The 3D platformer is due for a resurgence – everything is cyclical after all – and here we are in 2017, with not just one but two riotously colourful adventures to embark on. Alongside Playtonic’s Yooka Laylee, Snake Pass is looking to bring some modernity to a much-loved genre, and Sumo Digital, amongst the safest pairs of hands in the industry, have a lot to prove in their first outing with their own IP.
Snake Pass sees you take control of Noodle, an anaconda who, with the help of his trusty hummingbird sidekick Doodle, has to restore the mystical gates of Haven Tor in order to stop the nefarious Gatecrasher and restore peace to Harmony Foothills. It’s all a loose excuse for some of the brightest, most joyful 3D puzzle platforming of recent years.
Sumo Digital have worked hard to capture just how it feels to be a snake, and the controls allow for surprisingly nuanced control of Noodle as you make your way around the increasingly complex levels. The game’s physics, and particularly those of Noodle when he’s in motion, are wonderfully tactile and utterly consistent throughout your adventure. He’s a fantastically unique creation – you’re even able to change his expression – and as you work through the various challenges with him you’ll grow to love his spirited and wilful presence as he strives to succeed.
You move forwards by holding the right trigger, and can increase your speed by slithering left and right with the analogue stick. Lifting your head takes you in that direction and is essential for all of the vertical climbing you’ll be doing. You can wrap Noodle around the various bamboo and wood structures in order to climb further, and you have to grip in place using the left trigger whenever you want to take a break and work out which direction you’re going to go next.
The controls are initially challenging, and it takes some real dexterity to manoeuvre Noodle through even the simplest sections. As with Octodad, there’s this feeling that you’re wrestling with the controls, but there’s also that same sense of achievement when you succeed and you do gradually become more accustomed to how Noodle behaves, and how to make your way through a level when you’re essentially one giant, heavy tail. Besides simply trying to make your way around the world, some light puzzling is thrown into the mix, with switches, levers and turntables all needing to be sought out in order to advance, though they’re pretty straightforward for anyone used to the genre.
Having said that, there’s undoubtedly going to be some frustration at various points. You’ll watch Noodle plummet to his death time and time again as you attempt to reach one collectible that hangs from an outcropping above an abyss. Just falling from a structure you’ve painstakingly made your way up can curl toes in frustration, but you never feel ill equipped, only angry at yourself for not having better control, or for having rushed the motion.
As is traditional, each level has three types of collectible for you to try and find. The three gate keystones are the central ones you need to find to advance to the next area, while the twenty blue orbs are somewhat easier to grab. The five Gatekeeper Coins tend to be in utterly despicable spots, and it’ll take real skill in order to get them all.
Haven Tor certainly looks like a magical place, and Sumo Digital have put together an absolutely sublime setting that bursts with colour and character. There’s hints of Viva Piñata in the way grass undulates in the breeze as insects scamper about unconcerned by the challenges all around them. The floating islands are full of nods to Mayan and Aztec architecture, and there’s nothing better than getting to a high vantage point, letting Noodle hang there, and looking out across the level in search of collectibles you’ve missed.
Don’t let Snake Pass’ beautiful visuals fool you into thinking this is a children’s game though. It is probably amongst the most hardcore gaming challenges I’ve attempted in recent years, with some of the hard-to-reach collectibles providing real edge of the seat thrills. A lot of that difficulty comes from wrangling Noodle into doing what you need him to, though on occasion you’re hindered by things outside of your control.
The camera can, at times, be an enemy in itself. As with so many 3D platformers, you’ll find it providing less than ideal viewpoints at some points, and while attempting to right itself it’ll switch direction, which in turn switches the controls around, always doing so at the least opportune moments. Fortunately it’s the exception rather than the rule, but it adds an extra layer of frustration that the game could have done without.
There are other minor annoyances, including the fact that the game saves at checkpoints rather than each time you pick up a collectible. If you die without having passed over a checkpoint you can lose all of your progress in an area, which pushes you to backtrack to a checkpoint each time you’re about to embark on a particularly risky section. It also doesn’t save when you add a keystone to a gate, which makes no sense to me, and again, some annoying backtracking may be needed before you realise.
Completing the first world unlocks Time Trial mode where you can compete to be the speediest snake in the world, with its online leaderboards adding some real longevity to the game. The central game does provide a satisfying amount of gameplay though, probably between six and ten hours depending on how successful you are in controlling Noodle and how meticulously you scour each level for pick-ups. It’s good value anyway, and it’s a game I can see myself returning to time and time again.
Update: Time Trial mode is currently not in the Switch version of the game, but it is set to be patched in by Sumo.
Managing to be both nostalgic and refreshingly new, Snake Pass is a glorious adventure that brings the 3D puzzle platformer right up to date. Barring some frustrations and a tough difficulty level, there are few indie games that provide such a thoroughly entertaining, beautifully designed experience as Sumo Digital have created here.
Version Tested: Xbox One S