Sometimes, the games industry’s brightest new titles come from one developer’s inspired ideas as they take part in one of the many ceremonial celebrations of creative genius known as the game jam. This is the case with Snake Pass, the new indie title first thought up by developer Seb Liese and winner of Sumo Digital’s first ever game jam. The game takes a simple character and a simple premise, and with them it creates a bright and colourful world housing a unique puzzle-platforming adventure.
Seb first conceptualised the character of Noodle the Snake, the protagonist of Snake Pass, when thinking back on his childhood. His pet snake seemed to perfectly fit into the style of games he wanted to emulate for this new creation, and the results serve only to evidence this. Noodle, is cute, charming and funny to direct as you traverse the game’s levels in search of key items and the various pickups scattered about for him to collect.
Reminiscent of classic games such as Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, both in terms of the games appearance and interactions, Snake Pass gives Noodle a friendly companion to help him on his way too. Doodle the Hummingbird takes on the role of teacher and helper for Noodle, in the same way as Sparks the Dragonfly or Aku Aku the floating mask dude did for the heroes of old that I mentioned before. However, whilst none of these characters “spoke” so to speak, using simple tones and speech boxes to teach the player instead, none have been quite as irritating as Doodle becomes after a while. His high-pitched squeaks become a little grating after the first few levels, and although his presence is both welcome and intrinsic to the game through his tutorials, it would be nice to be able to turn his sound effects off after this…
Level design and gameplay in Snake Pass come hand in hand. The two work in a delicate symbiotic relationship, but neither ever seems to let the other down. Noodle moves, as you may imagine, like you would expect a snake to move. You traverse each level by slithering to move, wrapping around objects to climb and occasionally utilising your ability to swim. Naturally, being a game with a clear aim towards children, Noodle cannot drown, so swimming as an ability is natural and easy. On occasions, when you need a little helping hand, you can get Doodle to give your tail end a little lift, helping you creep over that difficult ledge or saving you from falling into an empty oblivion.
Getting to grips with Snake Pass’ gameplay is very easy indeed. Doodle’s instructions are clear, the controls are simple, and the level design often makes it clear how to get from A to B. All you have to do is beat the challenging puzzles in the snakiest way possible, but even these are often open ended. This allows gamers of any level to succeed at the game and play in any way they wish. There are also additional pickups to collect, but these are not necessary to progress from level to level. As long as you collect the necessary key items to continue, the game does not force you to do any more than that.
To go with its fun protagonist and well developed design, Snake Pass also employs a pretty decent story. Again, bearing in mind the game’s target audience, the story is simplistic and traditional. Nevertheless, it still works as an anchor to give your adventures purpose. The basic essence is that Haven Tor, the world which Noodle and friends inhabit, is a peaceful world in which different zones are connected by portals. Now, an outsider has appeared and has shaken this peaceful balance. In the process, they have broken many of these portals, and Noodle’s job is to repair them. Again, whilst this is a familiar story and not a particularly deep one, it serves its purpose well. And, for the most part, the gameplay holds the experience together on its own anyway.
There are few aspects to complain about in Snake Pass, bar Doodle incessant squeaking, however there are a few imperfections which are worthy of note. The game is short, for one, and once you have completed each level and found all of its pickups, the only thing left to do is play with the time trial mode. Whilst this is good fun and a great test of skill, a vaster experience would not have gone amiss. It is of course possible however that more levels will appear in the future. The camera is also a problem. Much like the games gone by from which it takes inspiration, Snake Pass also suffers from the camera being in the wrong place for the action an awful lot of the time. Given that most gamers don’t have a third arm to control this alongside moving around and gripping onto objects, it is something which the developers really need to try and fix. It is only a small element, but a big problem in the grand scheme of making the gameplay as easy and enjoyable as possible. I didn’t want to get frustrated with Noodle over this, but sometimes I reluctantly had to.
All things considered, regardless of its few drawbacks, I would recommend Snake Pass. It is something different, which is always nice, albeit rare, to see. The gameplay and level design work in perfect balance with one another, and the mood, pace and challenge of the game are all light and welcoming for any level of gamer. Those considering making a purchase should take into consideration some of the game’s shortfalls however. Gamers who are easily frustrated should be particularly wary at this early stage after its release. But for those who are teetering on the edge of going in on Snake Pass, I would say go for it. It isn’t perfect, but it is good clean fun, and once in a while every gamer needs to be reminded just how important those three words can be.