I thought this island had been untouched by humans? Well, at least it explains the Electric Pokémon... A last part with Magnemite, those little magnet-and-screw eyeballs, and that part is over.

After you get your pictures reviewed by Oak, he gives you something new: Pokémon Food! ...That looks like apples, but whatever. Now you can toss them at Pokémon and they'll be very happy. On the other hand, you need to toss an apple to a particular Pokémon in the cavern area in order to unlock the third level. That means you have to go through the cavern level again, and toss an apple at that Pokémon... Oh, it's an Electrode that goes BOOM and reveals a secret passageway in the mountain!

Oh, a herd of Charmander! Aren't they cute!
The third level is in a volcano. Or... well... Whatever the place, there's lava and fire Pokémon everywhere. Rapidash and Vulpix at the beginning. Hey, watch out, those tails are on fire! Later on, a little Charmander is getting bullied by a Magmar. Not cool. As if that was not enough, there's a big egg blocking the way! Though, if you toss an apple at it, the egg falls into the lava. ...Noooooo! Wait, is that a fire bird coming out of the lava? It's a flaming MOLTRES! Wow! On your left, you can see a few Charmander who will invite more of their kind if you toss an apple at them. And on your right, see two Magmar who will fight each other for your apple. Wow, the place is heating up at every second! As you approach the exit, you can toss an apple at a Charmeleon near a puddle of lava. If he falls in it, he epically evolves into a majestic Charizard! Take that on film, quick!

The majestic dragon... who is not Dragon-type, however...

Come on, everybody! Let's Do The Bulba!
The level ends, so after your pictures are rated, you can move on to the fourth course, which is a small river. You can see more Pokémon in this part, most of them Water or Grass-types. Thus, on the way you can see Poliwag, Bulbasaur, Psyduck, Slowpoke... Near the end of the level, however, there's something weird floating in the cliffs. What's that? Too bad the apples don't work on these... However, at your return from there, Prof Oak gives you something all-new: The Pester Ball. This is a kind of ball that you'll toss at any place where you think a Pokémon might be hiding. The Pokémon will come out and you can then snap its picture.

When you go back in that level, you realize that many Pokémon are much easier to find thanks to this tool. However, I'm surprised that the Pokémon don't attack you in retribution... Shouldn't they be mad that you DARE toss that ball at them? In THEIR natural environment, too? Those balls let you discover more Pokémon, however. You can pull Bulbasaur out of tree trunks (don't ask how that works...), among other things. Also, you can toss a Pester Ball at that weird thing in the cliff, and it reveals... a Porygon! The badly-rendered creature lands on a switch, which opens a way towards a deep cave! Awesome!
After your photo checkup with Professor Oak, you can finally go down and into the cave. In there, you meet some Grimer, and a few Bulbasaur on the right. But their faces aren't... normal... What the Hell are those? Well, if you toss a Pester Ball at them, they turn into Ditto! Ah, so that's what they were! As the buggy progresses through the cave, you meet Koffing scaring some little Jigglypuff. Man, that's not cool! Tossing a Pester Ball at the poison bully will stop him from harassing the little puffball. Through the cave, more Pokémon, might it be Weepinbell, Jynx, and a few others. Oh, wait, the Jynx are placed around a blue egg. Let me guess, Articuno is in there.

Through the course, if you saved three Jigglypuff from the Koffing bullies, you'll see them near the end of the level, singing for you. Daaaaaaaaaaaaw! However, if you interrupt them in any way, they'll get mad. NO! Not the Sharpee! Not the Sharpee! Gyaaaaaah!

Welcome to Mount Digmore.
Oh, there's a river around it too.
Once you're back in Oak's lab, he redirects you to the last section of this island you haven't seen yet: The river! In this beautiful location, you can find lots of Squirtle, Magikarp, Mankey, Geodude, Graveler... Loads and loads of Pokémon, really. Plus, if you know how to, you might even see a Dragonite or, even harder to find, a Gyarados! Near the end, some Squirtle are shy, so they hide in their shells. You can toss a Pester Ball at those shells to try and hit a Mankey on top of a mountain. You'll next see that Mankey on the other side. If you toss another Pester Ball at him, he'll fall on a switch that will open the way towards... Oak's shack?

Well, yes, this is a secret in the game. When you find this shack, Oak tells you that there's a number of things on the island that are shaped like Pokémon. Those are signs, and there's one per level. If you come back with all six of those signs, he'll triangulate the location of legendary Pokémon Mew... and you'll have to take a picture of him! So, you have to go through all the other levels again, snapping the Pokémon signs. When you bring back the first sign, Oak will give you a precious item, the Poké Flute. Awesome!

When your quest to find all six Pokémon signs is over, Oak happily announces you that he found Mew's hideout! Way above the skies, over the clouds, with constellations in the background! Wow! ...Is Mew difficult to snap? Hell yeah. He keeps hiding in an energy shield. Cheater! However, once you manage to remove that shield and take a picture of Mew, it's totally worth it!

Too bad you can't Mew-speak! It would be easier to snap it!

So, what can you do after this? Well, technically you finished the Story Mode. Back in the days of the Nintendo 64, you could bring your cartridge to machines in some and print your pictures! Now, that's really cool. With the Virtual Console version, you can send one picture per day to the Album Channel on your Wii. That does the trick, I guess.

What is left to do? Well, you must take a picture of every single Pokémon in the game, OR try to beat the high score on each course. Wait, how many Pokémon are there in this game? ...Only sixty-three? That's way too few! If only there were more!

...Eh, whatever. I guess it's time to wrap up this review. So, what's good about this game? ALMOST EVERYTHING! I mean, the idea is innovative, something we've never seen before (nor after) in Pokémon. All the Pokémon species react differently to what you do when they're around. Plus, many of them are actually pretty darn funny. The items are a nice touch, too. Of course, the fact that you could print your pictures back then was awesome. Now, what are the problems in this game? Only. 63. Pokémon. I'm sure they wanted it to be 64, since it was an arc number with the Nintendo 64 and Ekans was planned to appear, but I guess changes were made during development. Whatever, 64 would not have been enough! 63 is not enough! The first generation had a whopping 151 Pokémon, with Snap a hundred of those would have been better. Of course, maybe there's something about cartridge space, but... whatever, you see what I mean. Another complaint about this game is that it is really way too darn short. Wit only seven courses, it can take you thirty minutes to finish the story mode, another thirty minutes to find all the Pokémon, and maybe another thirty minutes to find once all the Special Poses. And I agree; this game is too short. For such an excellent concept, we get a game that doesn't keep someone busy for long. And if my only complaints are that there isn't enough Pokémon and that the game is too short, well... that's VERY good, actually!

Pokémon Snap was such an incredible game that with every new Generation, fans keep asking for a new Pokémon Snap, one that would have many more Pokémon in the wild, one that would be just as great as this one. Heck, I'm one of those fans. However, until then, we'll have to do with this one. Not that we'd complain. Please, Nintendo, we want another Pokémon Snap!

A Pokémon Snap with Generation 6? On the Wii U?
Sucks that I wouldn't be able to play it, but it would still be incredible!