Looks can certainly be deceiving. On its surface, Snake Pass looks to be a cutesy platformer arriving just before the long-awaited Yooka-Laylee. To say this would not only be wrong but also an injustice. Don't judge a book by its cover; Snake Pass is a moderate to challenging platformer that demands you master its control scheme in order to complete it.
Devoid of any real story, the objectives in Snake Pass are like other platformers where you collect objects and move onto the next level. There are three things to grab as you slither your way through 15 levels. Orbs make you move faster (although I do not notice much of a difference), coins that serve no other purpose than to challenge your skills, and gemstones that unlock the next level. This is standard platforming fare, but collecting all of these items is easier said than done due to the unique controls.
Our hero Noodle's controls are more complicated than just moving the left stick or a D-pad. Holding the right trigger moves Noodle forward, but that alone will get you to your destination quite slowly. If you want to act like a snake, you must move like a snake. Moving the left stick side-to-side in a slithering motion will help Noodle pick up speed and traverse the environment more quickly. Not exactly an ideal movement scheme but the controls grew on me and I really appreciate what the developers were going for here.
Of course, slithering on the ground is just the beginning. In order to reach collectibles and further areas in the game, you're going to have to traverse the environment. Poles are scattered throughout every level and you'll need to wrap Noodle around them in order to progress. This is done with a combination of the left trigger to grip the object and the A button (on an Xbox One controller) in order to lift your head. Combine these two with moving forward with the right trigger and you have a control scheme that, on paper sounds complicated, but is actually easier than you think. The controls do take some time to get used to, but when you get the hang of it the various challenges becomes fun and engaging.
Getting to your objective is easier said than done. Going up and down platforms is not always as simple as it looks. Learning to alternate between gripping and moving is necessary to safely move to opposing platforms. This technique is absolutely essential in the last half of the game when hazards such as fire and spikes come into play. Deciding how and when to move becomes an engaging challenge as you get past the first few levels. Speaking of, the level design in the earlier stages give you some room for error should you fail to reach your destination. This seems appropriate for learning the ropes (hell, you are the rope). But the training wheels come off in the last half of the game as you'll find yourself wrapping around poles and transferring to another set with nothing below to catch you. Paying attention to your positioning will be key as if you are not careful, you will tip forwards to your doom. Well, at least to the last checkpoint.
These checkpoints are placed somewhat sporadically, and just getting to them is an accomplishment on its own. You can go revisit a checkpoint at any time to resave your latest progress, which is highly recommended since every death takes all the collectibles gained up to the last save point. Respawns are generally fairly quick and you'll be back out slithering your way in no time.
It may take a bit, but I found the controls to grow on me as I progressed. Snake Pass gets you through easy on the first level and gradually presents you with more challenging platforms and puzzles. Even with the challenge increasing it rarely feels overbearing. Overcoming a difficult maneuver feels rewarding and you get a sense of accomplishment when navigating over the bottomless pits below.
Don't forget about Doodle, the Hummingbird who can save Noodle's skin during his adventure. Doodle can help lift Noodle's back end, helping out in some situations where you need just a little lift to get onto a platform. Be careful, as this maneuver can also backfire if you use it in the wrong places.
As the levels progress, you'll be constantly challenged to climb and descend various obstacles using your limited set of abilities. Underwater segments find their way into Snake Pass but fortunately, they are short and do not overstay their welcome. Coins become harder to find later in the game and getting to them is a task on its own. While not required to finish Snake Pass, it might be best to pass on these for now. You can always go back and 100 percent the game once you've mastered the controls.
As with many platformers, the camera here in Snake Pass can be an issue at times. With things like walls and vertical spaces, you will have to constantly rotate the camera to get a good view of what you're doing. This would normally not be a problem but the last thing you want to do while maneuvering over a pit is fix the camera. As someone who grew up on problematic cameras back on the Nintendo 64, this does not bother me as much as it might others. Not a game breaker by any means, but you really don't want the camera to be a hindrance in a game that requires precise movement.
Presentation wise, Snake Pass plays it safe. The visuals don't push the limits of any of the consoles but they are colorful and clean. Levels do not distinguish themselves too much apart from design. If you are looking for a variety of environments, you won't find it here. The animation on Noodle looks great and his facial expressions not only convey a little character but reflect a bit on gameplay. Usually sporting a "chill" look, you'll start to see Noodle show and voice concern when falling off of a platform. Visual and audio cues like this don't necessarily make the game better but I always enjoy the attention to detail.
Even with its setbacks, Snake Pass succeeds in trying to be different from the normal platformer. A unique control scheme and the sometimes obnoxious camera might bring the experience down at times, but beyond some light issues is a challenging platformer looking to set itself apart. With a little bit of time and patience, you'll find the charm of Snake Pass slithering into your heart.
+ Nice, clean look
+ Fun and challenging
+ Control is unique and different...
- ..which takes a bit to get used to
- The camera has issues in tight spaces
Played on PC: 6 hours
Available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC (via Steam)