Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weekend Flashback #3 - Pokemon Snap (1999, N64)

Title: Pokemon Snap
Original Release Date: June 30, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
ESRB Rating: E

One of the fastest ways to shut me up as a kid was to slap a Pokemon game in front of me. Something about the mix of turn-based combat and its simple - yet very broad - storyline kept my interest for literal hours on end. Pokemon Snap was the series' first spinoff game for a home console, and though it was extremely short, I remember it being incredibly fun.

You play as a Pokemon photographer named Todd whose job is to... well, capture pictures of Pokemon. You team up with Professor Oak, who needs help with a scientific project on an island where Pokemon live fairly undisturbed by humans. The island in the game is home to a lot of different geographic regions, which makes it an ideal place to go to research all sorts of Pokemon. Over the course of the game, Oak will rate your photos on a point system and puts them into an album that you can reference back again later. That's about as complex as the story gets.

The game starts with one stage, and as you progress through, you unlock more by meeting certain conditions or figuring out how to unlock the stages yourself. You'll also get a few nifty items, like a Pokeflute and pester balls, which will allow certain Pokemon to come out of hiding, do something special, or both. You'll also get bait to lure Pokemon out into the open. How you use these items is entirely up to you, and I'll get to that in a minute.

See, I remember this game as being fairly long. My younger cousin and I spent months playing it. Literal months. We could compete to get the best picture scores, spend hours trying to find all the different Pokemon and framing the best shot, use a complex trial-and-error system to get all the special Pokemon. It seemed like every time we thought we were done, we would discover something new.

So, how does it feel thirteen years later? Well, it feels... feels stagnant, unfortunately. See, I remember this game being really long and really complex and having a lot of hours poured into it, but when my friend Nikki and I played it together while we were revisiting it, I knew how to get everything. Every new stage, every hidden Pokemon, every nuance behind getting the "perfect shot." I remembered it all. It took a lot of the excitement and fun out of the game for me. Nikki, on the other hand, had a lot of fun playing it, and once I was able to turn my brain off, I enjoyed myself as well.

The "fun component" that I always seem to be talking about is severely lacking here, though, as far as following the story goes. While both Crash Team Racing and Ratchet and Clank feel timeless, Pokemon Snap feels tedious and tired. And oh my God the music. May God himself have mercy on your soul when you replay this game. As Dave pointed out, the music is tedious, tired, repetitive, and just plain awful. It did not, by any means, age well. Even CTR, which came out in the same year, had better music behind it than this. My great grandmother's funeral had better music behind it than this.

The part that was fun, though, wasn't the game itself, but the results screen when we were done taking pictures. See, now that Nikki and I are older, we pick up on certain things that we didn't notice then.

Like what a pervert Professor Oak really is.
We didn't alter this at all. This really happened in-game.
Seriously, we took a lot of oddball pictures, and soon the game wasn't about taking the best picture, it was taking the strangest, most effed up pictures we could manage within the one stage and sixty pictures we were allotted. We had more fun pelting Pikachu with bait and making Electabuzz fall flat on his face than we did trying to get Snorlax to wake the hell up. We tormented poor Meowth by making him fall off his platform, then worsened the blow by whacking him relentlessly with pester balls. We bounced apples off of a herd of Charmanders' heads to see them cringe, then laughed and made fun of them as they roared at us in their cute little Charmander voices. We knocked Charmeleon into a vat of lava, not to see him evolve, but because we could knock him into a vat of lava. We made two Magmar fight each other just to see one get knocked out.

This one was more a victim of
circumstance. Still comedy gold,
We did countless other things to these poor, friendly Pokemon that would make PETA shit their pants in horror. And we did it because we could, and because the option was there.

And, really, what more fun is there than that in this universe?

Verdict: Taking the perfect picture of a Pokemon isn't fun. Having Professor Oak laugh at fainted Pokemon is.

Notes: If you want to relive Snap and have your own hours of hilarity, you can purchase this title again in the Wii's Virtual Console store for 1000 Wii Points (or, you know, ten dolla holla in real money.)

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