I am going to try and avoid any and all snake innuendos or clichés whilst writing this review, as I think the game deserves more than silly jokes and references…. So here goes!
Snake Pass is an interesting take on the 3D platform game, made famous in the 90s on the PlayStation or Nintendo 64 with the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon and Banjo Kazooie (to name but a few, from a very long list!). But it’s interesting because there are puzzles and platforms to navigate, but it has very good physics and no jump button!! So how can a platforming game have no jump button and still be called a platformer I hear you cry?!
Well… to answer that, you have to ‘think like a snake’… Quite literally! The developers (Sumo Digital) clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how snakes move and how they would overcome puzzles which in another platformer, would be a quick hop, skip and a jump up a ledge and carry on your merry way. But Snake Pass is different… snakes have no legs; they slither, wrap, coil and slide around things. They use their bodies for support and their muscles to grip. Snake Pass uses these ideas in a very satisfying way, when you get it right, and yet hugely frustrating when you don’t!
You take control of a corn snake named Noodle. The controls are simple: hold R2 to move forward, X to lift Noodles head and the left analogue stick to move the rest of his body. Sounds simple right? Well, it is… mostly… the game introduces these very simple mechanics from the off and you then proceed by following an almost set path through the level collecting floating blue orbs and gold coins, which are positioned in a way that you are almost always, in view of where the next one is, whilst teaching you the basics of snaking.
The earlier levels are straight forward enough and after a few minutes its possible to get the hang of the simple motions, but then you get cocky… then you start falling off just just before you reach the top. Do you know why? Because you stopped thinking like a snake! As the game progresses, the environment throws tougher obstacles at you; moving platforms, longer bamboo posts with a decreasing amount of things to grip and then some lava and spikes are thrown in to catch you as you fall… to your death and respawn at the last checkpoint you remembered to slither over!
The mechanics work really well – a lot of time has gone into the character movement and level design and are all based around the simple control method. This allows you to theoretically climb most structures with ease, but this skill is highly dependent on you taking the time to think how a real life snake would do it. As long as you keep some of your body back for support and take your time, you will find yourself gliding around the level, admiring how realistic the movement is and feeling super satisfied when you reach the top!
You are also accompanied by a nameless hummingbird-type creature. This little dude has the helpful ability of lifting your tail, but as he is only small, he can only lift it so high, but there have been a few times he has saved me from sliding all the way back to the ground, but more often than not, I forget to use him and just adapt my slithering skills to suit the obstacle I am on.
The game world is simple yet well crafted, with bamboo posts littered around the jungle themed levels and the shiny blue orbs guiding you to the next obstacle to overcome. The ultimate goal is to rebuild a ‘warp gate’ by collecting pieces of it which are found throughout the level, which you will find on your hunt for blue orbs and gold coins, but they will be found in ever increasingly awkward places or just slightly out of sight. You may reach the top of an obstacle and spot the next orb, not visible from the ground, only to find the next one is slightly higher up or has a more convoluted way of getting to there. But if you continue to think like a snake you will be fine!
The game does have some flaws, which can add to the frustrations of when you forget how to be a snake… the camera angle is controlled manually with the right thumb stick, so quite often I found myself needing to move the camera whilst I was mid climb, so I release the X button which in turn drops my head and often gravity would pull me back to the ground, or even worse, off the game level entirely. But then I guess any gamer should know, save early and often, and this game is no exception! The menus and UI is a bit lacklustre too, but not something I would necessarily mark it down on but I would certainly say Sumo spent time on the snake and everything else was secondary, which I get.
All in all though, Snake Pass is a charming and refreshing take on an older style of game. The graphics are perfectly adequate (I have noticed slower frame rates when moving the camera) but the physics, puzzles and snake movement are what makes this game what it is, and it certainly succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. It may look like a kid’s game, but it’s not! You need a good grasp of real life physics but perhaps more importantly, you need to know how a snake would act in these types of situations… just ask yourself one question… what would Solid Snake do?