The 1990s were a simpler time in gaming – Sega and Nintendo were duking it out for 2D supremacy, then Sony came in and wiped the floor with Sega. 3D gaming was the new kid on the block. How else were games to evolve but by taking the mainstay genre of 2D gaming, platformers, and bringing them into the new dimension? Over the last several years, retro throwbacks have been geared toward 2D nostalgia, but Snake Pass is the show opener of the 2017 trend towards 90’s collect-a-thon throwbacks.
Now this is not a knock against Snake Pass, most Nintendo gamers grew up slinking around the worlds of Donkey Kong 64 or Banjo Kazooie, but Snake Pass is neither. Snake Pass brings its own take on the genre to the table, and that is just where the divergence begins.
In Snake Pass, the player takes the role of Noodle the Snake with his good pal Doodle the Hummingbird accompanying and assisting him. Utilizing a complicated control scheme – ZR to move forward and the Left Stick to move Noodle’s head, A to raise the head, and ZL to tighten your grip as the main control buttons – I found that Noodle would often get confused. If you moved too far in one direction and released the stick, you would need to use the opposite direction to continue in your first direction, i.e. if you were turning left, but released the stick, you would need to press right to continue going left. While counter-intuitive at times, these controls, issues aside, become natural after the first world – essentially the in-game tutorial.
As this is a collect-a-thon, there are a variety of items to collect across the levels: 3 Gems required to beat the level, 20 Whisp, and 5 Gatekeeper Coins. Only the gems are required to unlock the final gate of each level, everything else is left to completionists like myself. There is a short overarching narrative, but the game largely takes inspiration from its 2D ancestors insofar as releasing you into the world and allowing you to play without constraint.
There are 15 levels in the game, divvied up into an assortment of 4 elemental worlds: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Each world has unique gameplay elements that affect the motion of Noodle and the strategy needed in order to complete the level. Naturally, the level of difficulty ramps up as you continue through the game, but not in an overly frustrating manner. The levels, while linear in a sense that there is a definitive beginning and end, are open-ended and allow you to tackle them in whichever manner you desire. Never do you find yourself constrained by a specific order of finding gems to progress.
One of the highlights of the game is the score composed by legendary gaming musician David Wise. David Wise rose to prominence in the 90’s with the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack, and while not quite as memorable as that OST, this soundtrack was a gift upon the ears with that familiar David Wise sound. It wasn’t just the music that left a memory, but the sound design as a whole was top-notch, with musical cues and sound effects being affected by your surroundings. For example, when you dive underwater the music becomes softer and more distant. The soft design and cartoonish art direction help build the immersive world hand-in-hand with this sound design crafting a unique world wholly owned by Snake Pass.
The core of the gameplay itself is the physics engine. Rather than running and jumping, you are a snake that slithers around the world and coils around objects to rise through the world and move past obstacles. In the wrong hands, this could have been a disastrous control method, but Sumo Digital came through in spades. Based upon a physics engine that was developed in coordination with a former biology teacher – no, I am not kidding about this, one of the developers used to teach biology – every maneuver that is correctly pulled off feels satisfying and adds a new move to your slithery repertoire. One of the most satisfying moments of the game was being able to pull off a long distance slither across various poles that required stretching, quick coordination, and precise coiling in order to not fall while climbing up a hill. If the game was only composed of moments like this, it would become an instant legend.
On the whole, the game was a bit too short. The main game itself can be completed in about 5 hours, ignoring the drive to collect every item in every level which can easily double the length of time spent in the world of Snake Pass. However, at only $20, this game is well worth the price of admission. Sumo Digital would be wise to consider adding some DLC later to add new worlds, as this could be a low-key success story, especially with the still sparse lineup on the Switch.
Overall, Snake Pass is a blast to play when the controls are not acting up. Sumo Digital has shown that they intend to fix issues with the game, as they already fixed an issue where HD Rumble was essentially just Rumble Loudly. With zero issues in either handheld or console mode and a steady framerate, Snake Pass is a showcase of the ease of portability for games running Unreal Engine 4 which bodes well for future support of the Nintendo Switch by third party developers. If you’re a fan of collect-a-thons, 3D platformers, or physics based puzzle games, then don’t skip out on Snake Pass.