Snake Pass is proof that a single mechanic can lead to an incredible experience. Moving like a snake, being a snake, is at the game’s core. Because of it Snake Pass is one of the best ‘platformers’ I’ve played in a long time. Allow me to shed some skin on how this adorable snake will sink it’s teeth in you and not let go.
Other than maybe Snake, I can’t really think of any other game where you play as an actual snake. You control Noodle, a happy little snake, and in a more passive way Doodle, an erratic and concerned humming bird. Both have fun personalities, and you can even change the expression on Noodle’s face as desired, making him a sneaky snake or a smiley snake with the touch of a button. Moving Noodle isn’t as simple as holding a direction and having him go towards a direction; instead you have to hold the right trigger, almost in a gas peddle fashion, and even then it will only make the snake move very slowly. To really get going, you will have to master slithering back and forth, with the more kinks and coils the better. Honestly, the best way to learn how to move in Snake Pass is to watch a real snake in action. This YouTube video has a great explanation for how snakes move and is actually a great sort of introduction for how to best utilize movement in the game. That control realism is perhaps what makes the core of the experience so intriguing.
You can also raise Noodle’s head, allowing him to get up and around obstacles, and tightening his grip on objets is achieved with the push of a button. Let’s say he needs to climb a ladder: he can wrap himself around the bottom rung, grip it, and then raise his head to attempt to reach for the next. As far as Doodle goes, he can lift Noddle’s back end up to help him get over obstacles or help clear a particularly long jump. There’s coordination and teamwork in the two aspects, but they work.
These climbing mechanics are what make up the ‘platforming’ here and the outcome feels incredibly rewarding. At first trying to get Noodle to move from pole to pole seems intimidating, but over time you will develop your own quirky way of moving through obstacles. Levels encourage this type of self expression, not having a defined way of getting from place to place. Even the suggested routes often have a few extra poles to give players options. After becoming more comfortable with moving and reading situations, shortcuts and skips can be found that can be utilized to save time when looking for collectibles or when trying to beat the challenge time for each stage. The last few levels of the game are truly a test of skills and will be challenging for even the most skilled of players. These levels are a little more linear than the rest, but many will likely appreciate this more since it becomes a fight to make it to each checkpoint. Unfortunately as soon as the challenge really gets going, the game’s 15 levels are over an it’s up to the collectibles and time trials to extend the length
Speaking of collectibles, Snake Pass certainly has it’s fair share of them. You will be on the lookout for 3 gems in each level, which are the keys to opening the exit. These gems are usually tied to completing a puzzle or a climbing challenge that plays out as little skill check for the players ability. In terms of optional collectibles, players can collect blue wisps or special gold coins. The wisps are mostly used to help the player see the suggested route in a level, with a few hiding to make players explore and look at the level and its challenges at different angles. The gold coins are your advanced player collectible. These are usually well hidden and can be incredibly challenging to obtain. One coin in the first level of the game is essentially unobtainable by new players until they get their snake legs underneath them.
A few of the collectible coins highlight the only minor problem I have with the game, and that’s the camera. In most platforming titles, having the ability to move the camera exactly the way you want it is a huge help in being able to accomplish your goals. In Snake Pass, the camera does a great job of following Noodle and being positioned behind him in a way that gives great vision of the challenge in front of you. However, if you want to find all the collectibles or try to get a different view of what you’re doing, you’re often met with a camera that doesn’t want to corporate. Enclosed spaces sometimes leave you with a view outside of where you are or the backend of a ground texture. For the most part though, I found that the problem was often myself, because I constantly wanted what I thought would be the perfect angle while also attempting to climb.
It should be noted that this is the first game running Unreal Engine 4 on the Nintendo Switch. For the most part, it is essentially the same as it is for the Playstation 4. If you want a comparison of the two, Digital Foundry has a great video looking at some of the technical differences. Playing on the Switch in portable mode works great and isn’t any harder to play then playing it on a TV. During my time with the Playstation 4 version I originally had it installed on an external hard drive and encountered some large stutters during gameplay. I transferred it to my system’s internal drive and these problems no longer occurred. I’m not sure if this is an issue with the game or an issue with my external hard drive, but it’s important to note since the use of external hard drives for full games is a recent addition to the Playstation 4.
Snake Pass is an incredible game. Its identity hinges on a quirky little snake and his movement, and is every part adorable and unique as he is. At first glance, you might mistake it for a children’s game. If anything it is a learning game, teaching you a different way of expressing something you might already know in your own unique way. I’ve been quoted on this site numerous times saying movement is what I look for the most in games, and Snake Pass stands tall on it’s incredible character motion. This year has already had its fair share of must play games, and Snake Pass easily snakes it’s way onto that list.
Snake Pass was reviewed on Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch with codes provided by the developer Sumo Digital. Snake Pass is also available on PC and Xbox One.