When I first caught glimpse of Snake Pass at EGX 2016, I knew it was a game I had to have. Having recently become the adoptive parent of not one, but two snakes, I’ve come to realise how fascinating these creatures are, and then to actually have the chance to BE a snake was one I couldn’t, ahem, pass.
Of course there’s way more to Snake Pass than just being a snake. Snake Pass has players taking the role of Noodle, an adorable little snake and his friend Doodle, the hummingbird as they slither around various worlds collecting bubbles, coins, and gemstones to open up the gate to the next world. In short, it’s a modern-day “RareWare” collectathon where players can choose to hang around and 100% every world, or go forth and collect all of the gems to progress to the next world.
But Snake Pass is once again more than a Banjo-Kazooie / Yooka-Laylee style game, as it introduces such an innovative control system making the game much more complex yet all that more enjoyable when you manage to reach a certain area or find the final coin.
Sumo Digital have done an absolutely amazing job of replicating the way a snake moves and incorporating that intro a control system that’s easy to learn and easy to execute, providing you’ve got excellent hand-eye coordination. The idea here isn’t to simply hop from platform to platform figuring out each puzzle as you go, oh no, instead you must contort and squirm your way around bamboo, rock formations, and tight holes in order to achieve your goal, something that’s easier said than done.
In terms of the controls, in order to move forward you don’t simply press up on the thumbstick, this time you hold the right trigger and move left and right, much like a snake would, in order to get from one place to another. You can then press “A” in order to lift up, allowing you to reach high spots and climb up structures. Again, it’s much easier said than done as there’s a fine balance between reaching a high spot and accidentally propelling yourself away from the structure.
There’s definitely a learning curve with the controls as you’re increasingly challenged throughout the game not only with different structures to climb, but also manoeuvring through water, avoiding falling into oblivion, and being impaled by spikes. Fortunately it’s not as sinister as it sounds either, as there’s really no “death” in Snake Pass, instead Noodle either wails as he falls in typical cartoon fashion, or if you accidentally hit the spikes, Noodle simply fades away with an “ooh, ahh!”.
This constant challenge however isn’t without its frustrations. Much like the Rare games of N64 you’ll often find yourself perplexed by a certain puzzle or combination of obstacles needed to get to the point you’re trying to reach. There are several controller throwing moments throughout Snake Pass, but that’s all part of the fun, right… RIGHT?! Though, once you pick up the pieces and start again, you definitely get that incredible sense of achievement when you do eventually reach the summit and collect the final gemstone to unlock the gate.
Sumo Digital have also done a great job of slowly introducing mechanics to the player. The first levels are all about movement, getting you used to how Noodle works and how his physics behave in certain situations, once you progress you’re then introduced into climbing and also using the left trigger to grip onto ledges, bamboo, and other structures. These “learn as you go” lessons then come into ahead later on in the game where trial and error will eventually lead you to a “what if I do what I did in that other level”, and boom, you succeed.
Visually Snake Pass is a charming little game filled with sweet little details such as lush swaying grass, moisture on the rocks, and raindrops dripping onto bongo drums below. It’s a bright, colourful game where everything pops out at you. It also helps that Doodle is zipping around the screen landing on certain points of the level ushering you towards the next stunning landcape. Little details to even the way the water reflects off of Noodle is simply gorgeous. Add that to Noodle’s character model swishing through water or twirling through the environment and you’ve got a true sight to be seen.
It’s the gorgeous art style paired with the level design that just has you wanting to explore every reachable corner, even if there’s nothing really to collect in those locations. Blend all of this together with David Wise’s soundtrack which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Disney movie, and you’ve got a game that tickles all of the senses.
One question I found myself asking during my time with the game was “is this game a platformer?” In the rawest sense of the genre, is it, but in reality, there are no platforms, just various bamboo scaffolds teasing you throughout the game. Add the intuitive character movement to the game and you move even further away from the platformer genre. You could say Sumo Digital have almost created their own genre of game, one that i’d cleverly call a “Puzzle Climber” or something equally vague…
While I can’t help but sing the game’s praises when it comes to level design, art, and even its mechanics, the game isn’t without its flaws, the biggest being its camera, though I’m struggling to see how exactly this could be solved.
In Snake Pass the camera is as free as Doodle, allowing the player to manipulate the camera from all angles, however with this freedom it means that there’s no automatic camera correction, which can add to the frustration found during certain points. With the game being set on a 3D plane and Noodle himself being able to gracefully navigate this plane, the camera angle can often inhibit your movement as you’re constantly wrestling not only with controlling Noodle at some very crucial points, but the camera angle too. By time you’ve got it into a position where you can see the next post to hook around, you’re part-way to falling to your death.
This unfortunately is a problem that only gets worse the further you proceed as there are more and more complex bamboo scaffolds for you to climb. To make matters worse little save checkpoints are a rarity only really appearing two, maybe three times throughout the game often a good way behind the area you may be struggling with. This often means that when you do inevitably plummet into oblivion, you’ve got to spend a good couple of minutes getting back to the aforementioned area.
Overall if you can overlook the awkward camera Snake Pass is a welcome modernisation of a genre we all fell in love with as youngsters. And while Yooka-Laylee could be considered a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, perhaps already having such high expectations from players, Snake Pass in a fantastic surprise that I’d recommend to anyone.