For years there has only ever been one snake worth talking about… Konami and Metal Gear’s Solid. But now there’s a new guy in town and this one has ditched the aggression, gone away from the destruction and fails to even hit the town with the least deadly weapon possible. Yep, this little guy comes across as a much kinder fella… oh, and he’s called Noodle. That’s super cute in its own right.
Ever since first setting eyes on Snake Pass at a show in 2016, it was quite obvious Sumo Digital were going to be onto a winner. Whether it was the huge crowds surrounding multiple screens, the super bright, highly colourful visuals or the simplicity of the game itself which gave it away, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it immediately had that X factor and ever since that day, I’ve been waiting for Snake Pass to arrive as a fully fledged title.
Surely it’s not going to let me down now?
Snake Pass is, without sounding too harsh, the most simple of games. A relaxing puzzler which lets you get on with things in your own time, it is up to you to take control of Noodle, a lovable snake who teams up with Doodle, his young Hummingbird friend, as they embark upon a daring journey in order to save the tranquility of their home. This is done by navigating his way around, over and through multiple obstacles in the search for three hidden keystones, which in turn open up the exit portal for each of the 15 levels in place. How you find these is completely up to you, and the well created stages bring all manner of tricky obstacles and multiple routes to the preservation of your world. You need not ever worry about dodging enemies or hiding from foes, as Snake Pass doesn’t involve a single destructive element – except for falling to your death onto spikes, fire or off the world itself. It really is all about sitting back and trying to make your way through each of the stages however you wish.
Starting off in Bol-Dor’s Earth realm, you’ll learn the basics of snake control, before being gifted the key to the next world, the water-filled Sog-Gee’s home, which in turn opens up Cyn-Derr’s levels, set with fire filled pits of death. The final world you’ll need to worry about is a wind swept land that is controlled by the mystical Bloh-Wee. Yep, the snake himself is utterly adorable and the names of the worlds he is trying to save are just as charming, endearing and gorgeous. They have also all been supremely well created with tons of colour, a multitude of hidden areas and enough horizontal and vertical traversal for you to shake a stick at.
In order to succeed though you’ll need to channel your inner snake, and will quickly need to get to grips with the simple controls that are in place. Holding RT and slithering left to right will speed Noodle up, a hold of the A button will see him try and climb, whilst X lets him dive down, with stages in the second world delivering vast pools of water for him to swim around – something which mixes up the action just enough to stop any form of boredom from kicking in. Acting like a snake and twisting round a pole will help you climb further, and it is always a good idea to grab your left trigger for a bit in order to sit in place and check out the best route forward.
The controls work well and whilst admittedly take a little getting used to, once you master the climbing, you’re in for a good time. The very best bit about them though is the chance to cycle through four different expressions for Noodle – it may be pointless, but there’s a hell of a lot of fun in seeing joy spread across his face as he’s slowly falling to his death, because you forgot to bother climbing whilst messing around with facial expressions.
It’s not all about the agility of Noodle though and there are numerous moments when you’ll have to combine the finesse of everyone’s new favourite snake, with the skills, if somewhat basic, of his hummingbird friend Doodle. Other than being a bit of a reference point in order to help you decide where to head next, Doodle will happily grab your snake tail and ensure those slightly more difficult places to reach are obtainable. Teaming up is essential should you wish to reach all of the collectible wisps or hidden secret coins which are available on all the levels, and is a clever, if somewhat basic little addition.
Doodle does become much more helpful on the latter levels, especially in the wind swept world of Bloh-Wee, where he’ll help you make the most of air currents in order to traverse the biggest gaps, but for the most part is used as a quick little add-on who comes to your rescue in time of need. I’ve found that the pressing of the Y button in order to get Doodle working is slightly erratic though, refusing to occasionally work, and if I’m completely honest, a button remap would be ideal as the stretch between keeping Noodle’s head raised with A and getting your bird to work with Y is a bit too much. Mapping the little bird to the otherwise redundant B button would have made much more sense, but that’s being really, really picky.
