Snake Pass has come along looking to tap into the same faucet of gushing nostalgia as Yooka-Laylee: that of the golden era of 90’s 3D platformers. Bright, vividly detailed environments, collectables galore and oodles of plinky plonky charm, all with the uplifting melodies of David Wise's killer soundtrack. Or it's a saccharine coated hell, depending on which side of the fence you fall on.
Only Snake Pass isn’t a traditional platformer at all. It’s a platformer, sure, but one which eschews jumping entirely. In Snake Pass you play as Noodle the snake, a Rare-esque creation typified by slapping big, boggly eyes onto anything in an effort to anthropomorphize it. Being a snake, Noodle’s movement is restricted to slithering along surfaces. Rather than hop from platform to platform as we’ve become used to over the years, it makes the player behave like a snake, looking for potential outcrops to wrap onto, poles to slither around. This is both Snake Pass’ greatest asset and its largest pitfall. As you can imagine, controlling a snake is an exercise in frustration. To Sumo Digital’s credit, they've made the best of a tricky situation, but it never feels quite right.
At its most basic level, controlling Noodle is like driving a motorbike in a game. R2 propels you forward, while the left analog stick handles direction. To go faster you have to wiggle left and right, slithering just as a snake does. Pressing X meanwhile moves your front end upwards, although you’re totally at the mercy of gravity. You can't just slither straight up a wall for example, as you haven’t got the power to propel your back half up. Instead Noodle needs to be coiled around intermittent posts to achieve stability, before moving on and trying to get higher. It’s a constant to and fro battle between keeping the bulk of your body where it is while trying to slither the front half upwards. One wrong move and I found myself quickly crashing down to the floor with a wallop, all my hard work undone.
Things are made a little easier with the addition of a grip button, along with your hummingbird companion Doodle, who can lend you a helping hand. However, make no mistake, Snake Pass is a very tricky game to master. My first point of reference while playing was the deliberately fiddly Octodad. For the first hour or so this rang true. The fifth time I slumped to my death down a mile-high abyss, attempting to get an elusive gold coin, I was ready to tie Noodle into a knot and sling him into the nearest river.
But then something happened. I steadily started peeling back the layers of control, adding a little more finesse. I felt triumphant when I’d overcome a challenge, not frustrated because I couldn’t. Before long I’d turned a corner. Snake Pass isn’t a game to wrestled with. It is to be mastered; puzzled out. And boy will you need to. By the tail end of the Snake Pass campaign I was asked to perform some ridiculous feats. Puzzle solving is on the light end of the scale. A bit of switch pushing here, a gate rising there, that sort of thing. It's second fiddle the real meat - Noodle versus an obstacle course of traps, triggers, and platforms. They’re all variants on wrapping a snake round a pole at the end of the day, but Sumo does enough to up the ante with towering structures, perilous drops and just-out-of-reach collectibles.
One criticism I do still hold for the movement controls is the wriggling to accelerate mechanic. This actually caused me a bit of strain to do and it never felt truly comfortable to do. Issues with animation are obviously tied into this decision, while the momentum of Noodle also plays a large part in the physics-based puzzling. Unfortunately this means Snake Pass can never feel truly great to control, as some of the finest 3D platformers managed over the years.
Those after the Banjo-Tooie era massive levels and dozens upon dozens of areas, be warned, Snake Pass is a much more streamlined affair. There’s a total of 16 fairly linear levels to play through. Skipping the collectibles you can probably plough through the game in 6-8 hours, however a lot of the fun comes from trying to grab those hard to reach goodies. Be prepared for an insane difficulty spike heading into the back half as well; Snake Pass isn’t afraid to punish you.
Visually Snake Pass is gorgeous. What it looks in originality it more than makes up for in oozing charm. Each of the stages feels packed with life, from buzzing insects to vast networks of moving platforms. It’s all wrapped up in a frankly incredible soundtrack from Donkey Kong Country composer David Wise. No matter how frustrated you get, Wise’s melodic compositions can ease your woes. It’s full-blown cheeriness with immense variation and fantastic percussion.
Snake Pass is a difficult game to wholeheartedly recommend. It’s simply going to be too frustrating for some, all boiling down to a finger knotting control scheme. Forge ahead with it and you will be rewarded however. Snake Pass is an unashamed blast from the past that also strives to innovate on tried and trusted concepts. Its core concept is fundamentally flawed, stripping the player of control rather than empowering, but Sumo has found a way to use this to its strength.