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Snake Pass – Nintendo Switch

Snake Pass – Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Developer: Sumo Digital

Publisher: Sumo Digital

Genre: Platformer

Release Date (NA): March 28th, 2017

Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10

Ever since the release of Snake, game developers have been working to perfect the experience of what it’s like to be a…well, snake. Many have tried, and many have failed. From the original concept in Blockade to the impervious Nokia phones, game developers have chased that elusive experience. In March of 2017, Snake Pass came out, putting the competition to shame. With an interesting combination between platforming and procedurally animated physics-based mechanics, Snake Pass offers the most impressive experience of controlling a snake to date.

Snake Pass [Game Jam]

Ew, what is wrong with his face?

Snake Pass is the final product of a small project that emerged during one of Sumo Digital’s internal game jams. As reported by Develop, Sumo Digital’s COO, Paul Porter, sees game jams as great ways to foster creativity, giving the team room to explore ideas and concepts that may not be given as much attention during the production of a typical AAA title. In the case of Snake Pass, it blossomed into something amazing.

Before I even got my hands on Snake Pass, I was given sufficient forewarning that this game is hard. And, well, that’s pretty much an accurate assessment. Snake Pass may come off as really jovial and light-hearted, but beneath that cheery surface there is a pretty challenging game waiting to ambush the casual player.

Snake Pass works like this: Controlling Noodle, the serpentine main character, the player uses the control stick to slither around and over surfaces. The R button moves forward while ‘A’ lifts up Noodle’s head, and ‘L’ is used to grip onto stuff. And that’s it! While these controls may seem relatively simple on the surface, Snake Pass will push these mechanics to their absolute limit, forcing the player to become intimate with the controls, often holding down all buttons at ones, or feathering them ever so slightly in ridiculously convoluted patterns.

Okay, so I might have talked up how hard Snake Pass is, but it’s not actually all that difficult to pick up at first. Enjoying my first hour of this game, I was amazed at how good I seemed to be, shrugging off the idea that it may be a game that would challenge me too much. Boy, was I wrong. As the levels progress, the training wheels fall off with haste, as convoluted bamboo webs, perilous drops, lava, and strong winds all show up to send poor Noodle to his doom. The difficulty ramp goes up pretty quickly, and it can be easy to feel a little left behind.

The developers at Sumo Digital were unflinching with their game design, forcing the player to get better at Snake Pass without holding their hand a single bit. There’s no easy mode that kicks in when you fail too often; if you’re not good enough, you’re just not good enough. I found this to be a really refreshing decision, making Snake Pass’s experience not too dissimilar from that of traditional arcade games. Checkpoints do exist, but, thankfully, limited lives do not, helping Snake Pass to strike a very good and appropriate balance between punishing and forgiving.

“So what is Snake Pass even about? Sure, you can platform around and have fun with that, but what’s the point if there’s no goal to accomplish?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Snake Pass takes place in a fantasy world where links between different sections of the realm are maintained through the use of magic stones. Something has come along and removed all of these stones, severing the links between the realms. It is up to Noodle and his bird friend Doodle to explore each of the levels and collect all the stones, unlocking further levels along the way. Not the most original of concepts, but the overarching story does its job, helping to propel the player forward in at least a somewhat meaningful way.

Snake Pass operates as a collect-a-thon, featuring little odds and ends that are scattered across each map that the player must collect. The only mandatory collectibles are the keystones, but it sure is tempting to go out of your way every once in a while to grab that gold coin that’s just out of reach. These collectibles serve to heighten the difficulty level, since going after them will often put you at serious risk, sending you back to the last checkpoint if you fail.

Snake Pass [Level Design]

And these checkpoints have a large part to do with the level design. Simply put, the level design is really freakin’ good. Each level is constructed into zones that contain different challenges and puzzles, and every zone will have at least one of the keystones. There are 15 of these levels divided among four different worlds, with a well thought-out progression of difficulty along the way. Seriously, the developers at Sumo Digital really nailed their educational scaffolding, crafting areas that teach the mechanics in really natural and non-preachy ways, giving the player plenty of room to fail if it means they can become better in the future by teaching themselves subtle tricks along the way. Simply put, there’s a lot of non-linguistic game design in Snake Pass, and I just love me some non-linguistic game design.

Snake Pass [Swimming]

Perhaps the most innovative element of Snake Pass is the movement of its main character. When Noodle slithers back and forth, he looks like a real snake. When part of his body coils around a bamboo pole, the rest of his body follows suit in a very natural, procedurally-generated fashion. Overall, it looks and feels really good, and these mechanics are incorporated in very well-thought and sometimes subtle ways. Games like Grow Home and Grow Up also feature procedural animation that make their platforming more interesting. The addition of Snake Pass to this subgenre is beginning to make me think that procedural animation may be the key to the continued longevity of platforming games.

