Platforms PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO, NS
Developer Sumo Digital
Publisher Sumo Digital
Release Date March 29, 2017

Review code provided

Snake Pass is an adventure gaming throwback to the mascot-driven days of the 90’s, when video games were dominated by colourful characters and buckets of charm. The game casts you as slithering snake Noodle who, together with his hyperactive Hummingbird pal Doodle, must embark on an adventure across Haven Tor to gather the missing Keystones and put a stop to the mysterious antagonist who is stealing them.

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I want to call Snake Pass a 3D platformer, were it not for the complete lack of jumping and platforming. It’s just that it so effortlessly recaptures the magic of games like Banjo-Kazooie and 3D Super Mario games, which it draws heavy inspiration. Playing as the always charming Noodle, you’ll need to navigate the various environments and collect the Keystones required to pass from one level to the next.

It sounds simple. But Snake Pass is a game very much rooted in physics. And, as the title indicates, you’re playing as a snake. This requires you to reorient your way of tackling what would ordinarily be fairly routine environmental puzzle solving in other games. Early on the game advises you to “think like a snake” – and while Snake Pass is a fairly easy game to learn, becoming proficient enough to actually get through all of the game’s 15 levels is considerably trickier.

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Everything about Noodle’s movements has been meticulously thought out, from the way he wraps himself around the objects in the world to smaller touches, such as needing to slither from left to right to pick up speed. What at first looks simple quickly becomes an intense, satisfying and, at times, frustrating experience. Progress is tied to coiling yourself around bamboo to get around. When you’re in the zone and the game is firing on all cylinders, Snake Pass positively hums.

There’s an almost balletic quality to the movements – wrapping Noodle around a particularly tricky bamboo climbing frame, loosening and tightening your grip as you tie yourself to a post and make your next death-defying push up, over or across to the next. It’s equally as likely to elicit a string of expletives when Noodle doesn’t quite poke his head through the right gap or his tail unwraps from a stick of bamboo before you’ve secured yourself to the next.

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It can be exhilarating and exasperating in equal measure. Though it’s not without issues. The controls, while fairly straightforward, can occasionally challenge your dexterity a bit too much, especially as the complexity of the things you need to climb increases. Moving, raising your head, gripping a piece of bamboo you’re wrapped around and keeping the camera in a convenient position requires you to use both triggers, both analogue sticks and a face button.

It creates a situation where you’ll fail to successfully navigate a puzzle by not being able to manipulate all the controls you need to, as opposed to because you simply made a mistake. This can be alleviated somewhat with the “easy” control options, which removes the need to hold R2 to move forward, but doesn’t fix the need to take your thumb off the right analogue stick to raise Noddle’s head.

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This control scheme effectively removes your ability to control the camera when going upwards, meaning that you’re constantly wrestling with the view. This becomes more problematic as the game progresses and more and more challenges begin to feature moving parts, meaning your view is never standing still and you’re left to the mercy of a wonky camera. Making matters worse is the game’s horrible checkpoint system that is far too sparse, forcing players through tough obstacles they’ve already beaten time after time.

Snake Pass also suffers from a sense of repetition thanks to a lack of variety in its objectives. Every level sees doing the same thing over and over again – find the three Keystones to move on. There are optional collectables liberally scattered throughout each level that increase the difficulty should you choose to pursue them, and Snake Pass does add new twists to it’s gameplay every few levels, adding water, lava and wind to further complicate your travels through its world.

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No matter how many frustrations I endured, however, Snake Pass is a compelling game. Even when I wanted to snap my controller in half out of pure aggravation I was still eager to throw myself back in and grab that last coin or get that last Keystone. The cheerful world helps a lot – Snake Pass is a great throwback to the 90’s that also manages to give us something fresh. It’s a colourful world filled with cheerful characters and bursting with charm.

Summary

 

Snake Pass is a game that evokes both satisfaction and intense frustration, often simultaneously. Guiding Noddle through the fifteen levels on offer is a great experience, though it is marred by some issues with controls, checkpoints and a wayward, sometimes difficult to control camera. There’s also nothing quite like it. Taking on the role of a snake and having to tailor your thinking to its own brand of platforming is a fun experience.

For every aggravation there was a moment of gratification waiting around the corner, and on the whole it’s a fun game, albeit there are times when you’ll swear blind that you’re going to set your console on fire and throw it out a window. Any niggling issues are well worth working your way through to experience such a meticulously well crafted overall experience.

7v2


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