Summer may be coming to a close soon, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any time left to hit the beach. Whether you’re someone who likes to swim around, bask in the sun or just take pictures of natural beauty, there’s something quite special about a beach day. Of course, if you want to have a fun day out without all those pesky UV rays, you can just boot up Pokemon Snap, the first official Pokemon game for the Nintendo 64, and launch the opening stage: Pokemon Island Beach.
In Pokemon Snap, instead of personifying Red or Ash Ketchum, players control Todd Snap, a photographer whom Professor Oak commissions to document the beauty of Pokemon Island’s seven ecosystems for his research. There are no Pokemon battles or gym leaders to worry about, nor even any capturing of Pokemon in the traditional sense. Todd simply meanders around the island on a dune buggy-esque vehicle capturing data-filled photos of rare Pokemon and odd land formations.
Snap probably isn’t the first title to jump into people’s heads when they hear the word “Pokemon,” but its serene play-style and simple mechanics have turned it into a fan-favorite that has been rereleased on both the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles. It’s certainly not the only Pokemon game to feature a beach, but Snap is the first video-game I think of whenever I’m stretched out in the sand or exploring some tide pools.
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A Day at the Beach
Anyone who’s visited a dog beach knows humans aren’t the only creatures who enjoy a nice, sunny day on the coast. Pokemon — and I’m not just talking about water types — also appreciate a playful day near the ocean. Snap is a gorgeous game that really allows players to understand the ecology of different Pokemon species, but it also gives gamers an opportunity to see them at ease and enjoying themselves in a way other titles don’t.
Each of the Pokemon displayed on the beach level have a relaxed, whimsical nature about them. There’s an Eevee chasing a giant ball that turns out to be a Chansey in disguise, a lounging Snorlax catching some Z’s in the sun, and, if you look close enough, a series of Lapras slowly swimming closer to the shore.
In fact, Kangaskhan is the only exception to the peaceful norm depending on how you play the game. As the momma Kangaskan and her baby stand on a cliffside gazing at the ocean, players can choose to either use the Pokeflute or throw an item to make her turn around. The Pokeflute prompts the Kangaskhan to happily dance around, but using an apple or a pester ball enrages the Pokemon and sends her charging towards the player ready for a fight. To be fair though, if someone randomly threw something at me and a child while we weren’t looking, I’d probably start raging too.
No Pokemon game is complete without Pikachu, and Snap has no problem putting the franchise’s lovable mascot front and center. The Electric-type Pokemon does appear in multiple Snap stages, and even at various spots on the beach, but the cream of the crop is right at the beginning of the level. After receiving 25,000 total points and unlocking the apple item, players can lay down a trail of food leading Pikachu right to a surfboard. Not only does Pikachu hop on, but he quickly busts out his favorite surfer moves and poses for Todd as he rides by.
To ratchet up the cuteness meter just a bit, at a later point in the level, the player can attract a Pikachu duo out of the bushes and onto a pair of tree stumps. These Pikachus must have seen their buddy’s moves in the past because they quickly jump onto the stumps and ham it up for the camera pretending to catch a few waves.
(You Don’t) Gotta Catch ’em All
Part of what makes Snap such a relaxing game is the relatively easy objective. Instead of being told that you have to constantly train and become a Pokemon master in a sprawling, open world, Snap takes players on a guided trail where they are free to use as much or as little of their film roll as they want. Unlike an encounter with a rare Pokemon who is only available once in games like Red or Silver, every situation in Snap can be revisited so the player can take exactly the picture they want with enough patience.
In fact, Snap doesn’t even include all 151 Pokemon from the original games, so anyone looking to fill up a new Pokédex will be disappointed. The beach in particular only features 12 species, but that limitation gives players more leeway to document the creatures that are present in special poses or interacting with their surroundings instead of focusing on trying to “snap them all.”
The meandering pace, especially before players acquire the dash engine, is reminiscent of a casual stroll. Sure, players can speed through the map, fixating on how to take the best pictures, but then they miss out on the attention to detail that makes the sandy, palm-laden oasis feel so real. While Snap doesn’t have lazing beachgoers looking for skirmishes or give you the ability to “surf” on the water like the other Pokemon games do, it does offer fans a chance to examine how fictional creatures would utilize such a pristine, lifelike setting.
Yes, there is a point-based system that encourages players to repeat maps and take better pictures of each Pokemon to unlock helpful items, but the purpose of the game is to absorb as much of the natural beauty as possible. Whereas the core Pokemon games drop us in a setting where humans have molded the world, Snap allows players to imagine an island where Pokemon can flourish free from human control and captivity. More than just a day at the beach, Pokemon Snap is a different look at video game characters that have become synonymous with ownership and battling, as well as a reminder that games don’t need to be action-packed in order to be memorable and compelling.