The RetroBeat: Why the original Pokémon Snap was special
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New Pokémon Snap launches today for the Switch, but I’m thinking of the original. As a kid, Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 was a big deal.
And it was big, but this wasn’t because it was a clever photography-based game. In North America, Pokémon Snap was the first new Pokémon game we got after the debut of the series with Red and Blue in 1998.
Pokémon Snap released on July 26, 1999. This was at a point when I was starving for anything Pokémon.Pokémon day one
I was an early fan of Pokémon. I knew about the series before it launched in the U.S. thanks to gaming websites and magazines. At about 12 years old, I was the ideal age for its kid-friendly RPG adventure. I read my Pokémon strategy guide like it was my bible. I remember asking for Pokémon cards at my local Walmart at a time when I couldn’t find a single employee who knew what I was talking about. When I asked someone at Hollywood Video for the VHS of the Pokémon cartoon, they gave me Pocahontas 2 instead.
So I was ready for Pokémon Snap. This would give me a new Pokémon game to play. It would also be the first time I’d see these characters on my TV. While the original games were on Game Boy, Pokémon Snap was heading to the Nintendo 64. I’d see my favorite pocket monsters animated as polygon creatures. They wouldn’t just be crude, still, black-and-white pixel images anymore.
I imagine a lot of kids felt the same way as me, and that’s why so many people look back with fondness at the original Pokémon Snap. It also helps that it’s good. Pokémon Snap is more puzzle game than anything else. You need to figure out how you can interact with you environment to set the Pokémon up for the most interesting shots possible, and then you must properly time and frame your pictures. The game is short and linear, but there’s enough room for mastery to keep it interesting.
Plus, it all ended with a confrontation with Mew. In Red and Blue, Mew is a secret Pokémon that you could only get through contests. I remember going to my Toys “R” Us just for a chance to get a Mew and coming back empty-handed. My older brother was the only person I knew who lucky enough to get one. Well, Pokémon Snap let me have at least some kind of interaction with the legendary Pokémon.
[embedded content]Pokémon onward
The Pokémon franchise has been popular ever since, but it has never felt more exciting to me than it did around that time. Not long after Pokémon Snap, we would get Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy, Pokémon Puzzle League, and Pokémon Gold and Silver. Every day, it seemed like there was always something to look forward to.
I hope that a new generation of Pokémon fans are enjoying New Pokémon Snap today. And I imagine quite a few old-time Pokémon trainers like me will be having fun with the game. But I know it won’t mean as much to me as that original does, even if it this new Snap is a better game.
There was just something special about those early days of Pokémon.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.
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