New Pokémon Snap's Free Update makes me long for the game we could've had
If you read my review, you know I was ultimately pretty mixed about New Pokémon Snap. It wasn't a bad game - far from it - but a combination of some baffling omissions from the N64 original alongside some truly terrible pacing made it a slog to get through. I still wanted to love the game, but everything just added up in a way that I couldn't help but walk away from the game feeling a little disappointed. Most of that stemmed from the padding - Research Levels made progression annoying, which meant that levels were never at their most interesting state until you'd already played them half a dozen times or more.
I didn't expect the game would receive more content with an update. Padding aside, a lack of content wasn't a problem - there was plenty to do, and it never felt like anything glaring was missing from the package as a whole. Things like a lack of evolutions always seemed like they were a design decision, rather than a budgetary one. Yet, we got an update anyways - and a rather beefy one, at that. Three new stages, each with a day and a night variant, essentially giving players six new courses to explore.
I love these new courses, but two of them, in particular, are a painful reminder of what I'd hoped to see from the game as a whole. The Secret Side Path, in particular, are probably the best courses in the game; Shrinking down in the NEO-One to see Pokémon from a truly unique perspective is a fantastic idea, and it's a shame that the rest of the game wasn't as interesting when it came to exploring a different angle of the Pokémonuniverse. More than that, though, was how you unlocked the stage.
In the original Pokémon Snap on N64, you unlocked new routes by discovering the entrance to them in other routes in the game. You might coax an Electrode to clear the path to a cave, for example. My biggest complaint with New Pokémon Snap was the progression - how instead of organically discovering new areas to explore, you were forced to replay levels time and again, even if you didn't want to, just to upgrade a completely arbitrary "Research Level". You never got any of that experience of personally discovering where to go next; you were just forced to replay levels to get higher and higher scores. I much preferred the original game's progression in that regard.
The Secret Side Path is a different story. Load up the game with the latest update, and you'll be given a short explanation about the new NEO-One mechanic that the stage uses, and a small hint for where to go in the Floria Nature Park to enter the new area. Then you enter the stage and have to scan the entrance to the new track. In other words... just like you'd do in the original Pokémon Snap. I don't understand why it couldn't have been like this for every stage in the game when the devs clearly were fine with handling progression more like the original for this update merely a few months after launch.
Beyond that, the Secret Side Path is fully upgraded from the start - while you can level up your research level, it doesn't actually change anything about the course. It's full of interactions and unique mechanics for dealing with Pokémonthat aren't just centered around lighting up Crystablooms. You can get a Snorlax to react by throwing a Fluffruit into its mouth! You ride on an Emolga! It's inventive, it's fun, it's everything I'd hoped the basegame could've been. Instead, the majority of the game is still the restrictive progression and mostly restrictive puzzles it always had. I still enjoyed my time with parts of the game, but if anything this update sours the overall experience for me even more. The game is better for having it, but it highlights all of the deficiencies I felt that the game already had.
I don't know if Bandai Namco and The Pokémon Company International plan for any more support for the game, whether that'd be another free update or DLC - but if there's any silver lining, it feels like this update shows that the team at least understands how to make a proper follow-up to Pokémon Snap in the ways that I would've wanted. New Pokémon Snap wasn't quite what I wanted, but maybe a DLC down the line could salvage it for me, much like the Expansion Pass did for Sword and Shield last year. Or if I could even be so bold, maybe we won't have to wait 20+ years for another sequel. New Pokémon Snap's update has all the ingredients for the sequel I wanted, and it'd be a shame if this was the only chance we got to see them in action on Switch.