Alekon began development with a very specific vision from the developers. Made up of former developers from Respawn Entertainment and Riot Games, The Alekon Company sought to bring the magic of Pokemon Snap to the modern day. If Nintendo wouldn't do it after 18 years, they'd do it themselves. And just months later, Nintendo announced the now-hit Switch title New Pokemon Snap. I can't fault the developers for wanting to bring the cult classic back to life in their own vision, but with Alekon releasing just a month after I played New Pokemon Snap, it is impossible to not compare the two. It's even been marketed as a game that "began as a spiritual sequel to Pokemon Snap."
Alekon is a first-person on-rails puzzle/photography game in which you'll take photos of whimsical creatures, interact with them to alter their behaviors to take different pictures, and submit your pictures to a judge who ranks them and then unlocks more maps and routes to explore. You'll unlock new items and abilities that give you new ways to interact with the environment and the creatures. These creatures are sentient and can speak, and a few even boast dialogue trees, but that ended up putting me off more than anything. I think The Enlightened one was the only one I enjoyed speaking to at all; they work great as monster designs, but as characters become annoying and off-putting quickly.
The story of Alekon follows your faceless protagonist as they enter a mystical world filled with creatures called fictions. The color and life has been stolen from the land by a great evil called The Dullness, and only by finding and photographing each of the 50 or so fictions in their home biomes can you summon the divine beast Alekon back to save the land from destruction. While very grandiose and self-important, the story and tone are lighthearted enough that they land just fine, and I found myself just enjoying the aesthetics of the world and the wonderful, relaxing music.
The main way Alekon distinguishes itself is with its sizable hub world, inhabited at first only by yourself, Japley (the photogaph judge), and the frozen, colorless silhouettes of the various fictions. As you take pictures of fictions, they appear in the hub world with dialogue puzzles or minigames that are mostly just for fun. Japley will invite the player into the Realms, where the fictions currently reside, and players will begin their adventure at the beach level. Levels are divided into three routes; the player will unlock the next route by either taking enough photos on the current route or solving an environmental puzzle that reveals a new path.
Another distinction Alekon boasts is that while the three on-rail routes are the default way to play and progress, players can turn on a free roam mode for any level that allows them to just walk around and take photos. I tried this method a few times but quite honestly, it felt wrong. Without the timing crunch of making sure you're looking the right way at the right second and throwing an item at an Orashell before it disappears from view, you lose the sticking point of what makes this formula work. I recommend sticking on the on-rails mode to play through the four hour story and then going back to free roam mode for extra content if you wish.
My biggest complaint with Alekon is that the photography and judging process just feel like they have no weight. Players can hold right click to focus the camera and roll the scroll wheel to adjust the zoom, and then left click to take the shot. The animation response, however, to taking a photo is a small vignette flash at the edges of the screen, barely noticeable, and a flash sound. It felt much more like taking a picture on Steam with the F12 key than holding a camera. I understand the whole world is very fantasy themed and a camera doesn't fit the aesthetic, but it would have been nice to pretend in any way that the player is a wildlife photographer.
The more unfortunate part is that after the level ends and you return to Japley, he automatically picks out the best shot of each fiction from what you took and then judges them. In fact, during the course a little "IMPROVED" bubble pops up automatically when you take a better picture of this fiction than you previously had. I can understand the logic chain that got the developers here, as a quality of life addition, but it kills the suspense and fun of figuring out how good your photographs are. This, to me, is the key failure of Alekon.
Choosing which photos out of my dozens to take to the professor is perhaps my favorite part of Pokemon Snap, and this process removes all the skill of having a discerning photographic eye. In addition, you don't even see your photos that Japley didn't choose until you unlock a treasure chest through a mini game that allows you to see only the last round's photos. You can favorite a few for later, but if you forget to check in before heading to the next course, about 75% of your photos will be lost to time.
Rather than an apple (or fluff fruit), the default interaction item in Alekon is a chocolate frosted donut. Whimsical, right? Unfortunately, the donut became the source of many of my ires with the gameplay. Throwing the donut at fictions typically stuns them, and a "Stunned Orashell" counts as a different creature than an Orashell. Quickly the game became a routine. See a new fiction photograph it, throw a donut at it, photograph it, bam. That's two fictions every time, as opposed to the star system Pokemon Snap uses for the rarity of behaviors, which encourages you to return to courses for a tangible reward. Secondly, you must hold down F to charge your donut toss every time. This has been extremely frustrating. Almost every time I see a creature and want to toss a donut, I have to charge up for about a second and a half, and by the time I toss it, it's typically too late. I ended up rerunning courses several times not to see what I had missed, but to make up for the missed donut tosses. Players will unlock more powers and items as they progress.
Which brings me to my final complaint: the grind. Every time Japley rates a photo he awards you between 1 and 10 orbs. New or improved photos (including new poses of known fictions) all grant orbs, and orbs are used to unlock the next world. There are four worlds in total, and when I was ready to progress to the second world, I was greeted by Japley cheerfully informing me that I needed another 50 orbs to pass through. I had to rerun the beach level four more times to find the pictures I needed, just tossing donuts randomly and hitting fictions until I had amassed enough alternate poses to be let through. This continued in the next world, where I was greeted with an even higher gate and was required to grind even more.
Overall, I enjoyed a lot of elements of Alekon. One thing I think they nailed and should be given credit for is the monster designs. They sit nicely in a place where they'd never be mistaken for Pokemon, yet hold their own charm. The charm was decreased by their speaking with the players, however. I was a much bigger fan of nearly every fiction before I talked to them and they began their cartoonish shenanigans. However, nearly every gameplay element falls short and actively hinders the core parts of what makes photography fun. I should not have had to sit and grind out orbs for 20 minutes in this game, and the photo-taking and photo-judging processes in Alekon are frankly both pretty depressing. With a few key alterations (that would make it more like New Pokemon Snap) this could have been a great little indie adventure. But, perhaps that would be missing the entire point.
TechRaptor reviewed Alekon on PC with a free key provided by the publisher. Alekon releases on Steam on June 12, 2021.
- Wonderful Music Reminiscent of the N64 Era
- Whimsical Creatures Are Well Designed
- No Weight to the Photography or Judging Process
- Items are Very Frustrating to Use
- A Lot of Grinding Involved to Progress