Snake Pass is a video game about a snake called Noodle. In a stacked year that’s already brought a staggering number of incredible, vast, life-consuming releases ranging from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Persona 5, you could be forgiven for not being especially interested in a video game about a snake called Noodle. And, well, fair enough — time is limited, and Snake Pass isn’t going to be topping too many best-of-the-year lists come December.
But I’ve been playing it anyway; it’s the ideal game to squeeze in between lengthy bouts of Zelda or Persona. Here are three reasons why.
A NEW TWIST ON AN OLD IDEA
I was pretty horrified when I read my colleague Nick Statt’s preview of Yooka-Laylee earlier this year. Not because Nick did anything wrong, but because the game sounded like my idea of abject hell: a resurrection of N64-style collect-a-thon platformers with cutesy cartoony mascots. Even as a kid I thought those games were awful and I have no desire to return to that era today.
Snake Pass is also very much in that vein. There’s even an annoying kookaburra buddy that insists on interrupting you. But unlike Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie, or apparently Yooka-Laylee, it’s a much more enjoyable experience because it focuses on making movement itself the basis of the game rather than just the way you reach the next piece of glowing fruit. The control scheme is really unusual — you move Noodle around almost like a vehicle, propelling him forward with the right trigger and using the left to slow down while controlling the elevation of his head with face buttons. It sounds complicated, but works well once you’re used to it.
Though there are certainly a lot of items to collect along the way, most of the challenge in Snake Pass comes from traversing the environment by wrapping Noodle’s slinky form around various objects. Simply getting from A to B tends to be a physics puzzle in itself. That’s why you couldn’t actually make a game like Snake Pass on the N64, and that’s also why it’s an entertaining and original proposition in 2017.
SWITCH GOES HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH RIVALS
Snake Pass is also intriguing from a technical perspective. I’ve been playing the Switch version, and it’s the first fully new game to come out on Nintendo’s hybrid platform at the same time as it releases for the PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One. That means it’s our first look at how new games might run on Nintendo’s comparatively underpowered system — how much of a technical compromise is necessary to take your console games on the go?
Digital Foundry has an excellent in-depth comparison that I’d encourage you to read, but the headline is “Snake Pass on Switch holds up nicely against PS4.” That’s really the main takeaway here. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Snake Pass looks great on Switch, with lush environments and impressive effects. It’s cut down from the PS4 version, to be sure — it runs at a higher resolution and with more visual pyrotechnics on Sony’s platform. But the graphical experience is comparable, despite the huge gap in horsepower.
This is just one game, of course, and it doesn’t mean that the Switch would do a good job of running something more ambitious like Horizon Zero Dawn. But as a demonstration of how the Switch can keep up when reproducing a midrange Unreal Engine 4 title, it’s encouraging, particularly considering that developer Sumo only had a few months to create the Switch port.
SUMO DIGITAL STEPS OUT
Lastly, Snake Pass is also a coming-out party of sorts. It’s developed by Sumo Digital, a British studio that is best known for its long association with Sega. Sumo made its name with excellent console versions of arcade titles like OutRun 2 and Virtua Tennis, with the relationship leading to the surprisingly wonderful Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed.
More recently, it’s been working on major titles like LittleBigPlanet 3 for Sony and Crackdown 3 for Microsoft. But Snake Pass is Sumo’s first fully original work in the nearly 15 years since it was set up, meaning it represents a major effort from the studio to be noticed on its own terms.
So that’s Snake Pass. At $19.99, it’s an inventive title that’s worth checking out if you haven’t already had your free time blitzed by the recent barrage of astonishing releases — and especially if you’re a Switch owner looking for something to play between now and Arms.