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Snake Pass (Switch) artwork

Snake Pass (Switch) review

"Snake Pass is challenging, unique and irresistibly charming. Don't overlook it."

A few months ago, I was out taking a stroll on the road near my apartment. It was a nice day, so my head was up and I was soaking in the sun, not paying close attention to where my feet stepped. That changed when rapid movement registered along the edge of my line of sight. I looked down quickly and saw a snake slithering away, trying desperately to move off the side of the road and into the brush. It kept butting up against a curb, though, which prevented it from escaping.

That snake would have felt really stupid if I showed it video from Snake Pass, the new downloadable game from Sumo Digital. Such footage would inevitably include moments where the starring snake (a surprisingly handsome chap named Noodle) raises its head and most of the front half of its body and ascends rock walls or wraps around poles and such. "Think like a snake," one load screen advocates, and the snake I met out in the wilds was doing a pretty crummy job of that when we met on that particular afternoon.

Snake Pass (Switch) image

Come to think of it, I've met quite a number of snakes in my life, and I've never seen one scale walls quite like Noodle does in Snake Pass. Is it possible Oregon is simply loaded with incompetent snakes? I suppose it must be. At any rate, their failings are theirs, and Noodle is more than capable in comparison. His aptitude results in a unique and for the most part very good game, so I like to think the snakes I've met would view his tale as inspirational, rather than "unrealistic."

Just what is Snake Pass, though? If you're looking for a genre label, go with "platformer." But this isn't a platformer quite like any you've probably played before it. Other than Snake Rattle 'n Roll, which debuted on the NES, I can't easily think of anything remotely similar (and even that comparison has obvious issues). Instead of jumping around stages like you might in the typical 3D platformer, you slither on your belly and use poles and arches and such to reach higher ground when it's necessary (which is often). This unusual means of locomotion forces you to think differently as you tackle seemingly familiar challenges in entirely new ways.

When I first started playing Snake Pass, I quickly grew concerned. I loved the bright visuals, which reveal tropical worlds where I would love to vacation, and the soundtrack is tough to resist (which I suppose it should be, owing to a series of catchy compositions from the famous David Wise). However, I felt considerably less love for the awkward controls, which made it a chore simply to move along a platform. And when I had to ascend or descend to snag a sweet collectible, things really fell apart for me.

Snake Pass (Switch) image

"Am I going to be grappling with the controls for the whole game?" I asked myself. "Is nearly every challenging moment I encounter going to be a result of this awkward setup?"

Fortunately, the answer to both of those questions is (mostly) negative. There never came a time where I effortlessly negotiated the game's most difficult stages. Right through the last level, I sometimes had to pause and think about what buttons I might press to make Noodle do exactly what I wanted in the following moments, which was a bit hard to take after years spent effortlessly hopping and bopping my way through a bevvy of cutesy platformers. However, the initial difficulties diminished by the hour. After 2 or 3 hours passed, I felt surprisingly comfortable with things.

Multiple control schemes are available, but I stuck with the default one. In that scheme, you press the right shoulder button to advance the snake. He slithers forward slowly, but you can wind back and forth to make him move with a greater sense of urgency. Pressing and holding the A button causes him to elevate what I suppose must be his equivalent of a torso, or allows him to twist so that his head rises. There are a few other twists, and a bird companion you can summon to lift your tail in times of need, but mostly those are the moves that will allow you to get around a surprisingly complex, increasingly vertical world.

Snake Pass (Switch) image

A typical scenario involves you reaching the edge of a cliff and looking out to find a series of crisscrossing poles that extend outward. Near the base of that assortment of poles, you can see a tempting trinket, so you decide to carefully descend toward the prize. This means slithering carefully out on the pole, dipping your head under one side and then rising on the other side. As you move forward to manage this, though, you risk finding that your weight is displaced. If you haven't positioned yourself properly (usually, this means you simply advanced too quickly and your momentum stabbed you in the back), you'll start to slip and might fall into a bottomless abyss or skewer yourself on spikes.

At least when I was controlling him, particularly in the early going, Noodle died often. There are checkpoints placed throughout each stage, though, so I didn't usually lose a lot of progress at once. The bad news is that your progress doesn't automatically save each time you snag a collectible (or one of three precious stones you must gather in order to clear each stage). You have to return to an available save point to update the record. And honestly, even though it's a bit annoying at times, that requirement makes sense. If the game saved the second I grabbed a trinket, I would probably just go flying over a ledge and grab the goody as I dropped toward my doom. That sort of design would eliminate some of the challenge that is one of the game's highlights. The dynamic is completely different when you have to negotiate a hazard both coming and going.

Snake Pass (Switch) image

But even though I mostly like it, the best Snake Pass can earn from me is a recommendation with a warning attached: buy the game if you can easily afford it, but not if you're thinking the cutesy visuals signify a product that will serve as the perfect experience for young children. The controls are demanding, and some of the final stages (which put you at odds with the elements) are more difficult than feels quite fair. Not everyone--regardless of age--will have the patience required to negotiate them. At the same time, this isn't an adventure that relies on objectionable content to remain interesting, and it's hard not to fall in love with the charm that greets the player around every corner. Finally clearing each of the 15 available stages also feels like a genuine accomplishment, not just busy work.

I'm not sure I'd want to play a lot of other games like Snake Pass in the future, but I'm glad I played this one and I suspect you will be too, if you give it a chance. It's sssuper!


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 12, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Nightfire posted April 13, 2017:

A nice, well-written review, Jason. In this day and age, when it seems that just about everything has been done already, it's cool to see a game that does something fresh and original.

As for whether real snakes can do what Noodle does, well, I'm pretty sure that Noodle is far more nimble than an actual snake is. Real snakes really can't really levitate their entire torsos like that. They can climb pretty well, but they need a surface with some tooth to it, or a branch they can grip. I think it's safe to say that Noodle has an edge over his real-life brethren, but this seems necessary, because if he didn't, this game would probably be even more difficult and not a lot of fun.
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CasydieAnne posted April 15, 2017:

Nice game!! Even though im scared in real snake its nice to see that game unique and original.

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