New Pokemon Snap on Nintendo Switch is the game I want Pokemon Go to become

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

I used to collect big compendium books of monsters as a kid. Monster Manuals, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. I love Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings. I just love discovering weird creatures.

And yet, I’ve never been a big Pokemon person. I missed the boat, generationally, on the card game. The RPGs never appealed to me. I’m out of touch with the lore, and haven’t bothered to keep up. 

But New Pokemon Snap on the Nintendo Switch, available Friday, is basically a big casual monster-spotting safari. I’ve been playing it for about a week now. This is my speed. And it’s also a bit like a stand-in for the vacation I haven’t taken in over a year.

The first Pokemon Snap game was on the N64. (No, I didn’t play that either.) But I appreciate this game and I can understand its basic concept. I’m on a brief nature trip, guided on rails, where I tilt the camera around and keep my eye out for mysterious things. I scan the environment for hints. I snap quick shots. Then, the photos I take are graded and awarded points.


I just love wandering around and finding things.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

There are a bunch of little look-for-Pokemon missions in New Pokemon Snap, and so far I’ve barely scratched the surface. But there are also day and night missions, and interesting “boss” encounters. You also get requests for certain shots or discoveries.

I enjoy the hunting-and-photographing part of the game even more than I like it in Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a collecting and battling game. I don’t want to do either of those things. I just want to take pictures of interesting stuff!


Missed opportunity.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The Nintendo Switch simulates a camera with analog stick or motion controls, plus the buttons on the Joy-Cons. I swivel my chair and lift the Switch and snap away. It almost feels like VR or AR without a headset. A lot of the game, wandering through strange locations where I’m sure I can almost see the Pokemon, reminds me of the Jurassic Park island tour from the original movie (where is that dilophosaurus?). I’m even riding in a little Jurassic World-like bubble-vehicle.

But what if these creatures were actually hiding in the real world? And I had to hunt for them with my phone and then take a photo? I guess that’s close to the spirit of Pokemon Go, but I like the idea of the wildlife expedition in Pokemon Snap even more. Doing that in AR right now might not be feasible: You’d need foliage and natural objects to generate into the world, and it’s not easy for virtual AR things to hide behind real ones.


Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

I guess I’m dreaming of a game that may not exist any time soon. But on the Switch I feel like I can take little side trips, relax and see what else I can capture. With Pokemon experiments already underway for AR headsets using the Microsoft HoloLens as a prototype, it’s not that far-fetched.

If Nintendo ever does get back into VR (hi, Labo VR) or AR (Pokemon Go already does this, and Pikmin on mobile could do interesting things with AR, too), this game would be a perfect fit. It’s on the Nintendo Switch right now, but I’d love to see a follow-up on phones or headsets someday soon.

In the meantime, Snap just might be my favorite Pokemon game.

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