What if I told you a game where you play as a snake is one of the best new experiences of 2017? You would think I’m ridiculous, no? Well, think away. Snake Pass – a game where you must force yourself to act as a snake – takes everything I know about platformers and rattles it up.
The world of Haven Tor has been stripped of its magical keys. Noodle the Snake and his friend Doodle the Hummingbird are tasked with finding them and restoring natural order.
A jump button has no place here. You must slither, grip, and direct yourself through the game’s fifteen masterfully crafted levels. Each filled with Banjo-Kazooie style collectibles. Finishing a level requires finding the three scattered keys and bringing them to their portal.
Since Noodle is a snake and since snakes slither, you move him by rotating your left stick back and forth and holding right trigger. His head lifts with the A button. To slither up the many obstacles in your path, you learn to balance these two aspects. It takes getting used to, but once you get it down its great fun. You’ll soon be trying out less conventional ways of getting through stages like launching yourself off ledges or rushing over barriers. The levels slowly rise in difficulty, ensuring you enough time to get your bearings.
You’ll need that time. As the levels get harder, you’ll sometimes die enough to the point of frustration. Checkpoints become more sparse. Obstacles go from climbing straight poles to navigating moving obstacles with the threat of wind throwing you into the abyss. Find your tail is holding you back? Press Y to have Doodle give it a lift.
Snakes are known for their tight grips. That grip is your best friend in Snake Pass. Holding the left trigger makes Noodle tense up, providing precious seconds to decide your next move. It’s not fail-safe, however. Wait long enough and Noodle will slip.
Occasional camera issues result in an untimely death. By the time I got my camera around an obstacle, Noodle would already be slipping. Unfortunately, leaving a level does not save your progress and it must be restarted upon coming back, so make sure you have time to commit when playing.
Your enjoyment of Snake Pass will come from how willing you are to learn an unusual new game mechanic. All abilities are given to you at the start, with the stages introducing new mechanics to master. I’d compare the experience to Dark Souls. At first, it’s frustrating. You wonder how anyone could ever enjoy it. But, if you power through, you start winning. Each win is a rush, and that fuels you to keep at it until you become one with the snake. It also doesn’t hurt that Snake Pass is a real treat for your eyes.
The game consists of saturated greens and blues, and Noodle is a contrasting orange and yellow to keep from losing him. There is a slimy sheen on Noodle, one that glares off of all the different light sources as you move through the levels. Each world has a take on the overall art style of the game. World 1 is basic grass and trees, while World 3 introduces lava pits, for example. While they don’t differ too much, Snake Pass is short enough that I never tired of the style. I would love to see where they take a sequel, however. I couldn’t help but imagine navigating Noodle through sprawling jungles with towering treetops or up massive mountains with wide rivers.
The soundtrack – composed by none other than David Wise, of Rare fame – consists of joyful xylophones and bongo drums among ambient noise. You’ll hum these catchy tunes to yourself long after completion of the game.
It only took me around five or six hours to finish the stages, gathering most of the collectibles along the way. A significant portion of that time was spent in long loading screens and unskippable cutscenes. Grabbing all collectibles took another three or four hours. Upon completion of the game, Noodle will get an ability that lets you see collectibles which greatly cuts down on game-time spent searching. Time trials with online leaderboards extend play even further.
My only real issues with Snake Pass are that I wish it was longer and had a bit more variety in the art style. The story never amounts to anything, but it doesn’t need one. The gameplay is unique and polished enough to stand on its own and make this title a worthy purchase. I can’t wait to see what a sequel is like.
This review was based on a digital review code for Snake Pass for the Xbox One provided by Sumo Digital.