Snake Pass: review

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  • Format: Ssswitch (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PSSS4
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher:Sssumo Digital
  • Developer: Sssumo Digital
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.snake-pass.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

Every now and then, an indie game comes along which puts most of its big-budget competition to shame in terms of innovation, game design, and good old-fashioned fun.

Snake Pass is one of these games.

The concept, which grew from an internal Sumo Digital game jam, is relatively simple. Your avatar is a sssnake called Noodle, and the controls reflect this; it’s kind of a snake sssimulator. As the herpetologists amongst you will know, snakes have very few legs and, as such, Noodle is unable to do things like run and jump. He can pull himself forward slowly or, if you want him to build up any kind of speed, he mussst ssslither from ssside to ssside. He can climb up and across poles by wrapping himssself around them; but this isn’t quite as simple as you might think.

The controls take a little while to fully get used to, but they’re not at all complex. Remember that the body followsss the head, and you’ll be fine. The left stick moves the head around, holding down one button lifts the head up, and holding another button moves Noodle in the direction he’s facing. Yet another button can be held to make Noodle grip the surface he’s touching, and the final button in use gets Noodle’s hummingbird friend to lift up the end of his tail (with another use in the last few levels); which comes in handy for dragging yourself up over a ledge you’re about to fall off, or avoiding a hazard you’re dangling above.

It’s not quite this shiny – not outside of a hideously expensive PC, anyway – but it’s a good-looking game.

Snake Pass’s stages are islands floating high in the sky with ground nowhere to be seen. This means that, even after considering the spikes and red-hot coals sometimesss present, a wrong move in the wrong place means death. Crucially however, death means a respawn within seconds at the last checkpoint you activated, with no limit on the number of respawns. This is a game that bends over backwards (and coils itself around) to ensure you can, and will, keep playing and keep enjoying yourself.

Each stage is full of both nooks and crannies, with lots of playground-style frames to carefully slither and coil yourself up, down, and acrosss. While getting yourself from A to B usually isn’t too awkward, there are collectibles at A.1 to A.28, often placed somewhere hard to find and/or tempting a fatal fall. Each stage has three keystones, twenty bubbles, and five coins. Now, here’s an excellent example of the genius of Snake Pass: Only the keystones have to be collected in order to unlock the next stage. The keystones are very easy to find, and usually relatively simple to collect.

A less confident (or competent) developer, or perhaps one under pressure from a big publisher, would have ruined this game. Consider things carefully, and you realise this would have been a very easy game to ruin. The presence of enemies would have ruined this game. The introduction of time limits would have ruined this game. Requiring (for example) a minimum number of coins to unlock the last third of the game would have been antithetical to the spirit of Snake Pass. As things stand, no matter how many times you die (and you could be looking at Dark Soulsss levelsss of death), Snake Pass is actually quite a relaxing game to play, this atmosphere fully supported by David Wise’s mellow soundtrack.

You can even change Noodle’s expression. Why? Why not!

The almost total absence of pressure and stringent rules allows the player to take ownership of the experience in a way that very, very few games allow. As you can explore and collect as much or as little as you like, chances are you’ll find yourself motivated to truly complete the stage wherever possible, even if it’s not the first time around. You’re not working to please an absent developer; you’re working to please yourself. Once you finish the final stage, you’re gifted an (entirely optional) power that immediately highlights collectibles. And guess what? Replay a stage, and you’ll find that previously collected items (apart from keystones) stay collected. Damn we love thisss game.

On Switch as we played it at least, there are some minor frame rate issues; but that’s a small price to pay for the ability to play this game on the go as well as on the TV (and it works just as well on the portable screen). Yes, the camera has moments where it doesn’t do what you want, but this is rare. There’s a mountainous difficulty spike for the last two stages, which is a little jarring. This relates almost exclusively to harvesting collectibles though, rather than overall progression. We only really have one criticism, and that isss… it’s all over too quickly. The fifteen stages are exquisitely designed, but they’re all fairly small. Although you’ll almost certainly revisit stages to mop up collectibles you initially missed, that won’t take too long. Still, when the harshest criticism you can hurl at a game is “there’s not enough of it”, you know that you have sssomething ssspecial.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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