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Ah yes, the countdown list; the baking soda volcano of entertainment journalism. Way am I doing one? Because a potato clock was too much work.

In all seriousness, there is some place and justification for countdowns like these, if they are made with the right intentions. You can read all about that by clicking HERE, not that I want you too or anything, b-b-b-baka! (please read it and make my existence meaningful Yujin-sama).

Now, having outsourced the intro, let’s get to it! Today on The Anime Harvest, the top Pokémon Snap levels!

Rainbow Cloud: Rainbow Cloud has two things going for it, mew, and the fact that it reminds me of Rainbow Road. Other than that, it’s a bland and empty terrain. The music for the course doesn’t fit it, and is more a reflection of the main game. I like that mew’s a challenge to get, but once you do get him, you’re done. If you can get a decent picture of him on your first run, which isn’t that hard if you know what to do, you never have to go to the course again.

I get that it’s atmospheric, but what kind of atmosphere is it going for? Certainly not what that suits the game. It’s most like a bonus course. Nice for what it is, but hardly disconnected and less than the main game.

Tunnel: If you want a bad Pikachu, go to Tunnel. That said, I’m already at the point where I’ve gotta admit, I love every pokémon snap level. Tunnel isn’t this high up because it’s bad. It’s this high up because the rest of the courses are just so good.

As second level, Tunnel is a great course. It teaches you about the more advanced game mechanics by giving you tons of stuff to throw apples at. But you need to play it through once first to get enough points to unlock the apples, so you’re trading familiar territory while experimenting with the new mechanic. It’s great early on, but not much fun replaying later.

The first two thirds of the level is filled with pokémon that are pretty easy to get good pictures of, but the last little bit has some real gems that will probably make you replay the course at least a few times to get good shots. Dugtrio, Magneton and Magenmite. It’s just a pain having to wait through most of the course to get there, especially with the music. It’s the dullest and most repetitive track in the game.

River: Flip a coin; get a cloyster. Or don’t. River is a perfect example of bad RNG- not bad luck with RNG, but bad game design with RNG. It’s the first of two levels entirely on the water, and the way water works is, if you throw an item in it, a random pokémon may jump out. Combine that with the fact that it’s complete out of the player’s hands whether or not one even shows up in the level. Though, in my experience, the odds aren’t too bad.

Most pokémon are at least interesting to get a picture of. Only one, slowpoke, is standing at the ready waiting for you to come by with your camera. For the rest, you’ve gotta experiment a bit. Even metapod you’ve gotta hit with a pester ball to get a decent pose… at least, theoretically. I swear, there is no rhyme or reason to how Oak grades that pokémon; show him two that look identical, one will be “Wonderful!” and the other “You were close.”

Volcano: This is where the game starts heating up. It’s when you realize that the environments you realize that the environments you get to explore in the game are get really intense and you really get to interact with the pokémon. In Beach and Tunnel, almost all the pokémon are stationary and off to the side, where your only interaction is through scripted events. But in volcano, right away you have rapidash in your face, and you get right up to the vulpix.

It’s also got charmander, charmeleon and Charizard, which is the only full evolution chain of the starters. But like Tunnel it does have its boring stretch. Between the vulpix triplets and moltres egg, there’s hardly anything to take pictures of. There’s a charmander, magmar, and an event between them, but you can get much better shots of all pokémon involved later in the level.

Oh well, there’s still the music to keep you company throughout. It’s a great track with a slow but catchy start, and the melody of environmental sounds (volcanos erupting, rapidash’s galloping) blend with it nicely.

Cave: Cave his got to be both the most replayable, and most frustrating level in Pokémon Snap. Every area has great shots to take, but you always feel like you can score just a tiny bit better afterwards. Though jinx is admittedly a pain, and weepinbell caps out at around 3200-3600 points. But there’s just so much to do.

Get the three ditto together before you fly too far away, get a koffing with a funny face, annoy jigglypuff. The only downside is the ridiculous pokémon sign, which I think everyone had to scratch their heads about when they first saw it. Then again, the fact that it’s a constellation is foreshadowing, and honestly, we’re a species that sees three dots in a line and calls it the belt of a man with a spear.

The tone of the music completely fits the surreal yet calming mood of the place too, like gentle raindrops splashing against the rock floor of the cave.

Valley: Valley is the hardest, but most rewarding course in the game. It goes slow enough to get everything, but that just makes you want to optimize everything. Typically, pictures in Pokémon Snap can earn a maximum of 4000 points –max 1000 for size, max 1000 for pose, double that if it’s centered-, but there are ways to break that ceiling. Certain special poses can be worth a little over 1000, some shots are considered “special” and give extra points, and having more than one of a pokémon in the shot will also give a few extra points to top it off. By my count, ten out of the thirteen pokémon in Valley can break the 4000 point barrier.

Get these is hard, and, like with River, there’s a lot of water RNG. But in this case there are a lot of times when trying for random water pokémon actually helps fill time between each location, and there’s not so rare as to make it a problem.

The course also has this interesting feeling of space. The begin and the end of the course are both very open, so you can see what’s coming and feel ready for it, but the middle it tight, with high cliff walls around so you feel like space has just compressed. The openness gives you a lot of experimentation room so you can try different things or just try to get random water pokémon. The more enclosed areas have this feeling of intensity, and it’s where most of the really precise shots take place.

Fill all that will the best music in the game, and you’ve got a good level.

Beach: Beach is number one! That is an objective fact! At least by the menu order. It’s the first level in the game, and a great introduction. It’s such a relaxing, universally enjoyed location that it makes the game comfortable and casual-friendly to anybody. Of course, when soon learn that Beach is anything but casual.

On your first play through it gives you a very quick tutorial on how to take pictures, getting you a great pidgey shot right off the bat. After about two seconds, the reins are let go, and you’re in the game. There’s something very leisurely about the path you take through the level, and many of the pokémon you see will walk right across the tracks, making it hard to miss them. It makes for a nice first play through, but at the same time it’s hard to knock the feeling that the level has some more secrets? Why did my lapras picture suck? What’s the surfboard doing there? Why didn’t Oak lock snorelax’s crotch?

As you get more items and experiment, the level opens up slowly, and is the source of some of the best photos in the game. It’s got the most iconic special pikachu, as well as the best pikachu shot in the entire game. Other details like the way you get a good lapras shot can take much longer to figure out, and in fact I didn’t learn it until my most recent play through. And of course, my favourite pokémon, scyther. It’s near impossible to get a great shot of him, but that just makes it all the more special.

Don’t Lose Your Way