Back in 1999 I was knee deep in the original Pokémon boom. Game boy games, cartoons, and card games, I had it all. Thinking back it was all fun, but one game amongst the rest always stands out in my mind. A game we had to rent a nintendo 64 to play, Pokémon Snap. I only got to spend a single weekend with this game, it stuck with me as the highlight of my Pokémon experience. How did this photography simulator accomplish that?
I’ve always enjoyed learning about and seeing animals, going to the Zoo was a favorite family outing for me as a kid. Pokémon offered up an entire world of new, weird animals for me to learn about. But in the Gameboy games Pokémon were like a baseball cards: an image, some statistics, plus some moves to be used in combat. More of a commodity to be traded and collected than an animal. However, the brief descriptions in Pokédex entries offered some insight into their behavior.
What Pokémon Snap finally gave me was a game that depicted Pokémon as animals.* Even better than a zoo, Snap gave me an entire safari in the Pokémon’s natural habitats. I got to watch Pokémon searching for food, defending territory, playing with each other, and evolving. It was also great to see Pokédex entries being demonstrated. My favorite is watching the Slowpoke stick his tail into the water, then when a Shellder latches on, he evolves into Slowbro. Plus, you get to take pictures the whole way along, which is half the fun of visiting the zoo anyways.
*The cartoon offered this to some extent, but its focus was generally on the stories of the human characters, and wasn’t an interactive experience.
The other great thing Snap did was allowing me to interact with Pokémon in ways that wasn’t just capturing them and issuing orders. After a couple trips, I got the pokéfood (which looks like an apple). These could be thrown on the ground to lure certain Pokémon out of hiding, and make them happy with food. Or it can be used to beam them on the head and knock them around. Later I got pester balls to flush them out of hiding places, then the poke flute to wake em up and make em dance.
Snap was also loaded with secrets. By interacting with the Pokémon in specific ways, I could find new Pokémon, unlock new interactions between Pokémon (like Pikachu riding an Articuno), as well as unlocking new areas to explore. This expanded replayability and lent some flavor to the island.
Fans have been asking for a sequel to Pokémon Snap for years. I think the reason for its enduring popularity is because it was an immersive and interactive step into the world of Pokémon, not necessarily the photography gameplay. It’s an experience we haven’t gotten from any other Pokémon game, but it’s one I’d like to see come back and expanded upon.