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The untold truth of Pokemon Snap

Back in 1999, a strange little Pokemon spin-off captured people's hearts. Pokemon Snap put you in the role of the aptly named Todd Snap, a young photography prodigy hired by Professor Oak to observe and take pictures of all the different monsters on Pokemon Island. In other words, you were supposed to catch 'em all — on camera.

An announcement that New Pokemon Snap is in development for the Switch recently set the Pokemon fandom abuzz. This is something that fans have been asking for for literal decades, but why? Pokemon Snap didn't have any of the hallmarks of a usual Pokemon game. There's no battling, no trading, and no chance to capture your favorite 'mons and raise your own team. Why were fans so desperate for another installment of a game where all you do is take pictures?

Now that we finally have a confirmed sequel to Pokemon Snap, let's take a look back at this dark horse of the Pokemon franchise. Learning more about it might help explain why fans are so excited for a follow-up.

Jack, the beanstalk, and the 64DD

The team that ended up creating Pokemon Snap was actually brought together for a very different project. Headed by Yoichi Yamamoto and supervised by HAL Laboratories, this small team was creating a game called Jack and the Beanstalk, believed to be based on the fairy tale of the same name. The team was called, appropriately, Jack and Beans. While next to nothing of the original project made it to Pokemon Snap, that name can be seen in the opening credits alongside the HAL and Nintendo logos.

What was this original project? Not much is known about it. Jack and the Beanstalk was supposed to be a game that took full advantage of the 64DD, a disk drive add-on for the Nintendo 64 with various features, including a built-in clock. One theory says that the game involved the player planting seeds, which could then grow in real time.

Unfortunately, the 64DD was never released outside of Japan, and Jack and the Beanstalk never saw the light of day. At some point the entire project was scrapped, and the members of Jack and Beans turned their efforts toward making a completely new game.

It wasn't originally a Pokemon game

Even once the devs had figured out what kind of game they were making, it looked very different from the Pokemon Snap that we know today. In fact, it wasn't a Pokemon game at all.

Satoru Iwata, who was at the time the president of HAL Laboratory, was quoted as saying, "Originally, Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 system wasn't a Pokémon game, but rather a normal game in which you took photos, but the motivation for playing the game wasn't clear." In other words, HAL and Nintendo had a game, but they didn't know why people would want to play it.

After some discussion about what people would actually want to take pictures of, the team settled on turning their unnamed creation into a Pokemon game. Iwata described the transition as "somewhat forced," but it certainly seems to have worked out in the end. Even though Snap is nothing like any other game in the franchise, it was and still is deeply beloved by the fan base.

The ZERO-ONE is Professor Oak's creation

The ZERO-ONE is how Todd gets around Pokemon Island. It's an all-terrain vehicle designed and built by Professor Oak himself — and we do mean all terrain. The ZERO ONE comes equipped with tires for roads, jets to let it hover and fly, and floaties to let it coast down rivers. It even works high up in the sky.

If there's one downside to the ZERO-ONE, it's that Todd can't control it — at least in Pokemon Snap. The vehicle's goes down a preset track programmed by Oak, only stopping if it's about to run into something.

Now let's think about this for a moment. Oak is a Pokemon Professor, a scientist who devoted his life to studying the strange creatures he shares the world with. Coming up with the concept would be one thing, but where does a guy like that get the know-how to design, build, and program a self-driving ATV? Is he a genius engineer and computer programmer on the side? For that matter, how did he make the Pokedex?

Pokemon Island is an untold horror story

Oh, sure, Pokemon Snap looks like a cute little low-stakes game, but there's something hiding beneath the surface that needs to be addressed.

Humans used to live on Pokemon Island. That much is clear from the Tunnel level, which features an abandoned power plant. However, in the time of Pokemon Snap, they're nowhere to be found. Todd is under the impression that the Tunnel area was abandoned a long time ago, but something about that doesn't add up. All of the machinery is still working perfectly, and only needs a bit of juice from Zapdos to start running again. It hasn't been left alone long enough for things to rust and break down. Whatever happened to the people, it had to have been sudden and recent.

Professor Oak declared Pokemon Island a sanctuary for Pokemon, and now humans aren't even allowed to set foot there (hence why Todd rides in the ZERO-ONE). At best, that suggests Oak had all the people thrown out of their homes so he could make his preserve. At worst, well, maybe he knows something we don't.

