We’ve all played platformers over the years and many of them have to do something to stand out from the rest. Most platforming games have you jumping from place to place to place trying to collect everything in sight. Snake Pass, the latest game from Sumo Digital, is a platformer, with light puzzle elements and plenty of things collect. Unlike most games in the genre, however, this one stands out from the crowd in how you move around the world and explore.
You play as a snake named Noodle and you’re accompanied by your friend Doodle, a hummingbird. Someone is threatening the peace of their world and it’s up to you to play through the game’s 15 levels to bring peace and beauty back to the world. You slither around the world in a way that most platformers have never really asked you to do before. You can’t jump. You’re a snake. So you must navigate around the world using no arms, and no legs. Only your slippery, serpentine body and the motions that would allow a snake to move. The story is there, but it’s not the reason you’re going to want to go through the game. This puzzle platformer is unlike anything you’ve probably played before.
Snake Pass is a game that is at times incredibly fun and other times monumentally frustrating. When you’re in a groove and you’re going through a part of the level where you’ve got really good control over the character it’s great fun and really brings back a lot of memories of platformers of old. I struggled with the controls through my time with the game. That’s where your level of enjoyment of the game is going going to be defined. If you can grasp the controls and really understand how to move around the levels you’ll find yourself really pleased when you reach the end having collected all the collectables and opened the gate to the next level. If you don’t get a firm grasp on just how to move around the levels the game is going to be more frustrating than fun. Early on I felt really good about how to move around and the first four or five levels I really enjoyed, a lot. However, as I got further into the game and finding all the orbs and coins to collect became trickier I found my level of enjoyment falling away.
Many times coins will be hidden out on a ledge or a pole sticking out from the main part of the level with nothing beneath you but a very long fall to your death (thankfully checkpoints are scattered pretty nicely throughout the environments. Those moments where I didn’t fell I could handle the movement of the snake just made for moments of annoyance and frustration. I chalk those times up more to myself just not grasping how to handle movement as best as I could.
To move the snake around the levels you hold down the ZR button this will start him moving forward. If you just do that, however, he won’t go far as you have to build up some momentum by moving back and forth like a snake does in the real world. You’ll be surprised as just how fast you can get moving if you manage to get a rhythm down well. Then you have buttons that raise his head up so you can start moving up an object like a wall or a pipe. Wrapping around these poles will allow you to move slightly higher to try and reach the next spot where you could sort of hang from to move up even higher. There’s a button to coil around poles, but doing this halts any momentum you have built up. When you’re in water there is another button that will allow you to move lower in the water.
Most of the time the snake will do what you want, however I did find at times that, whether it was because I slithered a little to far one direction or another or because the camera wasn’t facing directly forward, that the snake would loop around himself. This caused me to go back in the direction I had just come from or fall off a ledge I was perched on. Moments like this were very frustrating.
I don’t want to sound like I’m completely hating on the game because I’m not. I love old school platformers that are made just for the fun of platforming. Collecting everything in the environments was an achievement in itself and I felt really good on those few levels that I did complete every objective available. However, I found myself as I got further and further into the game just trying to get the gems to unlock the next level and not worry about the extra bits. If you play the game that way you’ll be through with the 15 levels in just a handful of hours. If you want to collect everything there is to collect you can expect to at least double, if not triple, your play time.
I also really liked the visuals of the game. It’s uses the Unreal engine and it really evokes feelings of games from the N64 era. Everything is bright. Noodle has a lot of really nice facial animations and even has some buttons on the controller dedicated to facial expressions. You can use these and the Switch’s ability to take screenshots to make some really interesting scenes. My wife commented that he reminded her of Kaa, from the Jungle Book, and that’s a really good way to describe him, only Noodle is more colorful being bright orange, yellow and black. The music is cheery. The pre-rendered cutscenes bring the characters to life.
It’s a shame I didn’t like this game more than I did, because I really wanted to. I loved the environments. There are dozens of nooks and crannies to explore. The Unreal engine really does good things for this game. Coming out of the water Noodle has a sheen to him that any creature coming out of the water would. The environments underwater warp and sway like you’d expect. Doodle’s wings look exactly like a hummingbird’s, fluttering quickly in the air, a blur to the eye. The game is beautiful. It really is.
Sumo Digital has put together a game that I see the bright spots in. If you’re one of the people that can get a grip on the controls it’s a really fun throwback to old 90’s era platformers like Banjo-Kazooie or Crash Bandicoot. However, if you struggle with the controls as I did the game’s just not going to be as much fun for you. Be aware of that going in. The idea is clever, and on paper sounds really interesting. However, in execution I found it much less fun than it could have been.
Review Copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Played through all the main levels. Did not collect everything.
Total Play Time: 5 hours