Snake Pass (Nintendo Switch) Review


As fancy as “triple-A” titles may be, we should always leave room for indie developers in the gaming realm. I quite adore the work of these smaller teams, which is one reason why I bought Snake Pass.

The other reason? I adore 3D platformers! My goal is to collect every single 3D platformer released on the Nintendo Switch. That ever-growing list just so happens to include—you guessed it—Snake Pass.

So, you may ask, what’s so special about this slithering slice of interactive entertainment? Far too many facets for me to list in the introduction alone, so you might as well read the review below. Got me?

Without further babbling, let’s rock.

Snake Pass

Developer: Sumo Digital

Publisher: Curve Digital

Release date: March 28, 2017


Gameplay

While Snake Pass resembles a traditional 3D platformer in structure, the entire experience is elevated exponentially by the unique choice of protagonist: a snake named Noodle.

Rather than running around and jumping across platforms, movement consists of slithering about and gripping onto environmental objects. As such, coiling around poles—and hoping I didn’t fall to my death—comprised a plump portion of my playthrough. I’d honestly never done anything like it before.

You’ve also got an assistant named Doodle, a little bird who can carry some of Noodle’s length at the push of a button. I found this feature super helpful when I was close to slipping off a ledge. Most of the time, I required Noodle’s entire body to wrap around obstacles.

Compared to most 3D platformers, Snake Pass is a considerably more slow-paced and methodical experience, requiring heavy doses of dexterity, concentration, and patience to best. Don’t try to breeze through levels until you’ve had adequate time to become accustomed to the gameplay.

Many of the objectives lean heavily into puzzle territory, such as pulling levers and pushing balls into holes to activate a series of platforms. Even as someone who doesn’t like puzzles, nothing ever felt unattainable. What we have here is good, clean fun.

Each sandbox-style level is filled to the brim with collectibles to snap up. Only three colored gems are required to exit, all of which are easily locatable if you follow the flow of platforms. If you’re really stuck, simply tilt the camera upward and track down the corresponding light beams in the sky.

The five Gatekeeper coins and 20 orbs per level, on the other hand, are purely optional diversions for the most collection-oriented among us. Some of these things are hidden the darnedest crevices you’ve ever seen, but you should be able to nab them if you put it enough time and effort.

The collecting process can be the teeniest infuriating if you’re not careful. As you might expect, a handful of checkpoints are littered throughout each level to save your progress. Anything you collect from that point on is lost if you die before reaching the next checkpoint. Pretty self-explanatory, right?

Well, the reason I bring it up is because you’ll have a seriously less stressful experience if you touch the nearest checkpoint after every item you collect. Goodness knows how much time I wasted early on by having to recollect multiple items multiple times thanks to tricky platforming sequences.

On the bright side, Noodle has neither health nor lives to fret over. Dying is a true nuisance—don’t get me wrong—but you’ll never find yourself restarting a level from square one because you messed up too many times. I must say I was very thankful for that design choice.

Keep in mind that the difficulty ramps up rather quickly. I actually took a break from the game for many months simply because I was too exasperated to continue. However, once I decided to stop pursuing 100 percent completion, I basked in a newfound sense of relief.

I do really wish boss battles had been implemented in some form or fashion. The way I see, if an action-puzzle romp like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker can have bosses, Snake Pass can, too. Then again, bosses may have been too difficult to crack in a snake’s world. I certainly wouldn’t know.

Regardless, Snake Pass is so much fun. I can’t reiterate how boldly different this approach to platforming feels in practice. Will it be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea? Absolutely not, but it worked for me.

Content

Like many of the games I review for Wilcox Arcade, I feel that Snake Pass is neither too long nor too short. A Goldilocks sort of experience, if you will.

As I wrote above, I initially attempted to collect every Gatekeeper coin and orb on my first go in each level, which proved a rather overwhelming task. I easily spent upwards of an hour searching for stuff in those early levels. I shudder at how long it would’ve taken as the game got harder.

Honestly, though, the levels are so much more manageable when your goal is to get in, grab the gems, and get out. This is, of course, no more than a rough estimate, but I highly doubt any one level took me longer than 30 minutes to beat under those conditions.

Did I mention you can replay every level in both Arcade and Time Trial modes, too? This isn’t something I’ve tried for myself yet—I simply can’t be bothered at this point—but I think it’s pretty neat that the options are there.

According to my Nintendo Switch play log, I’ve got approximately 15 hours to my name on Snake Pass. I’d wager two hours belong to my brothers, who tried the game themselves a couple times, but the vast majority of that time was undoubtedly spent reaching the credits without much frill.

Could you reap more time out of this title by collecting everything? I’m sure you could, especially if you’re a slower gamer like myself. That being said, there isn’t much of a reward for doing so. Here’s a link to what happens if you 100 percent complete the game in case you’re curious.

Things are pretty standard in the options department. You can adjust the music and FX volumes independently, choose between three audio mixes (headphones, speakers, and TV), and crank up the brightness.

How Long to Beat says you can do the main story in 5.5 hours and complete the entire thing in 12 hours, so I probably just suck. Either way, I’d say Snake Pass is totally worth the $20 price tag.