So aside from just heading on through the 15 levels in your own sweet time, collecting gems and exploring the best route through to the gate portals, what else is there to keep you entertained in Snake Pass? Well, the previously mentioned collectible wisps and coins will take a huge amount of time to nail down, with many of the latter only really available to the most skilled snake charmer, and this ensures your time with Sumo Digital’s wonderful world will not be a short one. Thankfully, these hold in place even once you’ve completed a stage, so going back over the same level in order to find the last few remaining wisps is definitely doable. But whether your everyday casual gamer will ever bother to collect them, or have the requisite skills to even try, then well, it’s up for debate.
There is also a time trial mode available, at least once you’ve unlocked it, and this brings about even more reason to head on in, with leaderboard climbing the name of the game. It’s a lovely addition for those who think of themselves as a Speedrunner, but again, for the everyday casual gamer who Snake Pass is probably aimed at, I’m not sure it’ll get a whole lot of use – especially as some of the latter levels take a fair bit of skill to fully complete.
Without doubt though Snake Pass can be considered a bit of a hit, but there are a few issues which must be pointed out – thankfully they are more than pushed into the background by those that are good.
Firstly, there are times where it is damn hard, I mean, bordering on unfair and controller throwing hard. Much of this is probably down to the unique way that Noodle moves, and even when you think you’ve got the hang of the controls, just occasionally everything goes awry and your slithery friend will fall to his death with you wondering what on earth just happened. It is about then when you’ll be needing to make the most of the checkpoints which are in place, but again, these sometimes fail to help. Placement is key in any revival system but there are a few too many times when Snake Pass leaves you needing to complete multiple obstacles again and again in order to get back to where you were before the reaper hit. There is nothing worse in gaming terms than lucking your way through a section, with little idea how your accomplishment happened, before falling to your death and being left to try it all over again. Admittedly it doesn’t happen too much with Snake Pass, but it is apparent enough to slightly annoy those with little patience.
Combine this with no chance of saving midway through a stage and it’s quite feasible that you’ll spend half an hour or so trying to luck your way through a level before being forced to give up. Upon your return you’ll find that no matter how far through you got, how many crystals you picked up or how many blue orbs you managed to find, you’ll need to do it all over again. Now that is hugely frustrating. Once you get the hang of a stage, and the overall snaking mechanics, each one is fairly short, but when our lives are interrupted by real world events at any moment, surely it’s not too much to ask to allow us to save mid-level? Or is that just me and my gaming pet hate?
There are also the odd moments of slowdown, especially in the fire stages, when much of what is going on strangely brings Noodle to a stuttering halt, but then, these are fairly minor gripes and pretty infrequent so even with them in place, Snake Pass is an absolute joy to play.
At the end of the day, and if you’re after a relaxing puzzler which will provide a decent test that you can take at your own pace, then Noodle and Doodle will happily sort you out. You may not ever want to really test yourself by collecting all the coins, because some are pretty damn frustrating to hunt down and reach, and the Time Trial option will only really appeal to those who have friends sitting on the leaderboards too, but the basic game is so damn good that neither of those options really hold it back.
From my first hands on with Snake Pass, I had the feeling that Sumo Digital were onto something special, and that most definitely turns out to be the case…as long as you are prepared to think like a snake.
I agonised over which system to get it for myself and decided in the end just like Grawlog, to go for the one that allowed me to play it on the go. Think I made the right choice as it does indeed lend itself to short bouts of play.
Really good review too and totally aligns with my experience with the game so far. I’m up to level 6, having been methodically getting all the blue bubbles and coins along the way. Those coins placed over the abyss on precarious bamboo poles are a real killer… I mean I was screaming out load with frustration at the number of times I was dying at one point (and this was in work during my lunch break!).
I LOVE achievements on the Xbox but on this occasion, having seen what some of them are, I actually feel kind of liberated being able to play this my way and not feel like I have to torture myself to pick up all the cheevos. I mean some of them look infuriatingly, pad smashingly difficult to obtain… Hope Sumo make more original games like this though 🙂
I picked up the Switch version for the portability, but this review is spot on. Great read, great game!
Cheers for the kind words. Glad you’re liking it as much as I am.
Me too! ^^