|Pokemania is still in full force. The signs are all around us.
Everybody's forgotten that thing about the seizures and the blinking lights, and kids all
over America line up each and every afternoon to check out the cartoon. At E3 Nintendo
must call in reinforcements of riding crop-toting, Perfect Dark girls to keep the
beanie-crazed crowd in abayance. And why not? Those Pokemon are just so danged cute.
What're you gonna do about it?
Nintendo thinks you should take pictures of the little devils, and I couldn't agree more. In Pokemon Snap you ride around Pokemon Island in the Zero-One, a fly little ATV hover thing, popping off snapshots of the various Pokemon. Just when Pokemon seemed ultra nonviolent, Pokemon Snap shatters the record for lack of brutality. But lest that put you off of this game, let me tell you, this one will keep the most jaded twenty-something entertained like a little kid for a good afternoon.
The story behind Pokemon Snap is pretty simple. Like nonexistant simple. You take pictures, show them to Professor Oak, who scores your composition and technique, and open up new courses to traverse and take more pictures. Play continues through a paltry seven levels, but that's not all. Along the way you pick up new items to use, such as the Pokemon food (which looks a lot like an apple), pester balls, and a flute. These items allow you to interact with the Pokemon as you ride along the track in the Zero-One. By interacting with them, you can get pictures of Pikachu blasting lightning or Snorlax scratching his belly. Collecting photos of rare Pokemon and unique poses gets you big points.
Professor Oak scores the photos you show him after each trip. His criteria, while consistent, brand him as an amateur photo critic. You get points for the size of the Pokemon in your picture, the pose, if there are more than one of the same Pokemon in a given photo, and according to technique. Oak doesn't know the Rule of Thirds, and he doubles your score if the subject is smack-dab in the center. Also, the backside of Pokemon are of no interest to a Pokemon researcher, because it hurts their feelings to be photographed that way.
Overall, the game is pretty basic. What makes it so much fun is in the quality of the design and the play. The control of Pokemon Snap feels very much like a shooting game. In a lot of ways, the play is identical. The "conveyor belt" effect of the Zero-One adds a dimension of weirdness, but otherwise control is neither difficult nor boring. Things get quite a bit more hectic when you are trying to throw several items at different objects in the landscape, all while moving steadily past the prime photo op. The level of complication is also raised because you must do certain interactions at certain times to get the truly rare Pokemon to come out where you can get a shot of them.
The graphics and sound are also wonderful. N-fog is kept to a bare minimum, and the environments tend to be dense enough that there is generally no noticeable horizon. The scenery is rendered beautifully, as are the Pokemon themselves. There are very few hard edges, and the palette is bright and colorful. Many Pokemon, such as Pikachu and Squirtle, make different sounds and say things. There are also great environmental sounds that lend to the play, but that are also useful for anticipating what's coming next. The levels are a decent length, and they are all quite different. Pokemon Snap is technically just about perfect.
Where this game falls short is in its length. There are seven levels (including the secret level), and then you can collect the remaining Pokemon in a high score "Challenge Mode." There are only 63 Pokemon in the game, and that is part of the problem. Finding rare Pokemon is a blast, and simply having all of them included would provide months of Poke-hunting. Nintendo seems to be trying to combat the brevity of the game with another incentive to play levels over and over again: stickers. It worked to get me to study my spelling in third grade, but at four bucks a pop, that's a major chunk of allowance. Most kids would have to save up for weeks. You get sixteen stickers on a sheet, of your four favorite shots, at any participating Blockbuster video, which is great if you live near one of those.
So despite the superb quality of the game, Pokemon Snap must be dinged for being intolerably short. If you are thinking of buying this game because your children are Pokemaniacs, then by all means go for it. It will be refreshing to see them composing and taking pictures of cute little Pokemon, rather than duking it out in Street Fighter. If you're skeptical about how a game for kids could possibly entertain adults, rent it for an evening. That's all it will take to beat the game, but it will keep a whole room full of adults snapping their butts off. Then see if you can resist those stickers.