New Pokemon Snap has had a hugely successful first week, and while it owes a lot of that to “lads, it’s Pokemon,” I have a feeling part of it is down to the fact that taking photographs is just fun. Games are increasingly including photo mode as a standard feature, and each new major release seems to be pushing the envelope further – that’s why I have big expectations for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Unfortunately, New Pokemon Snap seems to push back against being a photography game (despite that being the main mechanic), which is why if you’re enjoying it, you should also try out Umurangi Generation.
Obviously, if you’re enjoying New Pokemon Snap, the first thing to do is keep playing New Pokemon Snap. I’m not a cop, do what you want. But once you’re done with that, if you’re looking for something new, try Umurangi Generation. The indie title comfortably made my top ten for last year, and while it doesn’t have 214 different Pokemon for you to snap, there is still a helluva lot to take in.
The game deals with the rise of fascism, young rebellion, police brutality, gentrification, colonisation, the climate crisis, and the ethics of photography during a protest. It’s an extremely timely game, and one of the few that is brave, relevant, and competent enough to tackle these hugely pressing issues of our time. Graphically, sure, it looks like an indie title made on a limited budget, but the triple-A scene could learn a lot from a game willing to go this hard on the things it cares about.
You could learn a lot too. While New Pokemon Snap just asks you to take some pictures, Umurangi Generation is deliberately constructed as a photography tutorial. You start out with just a basic camera lens and can make simple tweaks to your images – kind of like New Pokemon Snap’s re-snap feature – then as you progress, you get more lenses and are asked to take more challenging shots designed to teach you how to use them. Greater editing tools become available too, helping you learn as you go instead of overwhelming you. This also adds a huge replayability element to the game, as it means you can revisit the first few levels with a whole new arsenal.
It also captures the relaxation of photography much better, which makes the protest levels much more intense. You get ten minutes and a list of objectives per level, but after the timer runs out, you can just keep playing. The game stresses that the timer is an optional challenge, and pushes you to ignore it on your first playthrough in favour of exploration. It’s all about taking the shots you want, in the way that you want, and then editing them however you’d like.
New Pokemon Snap – a rail shooter where the difficulty comes from the set patterns of Pokemon, timing, and triggering certain actions – can become quite mechanical after a while. To get a four star shot, do this, then this, then that. I get it, and I love the competitive spirit it has awoken in me, but that’s not really photography. Umurangi Generation is much closer to capturing the spirit of creativity and expression that New Pokemon Snap sacrifices for a complex system of interlinked behaviour required to wake Swampert up.
This is not to say New Pokemon Snap is bad – I have close to 30 hours in it already and I’m not done yet. I’ve beaten the story, but I’m still a few ‘mons shy of a full Photodex, and even then, I won’t rest until I have every four star photo. New Pokemon Snap is great, and it comes with its own version of replayability, but this replayability is built around unlocking new routes, discovering new interactions, and forcing new scenarios. Aside from unlocking the ability to move faster, nothing really changes for you – it’s all about changes amongst the Pokemon themselves, either caused by figuring out behaviour patterns or just unlocking a new stage. In Umurangi Generation, the levels don’t change at all – you do. You might opt to walk a different route, to experiment with a new lens, to try and hit the timer, or to go as slow as possible and soak the world in. The control, and a much more sophisticated camera, is in your hands.
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