When you think about it, snakes have a bit of a bad rep. Often cast as the bad guy (remember The Jungle Book?), they're misunderstood creatures to say the least, being painted as vicious ne'erdowells even when they're just trying to go on their holidays on a plane! Whether it's down to their somewhat unnerving lack of legs, or just the occasional venomous bad boy giving them a bad rep, when it comes to snakes, at least one thing's certain - everyone's a little bit snake-cist. At least, apart from Sheffield based studio Sumo Digital.
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Seemingly fed up with the unfair representation of our slithery friends in the media, our friends at Sumo Digital have taken it upon themselves to do a bit of good PR for the humble snake, with their brand new downloadable snake sim, Snake Pass - a game that stars one of the happiest, goofiest looking snakes to ever grace a game. At least, since Solidus Snake.
An orange and black stripy beast with proper kawaii eyes (and an expression you can change from goofy grin to terrible trepidation with a few presses of the d-pad), noble Noodle has taken it upon himself to restore peace - or at least public transport - to the realm of Haven Tor, because someone, or something, has decided to move all of the gateway stones, thereby deactivating the portals that let the locals hop from place to place. Personally, we blame the kids, always nicking stuff the moment the school holidays kick off. Either way, it falls to Noodle to round up all the stones and put them back where they belong, showing off his snakely platforming prowess in the process.
Of course, it's how you go about retrieving those stones that makes Snake Pass so special. As a kind of physics based platforming game, the challenge in Snake Pass comes from figuring out how to climb, cross, and otherwise traverse the game's 15 or so levels, with a character that doesn't actually have any legs.
Things at least start off innocuously enough. On the PS4, holding R2 will let you move forward, while slithering left and right with the analogue stick as you go will see you picking up speed. That's your ground based movement sorted - but as you might expect, things are a lot trickier when it comes to climbing. In fact, much like a real snake, there's a very specific strategy you'll need to employ if you want to reach the game's great heights, as you wind Noodle around and around the vertical (and horizontal) poles and beams you come across, to spiral your way up to the top. With the intention being to basically secure yourself as much as you can, and give yourself anchor points that'll let you stretch out and up the frame, you'll find yourself often making clever use of two moves in particular - lifting Noodle's head with X to get his body climbing, and tightening your grip with L2 to slowly shimmy your way up, over or across. Or, you can just do as we do - slither full pelt and pray.
Each level here sees you navigating Noodle around what is essentially a glorified obstacle course, looking for the three key stones you'll need to unlock the exit, with each being generally hidden away in the harder to reach areas of the level. There's also twenty similarly scattered blue orbs to pick up, as well as five rather well hidden - and much more challenging to obtain - Gatekeeper coins too. With some fifteen or so levels spread out across four worlds, each introducing new perils or abilities (swimming, deadly lava), Snake Pass crams a pretty impressive amount of variety into relatively few levels. And while fifteen levels may not sound like all that much (and to be honest, it does make the £15 price tag seem a bit on the expensive side), the levels do at least feel surprisingly lengthy, especially if you're the kind to seek out every last collectible. Despite its numerical lack of levels, Snake Pass will likely keep you busy for a decent amount of time.
From the Octodad school of somewhat awkward controls, Snake Pass is a game that'll often be unintentionally funny, too. Many of your platforming escapades here will end in disaster, with Noodle slowly sliding his way off the edge thanks to his impossibly heavy bottom, while you frantically fumble with the buttons to try and save him. Weirdly, despite the fact you're facing your imminent doom, it's actually pretty hard to not raise a smile, as you try your best to hold on, wanging your snake around as best as you can, before finally giving up as poor old Noodle plummets.
As the levels get more challenging, incorporating rotating platforms, moving poles and deadly spikes, getting Noodle from A to B becomes even more of a hair-raising experience. Trying to move across a group of moving poles, winding yourself around each one in turn as you slowly shimmy over to one of the level's elusive key stones is surprisingly challenging. Likewise, trying to push a large ball into a pressure-sensitive hole is way harder than you'd imagine, regardless of whether you try the repeated nudging technique, or attempt to coil Noodle around the base of the ball and hold onto it as you shuffle over to the switch. For a game starring a snake, there's a surprising variety of switch-pulling, button-pressing and death-defying leaps to be done.
In fact, about our only really gripe with Snake Pass is that the game's checkpointing system can be a bit haphazard. Checkpoints are spread throughout each level at relatively regular intervals, but sometimes you'll find yourself dying from a fumbled climb and losing out on the past ten minutes of collectibles. When it's a keystone or Gatekeeper Coin you've spent a long time slowly snaking your way up to, it can be a little irritating having to go back and fumble your way up to it all over again. You can combat this somewhat by backtracking to a previous checkpoint when you've picked up important collectibles you don't want to lose - it's a bit of a pain, but certainly not enough to mar the whole experience.
Being a 3D platformer, the camera can also throw a bit of a wobbly at times, sometimes positioning itself in pretty unhelpful places as you try to navigate Noodle up another perilous pipe. Of course, you can reposition the camera yourself with the right stick, but given that part of Snake Pass' charm is in its somewhat wayward controls, you could do without having to worry about twisting the camera around too. Trying to hold on with L2, accelerate with R2, wind yourself around with the left stick and lift Noodle's head with X is relatively standard procedure in Snake Pass - but add in repositioning the camera, and it can feel like you're tying your fingers in knots trying to angle the camera so Noodle doesn't disappear behind a rock. Fortunately serious camera issues are few and far between, and the somewhat relaxed pace of Snake Pass means that most sections will give you plenty of time to pause and readjust the camera, should you need to.
With its bright colours, goofy faces and unconventional game play, Snake Pass is a winning little downloadable game, perfect for those who want something a little different. While mastering the controls can take some time, its all part of the fun as you find yourself wanging the lovable Noodle around in search of all manner of collectables, in what is another winning Rare-esque platformer (making it the second in as many weeks). While fifteen levels is perhaps a little bit stingy for the price, they are at least surprisingly lengthy and cram-packed with stuff to find, meaning Snake Pass should keep you busy - and smiling at Noodle's lovable slapstick - for a decent while at least.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4