Snake Pass is the unique new platforming adventure game from developer Sumo Digital. It is reminiscent of classic Rare 3D platformers. But does it live up to the genre’s predecessors? Let’s look at it in this review of Snake Pass for Xbox One and Windows 10.
Game: Snake Pass
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Platform: Xbox One, Windows 10 (Also available on PS4, Steam, Nintendo Switch)
The story in Snake Pass is very thin. It’s mostly an excuse to throw you into well-designed levels to put the snake physics to work. I’ll get into that more in the gameplay section.
Snake Pass’s story begins with Noodle the snake getting alerted to the disappearance of a “keystone” by a talking hummingbird named Doodle. I should clarify here, there is very little recorded dialog, and the main characters are largely mute except for some squawks, oofs and whines. Anyway, Doodle tells Noodle that the keystone must be recovered or “we’ll be stuck here forever”. Well, this rainforest-themed paradise seems like one of the best places to be stuck forever, but I’ll go with it. Let’s get that keystone!
I was left disappointed with the storytelling in Snake Pass. There was a chance to give the characters some life, to make you actually care about them in the slightest. Unfortunately, Noodle and Doodle will be likely be forgotten. It’s safe to say that Sumo Digital wasn’t aiming to tell a compelling story. So let’s not spend more time reviewing the story than was spent writing it.
While the story is boring and forgettable, the gameplay has something special to offer. The controls in Snake Pass are simple, but with practice there is a level of mastery attainable, similar to Rocket League.
Snake Pass is a sort of “snake simulator”. I hadn’t realized before booting up the game that I’ve never played as a believable snake in a game before. And it was refreshing to experience the effort made here. R-trigger is forward motion, left thumbstick “aims” your head, right thumbstick aims the camera in classic platformer fashion. The “A” button raises Noodle’s head, which allows you to climb. The L-trigger tightens your grip. This feature let’s you coil tightly around a pole to climb vertically, as well as some other more advanced moves as you get better at the controls. Lastly, the “Y” button calls Doodle to pick up your tail. This can save you from a fall in certain circumstances. Doodle isn’t strong enough to carry you, so you’ll still need to be adept with the slither.
Be the snake
It’s incredibly rewarding when you put all of the controls together and watch your Noodle gracefully climb to his destination. The movement of the snake’s body looks great in motion.
To move at your fastest, you’ll need to “think like a snake” and actually slither back and forth. This gets annoying pretty quickly. The mechanics of the game call for you to have a high level of control over Noodle’s movements. This means no “auto-slither”. The game does not hold your hand in regards to the controls. When you fall, it’s usually your fault.
Pretty early on, you will struggle with navigating your scaly body over some contraption, you will fall, and you will have to climb back up to where you were to try again. This is when you will realize that Noodle is kind of a slow poke. I mean, he may be fast for a snake, but he’s slow for a video game character, and ultimately that’s what he is.
The controls, coupled with the slowness, had me raging in frustration more than once. Snake Pass may look kid friendly, but it’s a challenging game. I’ve put in hundreds of hours of the Trials games and Snake Pass rivals it for pure funstration (a mix of fun and frustration). I don’t mind try try trying again, sometimes the slow climb is agonizing. The lack of a real story motivation means I don’t even really care what happens next. Sadly, this will keep some people from ever gaining mastery over the movement controls. With a story this vapid, skippable cutscenes would be nice, especially on subsequent playthroughs.
You must become proficient in snake-like locomotion to recover the keystones and the other collectable items scattered throughout the levels. An unlockable Time Trial mode is available for speed runners.
The levels across the varied backdrops are well built. I mentioned the slow speed of Noodle. Fortunately, the levels consider this and are sized appropriately. They are smaller than they at first seem. Most importantly, the variety of ways the levels force you to twist and writhe Noodle is very clever, funstrating, but clever.
The majority of the objects in game appear to cast real-time shadows, and the textures on Noodle and the climbable areas are very nice should the camera ever get close enough to let you see. The leaves and grass seem to bend out of the way of Noodle as he traverses the terrain.
The art style gives an impression of the type of game it is at first glance. It looks like a family-friendly adventure with a snake and a bird. But the appearance belies the difficulty within. This isn’t a negative on its face. At worst, it gives some eye candy here and there for those watching you fail over and over again.
Sumo Digital was careful to procure video game soundtrack legend David Wise for Snake Pass. His notable works include the Donkey Kong Country games, Battletoads, and RC Pro Am. He is a true professional and creative visionary. That said, I don’t think Wise fans will have any new favorites from Snake Pass. The music provides a great tropical vibe and helps to chill you when you start to get riled. But so far none of the melodies have been earworms. The game is better for including David Wise’s music, but not markedly so.
The sound effects are minimal. The pleasing soundtrack covers most of the sound you hear in Snake Pass. As I noted, there is very little voice work, and the voice overs that do appear are brief and harmless.
God bless and game on!
A review copy of Snake Pass was given to me in exchange for my honest opinion.