|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
It started last September with two Game Boy games: Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. With that, Pokemania crossed the Pacific and spread across our nation like wildfire, spurring otherwise mild gamers and youngsters into a collecting frenzy . Now for the first time on Nintendo 64, gamers can feed their hunger with Nintnedo's Pokemon Snap.
As in the Game Boy titles, the objective in Pokemon Snap is to collect as many Pokemon (originally Japanese for "pocket monsters") as possible. But in Snap, the tool of the trade is not a net, but a camera. As young Todd, gamers will journey on safari across Pokemon Island, taking pictures for Professor Oak's Pokemon Report. Pictures are rated on size (closeness to the camera), pose, technique (centered-ness), and the number of same Pokemon in a single shot. At least 63 of the known 151 Pokemon are hiding in the wilds.
Gameplay occurs from a first-person perspective, but not free-range as in Goldeneye. Players are railroaded along asTodd's vehicle, the Zero-One, proceeds from entrance to exit. Todd can look in any direction and zoom in for snapshots, but cannot halt the vehicle's progress or change its general direction.
As Todd advances through the seven stages, the Pokemon become more obscure. Various items, such as Pokemon Food, Pester Balls, and the Poke Flute, will be granted for use to lure the Pokemon out and catch them in rare poses. For example, a Pester Ball might flush a Scyther out of the grass, while tossing food at two Magmars may cause them to fight over the fare, providing a rare photo opportunity!
The challenge is in catching the Pokemon, not fighting the camera; controls are truly point-and-click. The C-buttons quickly adjust Todd's line of sight, and the Z-button can be set to switch to zoom mode by pressing it once or holding it down. It's so simple, there's little to be configured, and even less to screw up.
The music is simple and uninspired, resting unobtrusively in the background. It makes an effort to fit the stage; for example, some whistling Wild West tunes as Todd floats down a river canyon. The sound effects are more noticeable, with Pokemon squeaking, quacking, grunting, and talking ("Pikachu!"). Sometimes it's too cute.
The graphics are equally colorful: perfect 3D versions of cartoon Pokemon. The world scrolls smoothly and at various rates. Some Pokemon are well-hidden and hard to spot, and the Pokemon Signs, which must be found later in the game, are extremely well concealed.
Finding all the Pokemon is even harder than snapping the perfect shot. With a variety of Pokemon locations, poses, and reactions to items, scores can be hard to predict. Chasing after a good angle may distract players from the details hinting at the more remote paths and Pokemon. Fortunately, there's little pressure to complete the Pokemon Report; the myriad goals makes the game accessible to everyone.
The game's most interesting feature is the ability to print out one's best shots as stickers by visiting a Pokemon Snap Station. Just bring the game cartridge to the nearest Blockbuster to start your own album!
Whereas Pokemon has traditionally appealed to the kids, and the occasional hardcore gamer, Pokemon Snap will find a wider audience. The railroaded gameplay and limited number of stages limits the replay value, as much as the variety of Pokemon enhances it. But the slow pace and unique gameplay, akin to the hanggliding sequences in Pilotwings, makes for a fun experience. Gotta catch 'em all!
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 02-Aug-99