Snake Pass (2017) developed by Digital Sumo, is a charming throwback to the games of yore. Specifically, N64 games developed by UK developer, Rare Ware. At its heart, Snake Pass is an old-school platformer, the type that is seeing a slight resurgence with Yooka-Laylee scheduled for release next month. Available on all platforms, it was interesting to see how Snake Pass runs on the Nintendo Switch, given Nintendo’s rich history with the platform genre and the console being underpowered compared to its contemporaries.
Snake Pass is one of the more unique puzzle-platformers due to its control system. The choice to make the player-character a snake, who is adorably called Noodle, is not just for aesthetic purposes and plays into the very core mechanics of what Snake Pass has to offer. Its fifteen levels take place on floating islands, with various collectables and the three required key passes to complete the levels, placed at various high-points. It is your role to maneuverer Noodle as he slithers, twists and contorts around bamboo climbing frames and up walls.
The challenge lies not just in finding the correct pathway, but figuring out how Noodle should wrap himself around, slither towards and find the best position for him to climb higher. It is at first frustrating to find yourself inches away from your objective only to make one wrong move and find yourself fall back to the ground. Noodle’s weight plays a key factor, as if the lower part of his body hangs too low, you will find yourself at the mercy of gravity. This is where your sidekick, Doodle the hummingbird, comes into the fold, as with the press of the Y button, he can give your tail a lift to counteract Noodle’s weight. This is by no means a get out of jail free card as Doodle’s strength can only go so far. Fortunately, Snake Pass has a forgiving checkpoint system so failure doesn’t punish too harshly.
The unique control system is difficult to get the hang of, but it’s very rewarding when it clicks. With no enemies to fend off, the only perilous situations Noodle finds himself in is when navigating a pathway of bamboo with the void looming ominously below. Mastering these situations enables you to better navigate the levels and pick up all of the collectables, incentivising you to replay completed levels and giving more life to an otherwise short adventure.
For a game about a snake, it’s all very charming and sweet. Levels are bright and colourful, set in jungle-like environments, complete with clear blue waters to swim in and flora to move through. The game looks like a high-res N64 title and in the best possible way. Noodle is animated well, with his movements feeling believable, as a real snake would move, but with the cartoony facial animations to give him a bit of extra flair. If you find yourself about to lose your balance and plummet to the floor, Noodle’s expression becomes wide-eyed and he will start to panic. Conversly, if you hang upside down from the bamboo for a while, he will peacefully drift to sleep. Little touches such as these give life to Noodle and make the whole experience endearing.
The nostalgia-inspiring aesthetic is coupled with a wonderful soundtrack, composed by David Wise, formerly of Rare Ware. Wise is best known for his work on the Donkey Kong series and, given the similarities between the settings of Donkey Kong and Snake Pass, is a fitting choice of composer. The music is atmospheric, mixing natural environment sounds with relaxing melodies, to create catchy tunes that don’t take long to stick in your head.
The game can frustrate given its unintuitive camera, which unfortunately, does not always track your movements, forcing you to manually rotate the camera when Noodle turns a corner or goes out of view. Given how precise Noodle’s movements must be to navigate the levels and reach their highest points, this adds a level of cheap and unnecessary difficulty. Often times, I found myself failing to reach where I wanted to be, not because I didn’t know how to control Noodle at that moment, but because I had to readjust the camera to get a better view.
Despite issues with the camera, Digital Sumo have managed to craft a game that harkens back to the days where video game narrative was just background noise and the real focus was on the mechanical and thematic workings of the game. They have done this by creating something that feels familiar, with its charming aesthetic and childish, cartoony graphical style, yet by also being unique by virtue of how it controls, and even at its most frustrating, Snake Pass is always joyful.