NOTE: This game is available for all major platforms. For the purposes of this review, I played through the Nintendo Switch version.
This year, all of the attention for the neo-collectathon-platformer has been aimed at one game: Yooka-Laylee. But with all of this, it’s easy to forget that the genre didn’t disappear off the face of the planet, and other platformers do pop up from time to time. Some even dare to try new things, to the point where they can even be considered experimental.
Snake Pass, the latest game from the developers partly responsible for Little Big Planet 3 and the slightly under-appreciated Sonic & Sega All-Stars series of racers, is just that. This is a game that has one foot firmly planted in the genre’s roots in collecting items and making precise button inputs, but has the other foot in experimenting with new game mechanics and control schemes. Snake Pass is as inventive and creative as it is charming.
On paper, Snake Pass does look like your typical platformer. You play through a series of levels, both linear and open-ended in style, and collect coins, gemstones and blue blob-things. It would actually be a pretty bland and cookie-cutter game if not for its main twist: your protagonist. You play as Noodle the Snake, and to a lesser extent, his buddy Doodle the Hummingbird. Instead of making fast-paced and thrilling jumps, in Snake Pass you will have to slither, slide and wrap your way to victory.
Sssstart Your Engines
The controls take a little bit of getting used to, since there really is nothing else like this game. You control Doodle’s head with the control stick and press the right trigger to move forward. You can press the left trigger to stiffen Doodle’s body and grip to object that you are wrapped around, and the A button to move up. After some preliminary awkwardness, this control scheme actually works remarkably well for controlling the body of a snake. In a matter of minutes, you will be slithering around like a pro.
Level obstacles will most normally consist of bamboo chutes you can wrap around, and they are used in pretty inventive ways over the course of the game’s four worlds. As you continue the game, other obstacles are introduced, such as spike pits, gusts of wind, water to swim in, switches and levers. The main objective of every level is to find and collect the three Keystones, which you need to unlock each level’s exit portal. I found the learning curve of the game to be absolutely perfect, and it has a smooth, gradual buildup in difficulty as you progress..
This said, the fact that every level has the same objective results in a distinct and palpable lack of variety, and it’s impossible to really pinpoint a standout level here as a result. The Switch’s portable form factor helps with this a little bit, since the levels are easier to digest in smaller pieces, puzzle by puzzle. And “puzzle” is the right way to describe the levels here. Each collectible brilliantly requires you to figure out how to twist and turn yourself around the obstacles without falling to your doom.
Use Your Noodle
Where this game mostly excels is in its presentation. Doodle is adorable and expressive, and conveys a ton of personality without uttering a single word. The visuals are vibrant and colorful, and in an impressive twist, they really hold up favorably when comparing them to the PS4 and PC versions of the game, systems that I thought were leagues above the Switch in hardware power. However, there is one significant drawback, and that is the pathetic 475p resolution on handheld mode (675p in TV mode). Up to now, every game I’ve played looks crisp and sharp on the Switch’s wonderful handheld screen, but Snake Pass looks like garbage here due to the resolution.
The developers tried to get around this slightly by adding a ton of anti-aliasing, but the game’s visuals never reach their true potential because of this. I would have much rather seen the game take a hit to its lighting or textures instead of having such a horrible resolution. Despite this graphical sacrifice, the game still manages to have frame pacing issues in certain levels, although it wasn’t consistent enough of an issue to take away from the experience.
One area where the game excels is the music, composed by Rare veteran David Wise. Each track in the game is lovely, and is Wise at his strongest. The only bummer is that there just aren’t that many: each world has its own theme, but that’s about it. Otherwise, the sound design as a whole is pretty excellent.
Snake Pass isn’t without its problems, but it is a game with a ton of heart and creativity put into it. I’m not sure how Yooka-Laylee will turn out for me, but at least this game successfully recaptures the charm of the old Rare platformers while managing to bring something new to the table. I genuinely enjoyed learning this game’s controls and figuring out how to traverse the tricky levels.
At the same time, the game’s low resolution can be a problem, but hopefully the developers will respond with an update, since they have been very responsive up to this point. There is not a lot of variety to the levels, but then again, for the low asking price of $20, the game actually packs quite a punch, with tons of challenges for you to complete. Snake Pass is a worthy investment for anyone who is looking to get more mileage out of their Switch.
- Bright and colorful visuals for both the characters and the stages. I loved Noodle’s design and expressiveness.
- The game’s entire concept is really creative and interesting, and translates into a fascinating gaming experience.
- The puzzles and platforming are challenging, but ease you into it over the course of the 15 levels.
- The David Wise composed soundtrack is wonderful, although I would like more of it.
- The low resolution makes the game appear blurry, especially in handheld mode. It takes a way a LOT from the visual presentation.
- The levels all have the same objective and lack variety. It would have been nicer to see them mix things up. After a while, the game gets pretty repetitive.