When firing up Snake Pass for the first time you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a remaster of a classic Rare game from the N64 era, not because it looks old, but because of the bright, colourful looks and the cheerful main characters, Noodle and Doodle. It’s not a remaster of course, but a brand new game and the first independent project from Sheffield based Sumo Digital.
You are Noodle, a wonderfully expressive snake and with you is your best pal, Doodle, a frenetic Hummingbird. Something has upset the balance in the Jungle paradise that is Haven Tor and all the animals have scarpered off somewhere; it is up to you to put things right again by finding three keystones in each level and re-opening the gates.
Snake Pass is ultimately a puzzle platformer, but what with you being a snake and all the movement and means of getting around each level depends on your ability to weave and slither yourself around the obstacles. The movement itself is sublimely done, as Noodle has weight and the animation of his slithering is particularly delightful when in water. Similarly, Doodle flutters and darts about highlighting areas for you to explore. Utilising the right trigger moves Noodle, and fanning the left stick from right to left creates the momentum. The only other tools available to you are an ability to lift your head to help you climb and a grip ability to hold tightly on to obstacles while you weave yourself round something else.
There are no enemies, just increasingly dangerous obstacles to avoid like dizzying drops, spikes waiting to skewer you and lava pits to boil you should you fall. At times like this you can utilise Doodle to pick up your tail and give you a precious moment to regain your grip and save yourself.
Controlling Noodle is both interesting and frustrating, and the dedication to the sense of movement is highly commendable. He slithers and slides his way around the map with relative ease, but the difficulty starts to ramp up in later levels when you need to climb via conveniently positioned bamboo stick trellises. You achieve this by winding Noodle around the pole, gripping on and weaving your way in and around the various elements of the trellis. It is a simple premise, however the movement, combined with the camera that you must frame yourself, plus the weight and physics Noodle has been imbued with makes it a challenge most of the time.
Frustration is further compounded with the use of an old school mechanic of limited checkpoints that you must activate by slithering over them. If you die between checkpoints you will re-spawn at the last one and lose all progress up to that point, including any items you have already collected. On later, more challenging levels I found myself slithering back to save before continuing on just to ensure that I didn’t lose the precious items I had gathered. Of course, you don’t have to play this way, but the frustration of having to repeat sections over and over does settle in after a while.
The levels themselves are cleverly designed, increasing in difficulty and challenge across the fifteen levels spanning four worlds reflecting Earth, Wind, Water and Fire, but they never really manage to reach the height of what the uniqueness of the movement promises. Each level follows the same premise: locate the three keystones and place them on the coloured pedestal to open the gate. There are other things to collect in the levels in the form of blue wisps and gold coins, however, they are nothing more than additional challenges for the completionist in mind. Elsewhere, once you have completed the first world you unlock Time Trial mode where you can replay each level against a timer and then compare your scores with other players via leaderboards.
Snake Pass is a unique take on the classic puzzle platformer with a genuinely inventive style of movement that reinvents the genre. The commitment to Noodle’s slithering is wonderful, but unfortunately a few design choices in terms of the floaty camera and checkpoint system detract from a wonderfully fresh and interesting game.
Gorgeous, light-hearted presentation
Fair bit of replayability with collectibles
Wonderful dedication to core movement idea
Annoying checkpoint system