There is unused, horror-themed music

It's no great secret that Pokemon Snap has unused content. Nearly every game has things that didn't make it to the final release: half-designed levels, unused character models, and, in this case, music that was never played.

Composer Ikuko Mimori's website, which is now accessible only through the Wayback Machine, has two unused Pokemon Snap tracks listed. One, linked above, is called Silent Horror. The site describes this track as a tune for a lost stage. It doesn't say what happened to the level, only that it was unused because of "some reasons." With that said, it's reasonable to assume that it would have been for ghost Pokemon, and the first generation only had three of those: Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar. Maybe there just weren't enough ghost Pokemon to make a whole level out of.

What's even more interesting is the other unused tune, Theme of the Horror Boss. Pokemon Snap doesn't have any boss battles in it (maybe Mew, if you stretch the definition a little), so what would this track have been for? What single encounter would have deserved its own theme music? Perhaps we'll see an encounter like this one in New Pokemon Snap.

Some Pokemon have no lower halves

It's always fun to see the little tricks that developers put into their games, and this one has a lot of them. YouTuber Shesez used a modified version of Pokemon Snap to take the camera off its track and explore areas that players were never meant to see. For example, some of the Pokemon character models are hilariously incomplete. For instance, Lapras has no flippers or underbelly, and Charizard has no lower half at all!

The video also shows off a lot of other design shortcuts that you would never notice on an unmodded game. For one thing, Todd and the ZERO-ONE don't actually vanish when they go through the portals at the end of each level. From a third-person perspective you can see that the ZERO-ONE keeps traveling for a few more feet, forcing poor Todd into whatever terrain is behind the gate. 

Some Pokemon show some really strange behavior offscreen, too. People have often wondered what Diglett looks like underground. It turns out that it actually shrinks smaller and smaller until there's nothing left! That's not something you'll find in any Pokedex.

It was supposed to have 64 Pokemon

Pokemon Snap has a grand total of 63 Pokemon in it. That seems like a pretty random number, so it's probably just what the developers ended up with, right?

Wrong. Early development footage of Pokemon Snap shows that there was actually one more Pokemon planned for the game. For whatever reason, Ekans didn't make the cut. If it had, though, it would have brought the total number of Pokemon in Pokemon Snap to 64. That would've almost certainly been an intentional homage to the N64.

It's worth noting that Ekans was the only Pokemon to be removed completely from the final game. Others had their models changed, or had facial expressions in development footage that are nowhere to be found in the end product. But Ekans was the only member of the original cast who didn't make it into Pokemon Snap in some form or another. There's no official word on why Ekans was left out, and at this point there probably never will be. Like the humans of Pokemon Island, this will remain an unsolved mystery.

It's really, really short

One thing a lot of people may not remember about Pokemon Snap is that it doesn't keep you busy for very long. According to How Long to Beat, an average playthrough from start to finish takes a little more than five hours. Speedrunners can complete the game in just over twenty minutes! There are no movement or sequence-breaking tricks for players to exploit, meaning the game really is just that short.

A game's length and its quality are totally unrelated, of course, but it's still strange that such a small game made such a big splash in the community, especially when it's compared to the main-series Pokemon titles. Each of those can eat up countless hours as players find, train, and perfect their teams. Even Pokemon Red and Blue boast average playtimes of around 30-50 hours, with completionists devoting over a hundred hours to each. 

First-time players will spend a bit more time on Pokemon Snap since they have to get a handle on the mechanics and find all the secrets. Even so, compared to other Pokemon games it seems like Snap is over in... well, a snap.

People REALLY wanted a sequel

Looking at all the quirks and secrets of Pokemon Snap, you could easily get the impression that it wasn't very good. That's not true at all, though. People absolutely loved the game, and it soared to cult classic status among the Pokemon fan base. Naturally, what its fans wanted more than anything else was a sequel.

How badly did people want a new Pokemon Snap? Kotaku found out almost by accident. Shigeru Miyamoto, the legendary designer behind Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, asked one of Kotaku's reporters to do a poll about what people would like to see on the Wii U. Nearly 3,000 responses later, the winner was clear: a new Metroid game.

But second only to Metroid, even above a new entry in the Mario franchise, was Pokemon Snap. Somehow, this strange little game about riding on a rail and taking pictures of monsters was so beloved that it snagged the #2 spot in a poll 15 years after its release. People still wanted a new Pokemon Snap game. Now, more than two decades later, we're finally getting one.