Although Snake Pass launched simultaneously on PS4, Xbox One and PC too, we chose to play this puzzler on Nintendo Switch. And it’s a perfect fit with its colourful cartoon graphics, glorious soundtrack and portable puzzling. Snake Pass is a physical action-puzzle game that sees you control a snake called Noodle dropped into a world known as Harmony Foothills, along with a little, feathered friend called Doodle.
It’s clearly inspired by the platformers of old, including Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie, but rather than leaping and bouncing around an open world, you’re a snake and thus you have no feet. To get around you’ll have to weave to build speed, curl your slithery form around bamboo poles and other environmental aids to lift yourself to new heights and achieve various objectives en route to the peak of Haven Tor. Working out how to move around is part of the puzzle, but the various levels within the worlds make actually doing so increasingly difficult.
Cartoon graphics harking back to a platforming era
There’s something about Snake Pass that makes you think it’s a spin-off from something like Viva Piñata. Noodle looks like he’s jumped straight out of a Rare title or something from Media Molecule. That’s especially true when you realise hitting up and down on the D-Pad will change his emotion, just like Sack Boy in Little Big Planet. The interactions between Noodle and his bird pal Doodle are almost Yooka-Laylee or Banjo-Kazooie worthy too, with Doodle capable of grabbing Noodle’s tail to lift you out of a tight spot.
The story is a familiar one too, although most of the time you’ll be too busy slithering around to even worry about what’s going on. A mysterious intruder is ruining the otherwise harmonious Harmony Foothills, and it’s up to Noodle and Doodle to find out what’s what. You’ll have to work your way through 15 stages that are spread across four different worlds, which will offer increasingly complex hurdles to Noodle’s slithering from deathly drops and deep pools to bubbling lava pits.
The colourful, eye-catching graphics that bring the world of Harmony Hills to life ooze charm and add environmental variation (and hazards) the closer you get to the summit of Haven Tor. We love the palpable difference between moving on land and through water, with Noodle’s sleek form cutting through the water with ease, while getting up to speed on land is far more taxing. What makes it all even better is having the volume on full blast too, as the custom soundtrack has been composed by David Wise, who’s also the chap behind the Donkey Kong Country, Battletoads and Diddy Kong Racing music.
In fact, the graphics are so vibrant and soundtrack so perfect that you’ll occasionally forget there are plenty of things to be collecting. As you slither, curl and climb your way around Snake Pass‘ stages, there are plenty of things to collect. You’ll always need to aim for the trio of coloured orbs to unlock the end portals, but if you want to there are 20 blue orbs and five gold coins.
You’re free to move around the levels as you please, but the real skill and puzzle solving come from the complexity of Snake Pass‘s control scheme.
Brain twisting assault course
You control Noodle by holding down ZR to move and then slithering with the left analogue stick. If you don’t keep weaving as you move, you’ll slow down and eventually stop. Half your traversal battles are about building up a bit of pre-climb momentum before attempting any kind of climbing. To move upwards, you have to hold down A to lift Noodle’s head up. It’s then a case of wrapping yourself around poles and gripping with ZL, weaving through obstacles and working out how to keep your momentum up and actually wrap yourself in a way that won’t send you plummeting to your death.
Figuring out how to do all this is far trickier than we expected, as it requires some serious dexterity and controller command to master. It’s especially tricky as the difficulty curve seems to ramp inexplicably quickly from the opening set of four levels. Suddenly you’re faced with a whole set of new problems that involve a great deal of movement skill, including working out how to cross a chasm by moving along a straight pole. It’s not easy and can cause a mountain of frustration that leads to major rage quits.
However, actually figuring out how best to use the environment and Noodle’s various tricks will eventually click. You feel like the controller king (or queen), master of the pad and Snake Pass‘ various treacheries suddenly feel within reach. Not easy by any means, but doable and oh so satisfying.
Is Snake Pass good?
Snake Pass’ unique control scheme sets it apart from other puzzles and platformers of its ilk. But the frustration that builds as you play are also what makes you want to switch it off entirely. Thankfully the satisfaction felt after successfully nabbing a gold coin while curled around a long bamboo pole heavily outweighs the regular irks.
This is a puzzler that’s definitely worth picking up, particularly on the Switch, not just because it’s affordable, but because weaving your way around the colourful worlds successfully is as rewarding as it gets with a puzzler.
Snake Pass is available now worldwide on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.