It is nice to see a 3D mascot platformer as unique, innovative, and charming as Snake Pass released in 2017. Even as part of a re-surging genre, the game does something unique enough to separate itself from other upcoming 3D mascot platforming titles like Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time. So what does Snake Pass do so differently than everyone else? It makes you play, and think, like a snake.
While not without a few camera and texture problems, when you get in the groove of playing Snake Pass you really do feel like you’re in the mindset of a snake: curling, twisting, and gripping your way through these wonderfully crafted levels.
Players control Noodle, an orange, black and yellow snake the is initially basking in the sunlight as the game starts. He is soon awakened by his hummingbird companion, Doodle, who informs him that an evil entity is planing on closing the gates that allowed one to traverse through the different sky islands of their world, jeopardizing its tranquility. This sets Noodle off on an adventure where he works to restore the gate and garner assistance from ancient deities guarding each world.
The first world is a plain grass one, and frankly the most boring of all of the game’s worlds. These first few levels serve as an introduction to the game’s controls — which I’ll admit are jarring at first — typical movement this is not. After I slowly let Noodle fall off the branch he was initially resting on, I moved the control stick forward. Nothing happened. A prompt popped up telling me to press R2 to gain momentum and start moving. I did in fact start moving, albeit very slowly. Then I remembered the one thing Sumo Digital has hammered home to players about playing this game: think like a snake!
I started moving the control stick from left to right, mimicking the slithering movement of a snake. It worked; Noodle propelled himself forward at a decent speed. I then reached my first obstacle, a group of sticks constructed just so one could twist, coil, and contort themselves through. So, thinking like a snake, I slithered through them. These bamboo sticks will be traveled through by Noodle throughout a majority of the game.
These first few stages, although the most visually bland in the game, are a good introduction to Snake Pass‘s control, in addition to the aforementioned ones, Noodle can lift his head off the ground to help him reach higher platforms, which is very necessary for traversal, as there is a severe lack of jumping for a platformer because the titular animal is a snake. Pressing triangle will cause Doodle to lift Noodle’s tail up, which helps when you can’t quite make a ledge and need an extra boost to get the game’s physics on your side.
Finally, you can grip surfaces by pressing L2, which is useful because it keeps Noodle completely attached to whatever he is slithering on, giving players some sense of security when they are trying to reach a coin on a bamboo stick poised above an endless void beneath them. These controls are initially jarring because they weren’t like anything I had played before, but once I got used to them and really got in the mindset of a snake, I appreciated how different and original they were. As I progressed through games and slowly started to master the controls, it felt really rewarding to go back to previous levels and get to places I didn’t think I could before.
For the faint of heart, there is a setting for easy controls that relegates all movement to the left control stick and moves grip to the right trigger. This does make some of the game easier, but at the cost of not feeling as original. I understand why they included this control setting, but if you want to get the most out of Snake Pass, I would recommend staying with the default controls.
Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t always keep up. While it is okay most of the time, when Noodle goes into tighter spaces or smaller roomsthe camera will zoom up too close and get stuck on objects. As control of the camera is limited, it is hard to get out of those situations. While it was never game-breaking, it could be very frustrating to handle at times, as the controls already require a lot of focus, so the camera not working as it should flustered me even more and messed with the game’s already abstract controls.
Now that you understand how to “think like a snake,” you are probably wondering what you actually do in the game. Snake Pass is a 3D puzzle platformer with collect-athon elements that opts for a level based structure. In order to complete each level, players must collect green, yellow, and red keystones in order to open a gate at the end. Getting these keystones usually requires solving some rudimentary puzzles, including finding and pulling levers or moving a ball into a hole. While they are nothing too complex, they do flex the game’s unique mechanics well, making the experience more rewarding as a whole.
There are also several blue orbs and five coins hidden in each level that players can find for completion’s sake. These are expertly hidden in each of the levels, and really reward exploration. If you can get past a few camera issues when looking for all of these collectibles, they are quite fun to get, which is sure to please many a completionist.
Sadly, even with how packed these levels are, there are too few of them, with the game only consisting of four worlds with four levels each. While this does guarantee that Snake Pass never overstays its welcome nor does it descend into boredom, at least a world or two more would have given the game more longevity. My playthrough only took about 7 hours, although that would probably be closer to 10-15 hours for a completionist. I still feel that the game is worth its $19.99 price tag, but a couple more levels could have fleshed out the mechanics even more and given players more unique environments to explore.
Speaking of environments, there are four major kinds in the game. The first world is your typical grass theme. It is fairly simplistic and boring, but it does teach players the mechanics well. The second world is themed around water, and was my favorite of all of the worlds. It is built on what the first world had, but also introduces switches and the swimming mechanic, which made the puzzle more complex. These levels were also the most challenging, but they never felt unfair.
The third world was lava themed and employed the use of lava pits that could kill Noodle if he stayed in them long enough. This was the best looking of the worlds, although the puzzles weren’t as interesting as in the second world. The fourth world was air themed, and introduced updrafts that Doodle could carry Noodle through, making for a more unique platforming challenge, especially for a game without an actual jump button. All of the worlds are varied, and feel different enough from each other in both gameplay and atmosphere.
One of the game’s biggest visual hiccups is that many textures and the backgrounds look low res, even with output at 1080p. If you stop and stare at some of the textures or backgrounds to levels, you can see a lack of detail. This is most noticeable in the first world, which is the most basic of the four, making this problem more pronounced. It is unfortunate that the graphics are plagued by this major issue, as otherwise they are very colorful and exude charm.
The color choice in each world is very fitting. From the cyan’s and light screens of the second world, to the autumn flavored oranges and reds present in the third world, the game is not afraid to throw vibrant environments in your face. Your typical grays and browns this is not. There are also some little charming animations that put a smile on my face. These include Doodle looking vehemently at the screen when you don’t control Noodle for long enough, and Noodle cutely holding his breath when underwater in the second world. The game’s charm never lets go, making the experience all the more enjoyable. It is just a shame that this title is marred by many poor textures.
Snake Pass’s levels are accompanied by some great music by David Wise (Yooka-Laylee) — evoking some of his work from the Donkey Kong Country series with its upbeat tracks. Unfortunately this comes with a caveat: there aren’t that many songs.
All levels in the same world share the same tracks and, while these tracks are amazing, they get a bit annoying and repetitive once you reach the last stage of the world. If you are a David Wise fan, you should definitely give this game’s soundtrack a listen, even if there aren’t that many tracks to listen to.
Beating each world will also unlock time trials for the stages of that world, allowing players to sharpen their skills. There are a plethora of unique and fun achievements that should make the game an enjoyable platinum for trophy hunters. Snake Pass is a very satisfying experience for both 3D mascot platformer fans and completionists, and will fit right in with those fan’s libraries alongside the other games in the re-surging genre coming this year.
Snake Pass is held back from greatness by a troublesome camera and poor textures, but it is quite charming and innovates with its snake gameplay, which still has tons of untapped potential. I can’t wait to see what Noodle and Doodle get themselves into next, as Snake Pass’s mechanics can only be fleshed out even more from here.