If Snake Pass was, in fact, a remake of an obscure PS1 game that was only released in Azerbaijan, few would be surprised. Sumo Digital’s charming puzzle platformer is decidedly old-school and evokes fond memories of the time when such games ruled the planet.
Players take on the role of Noodle, a colourful, dough-eyed, adorable snake. Accompanied by his best buddy Doodle, the hummingbird, Noodle is tasked with recovering a series of keystones and returning them to the gates that allow the characters to travel between worlds. Though this premise may sound simple, controlling the eight-foot long bastard-child of a corn snake and Kaa from The Jungle Book is anything but.
The game’s main conceit is that controlling a legless character (that is to say, movement via lateral undulation) is far trickier than wandering about a level with a good ol’ pair of legs.
Rather than just using the left analogue stick, players move Noodle around the environment via a series of button presses, a procedure that does a fantastic job of recreating the myriad processes involved in a snake slithering through his surroundings. Players cannot even travel in a straight line. Noodle needs to move left and right to slither through the tall grass. Using a deft combination of button presses, players are able to climb by coiling around pipes, slither under bridges, and traverse the increasingly intricate environments on the hunt for stones, coins, and snake-extending balls of energy.
Doodle also helps his serpentine buddy by lifting his tail up. Though this mechanic sounds a bit odd at first, this manoeuvre is literally a lifesaver. Noodle moves realistically and with a proper sense of balance and weight—so if a player does not coil their tail around a pipe properly or dangles too far off a cliff edge, Noodle will slip and fall if Doodle fails to grab the snake’s tail quickly enough. The sight of Noodle tumbling off the side of a level when Doodle is not quick enough to grab his tail—wide-eyed and screaming as he plummets into the bottomless abyss below each level—is absolutely heart wrenching.
Snake Pass’s complex controls take a little getting used to. Fortunately though, the game breaks players in slowly, gently upping the challenge in each successive level at a pace that allows players to build up the necessary skills needed to overcome each levels challenges at a pace that suits them. Each level’s Keystones are usually easy to find while collectables such as coins are usually hidden behind trickier challenges that encourage players to revisit Snake Pass’s earlier stages once they have gotten to grips with Noodle’s more complex manoeuvres.
Each of Snake Pass‘s fifteen levels is bright and lush, replete with thick grass for Noodle to slither through, crumbling ruins to traverse, and, in later levels, deep rivers to swim through while on the hunt for Keystones and other knick-knacks.
Though collecting trinkets is the main aim of Snake Pass, the game is not a collectathon in the Banjo Kazooie/Yooka-Laylee sense with hundreds of items strewn about. Instead, Snake Pass takes cues from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, presenting players with smaller, more concise levels that are akin to a puzzle box full of complex platforming challenges, rather than a rush to gather all of the things.
The strong visual design and cartoony aesthetic help Snake Pass look lovely regardless of what platform the game is running on. While minor differences in visual quality, such as simplified water effects or a shorter draw distance, do emerge during play, Snake Pass rocks along at a consistent 30 frames per second on both Switch and PS4. If one considers that Snake Pass is also the first game on the Switch to use the popular Unreal Engine 4, this bodes well for future third party ports on Nintendo’s new system.
Accompanying the bright, vibrant visuals is another rock-solid score by veteran game composer and ex-Rare developer, David Weiss. The background music combines pan pipes and tribal drums to create an upbeat, South-American-inspired soundtrack that gives the Aztec-inspired locales a real sense of place and keeps the game’s tone light.
Overall, Snake Pass captures the spirit of the late ‘90s platformers perfectly, while dragging the age-old genre slithering and squirming into the modern era, with beautiful visuals, a delightful David Weiss score, and a unique and engaging control scheme. Sumo’s first original IP is a right charmer.