Pokémon Snap (2000)
You don’t need a scrub like me to tell you, the insecure mess reading this, that life is inherently unfair. Neither you nor me were blessed from birth with an elite sporting ability, or with model good looks, or some other form of unique ‘talent’ to separate us from the mouthbreathers – or better still, to have been born into aristocracy. Imagine that?! But no, not us. I hope, then, that you and I can share this tentative sort of bottom-feeding bond, in that we as people were both pretty much finished before we ever really got started, and this “life” we’re currently living now is the very best we can hope for.
Eddie Hitler had it right when he told us that life was about: you get born, you keep your head down, and then you die – if you’re lucky. Mediocrity is something that we just have to get used to, or so conventional wisdom tells us. I suppose you sometimes get some special snowflakes who become just a little bit uppity and console both themselves and their own doomed existence by posting “artistic” pictures of “inspirational” quotes on Facebook, for the viewing benefit of nobody in particular. Can’t knock these people for effort – what are you without effort? But I think, on the whole, we’ve resigned ourselves to our dismal fates, and any stroke of good luck that does come our way is rightly met with either indifference or a suspicious shrug of the shoulders.
So when I look at the Wii U’s excellent little gamepad, and the 3DS’s dual cameras (for 3D photography! Allegedly) and note that there still hasn’t been a sequel to Pokémon Snap in nigh on fifteen years, I begin to feel a little overburdened by the dark vapours that govern our existence. A simple question: why not?! Or perhaps the question should be, why?! Why was Pokémon Snap ever commissioned? I mean, nobody in their right mind would think that a game like this could work. I’m sure I sneered at it myself when I first saw it – if I didn’t, I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am with myself.
It’s such a weak premise that even the sharpest, most charismatic man in the boardroom at Kyoto couldn’t pitch it to his fellow high-powered suits for a laugh. Go around six levels, later a seventh, taking pictures of Pokémon in various hackneyed poses? More or less the same experience every time, with each of the levels on rails, and only 63 of the 151 (for that’s how many there were at the time, back in the Pokémon Dark Ages) Pokémon available to snap? Forget it – it would hardly have been enough to make Patrick Bateman sweat. Even the playtesters and the test marketers would reject something like that. Anyone would.
And you, the clever clogs who pitched this lame duck of an idea to the suit-elites at Nin-Ten-Doh, are now exposed and made to look a fool. You have yourself a massive cash cow in Pokémon, they’ll say. So you’re going to take your graphically fatigued Nintendo 64 console, and try to get people to take fancy pictures on it? Why not just exploit the series by releasing, I don’t know, a Pokémon Mahjong game instead? They seem to get lapped up over in the Far East, making it the perfect market to tap into, in the form of all of us unenlightened Western devils.
Even a child would tell you not to pool your resources into a misguided camera escapade like this. If ever a game had the potential to bring great shame on a developer’s family and prompt them to commit swift seppuku, it was Pokémon Snap. Do you hear that, Nintendo? HAL Laboratories? Don’t try to be clever, and don’t make a artsy-fartsy camera game like this, even with your money-hungry colourful creatures bolted onto the front. And when I called up Shigeru Miyamoto-san sometime in 1998 and we had one of our now legendary chats, I told him exactly that.
Well, they went and did it anyway, and my standing in the dog-eat-dog video game world quickly plummeted. What we’ve got is a game that, I must reiterate, really should not work. You can beat this mother in about 45 minutes, and I’m talking about the much vaunted 100% completion in that figure. If you indulged me a few moments, I could tell you all of the Pokémon in the game, where they appear, and how best to photograph them – there really is not that much depth to this game. But therein lies its beauty: it’s a fabulously brief diversion in our forsaken lives, a short and sharp but ultimately pleasant, colourful shock to our plankton brains.
You travel in an odd vehicle that goes on rails and even flies about a bit when there’s Jigglypuffs bouncing around. Throughout your kid protagonist’s unsupervised journey on this Pokémon infested island, you can pick up a few rudimentary items (from Professor Oak in one of his more vaguely sinister outings) that you can use to coax Pokémon into various, I don’t know, kawaii~~^_^ poses (shoot me). You have 60 pictures that you can take before your film runs out. Wow, film! Technology sure moves quick. But I suppose you couldn’t expect even a turbo-nerd like Todd Snap (and yes, that is your character’s rather convenient name) to have a digital camera at the age of 10, so we’ll suspend our disbelief on that one.
At almost any given moment in a stage, there’s a Pokémon waiting to be painted like one of your French girls, and many hidden ones lurk as well, using nifty tricks to remain undetected – it’s up to you to flush them out. Snapping a Pokémon gets you a certain amount of points, based on whether you managed to get them from the front and at a good angle, nice and close up, preferably in the centre of the frame and even with a few of its buddies alongside.
You’ll surely delight as you stop in your tracks at the Volcano and tease a load of hungry Charmander. Then there’s the challenge to get all of the Jigglypuffs together for a wonderful wee concert in the caves. There’s loads of cute little scenarios like this to find, if you’re skilled with lobbing apples and stink bombs at your muses in a thrilling show of cruelty to Pokémon. Again, you may learn them all pretty quickly, and the surprise and novelty of seeing the Pokémon do different things looks like it could be in danger of wearing thin after only a few playthroughs. But there’s always a fine challenge involved in trying to manipulate the more point-rich Pokémon into giving you the fancy poses, the ones you need to score big bank off the Professor. That’s where the high replay value lies. What could be more important than high replay value? You can hop on this game’s cutesy merry-go-round once a week and still not be bored of it.
Is this game worth buying? To be honest, as much as I love it, I don’t know about paying 1,000 Points or Coins or Bells or Diddy Kongs or whatever evil greedy Nintendo want from me this week. But if the lads in Kyoto ever pulled the finger out and got going on a long overdue sequel, with even half of today’s Pokémon in it, I can tell you that there’s legions of us out there that’d buy it in our droves. The money is there, the market research is all but done, so what can they be waiting for?! A word in their ear, maybe? Hang on, I’ll ring my man Shigsy now.
02 July 2014