Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sumo Digital
Format: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC (reviewed)
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Snake Pass, at first, seemed like a game that would come and go and leave no impact on me, as many casual games do. I’ve never been so pleasantly mistaken.
The charming characters, Noodle the snake and Doodle the hummingbird, are simple yet vibrant and expressive. Noodle was cheerful as I happily slithered through each stunning level, focused when I steadily reached for hard to get objects, and Noodle was absolutely horrified when things went awry over endless pits or dangerously hot coals. But even when things felt perilous, the soundtrack by the legendary David Wise was always there to keep things light and cheery.
Surprisingly, the most striking thing about Snake Pass isn’t Noodle, it’s the controls. To move forward, you accelerate with your controller’s right trigger and then move your analogue stick from side to side to make Noodle slither. This gives you more speed than just hitting the acceleration button and, to top it all off, the physics-based movement and puzzle solving felt all too natural while controlling a snake. Although it felt strange at first to move the character this way, I found it immensely satisfying to do and to see it translated in serpentine fashion in-game.
But the controls get far more interesting when Noodle climbs. He can coil and constrict his body around things for a tight grip which sacrifices some mobility. Noodle can also whistle for Doodle to pick up his tail, making Noodle weighed down less while simultaneously taking away the length he relies on to coil around objects. Doing all this while trying to reach a dangerously placed collectible made it difficult for me to wrap my head around the controls in such harrowing situations.
In my first two hours of play, I found that playing had caused me hand fatigue, so I put the game down for the day. But when I came back to the game, I was easily able to play for as long as I wanted. When I was trying to desperately recall controls, I had a death grip on my controller, as if I, like Noodle, was hanging on for dear life. But in a short time I mastered the controls and loosened my grip, and it felt wonderful to slither and climb and explore to my heart’s content.
Exploring each vibrant world and mastering Noodle’s deceivingly simple controls was immensely rewarding, but this comes from my perspective as somebody who has collected every world’s wisps and hidden coins. The only collectible the player needs to collect are the three keystones, and these are usually pretty simple to get. I feel as if a player who is not tempted to explore and only wants to find the keystones to progress would not feel as satisfied with the game. And while the worlds are so beautiful they’re just asking to be explored and wisps are placed strategically to encourage exploration, the checkpoint system may discourage this in other players.
Throughout each world there are a handful of places one can save their progress. This either requires a player to attempt difficult portions of a level again and again or to slither all the way back to the nearest checkpoint before and after collecting a difficult coin or wisp. Most worlds felt open enough that slithering all the way back to a checkpoint felt fine, since there was normally something else I had to explore anyway. However, a few levels were built in a more linear fashion, such as in the game’s final level where strong winds made it extremely difficult to backtrack. Luckily, these more linear levels are few and far between, allowing the game to really embrace its sense of wonder and exploration in its more open levels.
To wrap it up, Snake Pass is a delightful game that had me smiling the whole way through. From the art direction to the physics-based gameplay, every moment was truly joyful, and I was desperately sad to see it all end and say goodbye to my snake and bird friends. Hopefully we see more from this game in the future, because I’m thoroughly snake charmed.