Pokémon Snap, Recalling The Experimental Portrait of Nintendo 64

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Pokémon Snap: We revisit the original work with which it all began, the adventure of photographer Todd Snap that, initially, was not going to be a Pokémon video game.

This April 30, New Pokémon Snap goes on sale on Nintendo Switch, a new appointment with photography that, for twenty years, has been the object of request and desire from thousands of fans with a certain proximity to the universe of the creatures of pocket. Coincidence or not, its long-awaited sequel comes in the year that the license celebrates its twentieth anniversary, as this is nothing but a portrait of five decades marked by eight generations and countless memories. Let’s find out how it all started and how the work of HAL Laboratory feels in the middle of 2021.

Jack and Beanstalk; distraction in the garden

Because we all know how was that video game with a blue box that landed in Spanish stores in 2000, a shooter on rails where you can photograph dozens of Pokémon in their natural habitat. What not many people know is that this development of HAL and Pax Softnica was conceived in 1995, actually, as an eminently experimental project based on Jack and the beanstalk for 64DD, that frustrated Nintendo 64 peripheral that was brewing in the Nintendo’s Kanda building in Sudachō, Tokyo. Kensuke Tanabe, later a co-producer of Metroid Prime and many of today’s most celebrated works of Nintendo, was confident that the use of the camera as a game mechanic (not just motion) could lead to a three-dimensional adventure; something unthinkable with the previous hardware of the Japanese firm, Super Nintendo.

The idea was, it had to be materialized in something solid as a video game and attractive as a commercial product. Ambitious? A lot of. Technologically attractive? And so much. Things were not looking good and the project was frozen until a certain Satoru Iwata, then a prominent member of said second Nintendo party, HAL Laboratory, realized that the sketch initially conceived for the 64DD expansion system – whose coprocessor it was going to be able to store more information than the original console — it had to move to Nintendo 64 anyway. The justification was simple: that title had to reach as many people as possible, without restrictions. The ghosts of Virtual Boy loomed through the windows of those offices, so we had to make amends and turn that Jack and the Beanstalk project (the original name of the studio, by the way, was Jack and Beans) into a Phoenix. Camera in hand, that’s where Pokémon Snap came from.

Another fundamental aspect to understand the genesis of the project was its development. Perhaps some of you wonder why not Game Freak, responsible for the main series. They were the greatest connoisseurs of the license. In those 1997-1999, they were very busy with what would be Generation II, Pokémon Gold and Silver (where Iwata would have a fundamental role by being one of the most responsible for the introduction of the original Kanto region in the Johto cartridge in Game Boy; together). Therefore, it was not possible.

Tsunekazu Ishihara, president of The Pokémon Company and aware that they had in their hands a media franchise capable of conquering the world, thought about expanding the license to Nintendo’s home consoles and also portable ones with spin-off projects of all kinds. From Pokémon Pinball to Pokémon Trading Card Game (based on the TCG that little by little reached stores), the always remembered Pokémon Stadium and, why not, Pokémon Snap.

HAL Laboratory, Kirby’s parents, published the first Pocket Monsters Stadium in 1998, an exclusive one that never reached the West, while a year later they would do the same with Pokémon Snap. Combining a good idea with a colossal license was the solution for the team led by Yoichi Yamamoto and Koji Inokuchi to materialize an unforgettable work capable of selling 3.66 million units worldwide. In an interview back in 2010 in the Official Nintendo Magazine, Satoru Iwata was very clear: “Originally, Pokémon Snap for Nintendo 64 was not going to be a Pokémon video game, but a normal game in which you took pictures, but the motivation to play the title was not clear, “he said. And he added, “So we wondered what people would like to photograph, and later we forced the switch to what ended up being the task of taking Pokémon snapshots.” Not all designer members were for the work of change: much had to be thrown out. However, there was no room for opinion and, as often happens in this type of movement, dozens of materials were lost forever, useless and, sadly, with hardly any graphic material for study or journalistic documentation.