Snake? Snake…? Snaaaaake!
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sumo Digital
Format: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Released: March 28, 2017
Over the last decade or so, I’ve been delightfully surprised at just how far video games have come when it comes to inclusive representation. And while I’m grateful to see games picking characters from the wide rainbow of varied races, sexualities, genders, and even disabilities, to this day I’m still appalled that no game has bothered to include one of the most shockingly underappreciated groups out there: Snakes. Too long have video games gone without recognising the difficult lives of these brave slithering souls, getting by day to day accomplishing tasks that humans could only dream of, all without the help of useful limbs and a reasonably quick digestive system. But finally these beautiful hissing creatures receive the attention they’ve deserved for so long, as the loving souls at Sumo Digital bring us Snake Pass, the first ever puzzle platformer to make you “think like a snake”.
As the tagline suggests, Snake Pass throws out everything you understand about platformers to bring an experience that’s all about understanding how to move around like a snake. With no limbs to help you jump or run, you’ll only be able to move your head, also keeping in mind how your body follows behind it. You need to slither left and right to gain forward momentum, coil around objects to grab hold of them, and skilfully wrap your body around the game’s many bamboo poles in order to get to high-up, hard to reach places.
For a bright and colourful platformer, Snake Pass offers a surprising amount of challenge, making you scope out your surroundings before thinking carefully and methodically about where and how you’re going to manoeuvre yourself around the next obstacle standing in your way. It’s a game that absolutely requires you to take it slow and steady, unless you want to experience an embarrassing flop to the ground, that is if you’re lucky enough to have something safe to land on below you. And while it will be a little frustrating at first to learn how to manipulate the game’s controls and “snake physics” in your favour, it’s a wonderfully satisfying feeling when it all eventually clicks together. It won’t take very long at all before you’re skilfully traversing over deadly spikes by swinging yourself effortlessly from pole to pole like a slinky Tarzan.
Despite all of the game’s fifteen levels fairly simplistic goal of finding three keys to unlock the portal to the next level, I never felt like any of the challenges standing in the way of acquiring them ever repeated themselves. There was always something new and interesting to test your abilities. One moment you’ll be finding the right levers and cogs to work a small Rube Goldberg machine, the next you’ll be quickly wrapping yourself around poles to anchor yourself while heavy gusts of wind threaten to blow you off the level. And for those looking to really test their skills, there are also a bunch of collectible coins and “wisps” to find in each level’s hazardous nooks and crannies. But considering that these don’t seem to have any kind of in-game reward for finding them, I’d honestly only recommend that level of challenge to masochistic completionists.
The only thing that really brings the enjoyment of the game down is its frustrating camera issues. It will quite often change angles automatically, usually picking the exact wrong spot to be in as you’re attempting a tricky platforming section. I almost always lost control of where I was aiming my head, which ended in me accidentally unravelling myself out of my carefully wrapped position and falling to my death. But when it isn’t doing that, the camera’s natural position seems to follow you a little too closely. Trying to move the camera to look upwards is a much more difficult task than it needs to be, especially in a game which requires you understand where everything is above and below you, whether it be helpful platforms or key items. And this can get seriously stressful and frustrating around the last third of the game, during which it suddenly decides to stop fucking around and throw some unexpectedly tough challenges your way.
It’s fortunate then that the game has a very nostalgic and charming appearance to it that evokes an eerily similar art style to some of Rare’s Nintendo 64 classics like Banjo-Kazooie. Every level has this attractive vibrancy, sporting a bright and cheery colour pallet that very subtly changes to match each level’s theme – turning slightly red in the fire-based stages, or lighter in the air-based stages. Even the main character, Noodle the Snake, oozes adorable charm with his big eyes and cartoonish facial expressions, which you can even manually control by tapping the d-pad. And with all of that wrapped up in a soothing and calm soundtrack of panpipes and steel drums, I found it really hard to hate Snake Pass, even during some of the more frustrating points of my experience.
Taking around three to four hours to beat, Snake Pass is a short and sweet experience that explores its unique concept to its fullest, intelligently ending right before it starts to repeat itself. That being said, some people may have a problem with this length, seeing its current retail price of $28AUD as a little too high considering it only has a handful of levels on offer. But even with that in mind, I honestly think it’s totally worth the purchase. With a unique and challenging approach to puzzle platforming, as well as beautifully nostalgic presentation to help alleviate the stress of its less enjoyable aspects, Snake Pass makes for a hissing good time.
Grab it now! If you’re worried about the price, perhaps it’s worth playing it short bursts just to get the most out of your time with it.
EDIT: I have been informed that there is indeed a reward for finding all of the game’s collectables: an alternate skin for Noodle and his humming bird partner Doodle. With this in mind, I’d like to point out my opinion in the review on finding them all still stands.