System: Switch (eShop)
Release date: March 28, 2017
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher Sumo Digital
There are a lot of short tips that cycle through the brief loading screens of Snake Pass. The most helpful was perhaps the most obvious: “Remember, think like a snake.” I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied categorizing this as a physics-based puzzle game. Calling it a platformer is closer, but you can’t jump. Stick this game into any established category and you’ll find that its slithery nature slips right back out. Snake Pass is, mechanically speaking, a sort of deconstruction of the 3D platformer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever played.
Noodle the snake and his hummingbird companion have to traverse 15 open levels, snaking, coiling, constricting, and slithering around for collectibles to progress to the next level. His movement is heavily physics based and he moves with impressive snakey realism for googly-eyed pasta. The best way to describe Noodle’s movement is that you steer and direct his head dragging the rest of his body and using that dead weight to your advantage. For example, wrapping his tail around a pole and constricting allows you to hang and slither around it in a loop.
As opposed to any other platformer, really, basic movement can’t be taken for granted in Snake Pass. Even moving straight requires that wiggling the stick back and forth to create momentum and slither. Think like a snake. If I want to use a horizontal pole as a bridge I have to consider how a snake might go about such an activity. Weaving around like a string, learning when Noodle needs to constrict to hold his grip and when to relax it to slither forth. More than any other platformer, navigation doesn’t require a consideration of how I can move across a gap, but how I can slide along surfaces, circumventing gaps altogether. Playing as a snake offers a different level of player input abstraction than the typical anthropomorphic platformer protagonist. Even basic movement can’t be thoughtlessly taken for granted.
There’s a very facetious Rare “we put googly eyes on a thing” vibe to its characters and world. The wonderful David Wise soundtrack furthers the feeling of a Rare homage. Fortunately, Snake Pass takes the strongest aspects of Rare collectathons and avoids the obscene amount of meaningless collectibles they could devolve into.
To get through a level you have to get three keys to unlock a gate to the next one. Like the best implementation of scattered doodads in open levels, the mandatory keys all have associated puzzle and snake-platforming challenges tied to them. For the optional glowing blue blobs and coins there are extra challenges built into the fringes of the floating landmass levels. There’s nothing like music notes carelessly scattered in an empty field to be found here.
With the physics driven gameplay there’s an element of slapstick as Noodle flops and fumbles around. Unfortunately, this can happen a little too often. The limited checkpoint system (there’s only a few pedestals in every level) means that every time I try to slither Noodle onto some bamboo jungle gym construction hanging over a bottomless pit to get a tricky collectible, falling means being reset just far back enough to become really frustrating. There were more than a few times I gave up on trying to get the elusive hidden coins in a level.
The checkpoint system is really my only significant complaint. There is a weird loading screen bug where a single line of pixels on the edges of the screen are the wrong color. I would, of course, be happy to have more levels to explore with Noodle. As it is, Snake Pass is on the short side. Still, better that it understays than outstays its welcome.
There’s something wonderful about how Snake Pass engages the player in a different way than any platformer I’ve played. The surface-level Rare tropes are here, but it’s far from derivative. While it also has resemblance to other similarly physics based gag games, Snake Pass is more considered. It fleshes out a whole game with its peculiar controls and expects that the player will learn them. The physics aren’t random and insurmountable so long as you remember to think like a snake.
Snake Pass review copy provided by Sumo Digital for the purposes of this review.