Pokemon has been hit and miss with rivals throughout the series. Gary and Silver? Hits. Hau? Miss. I’m not sure the villainous teams would officially be rivals, but if they are, Jessie and James are the hits, and most other teams are decent but most individual characters are misses. Sword and Shield is overflowing with rivals, with Klara, Marnie, and Bede hits, Avery, Sordward, and Shieldbert misses, and Hop kind of in between. New Pokemon Snap has no room for the in between. Phil, the rival introduced in Pokemon’s new photography sim, is the worst rival in franchise history.
Rivals fit into three different categories. There’s the “we’re just pals,” rivalry that you get with Hop and Hau, the “we’re just pals but I will destroy you,” mix of friendly competition that comes with Gary and Marnie, and the “we’re not pals, I will destroy you,” mentality of Silver or Bede. Phil is none of these things; he’s not even close.
Phil arrives near the start of the game, tagging along with the legendary Todd Snap. I’ll save you from searching him up on your phone since we had definitely all forgotten him – Todd was the protagonist of the original Pokemon Snap, and he’s back again to… well, mostly to stand around and not say much. Despite not having much patter, one of the key things Todd tells you early on is that he’s not actually Phil’s mentor – Phil just wants to be like him so decided to tag along everywhere as a self-proclaimed student.
There’s a lot to unpack from this interaction. Todd is the kind of guy who thinks watching paint dry is a little too exciting; he’d rather play it safe and watch paint that’s already dried to avoid any nasty surprises. So that Phil wants to be like him should give you some idea of the boy’s starting point. Also, the fact that Todd basically says nothing else of value the whole game but needs you to know immediately that he doesn’t want his good – well, mediocre – name sullied by Phil lets you know how Todd feels about him too.
From Todd not wanting to be associated with him though, you might imagine that he’s bratty. Or hyper competitive. Or whiny. Or always challenging you to fist fights. Or always has his hands down his pants or something. Anything. Get yourself a gimmick, kid. He has nothing – literally nothing – going on. He positions himself as your rival, but he does nothing to earn it. And I don’t mean he isn’t on your level, I mean he’s on no level. In regular Pokemon games, you meet your rival early on, then as you go through the game, encounter them numerous times and battle them in a variety of ways, each getting stronger, more well rounded teams, until you meet for the last time in a thematically interesting face-off.
New Pokemon Snap has no battling, but it does have photography, so you’d think that’s what the rivalry would be built around. You and Phil learning the ropes together, exploring different locales, filling up your Photodex, comparing your best shots… instead, he doesn’t take a single photograph all game. Not one. He sometimes encourages you, but it’s usually in a “aww man, I’m gonna take an even better shot!” kind of way, except he never actually bothers to try. He’s whiny when you get new expeditions, and jealous, but not enough for it to feel like there’s any resentment or actual rivalry there. It’s just Phil, standing around, saying how he’s going to be just like Todd Snap and be so much better than you, but he never does anything about it. It would be like if Gary never bothered moving out of Pallet Town, and instead just occasionally texted you saying “hey heard you caught a Nidorino. they suck.”
Rivals have potential to be some of the most memorable characters in Pokemon, because they reappear throughout the story, usually have some kind of motivation that’s worth digging into, and they put up a tougher fight than most. The games don’t always get this right, but even with someone like Hau, you can see what the game is going for, even if it doesn’t stick the landing and gets a bit annoying in the end. With Phil though, I just can’t understand what New Pokemon Snap is even going for. He’s neither nice or nasty nor a mix of both. He’s just there, and I wish he wasn’t.
Next: Bruxish, The World’s Most Photogenic Pokemon, Needs To Be In New Pokemon Snap
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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