Snake Pass overflows with charm, but a steep learning curve might alienate some.
At first glance, developer Sumo Digital’s platformer Snake Pass looks like something straight out of the old-school Rare playbook. Bright colors, cheeky humor and character design feel like something I would have played on the Nintendo 64 during lazy Saturday mornings. Unlike games from yesteryear, Snake Pass is willing to test your grit as you slither, swim and stretch your way across brutal challenges.
Snake Pass has 15 levels with four different areas that represent different elemental effects. The first area, centered around earthly map design is simple, but as the game mixes in the likes of water and fire, traversal for protagonist Noodle (and his helpful pal Doodle) get a little more difficult. In each level, you’ll need to collect three gems hidden around the map. Once you have them, you can unlock the next level. That gameplay pillar is easy to grasp, but pulling levers, avoiding spikes or fire and, of course, the edges of the map are all threats to Noodle and Doodle’s survival.
There are also 20 blue orbs and five gold coins hidden in each level as extra collectibles, but the only reward for getting all the collectibles in the game is an Achievement or Trophy. In other words, they exist, but there isn’t an in-game unlockable to really justify the extra work. I found the levels to be much easier once I stopped going for everything hidden in each level and just focused on the gems.
The first couple levels of Snake Pass hold the player’s hand and drip-feed new controls, but around level 5 (the start of the second area), the game has a pretty major difficulty spike that continues to rise throughout the rest of the game. It’s still entirely playable, but you’ll go from smiling one minute from a close call to swearing like a sailor when you fall off the edge of the map.
Exacerbating the challenging maps are the occasionally clunky controls. To move, players have to hold the right trigger (R2 on PS4) while pulling the left stick left and right to keep up Noodle’s speed. Then, A (X on PS4) to lift Noodle’s head and climb. There will be certain environmental traversal like vertical bamboo poles that where you’ll also have to hold the left trigger (L2) to increase Noodle’s grip. At times, you’ll be holding both triggers, the A button and wiggling the left stick just to keep Noodle going. It can be difficult to manage all four buttons; especially when the camera sometimes gets caught on objects in the levels. While these design sins are forgiven most of the time, there were a few times Snake Pass really tested my patience.
Each level and area offers unique challenges from what’s come before, and Snake Pass works hard to make sure you’re never totally sure how to tackle what’s next. It felt like Sumo Digital always had a new trick or map gimmick for me to figure out, so you’ll never find yourself feeling like a level is old-hat.
As a great juxtaposition with the brutal levels, Snake Pass has a fantastic, whimsical soundtrack and it’s hard to stay mad at the game’s challenges with such upbeat tunes. It seemed like Snake Pass’ four areas had songs that felt a little more in-tune with the element they represent, but that could have just been circumstantial.
Graphically speaking, Snake Pass is a delight to look at. Additionally, the PS4 and Xbox One S versions of the game feature HDR, and the bright colors really popped on my 4K set. Along with graphics, performance seemed pretty steady, and I didn’t notice any major drops in frame rate.
Snake Pass is an excellent platformer that will challenge your mind and test your patience. The charming characters, diverse maps and throwback vibes cater to old-school gamers without being dependent on nostalgia to fuel the fun. With just 15 levels, Snake Pass can be beaten in around 5 hours; many more if you want to get all the collectibles and maybe less if you skip them altogether.
While the levels offer more than enough content, it would have been nice to see Sumo Digital add a few extra to slow the pace down and accommodate the learning curve. That being said, those determined enough to see Snake Pass through can rest their calloused hands knowing they’ve mastered one of the toughest platformers around.
Snake Pass was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Sumo Digital.
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