Controls

A game with such a unique protagonist comes with a set of unique controls, which are equally as difficult to learn as they are to master. Fortunately, Snake Pass duly rewards those willing to put in the work.

The default control scheme is as follows: Move Noodle’s head with the left analog stick, grip surfaces with the ZL button, move forward with the ZR button, center the camera with L button, change the camera with the R button, lift Noodle’s head/swim up with the A button, dive down with the X button, and have Doodle grab Noodle’s tail with the Y button. You can change Noodle’s expression with the directional buttons, which is just plain delightful.

An “easy” controls mode condenses the action to two primary inputs. In this configuration, you move forward with the left analog stick and grip with the ZL or ZR buttons. In my opinion, the default setup was more useful than its easy counterpart in that it allowed a greater degree of freedom.

Believe it or not, I can’t remember a single time I pointed Noodle’s head downward outside of swimming sections. I didn’t even remember the function existed until I consulted the controls for this review. Either I didn’t find a good application for the technique—or I was making the game much harder for myself than needed.

Oh, and there’s also this thing called Snake Vision, activated by clicking in the right analog stick, that I also totally forgot to try in my playthrough. In retrospect, I really wish I had made use of this feature, as it highlights collectibles I might not have missed otherwise.

Every little thing you do is very physics-based. Because you only guide Noodle’s head, the rest of his body is more or less dead weight, which can pull you off a pole or into a fire pit if you’re not paying attention. I found managing the protagonist’s weight distribution an engaging task.

One slightly finicky part was curling around horizontal poles connecting two distant platforms. To do so, I had to quickly alternate between gripping and moving forward, and even then, I often found myself plummeting into the abyss. Sometimes, it was easier just to dash across a pole using built-up momentum.

The camera gave me the most trouble by far. While it does, in fact, function fine most of the time, there were some instances in which I had to fight like a dog with the camera to make it track me the way I wanted. I wish I could describe my issue better—as well as offer a solution—but it was an issue nonetheless.

I’ve seen quite a lot of discourse online asserting that Noodle doesn’t control well, but I have to respectfully disagree. In my opinion, once you synch it, this game feels really nice. Your mileage may vary.

Graphics/Presentation

Dude, if you like colorful 3D platformers, you’re gonna get a real kick out of this. Noodle, Doodle, and the world they inhabit may as well have been ripped straight from the N64 era for all I’m concerned.

The models and environments themselves are impressively detailed for an indie outing on Switch. Granted, this isn’t some itty-bitty team we’re talking about here—Sumo Digital employs hundreds—but I’m tickled nonetheless by what they made happen on comparatively timid hardware.

I can’t remember experiencing any issues with the framerate either. This is truly a boon when playing any platformer, even one as slow-paced as this.

On the flipside, the resolution often takes a massive hit in service to performance and polygon count. Although I’m not one to complain, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice dips in TV and handheld mode alike. I can’t imagine this problem is nearly as exacerbated on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

Another, more art-related issue I noticed is that most of the game looks supremely same-y. Thinking back, the vast majority of the environments consist of tall grass, stone blocks, and wooden poles. The levels were oodles of fun—but perhaps they could’ve been more visually interesting.

You know what really bugged me? The brightness. The lighting was way too low in some levels, but turning up the brightness downright destroyed the colors. I encountered this no-win situation more than I would’ve liked in a modern, high-definition video game.

Whether you love or hate the story, though, is extremely dependent on your tolerance for excuse plots. I thought the anti-climactic ending was cute, but it sure ain’t no Hideo Kojima production. I also wish the game had done a better job of reminding me what the plot even was in between levels.

Regardless, I really dig the way Snake Pass looks. Maybe “cartoony platformer” isn’t the most original aesthetic out there. I still believe the developers made the right choice in service to their core concept.

Sound/Music

Did somebody say David Wise? No? Oh, I just figured I’d mention him since he composed the Snake Pass soundtrack. I’ve heard he’s a pretty talented fella.

In all seriousness, I do very much appreciate the mellow nature of the instrumentation. When I’d tried to cross the same set of poles 15 times and just couldn’t seem to make it, having something peaceful accompany my plight was a genuine lifesaver. I think Wise did a solid job.

The sound effects are subdued but very effective. I could hear Noodle and Doodle’s personalities in the little noises they make during gameplay. The world around me was positively brimming with natural ambiance.

While there’s nothing terribly explosive on display, the sound design works alongside the gameplay all the same.

The most common complaint I’ve seen surrounding Snake Pass is that is has a steep learning curve. After playing it myself, I can attest that, yes, this is true. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the best titles the eShop has to offer.

If you can brave the elements, so to speak, Snake Pass delivers in spades. I highly doubt I’ll ever go back and 100 percent complete it—that’s far too taxing an ordeal—but I’m certainly satisfied with what I saw before the credits rolled.

Perhaps my partiality toward 3D platformers is shining through. At least Snake Pass, as unconventional as it may be, still scratched that pervasive itch of mine. Perhaps it’ll do the same for you.

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