Games have never shied away from anthropomorphic heroes, putting players in the shoes of a wide variety of cute and charming creatures. But only rarely do games fully transform the player into the animal they’re tasked with controlling. This is far from the case in Snake Pass, the latest game from Sumo Digital, available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Players assume the role of Noodle, a goofy cartoon snake, and need to make their way through a series of vibrant worlds stuffed with hidden collectibles. You are partnered with a hummingbird named Doodle, who flits about spouting exposition and giving the reptilian hero a short airborne boost. In every new level, there are three colored gems the player has to obtain to progress to the next stage. However, shiny coins and glowing orbs also exist to distract players and command the attention of completionists.
Snake Pass clearly owes a bit of inspiration to the bygone era of platforming games like Banjo Kazooie, but thanks to a development team with experience in physics-based experiments like Little Big Planet, this game feels unlike anything ever before released. Because of Noodle’s biology, movement is the key mechanic defining every moment of Snake Pass. To move forward, players need to maintain constant momentum, wriggling back and forth to keep Noodle’s body in motion.
Even from the first few moments, controlling Noodle presents a unique challenge regardless of your previous experience with similar titles. You stay low to the ground, needing to coil your body around poles and bamboo shafts to reach structures higher up. The learning curve in Snake Pass is steep: At first you’ll be frustrated trying to wind your way up a single pole, but by the final level you’ll advance to thinking about how wind and water might affect your climbing traction.
Holding one button drives Noodle forward, like a car in a racing game, and shifting the analog stick around will change the direction of movement. Lifting up the snake’s head helps to scale obstacles, and a shoulder button tightens the grip of your body if you’ve wrapped yourself around anything nearby.
As you navigate around the game’s various environments, you naturally acclimate to the strategy required to loop in and out of stacked objects to climb higher. Many of the puzzles in Snake Pass are reliant on the player learning to climb up a surface and balance their body, but there are a good few that make use of other hazards like hanging areas, tunnels, and pipes. Finding out how to interact with each variation is a good test of your skills piloting Noodle, and it prevents any level from feeling boring.
If your only goal is to find the gems required to unlock the next stage, Snake Pass will last a short few hours. Puzzling out how to track down collectibles, which are often hidden in hard-to-reach areas, is the real challenge. You might toy with moving quickly across a long beam or carefully spiraling around a wide structure to get where you want to be. Noodle’s weight shifts realistically when moving, and you need to carefully keep track of the long, serpentine body as you tackle risky puzzles.
Learning to experiment with the precise, unique mechanics of Snake Pass is an absolute joy. The camera, however, is often a source of unnecessary frustration. It moves slowly, tracking around the center of the snake’s body, and can lead to some cases of the player falling off their perch due to poor handling. The variety of angles it will start in range from a full view of the map ahead, or too close to Noodle’s head to get a good sense of where you are. Likewise, the checkpoint system is poorly placed throughout the environments. There are a number of pads you can slither across to save your progress, including collectibles you’ve nabbed, but they are often in arbitrary locations and difficult to see. The risk of losing everything you’ve collected to scope out an upcoming area is frightening, and could dissuade some from experiencing all Snake Pass has to offer.
Still, the slinking sensation of the fascinating control scheme makes it easy to recommend Snake Pass to casual fans and hardcore gamers alike. The soundtrack from Rare alum David Wise adds a soothing atmosphere to quiet moments and ramps up steel drums and pounding rhythm as the player tests their snaking skills. As the grass sways and the cartoony characters start chattering, it becomes hard to resist the charm and obvious love that went into this unique take on the genre.
Disclaimer: Snake Pass was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch hardware with a code provided by the publisher.