Exactly what you asked for.
When questioned about sequels to many of their dormant franchises, the various voices at Nintendo have often been quoted saying something to the extent of not revisiting a game until they have a fresh new idea for it. Fans often respond saying they’d be perfectly happy with merely an updated version of what they already love. No major innovations, just new content that feels like the game they already enjoy. With New Pokemon Snap, releasing over two decades after the original, Nintendo is trying exactly that. New Pokemon Snap is successful at being more Pokemon Snap. Whatever personal inferences you derive from that statement are more than likely true, for better and for worse.
You arrive in the Lental region, fresh, young, parentless, and ready to pledge your life to the first Pokemon-related scientist you can find. You encounter Professor Mirror (which is definitely a real name and not an alias) who you’re pleasantly surprised to find has already taken in another like-minded orphan. Here you’ll join up with the team at the Laboratory of Ecology and Natural Sciences to help them research Pokemon through the magic of photography and fruit-based animal abuse. With camera in hand you set off to catalogue the islands of Lental.
At its core, New Pokemon Snap is a 360-degree rail-shooter. The player rides along a set course snapping pictures of Pokemon in their natural habitat. Courses are explored both during day and night and often have hidden alternate routes that can be found and traversed. More courses unlock as you progress, totalling a number that significantly outdoes that of the original game. You’ll also level up each course as you turn in more and more pictures. Playing the same course at a higher level changes up the patterns of Pokemon and allows the environment within a level to evolve somewhat. One early level sees Bidoofs building a dam which gradually works its way to completion as you play the stage at progressively higher levels. It adds some nice variety to replays, though I’d still love to see a few more random elements introduced rather than largely seeing the same scripted events play out the same every time.
Each course is beautifully rendered. New Pokemon Snap is, by a monumental margin, the best looking Pokemon game to be released. The world is excellently realized with wonderful attention to detail. A low resolution texture can be spotted in cutscenes now and then, which will no doubt have a certain corner of the fanbase comparing various trees again, but the overall presentation is excellent. The coastal and underwater stages are easily my favorite. Whether playing on the television or handheld, New Pokemon Snap is a showpiece for the system.
At the end of each course you’ll turn in one photograph of each Pokemon you snapped a picture of. These pictures are given a score and also separated into four tiers. The goal of the course is to fill your Photodex with not only every Pokemon in the region, but with a photo from each tier of every Pokemon in the region. Given that you can only turn in one photo of each Pokemon per run, this means you’ll be replaying each stage a lot. Progression through your Photodex and leveling up in each stage also factor into unlocking new stages and nighttime variants, though it's usually not clear exactly what you need to do in order to unlock the next stage. So you just keep playing. This is not a game you can play quickly, and I don’t mean that it's a particularly long game, merely that it’s slow moving. The average playthrough will last around nine hours, give or take depending on your playstyle. But a lot of that time will be spent sitting through photo ratings, and replaying the same stages. It is very similar to the original in this regard, but the experience feels very padded out despite the comparatively larger amount of content as compared to the first game. This is also a highly tutorialized game, so you’ll spend an obnoxiously long time being taught how to press a button to throw fruit.
In terms of elements that make New Pokemon Snap feel legitimately new, the pickings are rather slim. Fans of the original will recognize the fruit that you’re more likely to accidentally pelt Pokemon with than gently lure them with. You can also play a little tune that wakes up some Pokemon and causes others to dance. The Illumina Orbs are a new addition, but they largely just serve to get new actions out of Pokemon who are stationed near enough to specific crystals hidden throughout each stage. Arguably the largest change comes in the form of a scanner. The scanner can be used to highlight Pokemon, but will also point out investigation points. Searching these points can lead to clues about achieving a rare Pokemon sighting or even unlock an alternate route through the course. An icon appears on screen when there is something important to scan, making it pretty obvious when you should do it, but it does add some variety to each course and keeps you on your toes. Motion controls are also available this time around, which are particularly appropriate when playing handheld. They allow you to use your Switch like an actual camera, moving it around you to take pictures. It is a natural addition and one that works perfectly. It also allows you to move much faster than even the max turn speed available with traditional controls.
New Pokemon Snap is exactly what the name implies. It is a new Pokemon Snap and that’s it. It doesn’t reinvent the gameplay, nor does it add to it or even clean it up. Quality of life issues that were present in 1999 stand proudly untouched in 2021. That being said, if you just wanted another Pokemon Snap, this is exactly that. It is significantly bigger than the original, and photo editing options in combination with Twitter and Facebook integration make it a somewhat more social experience. While it is easy to say this is the definitive Pokemon Snap experience, I can’t help but find myself wanting something that truly feels new rather than simply more. New Pokemon Snap is a loyal-to-a-fault sequel, that hopefully harkens to something a bit more adventurous down the line.