Snake Pass is a throwback to the classic N64 era of simple but challenging gameplay. It requires you to control, yes a snake, called Noodle, through 15 levels of climbing, swimming, flying and collecting in order to restore peace to the world of Haven Tor, helped only by your sidekick, Doodle the Hummingbird. Noodle and Doodle, oh yes!
According to the developer and publisher, Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a physical action-puzzle game that sees the player slither, curl and climb their way through increasingly challenging worlds filled with evermore intricate obstacles and fiendishly mind-bending objectives.
I first played Snake Pass back in 2016 at EGX in Brimingham(sic). I was immediately drawn to it by the visuals which are reminiscent of the classic N64 era Banjo and Kazooie, which seems to be making a bit of a comeback with Yooka Laylee also being released recently. Now lets get one thing straight, controlling Noodle is not easy at the start. In fact, I was frustrated when I tested it at the show, and even more so when i started to play it at home. But, once you realise that to become more proficient you need to slow down and, top tip, feather the trigger buttons, Noodle becomes a lot easier to control.
There are 4 differing types of worlds you will encounter in Snake Pass, which are called Realms. To start, its fairly simple, in the realm of Bal-durr (Boulder) you are based on the ground, with no hazards to encounter, except falling off the edge of the map, which you will do frequently. Then you move onto the realm of Sog-gee (Soggy), which throws water into the mix, requiring you to swim, in which Noodle is quite proficient. The third realm, Cyn-Derr (Cynder), is where the ante is well and truly upped, with the introduction of fire pits, which are incredibly difficult due to Noodles “tail”. Finally you enter the realm of Bloh-Wee (Yes, blowy) which sees you high in the air with strong winds to contend with. Each realm has 4 levels except the final one which has 3. Now this doesn’t seem like a lot but each level takes a good deal of time to complete, which multiple collectables to gather along the way.
So, lets talk about what you need to do to complete a level. The main goal is to collect 3 keystones that activate a gate. Gates are what the residents of Haven Tor use to navigate their world, so without the gates being open they are stuck. It would have been nice to see these residents, but unfortunately you don’t interact with anyone except Doodle, and you only occasionally see the odd crab-like creature just milling around. The 3 keystones are marked by a beam of light shining upwards from them, so by looking around the map you can get a good idea of where they are. However, this does lead me onto the biggest issue with Snake Pass. The camera is incredibly poor. On many occasions I died, or failed to complete a puzzle as the camera was stuck in an awkward angle meaning I couldn’t control Noodle around the intricate climbing structure I was on. You can move the camera yourself to get the optimum view yourself, but is difficult to manoeuvre at the same time as Noodle. The camera also was not great in being able to zoom out to see your position in the world, and where you need to go in order to collect the next keystone.
There are save points throughout each level which are activated by Noodle slithering over them. I often found myself backtracking to save after completing a tricky section so as not to lose progress. Any collectible or keystone is lost of collected after the previous checkpoint, but, surprisingly, if a switch had been activated that new state remains.
Controlling Noodle the snake is relatively simple. The left stick controls the direction, RT moves him forward and the A button raises his head in order for him to climb. You can also use LT for some extra grip when needed, although I used this quite infrequently. The trick is to wrap Noodle around the item being climbed and then by “feathering” the right trigger move him slowly across it. On solid ground you will need to use the left stick to slither from left to right in order to move with some speed. Not doing so will move Noodle very slowly, which is useful on some occasions! Some puzzles can also be taken at speed, with Noodle moving over the wooden structures with the built up momentum. A press of the Y button brings Doodle into play and the hummingbird will fly in and lift your tail, which can be helpful if you are close to falling and will allow you to regain control.
As I mentioned previously there are other collectables to go for. Each realm has 20 wisps and 5 Gatekeeper coins. The wisps are not too difficult, as they will be in relative proximity to your route to the keystones. The Gatekeeper coins are the really difficult ones to get, as they are tucked away under bridges and on small ledges, requiring you to put Noodle’s life at stake.
As the game progresses new gameplay mechanics are introduced. For example, there will be a hole in the ground and a ball nearby and you will have to guide Noodle to knock the ball in the hole, which will act as a switch and open a new area of the realm. There are also lever and circular switches to activate which will move elements of the map around, again allowing you to reach unseen areas. These are introduced at a perfect pace, allowing you to master the control of Noodle at the start, before later levels become more challenging.
So lets move onto my verdict. I really like the gameplay of Snake Pass, but it can be an incredibly frustrating game, just due to the difficulty of some of the puzzles when partnered with how the character is controlled. I started off trying to collect every wisp and coin on every level, which quickly turned into getting the easy ones and by the end I was concentrating on the keystones only. I found Snake Pass to be hard, and although graphically it could be interpreted as a game for children I am not sure the difficulty level is suitable. I often started the game, played 1 level and then put it down to play something else as I felt my whole body was tensing up, almost as if I was the snake coiling around an object and holding on for dear life! But this is not meant in a negative way. I almost wished there were more levels. But that camera needs improving if there is to be a sequel!