There are moments during Pokémon Snap where - upon finding a hidden path - the game ditches the first person perspective to show your character looking on in amazement at the new discovery. Despite being a low-polygon Nintendo 64 release, it still manages to convey a sense of wonder – something the game manages throughout your time with it. That sense dulls as you replay, but there's a lot happening in the stages which makes the experience a lot more engrossing than it should be.
Professor Oak needs photos of Pokémon and you are the youngster who has been tasked with getting them. Essentially an on-rails shooter, the game has you sitting in your "Zero-One" vehicle which leisurely moves along a set path as you look around and photograph the various Pokémon enjoying themselves in their natural habitat. The game is very relaxing, often feeling like a more interactive version of one of those Panoroma View titles that appeared in the early days of the Wii U. You just sit back, take in the sights and snap away when you see the potential for a good photo. Initially you just point and shoot, but as you progress through the game the Professor provides you with items to lure out the creatures for a better photo opportunity.
The behaviour of the Pokémon is fun to observe whether they are relaxing, running about or interacting with each other. As you replay a stage you'll know where to look out for certain creatures and it's very satisfying when you capture a spectacular looking shot or spot something lurking in a corner that you hadn't noticed before.
Playing through the game it's baffling that there hasn't been a Wii U follow up, as the gyroscopic capabilities of the GamePad would be perfect for a game like this. In lieu of a Wii U edition you'll have to make do with this Virtual Console release, with the control stick used for your camera-snapping antics. It actually works well, but when using the GamePad it's hard to shake the disappointment that there isn't a similar gyro-controlled experience on the system.
The left control stick is used to look around, the ZL button switches to camera mode and the A button is used to click your shutter. Left, Right and Up on the right control stick (standing in for the Nintendo 64's C-buttons) allow for sharp turns if a creature is quickly disappearing from view. Should you like making changes to the button mapping this can as always be done from the Virtual Console menu, and the game's own option menu allows you to invert the vertical axis should you wish.
The presentation of Pokémon Snap is a big part of its appeal, with fun and breezy music accompanying the colourful visuals that hold up quite well. Yes, it still looks like a Nintendo 64 game with an abundance of straight edges and angular scenery, but decent character designs and the cartoony style work well for the game. A good range of locations helps to keep things interesting, with you starting on a beach, but your playthrough also including the likes of caves and rivers. Sound effects such as splashes, bumps, mysterious noises or just the various Pokémon calls are also very effective.
The game is divided into courses (seven in all), but you do not simply reach the end of one course and proceed to the next. Professor Oak will require a certain number of Pokémon be photographed or for you to have achieve a minimum score before you can get past certain points. Scoring of your photography is done by Professor Oak, following completion of a course when you hand over any snaps you want him to take a look at. You'll be marked on the size and pose of the Pokémon, and he really likes you to get them in the centre of the frame. Further points can be earned from having additional Pokémon of the same species included in the picture or if something special is happening.
Having to replay courses could get tiresome, but for the most part it's not really a problem as you'll be heading back in with a new item or an idea that'll help you get an additional picture. Even replaying just to get an improved photograph is entertaining due the way a new angle or slightly different use of an item can lead to a new reaction from the different creatures. Your best pictures can be saved to the Gallery and on the Wii Virtual Console release these could be posted to the Wii message board. You can't do that here, but thanks to Miiverse integration as well as Image Share (and similar services) you can show off whatever screenshots you like from the game.
As fun as the game is to replay, the short length does limit its long-term appeal and the low number of Pokémon included will be off-putting to some. Released relatively early in the history of the franchise, Pokémon Snap only features species from the first generation and not even all of those have made it across. In total just 63 of the pocket monsters are included and whilst each area introduces plenty of new creatures to keep things feeling fresh, it won't take long to find them all.
A final note: this eShop release (in Europe and Oceania) is the 50Hz version of the game. Not ideal, but it does mean the game text is available in a few more languages (when downloaded from the relevant eShop) and it appears to run at the same speed as the North American/Japanese versions.
Sitting in a vehicle moving along a set path as you take photographs doesn't seem like it should be much fun, but Pokémon Snap quickly becomes highly enjoyable. The quest to find a few more Pokémon or score better to open up a new stage or get a useful item keeps the game moving, and the variety of creatures and their actions keeps things interesting even when replaying stages several times. There may only be 63 species in the game, and it can be cleared very quickly, but there's plenty of opportunity for new and improved (or funnier) photos with each playthrough. Once you have snapped 'em all there may not be much reason for an immediate return, but whenever you do, the game's inhabitants can still bring a smile to your face.