Snake Pass [Hi Res]

The graphics and soundtrack are both very solid. The world takes on this vibrant, sunny complexion with a sort of tropical, easy-going score that serves to highlight the soothing nature of the environment. Bugs and other small creatures scurry about as grasses, trees, and other foliage flourish. Noodle, himself, has a very good design, the stripes along his body making it easy to tell where he is and which direction he’s going while climbing. The voice acting for Noodle, while minimalistic, is very fitting and unobtrusive. Overall, I’d say that Snake Pass captures a kind of Banjo Kazooie aesthetic, which is really impressive considering the fact that it didn’t really seem to try that hard to mimic Banjo Kazooie, unlike a certain game we know that came out this year. Though pretty difficult, this game has a super relaxing atmosphere, and it just feels good when you play it.

Nips’s Complaint Corner

Welcome to the third edition ever of of Nip’s Complaint Corner, a place where I air out all my grievances with Snake Pass, back-to-back-to back! Settle in and enjoy some unadulterated game design rants as I explore everything the developers could have done better.

Snake Pass [Creative Structures]

The controls are not, by any means, perfect. In any good platformer, you want there to be no confusion around what your next action will do. Snake Pass, unfortunately, will commit this error every now and then, and it has a lot to do with the camera. Depending on which angle your camera is pointed from, Noodle’s head will be moving in a certain direction and then suddenly change, for no discernible reason. This is extremely frustrating when you’re at the middle of a bamboo pole that hangs over the edge of a giant precipice, and it has caused many, many deaths of yours truly, through very little fault of my own.

Snake Pass [Camera]

From there I might as well segue into the camera work. Just like the controls, the camera is not always perfect. Oftentimes, the camera will situate itself in really bizarre and unintuitive places, hindering visibility and messing up your gameplay. I can think of at least a few times where the camera would put itself right behind a moving structure or a wall, making it almost impossible to see what I was doing. Moments like these should be avoided at all costs, and since Snake Pass’s areas work in a branch-like semi-linear fashion, it seems really weird to me that these moments weren’t polished up a bit more.

Snake Pass [Checkpoint]

I think the checkpoints could have been done better. They’re fine for the most part, but sometimes I felt as if they were spaced too far apart, punishing players a lot for casual mistakes. On top of that, the fact that checkpoints exist at all means that any progress you make in between, such as collecting items, will not be saved if you die. I think there could have been a better way to do this; each time I would manage to get a particularly difficult item, I would make my way all the way back to the last checkpoint so that my progress didn’t get lost. Moments like this, where the player feels like they need to abuse the system, really interrupt flow, so I think Snake Pass should have been more forgiving or it just should have had more checkpoints available to minimize these moments. On top of that, some actions, such as activating a lever, will be preserved when you die, so there’s a serious conflict there that sends a bit of a mixed signal.

Snake Pass [Hanging]

So. Much. Bamboo.

The whole bamboo scaffold thing leaves quite a bit to be desired. Sure, it allows for some pretty cool gameplay, but it doesn’t really seem to have a realistic place in the environment. There are some really cool looking stone structures all around, but they are almost never used for any of the platforming. Instead, the developers rely on these bamboo scaffolds all over the place that take really crazy and bizarre shapes for climbing on. I think it would have been cooler if the developers could have come up with more creative things to climb on every now and then. Y’know, switch things up every once in a while. Why not build large stone totems with wings that stick out, or a building facade with climbable columns? As it stands, the overuse of bamboo is a little bland.

Lastly, this game is pretty short. Snake Pass is really fun, but the shortness of the entire experience took me off guard. That said, there are a few other things to do once you beat the game, such as replaying the levels to collect all the items as well as to do the time trials, so it’s not all bad.

That concludes this edition of Nip’s Complaint Corner. Thanks for tuning in!

Snake Pass is an incredibly creative platformer that successfully experiments with the mechanics of what it would be like to control a snake. The main character, Noodle, handles extremely well and the snake physics seem really fleshed out. When playing this game, you can tell that the developers spent a lot of time to perfect the controls and game feel, resulting in a unique and rewarding experience that is simply a joy to play.

That said, not everything about Snake Pass is perfect. The checkpoint system may be the most egregious shortcoming, as failure will sometimes throw the player back a good distance, or at the very least interrupt the player’s flow by encouraging needless backtracking. On top of that, a few control issues present themselves, most notably in the form of movement and camera position that hamper gameplay and result in situations where what Noodle ends up doing does not always correspond with player input.

I’m not typically a huge fan of the platformer genre, but Snake Pass combines all the right elements for me to stay engaged as I strive to get better and collect all of the in-game items. My Complaint Corner ended up being rather long, but that’s only because I really like this game and I think it can easily do better. I enjoyed this game so much that I even stuck around afterward to try to get a 100% completion, which is really saying something. Anyway, Snake Pass is a really cool game, so if you’re even slightly interested, I’d recommend trying it out!

Written by Nips


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