The origin of Snake Pass can be traced back to developer Seb Liese learning to program using the Unreal Engine. Listening to the team discuss the story behind how he created a snake-like rope that eventually turned into a Game Jam project, and finally Snake Pass warmed my heart with how much passion went into the title. Sumo Digital, known for their work on LittleBigPlanet 3, has crafted a bright and colorful puzzle-platformer, featuring a charming duo of characters and hidden collectibles.
When I try and think back, I can’t recall ever controlling a snake, let alone one that is as expressive as Noodle. First and foremost, the control mechanics do take some time to learn the ropes of moving around levels as a snake, including climbing, clinging, and wrapping yourself in all sorts of manners. While the game doesn’t feature any enemies, you will have to contend with gravity, who more often than not, wins. Your faithful hummingbird companion, named Doodle, can assist you to a certain extent, but there is only so much that a tiny bird can do to help your slithering body.
The game begins with Noodle woken up from a nap, as Doodle notices that one of the keystones was for the area they were in was missing. The detailed and vibrant tribal setting visuals simply pop off the screen, as you meander your orange, yellow and black reptile across connected pieces of bamboo, crumbling ruins, and even through the water. Each of the game’s levels has three keystones that must be collected to open the gate to the next area. Along the way, you’ll be directed to their locations by collected glowing blue orbs, similar to the music notes in Banjo-Kazooie. Doodle will also point out anything nearby that you can snag, although levels have five hidden coins that will task you with scouring every inch of the maps to find them. Checkpoints are provided in case you fall off the edge of the map or hit one of the environmental hazards. When this happens, you’ll lose everything you collected since the last checkpoint. It’s quite common in the first few levels for you to fall to your death, particularly since the game’s difficulty spikes in the later half.
Sumo Digital has done a highly commendable job translating how to move around like a snake using a controller. Instead of only moving forward, you must weave back and forth, like a snake would. They could have automated this process but having the freedom to control exactly how fast you are moving is the key in given the illusion of direct control of a snake. Once you master serpentining across the vertically themed areas, you can use the built up momentum to take you to new heights. Literally. As you don’t have to deal with pestering enemies or time management, you are free to take you time and carefully make your way up enlarged pieces of bamboo to get where you need to do. To help you accomplish this task, you’ll want to coil your body around the bamboo, tilting your head upwards to gain altitude. Holding down the grip button will cement your current position, allowing you to access the current situation and prepare yourself for where you need to go. I’ve found that feathering the grip button produces the best results, allowing you to carefully climb any obstacle in the game at a decent pace. Of course, the tail half of the game throws, even more, hazards in your direction, including lava and spikes.
If you find yourself not quite making it up the side of a structure due to lack of momentum, you can have Doodle pick up your tail to give you a decent amount of upwards boost. While helpful, it isn’t a reliable solution, and let's be honest, there is only so much that a hummingbird can do to assist.
Snake Pass is a highly enjoyable and charming puzzle-platformer full of character. Attempting to collect all of the coins and orbs can lead to a few frustrating deaths, especially if you didn’t reach a checkpoint. Playing the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro, I did experience some micro stuttering that would occur randomly, but nothing that took away from the experience. In fact, Snake Pass does feature a 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) support if you have a compatible display. The game’s audio is superb, composed by David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) fitting in with the vibrant art and characters full of expressions. Just like in LBP, you can change Noodle’s expressions using the directional pad.
Note: The Snake Pass review is based on a digital PS4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.