New Pokémon Snap is a welcome take on the “first-person shooter”

When you get down to it, “shooting” in a video game is really just a way of projecting a directed line of intent from your character to another visible point on the map. This basic fact is a large part of why shooting a gun has become such a natural means of interacting with games from a first-person perspective. If your character is looking at something, shooting a gun lets you instantly and easily engage with whatever you’re looking at.

There’s one other major real-life action where this simple point-and-shoot mechanic applies: photography. Nintendo was among the first game-makers to realize this over 20 years ago, creating Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 as a new type of first-person “shooter” (it doesn’t hurt that cameras fit much better than guns with Pokémon’s family-friendly branding). In the years since, though, only a handful of games have taken Nintendo’s lead and replaced “shoot a gun” with “shoot a photo” as the main verb.

So it’s down to Nintendo to revive and expand its own good idea with the awkwardly titled New Pokémon Snap for the Switch. Though the update can get a bit repetitive and tedious at times, this secret-packed photo safari is a great mix of chill moments and competitive personal striving for the best shots.

Ride the rails

New Pokémon Snap product image

New Pokémon Snap [Switch]

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If we’re comparing New Pokémon Snap to gun-based shooters, it bears less resemblance to a Call of Duty and more resemblance to an arcade light-gun shooter like House of the Dead or Time Crisis. That’s because the game, like its N64 predecessor, limits your movement to a preset path, automatically pushing you forward as you tilt and zoom your camera to try to get the best shots (the descriptor “rail shooter” is popular enough to have colonized Wikipedia).

To be fair, you do unlock a few subtle ways to change things up as New Pokémon Snap progresses. You can eventually revisit each course during the night, for instance, completely changing which pokémon are present and how they might act in front of you. You can also earn your way to higher “research levels” for each course, introducing further slight variations on the available fauna. Some courses also have branching paths, letting you see new parts of the level if you trigger a preset marker.

Still, the game’s strict on-rails design can be frustrating, especially if you’re accustomed to open-world shooters that let you explore every last nook and cranny. Pokémon will sometimes remain stubbornly far away or keep their backs turned to you, creating awkward shots that would be easy to fix if you could just take a few steps to the side. Being on rails is also frustrating if you miss a carefully planned shot, forcing you to restart the entire course from the beginning and wait to get back to that same position before trying again.

The slow-paced way the game unlocks new tools and areas seems designed to encourage these kinds of repetitive runs through its largely linear environments. This feeling is exacerbated by the limited methods for filling up your in-game Photodex of Pokémon (a photographic version of the usual Pokédex).

Getting a full Photodex requires finding at least four different photos of each monster that ranks at each level from one to four stars. This ranking process can be inscrutable, but photos of rarer poses and actions by the pokémon generally earn better star rankings. The star rankings are made even more confusing because each photo also gets a bronze-to-gold color rating as well as an individual score rating based on factors like size, centering, and the presence of other pokémon in the photo.

In any case, at the end of each run you can only choose one photo per monster to submit to the professor for final evaluation and addition to your Photodex. Even if you snap dozens of photos at every star ranking in a single run, in the end you’ll have to throw most of them out and give the course another go to capture another pose for the Photodex (you can save unused pictures in a more permanent photo album, though, just for posterity and in-game online sharing).