Virtual worlds have long been a place to escape. That was true before the pandemic, but lockdowns and stay-at-home orders across the world certainly accelerated the phenomenon. I spent an embarrassing amount of time last year gardening in Animal Crossing and going to concerts in Fortnite. They were great distractions, but never really gave that vacation-like escape I was truly searching for — turns out what I needed was a safari full of Squirtles.
New Pokémon Snap launches this week as the long-awaited sequel to a fan-favorite Nintendo 64 game from 1999. The premise remains the same: you, a budding wildlife photographer, traverse beautiful landscapes while snapping photos of every critter you can find. At its core the concept is incredibly simple, but — much like Pokémon Go — it’s a form of wish fulfillment. It takes out the battling and complex roleplaying elements that drive the main Pokémon games and instead just lets you be a part of this world, at your own pace, and without the threat of failure.
There is a story, but it’s pretty simple. At the outset, you join a research expedition exploring the new Lental region, and naturally they need some help documenting the wildlife. The Lental region is actually a string of islands with a surprising amount of biodiversity. You start out in a fairly run-of-the-mill wildlife preserve, but eventually you’ll be riding a sort of futuristic, enclosed hovercraft through deserts, beaches, volcanic trails, and even underwater. In many cases, you’ll be able to see the areas during both day and night, giving you a better understanding of how the animals behave.
You move through these environments on rails, as if you were on a ride at a particularly cool amusement park, and view the world through the lens of your camera. The main goal is to take pictures. Each area is teeming with creatures: birds soaring through the air, bugs digging through the sand, Machamps flexing for anyone who happens to be looking. The most impressive part might just be the density. There are pokémon seemingly everywhere, just waiting for the right moment to pop out and reveal themselves.
The goal is to catalog as many creatures as you can. Just like in the main games, you have a pokédex of sorts, only this time you fill it out by photographing monsters. You’re supposed to capture them in different poses, and at the end of each level a professor will rate each photo based on things like framing, pose, and whether there are any other creatures in the shot. Outside of your camera, you have a few ways to interact with the world. You can toss out berries to feed pokémon (or annoy sleeping ones), play a lullaby to get their attention, or scan your surroundings to center on points of interest. There are also bonus quests that ask you to…