New Pokémon Snap actually has a number of twists on how it handles “Legendary” Pokémon. For one, it features a number of “boss battles” with Illumina Pokémon — giant Pokémon that glow when exposed to a special kind of flower unique to the Lental Region. You’ve likely already seen one of these Pokémon, Meganium, in the trailers. But there’s far more to New Pokémon Snap’s treatment of legendaries than initially meets the eye, and while the choice of what Pokémon to feature is rather surprising if you’re familiar with how Pokémon normally handles legendaries, it’s also very, very cool.
Warning: What follows below this video is major spoilers for the end of New Pokémon Snap. Scroll past at your own risk.
Aside from Meganium, there are a number of other Pokémon that also get the Illumina treatment. These include Milotic, Steelix, Volcarona, and Wishiwashi. All of these Illumina encounters take place on special Illumina courses, where the Illumina Pokémon is thrown into the spotlight similar to how Mew was the sole focus of Pokémon Snap’s Rainbow Cloud course.
Though other Pokémon can and do appear in these stages, their appearances are incidental to the Illumina Pokémon’s. Your goal is to get the coolest shots possible of the big, glowing creature, and it will often require careful timing and clever puzzle-solving to get them.
Your encounters with these Illumina Pokémon all eventually lead to a special encounter with a legendary Illumina Pokémon, and this is where New Pokémon Snap really surprised me. While Pokémon Snap eventually led up to an encounter with the then-rarest Pokémon in existence, Mew, New Pokémon Snap spotlights an unlikely hero in Pokémon X’s legendary creature, Xerneas.
Xerneas as a final boss is a bit of a strange pick given that Pokémon X is nearly a decade old now, and we don’t seem to be set up for remakes anytime soon the way we are with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. There’s a Pokémon GO event featuring Xerneas going on right now, marking its first appearance in the game alongside its Y counterpart Yveltal, but that’s likely been timed explicitly because of New Pokémon Snap.
Still, the Illumina Xerneas encounter makes sense in the context of New Pokémon Snap, as you meet it in a ruined temple surrounded by a lush forest, and it emerges from a tree similar to its appearance in Pokémon X. It’s the most challenging Illumina Pokémon to catch on film, requiring a multi-stage puzzle just to get it to emerge to be photographed, but the gorgeous glowing shots at the end are well worth it.
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That said, Xerneas isn’t the only legendary Pokémon in New Pokémon Snap. We won’t spoil who else shows up, but once you get a photo of Xerneas and roll the credits, more legendary monsters from multiple Pokémon games will appear in stages you’ve already visited. Some will show up unprompted, while others will be a bit more challenging to coax out. These aren’t major, stage-wide encounters like Xerneas, but they can be quite cool and provide a good chunk of post-game content to work through.
We reviewed New Pokémon Snap and found it delightful, with far more content than the original and a surprising variety of different takes on some of our favorite Pokémon. The game is out now on Nintendo Switch, and if you’re struggling to get the perfect shot of any of the Illumina Pokémon including Xerneas, we have guides for that. We also have a guide for all the post-game legendaries to help you in your hunt for each elusive monster.