In my experience with puzzle platformers, they all tend to be tediously similar to one another, with only one or two extra gimmicks that usually flop miserably. Because of this, it’s always exciting and refreshing when I stumble upon a game that contains a new, innovative mechanic that both works and is actually fun. This is where Snapshot comes in. It is one of those rare games that relies heavily on a single idea, and is successfully upheld by it.
The mechanic I’m talking about is the ability to take pictures (or “snap shots”, if you will) anywhere on your screen, capturing objects that are within the camera frame. You can then place the picture, and any objects within it, somewhere else in the environment. As the robo-tagonist PIC, players use this magical camera to traverse linear 2D levels, solving a variety of puzzles and continually encountering new challenges and tools. Despite all this (admittedly deserved) praise, however, I’m not saying the game was entirely fun. It wasn’t.
Snapshot is made up of four chapters, most of which have nine levels made up of three parts each. This means we’re looking at roughly one hundred puzzling maps, though the difficulty between each varies drastically. Part one of almost every level is dedicated to showing a new tool or obstacle, and takes a maximum of about fifteen seconds to complete a successful run, whereas part three tends to take at least 4 minutes (for me, at least) for a successful run.
I say “for a successful run” because, in truth, some of these levels took up to half a frustrating hour of trial and error. Most of the game is a breeze, though sprinkled throughout this walk in the park are a few tricky bits that will make even the cleverest of players curse intensely and repeatedly.
I’m not having a go at Snapshot for being difficult–difficult games are often the most fun. Rather, I’m not a fan of how Snapshot develops its difficulty. It’s not though clever challenges or brain teasers. Instead, the hard areas of the games are the most ambiguous, where it is absolutely unclear what the player is supposed to do. I probably spent one of the five hours it took me to finish Snapshot simply clicking the whole screen, looking for anything that could help, only to find that I overlooked some initially trivial yet apparently crucial piece of equipment.
With no explanation of how to use most of the tools at your disposal (I call them tools, but what I really mean are the boxes and various animals you must use to overcome obstacles. They’re being used, and this makes them tools.) the player is left to teach themselves how to act in each scenario as it is introduced. With such a large number of scenarios, though, half of the game feels like a tutorial, and with this do-it-yourself attitude towards the tutorials, it’s difficult to understand how to take on many of the puzzles. Especially when magnets are introduced–I guessed near on every single one of those puzzles.
Once you do begin to wrap your head around a given mechanism, it tends to be very easy. I have a feeling that the real challenges are saved for players wanting to complete the optional extras, such as a special item hidden in each part, something that I felt no motivation to do. I approve of this extra challenge for the enthusiastic player, but why make some of the core puzzles so simple in comparison? I will admit I always felt a little bit guilty leaving anything behind, for example noticing a hidden tunnel that I would never go down. Whatever, game, I’m not going looking for whatever fun you’ve hidden from me. You decided to hide it.
In regards to the pacing of Snapshot, the game appears to totally misunderstand itself. In order to snap shots of boxes/elephants/telekinetic monkeys/trampoline-plants/fireballs/etc. players must make sure the object in question is entirely inside the camera frame, so it makes sense to take your sweet time. However, upon completing each part, a screen displays your time and how it competes against some arbitrarily defined time to beat. If players are going to go along with this ruse of arcade-style competition, they are forced to rush through levels, making it impossibly difficult to accurately snap shots of the desired objects. I call these times to beat “arbitrarily defined” because I refuse to believe some of them were set by real people!
Encouraging players to speed through the game, Retro Affect also seem to have missed a chance to capitalise on the immersive atmosphere generated through the perfectly fitted music and simple, pleasant design and animation. This atmosphere greeted me immediately as I started the game, but left soon after as I saw how terrible my time was. Snapshot seems to be trying to be Super Meat Boy, while its design would have made it easier (and better) to be more like Limbo.
There are some issues with Snapshot’s puzzle-solving that must be brought up. Some items are necessary to progress through the level, but can be easily lost or misplaced out of reach of the camera frame or even simply destroyed. Whereas other puzzle games respawn these objects so you can always double back and give it another try without having to re-do all the puzzles completed in the area, Snapshot forces the player to restart the whole part, which becomes a real nuisance on levels that start with puzzles that take a lot of time and effort to complete. This is made worse when players pursue the task of beating the best time, as tools are likely to be hurriedly dropped just a little bit too close to lava pits, or a jump will be poorly timed and PIC himself will end up in the lava pits.
Despite all these issues that add up to an overwhelming sense of frustration, Snapshot is worth a play just to see some really creative, puzzling, and–most importantly–innovative gameplay, as well as the charming aesthetics. As long as you can power on through some pretty severe frustration, that is.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Snapshot by Retro Affect.