Snake, rattle and roll.
UK-based developer and publisher Sumo Digital have sprung out of the blocks with their latest title, Snake Pass, hitting the shelves in recent days on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC, whilst debuting on the Nintendo Switch to cap off the new hardware’s first month of releases. While it is easy to appreciate an incredibly unique and fresh puzzle-platform mechanic and gorgeous visuals, Snake Pass is let down by cumbersome controls and disappointing camera control which makes for a frustrating experience in some instances.
Snake Pass presents an incredibly unique style the minute you slither into the world of Noodle, a herbivorous Snake, and his sidekick, a bird known as Doodle. Each level is set out in such a carefully concocted formula – slithering, sliding, swinging and gripping onto beams, fences and walls in place of the classic ‘jump’, and a balance of sea and land, diving and dipping through riverbeds and lagoons. It’s an incredibly interesting blend of platforming, which, on paper, has a lot of appeal.
Each level is littered with orbs and special coins; three keystones are spread out around the level and a collection of all three by Noodle and his best buddy will grant you access to your next challenge. It’s a collect-a-thon, reminiscent of classic platformers such as Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie. The theme here is, of course, an Amazonian Jungle setting, but many of the threats you’d find in the real-life counterpart, are absent here. There are no attacks, no enemies. It’s a unique and somewhat peaceful take on the platforming genre, and one I’d love to see more of.
As the unpronounced snake charmer, you’re presented with a control scheme which, theoretically, has each button of your controller assigned to each of Noodle’s body parts. Raising Noodle’s head allows you to slither your way onto and above ledges and ladders, the control stick allows manoeuvring of Noodle’s body to speed through levels, and the bumpers allow for gripping and forward movement. It is this interesting and unique mechanic that is both the clever and crux. Whilst at times it feels natural, at others, it simply feels cumbersome and clunky.
It is not difficulty that causes issues here; Noodle just doesn’t act out what you intend him to. Unfortunately, the muddy controls are coupled with awkward camera mechanics, which work well in some areas, but get completely lost in others. It’s understandable that an unorthodox protagonist might be difficult to track and follow throughout the topsy-turvy level design, and, it should be noted that Sumo Digital has presented a unique and fun control mechanic. But, at its worst, it does become crippling and caused a few too many unnecessary deaths.
Graphics and Sound
From a visual standpoint, Sumo Digital have done an incredible job with Snake Pass. The vegetarian serpent glows in the vibrant sunlight and lush green grass, the water shimmers delightfully as you dive deep, and, overall, each level just presents beautifully. While I do believe that the Nintendo Switch version does suffer a little from scaled down textures and plays at 720P (even in TV mode), the presentation is still striking and engaging, and was a delight throughout my playthrough. Occasional frame rate drops were present, but we expect these to be patched in a not too distant update. The toonish art-style, coupled with a vibrant, popping colour palette makes for an eye-catching field and surrounding. Whether it be the violently spitting lava or razor sharp spikes, the calm river mouths or rocky plains, Snake Pass presents extremely well and, for me, was a highlight.
The compositions and musical pieces of Snake Pass are quite the interesting mix of soothing and mellow tranquil, coupled with adventurous and sometimes frantic juts and twangs. In most situations, the catchy jungle tunes wooden feel to each track are suited to the visual plane that lies ahead of you, and definitely instills a reminder of past jungle-themed platformers (Ubisoft’s Rayman and Naughty Dog’s 90s era Crash Bandicoot titles, to note). While it can be a little repetitive and uninspired at times, it did enhance my experience and exaggerated the feeling of the overgrown.
Much of me wanted to love Snake Pass. There is, of course, much to love about this inspired, fresh take on the puzzle-platform genre. From the outset, it’s vibrant and colourful visuals are a highlight, whilst the level design, albeit hit-and-miss, was a delight to play at times. Sadly, clunky controls and a lack of polish across the board brings a Sumo Digital title I may not have the desire to revisit. With that said, a Snake Pass 2 with a better camera mechanic, tighter controls and little extra polish, I would gladly welcome to my future gaming library.