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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gushing About: Pokemon Snap

     This game is just unconventional fun. Only Pokemon can make a safari photography game interesting for kids. This game had secrets, this game had uniqueness, but most importantly, this game had Pokemon. All of them... I made it my mission to find them all and document them for science!

     Hal Laboratories. It must be pretty fun to work there. Kirby, Smash Bros., Pokemon spin-offs... That's some fun stuff those guys play with. Anyways, Pokemon Snap. One of those games you mention and instantly get a spark of delight from others who played it. It's a Pokemon safari game where you take pictures of wild Pokemon going about their business while stuck inside a cart that's literally on rails. You pass by all the monsters from the game and you can throw stun balls to anger them or apples to feed them. There's also a flute to play which makes them dance sometimes.

     This game is all about interactivity with nature. Albeit fictional nature but the point still stands. You are a passerby in this magical world and have limited interactivity with what you're witnessing. You see an Electrode on the roadside. Toss something at it and watch it explode. You see a whirlpool and decide to throw 20 apples in it, then a Dragonite pops out. There's a Charmeleon circling a lava pit, so push it in and what it evolve into Charizard. You see a couple pokemon chasing each other on a hill that's just out of reach, and there's nothing you can do. You see a Lapras on the shore, but you can't go get a better look.

     You get the feeling of watching the characters from the transmedia franchise you love while feeling like a part of the world. It's like the perfect medium between watching the show and playing the games. Your vehicle protects you from harm and the rails keep you moving along at a set pace (which you can only speed up, not reverse). This game had a sort of immersion I never felt before.

You're darn right that's a Charizard
     I'm shocked there has yet to be a sequel to this. Imagine what could be done now with an HD console, tablet controller, internet connectectivity, Miiverse, and 700+ monsters running about. Doesn't Nintendo like money? Somebody out there though Pokemon ranch was a good idea and we see how that turned out.

     I've played games with camera mechanics before like BioShock and Dead Rising but Pokemon Snap is the only one I know of that makes an entire game based around it. There was always an air of mystery around it that just made it that much more immersive. How does a computer rate the quality of my photos? In this game you play as a random photographer you get to name (but who didn't name him Ash, Tracey, or yourself). Professor Oak sends you on a mission to take pictures of every Pokemon there is, including the elusive Mew. I assume he wanted new pictures for a wiki or something.

     At the end of every level he judges all the pictures you took, only keeping the best ones for his journal. As a little kid, this also taught me the basics of taking photographic evidence. A picture of a tiny spec facing the opposite direction in the corner of the frame is not good enough proof of the existence of a legendary monster that people doubt exist. A cool concept to wrap my little brain around.

     This game also had a butt-ton of clever secrets like natural formations that looked like Pokemon not present in the game, monsters using camouflage to hide in plain sight, and Pikachu running around doing what ever it wants. You can keep playing the same level and discover new things you overlooked each time. Throw an apple randomly here or there and you'll find a new monster or open up a secret passageway leading to a hidden level.

     Pokemon Snap just had an impressive immersion factor about it. I was in this world and there were tons of things to see. Part of me just wanted to leave the safety of the cart just to see what was behind a pile of rocks, get a closer look at a silhouette in the distance, or journey beyond the horizon.

I discovered this bugger by accident
Pikachu does what Pikachu wants
     This is all the amazing stuff they managed to cram into an N64 cartridge. A world that really felt like it had infinite possibilities. You, the player, are a casual observer of a fantasy world you wish to be a part of. All you can do is essentially tap the glass in an effort to interact with that world, and it felt great.

     The most iconic thing about this game was probably the Mew level: Rainbow Cloud. You chase Mew around in the heavens but can't get a good picture of it because of it messing up your camera with its psychic powers. You have to find a way to outsmart it and take a good photo or two before the level ends. It took little me about four tries with no good results to figure out how to drop Mew's shield.

I'm getting a Bigfoot vibe here...
      When I finally figured out that you had to hit Mew's shield multiple times to make it slip out, I jumped and shrieked like I just discovered the secret to the universe. I still remember that adrenaline rush and it's part of why I like Mew so much. That was a really fun moment of my childhood I'll never forget. Speaking of which, there was also a Pokemon sign that gave me similar waves of excitement.

This always gave me chills
     Ever since the Mewtwo movie I've loved that character. I never suspected that taking picture of random floating lights in a cave would lead to seeing a cameo of my favorite Pokemon. Sadly this meant he wasn't in the game in physical form, but it was still really cool to see. Mewtwo's unavailability just made it that much cooler. 

     The developers got to experiment with a phenomenal franchise with millions of fans. You don't see stuff this out of the blue very often and it's good to see developers trying new things that turn out well. Animators get to play with character models giving them a change to show off some really cool wildlife sequences with super powered animals. It also gives them a chance to let cute things be cute.

     This game was a great opportunity to use those models from Pokemon stadium and breathe more life into the franchise, making those pixel monsters feel more real by letting you experience them outside of the RPG. None of this would really work if Pokemon wasn't so popular, would it? It's something to think about when trying to come up with a game unlike any other. Do you need a popular franchise going in order to experiment? That's what Nintendo does with it's IPs and they're doing pretty well.

     Either way, Pokemon Snap is a gem and Pokemon games are far from done with experiments. There's a new detective game featuring Pikachu and face recognition on the way and you can't get much more random than that. Only time will tell where the pocket monsters go next.

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