Calling Snake Pass a platformer seems to be a bit of a stretch, but if I had a gun to my head and was forced to say the genre it was most closely related to, that is what I’d say. Heck, I’d say this is a new sub-genre all on its own, maybe we could call it a snake-former or a snake ’em-up.
Being new and original is both a good and bad thing in Snake Pass‘ case. As a critic, I’m always excited to get my hands on something fresh and new that isn’t just “white dude with a gun saves the world again” and playing as and moving like a snake is certainly new. The bad thing is that because of how new of idea this is it ends up being rather limited and leads to a shallow experience.
In Snake Pass, you play as Noodle, a snake with a hummingbird buddy named Doodle (how cute) that wakes you from your slumber as some magical stones have been misplaced and it’s your job to find them. From there the story is never really touched on till the very end, which just abruptly tries to give the whole journey a purpose, which it lacked up till that point.
But let’s be honest, no one is buying Snake Pass for the story. You’re here to play as a snake, which is the only thing you do. You better love snakes too, because you’ve got to move, think, and consider the physics of being a snake. While you can move in a straight line, it’s rather slow and sometimes impossible depending on the terrain, instead, the game forces players to waggle their stick left and right to cause Noodle to crawl, just like a snake. While yes, this is how snakes move; it feels rather tedious after a few levels and like a case of realism over gameplay to me. Had the developers just given Noodle the animation of crawling as players move forward, it would have been a win-win scenario.
The rest of the controls have a big learning curve. On the Switch the ZR trigger makes Noodle’s body move forward in the direction of his head, which is controlled independently of your body with the left stick. The A button causes Noodle’s head to lift up, while the ZL trigger makes his body grip tightly to whatever he has wrapped around. Most of the gameplay and challenge involves slithering Noodle up bamboo sticks in various shapes, this forces you to use the utmost care and precision or risk falling to your untimely death and respawning at your last checkpoint.
The problem here, apart from the steep learning curve, is that the camera does a poor job of framing the action in a way that helps players complete the task at hand. There were many points during my playthrough where I found it was nearly impossible to see what I was doing without attempting to rotate the camera while also trying to hang on for dear life that ended in my demise. Not only that, but often times the camera positions itself in ways that prevent players from even seeing where they are going when just slithering on land, and also can make it more difficult to find collectables in stages.
Each stage includes three stones that you are required to find before completing the stage, a bunch of wisps that make Noodle’s body grow longer, and five coins that I can only assume serve some purpose or unlock something—though in other versions of the game they appear tied to an achievement or trophies at least—as I didn’t bother to try to collect them all as they are a pain in the tail to get. While wisps seem optional, I found that collecting more of them and having a longer snake meant a bit easier time traversing the terrain and hanging on for dear life, but in later levels, I only grabbed the easy to snag ones.
While Snake Pass is extremely colorful and easy on the eyes, it seems to be a one trick pony in that nearly every level looks the same. The game starts off with a lush green environment, then goes to a lush green environment with pools of water, before putting a red and gray filter on seemingly the same environments, and finally having pieces of those environments floating in the air. The same thing can be said about the gameplay, it is all very similar with not much variation from start to finish, which may not be all that surprising considering there are only 15 levels which can be finished in just a few hours. That said having a lot of the same gameplay isn’t terrible for a game that has gameplay this original, but the levels definitely could have used some variety.
As far as Nintendo Switch specifics, the game seems to look a lot worse, with colours and textures being a bit more washed out. The frame rate is solid in the first set of stages but gets progressively worse as the game goes on to near the point of making me feel queasy. If Snake Pass is any indication, it seems like multiplatform games on the Nintendo Switch will be the lesser versions, much like we’ve seen with the Xbox One in comparison to the PlayStation 4. With no achievement system, worse graphics, and terrible frame rates, it is hard to recommend the Switch version to anyone other than those that want to play the game on the go. For those wondering, the frame rate issues seem about the same if not a smidgen better in portable mode, though they may not be as noticeable due to the screen size.
Snake Pass is a short, sweet, original, and often times difficult game. So difficult, in fact, that I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids. It’s colourful, fun, and has a pretty decent soundtrack too, thanks to composer David Wise. There is a lot to love here if you can cope with the controls, the wonky camera, and the frame rate drops if you choose the Switch version. This game feels like the pilot episode of a series we very well may all grow to love, and I’m very okay with that.