Does Snake Pass live up to its inspiration?
The resurgence of 3D platformers trace back not to Nintendo’s own Mario, but Rare’s goofy collectathons way back on the Nintendo 64. Super Mario 64 may have revolutionized the industry as we knew it, but there was something about Banjo Kazooie and its googly-eyed cast, tongue-in-cheek toilet humor and big worlds full o’ trinkets that everyone wanted to emulate. Of course, maybe it was because the 90’s were really big on gross-out humor, but it’s the “big worlds” that caught everyone’s attention…and drove them away. Within the awe of the 3D era’s dawn, bigger and more equaled better, and so saturation and burnout ensued.
But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. With the likes of Yooka Laylee and A Hat in Time set to ape collectathon tropes in a modern age, it’s refreshing to see Snake Pass take its own spin on the concept. Starring Noodle the snake and Doodle the humming bird, Snake Pass trades the expanded, revisited worlds, and even the act of jumping, for fifteen physics-based levels centered around nabbing keystones and orbs. Sumo Digital’s latest game is better described as a puzzle platformer: the paths to the Keystones, hidden cleverly in the floating islands of Haven Tor, require the careful flexibility of Noodle.
The control scheme of Noodle is a meticulous one: the act of slithering is slow and steady, becoming a mind-bending ordeal when balanced alongside clinging and rising. Snake Pass actively engages the player throughout every one of Noodle’s jungle gyms, as they’ll find themselves wrapping and climbing around every little thing that grabs their attention, be it ascending bamboo poles or stone structures. The game’s depth is revealed here: throughout my playthrough, I stumbled upon solutions that definitely weren’t intended; using avian sidekick Doodle to pick Noodle up definitely saved my skin more than once, my favorite being the time where I had the bird drop Noodle into a mess of wheels and air currents. To think all it took was using my, well, noodle.
Unfortunately, I found myself using it more than necessary. While the levels themselves are well-made, the sparse checkpoints potentially render them something of a chore. Should you fall to your doom–and believe me, that’ll happen often–you’ll often find yourself repeating the same arduous exercises again and again, a process as tedious as it sounds. The game’s slow nature works against it here, and it’s a shame, too, because I really do like these levels; like any collectathon, optional collectibles in the form of munchy orbs or hidden coins populate Haven Tor, and I was surprised how cleverly they were hidden. What’s fun is how they aren’t necessarily telegraphed via Keystone puzzles; while the floating islands aren’t too huge, they’re just dense enough to encourage us to poke every nook and cranny.
Make no mistake: the game’s constant suggestion to “think like a snake” is the best way you’ll succeed, right down to movement. Snake Pass encourages snake-like movement from the beginning, and I can’t think of anything else like it in gaming. I will be frank in admitting, however, it did take a while to adjust to Noodle’s slithering; the shoulder button ergonomics for PS4 were fine, but I always did find myself asking, “okay, was L1 to slither or to grip?” Perhaps it was how subtle the gripping maneuver was? Regardless, sometimes I found myself so taken with the physics that I found myself flopping Noodle about in outrageous positions just to test his flexibility. The character himself is just so lovable, his sleepy facial expressions mimicking that of a lazy cat wanting nothing more than to lounge about (By the way, the D-Pad for changing his expressions is a nice touch).
It’s moments like these – or really, the aforementioned slow and steady nature of the game – that render Snake Pass something of a cathartic experience. When it’s not frustrating you with checkpoint shenanigans, it’s hard to stay mad at a leisurely romp accompanied by music from David “God” Wise. Complementing the game are atmospheric tunes evoking the Aquatic Ambiances and Stickerbush Symphonies of 90’s past, but while I don’t expect Snake Pass’s BGM to be as hallowed as Donkey Kong Country, its best is certainly echoed in the watery panpipes or airy choirs.
What a shame, then, that I was constantly taken out by horrible, intrusive tutorials. For whatever reason, Doodle assumed I was catatonic throughout the first world and screeched about everything going on, right down to how that switch in front of me would probably open a door. While he lets up further on, that these aren’t skippable even upon replays is a massive detriment, especially since this is the sort of game dependent on replay value.
As pointed out in numerous reviews, Snake Pass is a short product. This is hardly news for an indie title, but at fifteen levels long, I can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t have been just a little longer. I wouldn’t go as far to say the game was rushed – its physics are too good for that – but that it wastes time on a tepid “mystery” ending on an anti-climatic note does grant an unpolished air alongside the occasional bug (I encountered a sound glitch via the post-game Snake Vision mechanic that persists even upon exiting the level; actually, I’ve yet to figure out how to stop it).
Snake Pass only feels like a title that’s just getting its feet wet, as opposed to a full-fledged debut. I can certainly elaborate further on the great things about it, but just like its lead character itself, it needs to stretch just a little further to reach its idols. Either way, I’m charmed by Noodle and his jungle home, and would certainly like to see a sssseecond attempt.
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Sumo Digital; Developer: Sumo Digital; Players: 1 ; Released: March 28thrd, 2017; ESRB: E10; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a digital copy of Snake Pass given to HeyPoorPlayer.