Snake Byte (Apple II) review
"Snake Byte was a simple, high-resolution graphical update to White Lightning, one of the first games made for the Apple, in BASIC and low resolution graphics. I knew it first as Hustler, from the TRS-80 at our school, and then after the librarians got more diligent deleting games, Snake Byte and its wonderful graphics left me captivated. It's a fairly simple game: you're a snake, chasing apples on a board around barriers. The more you eat, the longer the snake goes. C..."
Snake Byte was a simple, high-resolution graphical update to White Lightning, one of the first games made for the Apple, in BASIC and low resolution graphics. I knew it first as Hustler, from the TRS-80 at our school, and then after the librarians got more diligent deleting games, Snake Byte and its wonderful graphics left me captivated. It's a fairly simple game: you're a snake, chasing apples on a board around barriers. The more you eat, the longer the snake goes. Crashing into a wall or yourself is fatal. You can choose to have plums bouncing around to chase you, which nets you more points, and if you don't get the apples within a certain time limit, more appear. Eat enough apples and you can exit through the top.
This seems very simple, but Snake Byte represented a huge yet sensible jump up from the monochrome backgrounds and no barriers of its predecessors, where either your snake would eventually get too long and you'd die stupidly, or it'd stay short and you'd get bored. Snake Byte, though, had thirty levels of increasing complexity and all sorts of borders. My pirated copy even had a cheat file, which allowed you to specify snakes to start with and the level to start on. You could even use the AZ/arrows instead of turning your snake left and right. This was full-service in 1982, and with this cheat, Snake Byte became more colorful and flexible than the solid Viper, where you're a snake chasing a bigger, but mobile, mouse.
Because it gives you different backgrounds and it forces you not to get in a rut where you just loop around. The timer for new apples ticks off by blocks that go up the left and right walls, and the inner walls are a variety of colors as they form E's, H's, rooms, twisty corridors, and even mazes later that move from 4x4 grids to 6x6 and 8x8. You get different colors and boundary patterns later, with level twenty-four featuring all the textures creating many rows and a column through the center. The game could've combined more, but what's more important is that the level design is controlled and sensible.
The new walls do tend to reinforce strategies you probably blew off in the first few levels. With the new boundaries, you have more ways to mistakenly block yourself from reaching an apple before the time limit. Initially, the only risk is that an apple appears in the snake, but in the next levels, your tail can shut off entrance to a room you just left for a while. Boundaries get so numerous that eventually you have to plan for outright bad luck. You just have to leave a few extra apples out for easy picking, in case one appears in a tight spot despite your best efforts.
And through that is always the possibility of just making a dumb move and running into a wall. It requires some timing to go through the narrow passages to the next room or, worse, the exit. I died a lot when I got lazy after grabbing the next apple and I didn't notice I wasn't lined up with the exit. You can make other dumb mistakes, especially when you are focusing too hard on the more esoteric ideas, like winding your snake tightly enough to avoid obstruction and still making it to the next apple in time. But what's worse is if you don't get an apple in time. You need ten to advance a level, which resets if you die. But if you miss a time limit and die, you'll need thirteen.
It doesn't help that it's hard to gauge if you are on-line with an apple or exit, either. The darker-textured walls don't help, either. They are much more dangerous than the plums, which you can often relegate to harmlessness by bouncing them off your tail. So much of the game past level fifteen or so you to turn through twenty small gaps in a row that you really wind up expending more energy than seems necessary, all for the chance to do it again. But because the next apple can appear anywhere, there's an element of gambling and hope you'll get off easy the next time. And winding your snake back and forth to grab the next apple and make it easier to grab the very next gives a legitimate sense of accomplishment.
Snake Byte lasted and evolved enough to be something to come back to and was one of the first file-based Apple games I retried when I found about emulation. It allows for good fast-paced strategy, though it gets too random at the later levels, and it compounds the problems with regressive punishments. But with the pirate/hacker cheats, it's an enjoyable, basic variation on one of the first-ever games. At twenty-nine, there are enough levels but not too many. You will probably not want to play them through twice, but if you've only played the very basic snake-chase game, Snake Byte would be time very well spent.
Community review by aschultz (June 12, 2009)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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