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Snake Pass

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: March 28, 2017


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PC Review - 'Snake Pass'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 5, 2017 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Snake Pass is a retro-inspired collect-a-thon platformer, where players slither, curl and climb their way through increasingly challenging worlds filled with intricate obstacles and fiendishly mind-bending challenges.

Generally, when you think of platforming, you think of jumping. Whether you're playing as an overweight Italian plumber, a hedgehog, a whip-wielding vampire hunter or a bobcat, jumping goes hand-in-hand with the idea of platforming. That's what makes Snake Pass so interesting. It's an attempt to create a 3-D platformer without what is perhaps the genre's most iconic notion.

You play as a friendly snake named Noodle who is pals with a hummingbird named Doodle. The two discover that the keystones that make up portals in their world have been scattered around, and they set out on a quest to find them. Noodle doesn't know magic or have mystical powers. He's just a serpent with a quick mind, strong muscles, and a pal, so this means Snake Pass lacks a jump button. It's pretty amazing to consider a platformer without that basic gameplay mechanic. Instead, gameplay revolves entirely around learning how to move. Even the act of moving forward requires some thought. Noodle has to slither left and right instead of zooming from point A to point B, so the process of moving forward is almost a rhythm minigame. You have to slide left and right to build up momentum to move quickly. Fail to do this, and you crawl instead of slither, something that can be lethal in the tougher areas.

Likewise, you can't jump and instead must climb. You can lift your head, constrict your muscles, and call Doodle to help you by lifting your tail. The environments are filled with branches, sticks, wooden poles and other objects that you can snake around. Slithering around a pole allows you to ascend it by bracing your body on horizontal sticks, and you can gain height by looping around vertical ones. You need to balance between moving forward and pausing to tighten your coils, so you don't lose your balance and fall. If you're too slow, you don't have the momentum to make it. If you go too fast, you'll fall down because Noodle doesn't have the necessary grip to slither along.

At first, it's pretty simple, but very quickly, the game throws new dangers at you. In the early sections, you have all the time in the world and minimal punishment for failure. As you progress, you're placed in situations where failure means death. This means you're sent back to a nearby checkpoint, but it can add a lot of tension. Early on, it can be amusing to see Noodle falling off a pole and trying frantically to hang on. Later, when he's suspended above deadly lava, it becomes absolutely nerve-wracking as you struggle to figure out the best way to save the snake from his wiggly doom.

Snake Pass is interesting in that fighting with the odd controls is the point of the game, not a flaw. The controls aren't bad but they are different from the norm. You're forced to recontextualize the entire world from a snake's point of view. Even small holes or tiny ledges can go from trivial problems to huge messes, and it's interesting that you have to learn the language of movement again. Once you get a feel for it, though, you see the stage in a completely new light. What would be a meaningless gap for Mario is an interesting challenge for Noodle. At the same time, you can find new paths and new solutions that you wouldn't think of otherwise. Noodle isn't forced to one path, and clever use of your skills can find shortcuts that let you skip obstacles.

The puzzles often ask you to think hard about where you need to go. Is it worth going through a complex maze of moving poles when you can slither up a nearby wall and have Doodle carry you across a simpler gap? Is it possible to ride a gust of wind across a seemingly impassible hole, or are you going to fall? There are intended paths through each level, but the gameplay is flexible enough that you can utilize alternate paths. Overthinking can be a dangerous enemy in Snake Pass. There were times when I bashed my head against what I was sure was the intended solution only to find out that there was a far easier path.

This does lead to Snake Pass' biggest flaw. It isn't a game like Octodad or Surgeon Simulator, where the humor is the entire point. It's a platformer where frustration and tedium can very easily become a part of the whole product. If the controls click for you, then you'll slither and slide through danger like it isn't even there. If they don't, then it'll feel like the controls and not the players are failing. It can be aggravating when your snake tumbles off a pole and into lava, despite what seems like the "right" move. Much of the time, it isn't the game's fault but a misunderstanding of the rules, but in the heat of the moment, the two can feel awfully similar. Add to that the times the game is genuinely unresponsive, and it leads to some frustration.

Snake Pass is generally fun to play once you get over the difficulty spikes. There will probably be a significant number of players who get too frustrated to continue. Most games that rely on weird control schemes focus on humor and the inherent lack of precision to guide players around foibles. For all its charms, Snake Pass treats itself like a serious platformer, so it's a tighter and more focused experience. It works if you're willing to roll with the punches, but it can be a real pain if you're expecting to never be frustrated.

The game doesn't have a ton of stages, but each stage is large and interesting to explore. In most stages, your goal is to find the keystones, but there are also multiple kinds of collectibles scattered throughout the stages. Some are located in obvious locations, and some can only be found by slithering into every nook and cranny. Finish a stage with minimal collectibles, and it still praises you. Finishing the game unlocks Snake Vision, which makes it easier to find collectibles when you replay.

Snake Pass has simple visuals, but they're rather appealing. Noodle is bright and colorful and conveys a surprising amount of personality for such a simple character. The stages are basic but colorful, and everything in the game is clearly communicated, which makes it a delight to explore. The game really shines in its peppy and cheerful music. Provided by former Rare vet David Wise, it's a cheerful mix of songs that adds flavor to the game and elevates the simple graphics and gameplay.

Snake Pass is a charming and distinctly different game, which mostly works in its favor. You won't find the platformer-without-jumping mechanics in any other game on the market. The downside is that the gameplay mechanic can quickly go from fun to frustrating. It's a game with a ton of personality, and those with the patience to work around its flaws will find a lot to like.

Score: 7.5/10

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