The opening quarter of 2017 has undeniably been one for the ages. Since the turn of the calendar gamers have been treated to one fantastic release after another. There have even been some some instant, generation-defining classics such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But in the midst of all this gaming goodness, it’s been easy to overlook some of the recent smaller gems. There’s one smaller release in particular that I feel truly deserves your attention: Snake Pass from United Kingdom’s own Sumo Digital. Snake Pass is a 3D physics-based platformer that simultaneously feels like a nostalgic classic from the genre’s golden era as well as an innovative release that broadens our understanding of what a platformer can be.
You see, I came of age playing games on the Nintendo 64. Some of my earliest and most treasured gaming memories are the countless hours I spent with classic 3D platformers such as Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario 64. But due to the slow shift of gaming design philosophies and expectations in the past 10-15 years, this genre has mostly disappeared. This is a significant contributor to why Snake Pass is such a delightful experience. Simply put, there isn’t much like it around today. In my time with it, I have been filled with a simple, fun and whimsical joy the likes of which I experienced as a kid.
Snake Pass has the charm and character of platformers from the 90’s and early 00’s
Mere minutes of play is all it takes to recognize that the spirit of classic 3D platformers is ever present. Indeed, all of the classic traits we’ve come to expect and love are here. Everything from bright colors and cartoonish visuals to a charming protagonist and lots and lots of collectibles. Snake Pass is in so many ways the sort of game that I grew up with and have longed to experience again in adulthood. Though while largely familiar , Snake Pass is also quite unlike anything else in the genre that inspired it.
What sets Snake Pass apart is its incredibly unique and innovative control scheme. Rather than the running and jumping you would expect from a typical platformer, here you must maneuver your character Noodle the Snake’s body in a true snake-life fashion in order to navigate obstacles. This involves actions such as moving left and right repeatedly in order to “slither” like a snake and build speed and momentum. Also, more intricately, controlling Noodle’s head to sort of lead his body in order to move up, through and often coil around obstacles to progress through levels. This is where the “physics” in “physics-based platformer” comes into play. You have to be conscientious of Noodle’s body as the entire thing has weight to it. This means if you aren’t careful and do not coil and manipulate your character in very precise ways on and around obstacles, you won’t be able to maintain your grip or have necessary leverage to advance.
The control scheme and accompanying physics are unlike anything I have ever encountered in a video game. As such it can be difficult and even frustrating as you’re learning the ropes. Thankfully the developers designed the game’s fifteen stages in a way to gently ease the player in. Varying degrees of challenge and obstacles are introduced in a natural, gradual manner. It starts with simple, straightforward levels which ramp up to extremely well designed and challenging obstacle courses. Progress is also not locked behind any of the game’s more challenging collectibles so you can focus on simply clearing each stage and moving on if that’s what you wish.
Brilliant and challenging level design is one of Snake Pass’s greatest strengths
Mastering Snake Pass’s unique gameplay is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had with a game in recent years. Perhaps even more satisfying is putting your snake skills to the test and tracking down every collectible hidden throughout the game. Some of them are devilishly placed and require patience, skill and precision to obtain. The feeling of maneuvering Noodle in just the perfect manner thus overcoming a challenge is something I found rewarding each and every time.
Sumo Digital should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished with Snake Pass. They managed to craft a loving tribute to a genre many of us grew up with while also creating something that’s genuinely unique and innovative. I know it’s a monumental time for the games industry as a whole but if you have the time or desire for a small, relaxing and fun little game, I can’t recommend Snake Pass enough! It’s a solid 5ish-15ish hour game, depending on your skill level, and is a lovely palate cleanser after the barrage of massive, open-world games of late.