So Snake Pass released back in 2017 and it’s still a bit difficult to categorise the experience. Is it a wacky physics simulator that makes you navigate the world differently, a-la Goat Simulator? Not quite. Is it a weird puzzler with a unique gimmick? We’re getting closer. Or is it a 21st Century take on the 3D Collectathon genre? I think that’s it. 

In the year of our platforming lord and saviour, 2017 saw a huge comeback for the genre. Mario Odyssey was one of the biggest releases in any genre. Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet & Clank got remade. A Hat in Time saw an indie developer find big success. Super Lucky’s Tale was, weirdly, a launch title for the Xbox One X. And Sonic Forces, sadly, happened. And then there’s Snake Pass, a game that looks and plays nothing like the aforementioned titles.

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It might not seem much like a 3D platformer, but it is. There’s no mascot that runs and jumps and leaps across platforms. There are no cute, anthropomorphic enemies for you to innocently stomp on. But that’s where Snake Pass’ magic lies. It’s a 3D platformer that removes its most essential element going way back to the ‘80s: the jump.

Instead, Snake Pass puts you in the shoes, or the skin, of a huge grinning snake. You’re not allowed to jump – because from an evolutionary standpoint that would be nonsensical – but you can wrap your body around poles, walls and anything else you can find. It’s this fundamental difference that sustains Snake Pass through its short and sweet playtime. 

It does also take some getting used to. In a game like Banjo-Kazooie the challenge comes from positional awareness and reflexes; making sure you don’t mistime a jump, or that you don’t jump too far, or you don’t jump too soon and get hit by a fireball or whatnot. And Banjo-Kazooie is great, it’s a classic. Snake Pass asks you to kill whatever you know about games like that. 

Most of Snake Pass’ initial challenge comes from grappling with its new controls, both on the gamepad and how that translates to the snake’s movement in-game. The majority of levels feature these weird, pointy, wooden structures that the snake needs to climb through / on top of. This leads to weird balancing acts as you need to think about how a snake’s unique body should contort and move around the world. 

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Players mainly control the snake’s head, as in that’s the thing we follow, so you need to keep the rest of its body in consideration too. The head is what players can point in different directions and lift off the ground while the body trails behind. But it’s the body that’s the game’s biggest challenge and point of advantage. You need to think about where it is, how it’ll follow you, if it’s hanging off a slope. At the same time, you can  use it to wrap around pillars and gain a solid hold on ground, or just about reach a far off platform using the body like some kind of bridge. The developers really stretch the game’s concept just as much as you stretch the snake.

Snake Pass, in spite of its cute exterior, isn’t for the faint hearted. There are some tough challenges throughout the entire game, and these get continually harder if you’re going for 100% completion. Each level contains hidden coins and reaching them presents the hardest challenges in the game. You’ll need to think in unique ways about how to get the snake’s body into position, but then you’ll also need the hand-eye coordination to pull off the stunt too. 

Despite the removal of the genre’s most iconic move, the jump, Snake Pass still features a bunch of familiar concepts. You’re still slithering around cute, stylised cartoon settings. There are plenty of upbeat tunes that come from Donkey Kong composer David Wise. And the titular snake has eyes googley enough to fit into any Rareware classic. Oh, and there’s also a second in command helper taking the place of Kazooie, Cappy and Clank. This time it comes in the form of a blue, tweeting bird that flutters all over the place.

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Overall, Snake Pass is a game that dares to be different. It asks players to engage with it in a way that few games do: forget everything you know about any game you’ve played and relearn it to discover something completely new. If you love digging for secrets and thinking outside the box in 3D collectathons, try Snake Pass out. It might not be what you’re used to but it’s delightful either way.

Snake Pass is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store. It’s also on Switch, PS4 and PC.

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