In recent times it seems that the 3D platformer has seen something of a resurgence, with games such as Yooka-Laylee leading the charge. Sumo Digital has now put out its own unique attempt at this genre, with a refreshing spin that makes it stand out from all the rest. Orienting an entire game around controlling a snake was certainly a risky move, one that hasn't entirely paid off in some respects, but on the whole Snake Pass proves itself to be a worthy title for any Switch owner's collection.
In Snake Pass you control a lovable snake named Noodle, as he maneuvers across floating islands with the help of his hummingbird friend, Doodle. The main hook of this game is that it's technically a platformer, but you're playing the whole thing as a snake; so you don't literally hop across platforms. There's no jumping here and no enemies to fight, so the main challenge comes from mastering the nuances of snake movement and scouring every corner to find all the collectibles.
The main gameplay of Snake Pass is the part that will no doubt prove to be the most divisive, but we've found it to be extremely satisfying in the long run. You control Noodle's head with the left stick, while the A button functions as the "jump" and lifts his head. Holding down ZR causes Noodle to move forward, while ZL causes him to tense up and grip, effectively functioning as a brake on some of the trickier segments. A tap of the Y button will call his hummingbird buddy over to pick up his tail and potentially save him from a fall.
What's immediately striking about this setup is how effectively it actually seems to emulate the movements of a snake. The rest of Noodle's body has a palpable weight to it, and as you familiarize yourself with the controls you develop a greater sense for how you can manage this most effectively (i.e. how far you can stretch off of pipes before falling). Of course, this isn't something that becomes natural quickly, and that's no doubt where many will be put off.
At first, it can be quite confusing coming to grips with the controls. They aren't intuitive in the sense that you can pick up a controller and immediately understand how to play, but they make sense as you work with them and grow accustomed to the unconventional style. It plays like an absolute dream once you get the hang of it, yet it feels like more could've been done in this area to make the game a bit more approachable.
As you explore the game's fifteen levels, your goal is ultimately to find three geometric keystones that unlock the level's exit. Along with this there are twenty blue orbs hidden around the levels, and five Gatekeeper Coins that are much more challenging to obtain. Make no mistake, this isn't a game that you'll be playing for as long as full-blown retail adventures, but a relatively low count of fifteen levels isn't nearly as off-putting as it may seem on the face of it. Between mastering the controls and finding every collectible, Snake Pass will keep you busy for a decent amount of time.
The levels are quite well designed, too, often requiring you to think outside the box while also encouraging exploration. As you progress things get complicated in a good way, as new puzzle and platforming elements are introduced such as underwater travel, moving platforms and switches. Snake Pass is obviously intended as a semi-relaxing game in which you gradually take on obstacles one at a time at a very measured pace, and the levels do a good job of encouraging that. At the same time, it's not a game that gets boring very quickly; that moment-to-moment gameplay is continuously satisfying due to the challenge presented by mastering the controls.
If we were to leverage one major complaint against the game, it's the way checkpoints are handled. There are plenty to speak of and they're placed in easily accessible locations, but when you die (and you will die a lot), you get sent back to the last checkpoint and lose all progress. We encountered a few instances wherein up to ten minutes of progress was completely wiped away due to botched attempts at crossing obstacles. This can be combated somewhat by backtracking every now and then to make sure your progress is saved, but that's a partial fix for a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place. It becomes less of an issue as you get better at the game, and it certainly isn't enough to ruin the experience, but it does get frustrating every now and then.
Another issue, which is less prevalent but still worth mentioning, is that the camera can occasionally get quite confused. For the most part it does a good job of following Noodle, and you can make adjustments with the right stick if needed, but it has a tendency to get hung up on the occasionally unconventional geometry of the environments you traverse. This can lead to moments where you're clinging to a pole and either can't see where you're going next or can't see Noodle at all because some rock or wall is in the way. This is fortunately an issue that only pops up every once in a great while, but it was nonetheless still the cause of a few undeserved deaths in our run.
The game's fifteen levels are broken up into worlds of four, which each have their own themes and design elements. What's immediately striking about the world design is the attention to detail. Individual blades of grass stick out between the cracked stones of ruins, light glimmers off the surface of the water in a convincing manner, a resting dragonfly will flit away as you approach it, and there's a diverse palette of rich colours at use. We found ourselves stopping every now and then at high points to take a minute to appreciate the view and make use of that capture button. Suffice to say, this is an extraordinarily pretty game to look at (docked or undocked), and it positively oozes charm in nearly every aspect of its visuals.
Of course, we'd be remiss to not mention the excellent soundtrack from David Wise. The music here is quite catchy and you'd be forgiven for assuming it represents the remnants of unused tracks from the days of Donkey Kong Country. Tribal drums and various animal calls are the norm, and it all does a fantastic job of adding a weighty element of mystery and atmosphere to the Aztec themed levels. If we were to have one minor complaint on this front, it's that the soundtrack is a bit short; you tend to hear repeated tracks a bit too much. Still, what's there is some of the best video game music we've heard in quite a while, so don't be afraid to use headphones when playing in portable mode.
Snake Pass is a real gem in the early Switch library, and is certainly worth a look for anyone looking for that post-Zelda palette cleanser. This writer's never played a game like this before — which certainly can be a double-edged sword — but it's a fresh experience that will keep you engaged until the very end. Solid visuals, unconventional gameplay, a memorable soundtrack and a decent amount of replay value make this well worth your time, and we absolutely give it a recommendation. If you're looking to take a chance and play something unique, then Snake Pass is well worth a look.