Snake Pass came along at the perfect time in my life. This week, I’ve been ripping and tearing through my third playthrough of DOOM (2016) in an effort to find every single secret in the game. iD’s masterpiece is of course bombastic, barbaric, and most of all metal: Snake Pass is none of these things. While, like DOOM, it manages to sate my appetite for collectibles and secret areas, it’s also a relaxing, feel-good experience of the highest order. After banging my way through hell once again, Snake Pass feels like a warm, soapy bath – with perhaps a little incense burning near the tub – after a long and strenuous climb up a mountain. It’s not violent; there aren’t any loud noises or jump scares. It’s just a chill, leisurely platformer with that nostalgic PS2-era charm. I adore it.
The player-character of Snake Pass, Noodle, is (naturally) a cute and expressive snake. He’s accompanied by a hummingbird, who occasionally chirps useful tips and can help the snake out of slippery situations. Noodle’s goal in each level is simply to find three keystones, which together open a portal to the next level. Along the way, the player can choose to collect bubbles, which are littered around the map, and coins, which are fewer in number and hidden in especially precarious positions. That’s it! There’s no excess bloat to this game: Sumo Digital has delivered an exceptionally focused adventure that concentrates on pure fun.
Snake Pass’s core gameplay loop is deceptively simple, and though it’s quite easy to pick up and play, true mastery will take practice. As Noodle, you can pick up speed by moving side-to-side, climb up tall bamboo structures by wrapping yourself around the wood, and slither over tight pathways. You can tighten your grip to help produce upward momentum, or ask your hummingbird companion to lift your tail if you’re about to fall. By combining these basic movement mechanics, you can overcome most obstacles with a little persistence. This movement system is clearly the product of an enormous investment of time and effort on Sumo’s part. It’s not only a unique core mechanic for a platformer, but also a perfectly executed centerpiece for a game with the unofficial mantra “think like a snake.”
During most of my playthrough, I sported a wide grin mirroring that of Noodle himself (though without the forked tongue and with minimal hissing). However, like any great platformer, Snake Pass has its frustrating moments where the player is forced to come to terms with his or her inadequacies. Your hummingbird “friend” will often summarily refuse his tail-lifting services to Noodle right when his need is greatest. You will inevitably find yourself cursing the little bird, along with the next three generations of his family. The trip up (or down) to some of the more perilously placed coins will produce a curious clenching sensation in the nether regions of your anatomy. Like Dark Souls or Breath of the Wild, Snake Pass is not shy about dealing out death to the over-ambitious or under-skilled player. Fortunately, Noodle’s wide-eyed scream as a he falls to his doom is inexplicably hilarious, every time.
Sumo has avoided inducing too much rage by fostering an upbeat, whimsical ambiance that encourages happy thoughts. Cheerful and catchy jungle tunes replete with xylophones, pan flutes, maracas, and offbeat rhythm guitars accompany Noodle throughout his journey. Occasionally, a layered synth theme or acoustic guitar melody creeps into the mix. On the whole, the soundtrack is complex yet carefree, and I can’t get enough of it. The sound effects are quite evocative too. Noodle will grimace and groan when expending a lot of effort, and he’ll yelp with terror if he starts losing his grip over a bottomless void.
The color palette is rich and vibrant; it’s almost acrylic in its brilliance. Snake Pass is truly reminiscent of a bygone age, when gaudy titles like Crash Bandicoot and Rachet & Clank were in vogue. It’s all tastefully done, though, and the graphics are attractive on both PC and Switch. Unsurprisingly, there are no performance issues to be found on either platform. On the Switch, the colors are a bit washed out compared to the PC version, but this is simply different and not especially problematic.
Upon completion, each level will reward you with a shamelesssssss snake-related pun based on the number of collectibles you’ve found. Cheekily-named achievements are awarded for various embarrassing mistakes, such as “Can’t You Read?” for falling near a danger sign, or “Pedantic Progress” for placing keystones in the gate one at a time. It’s all in good fun, though: after all, everything in Snake Pass contributes to the lighthearted mood in some way. There are also a few hidden achievements, none of which I’ve managed to obtain so far.
After you complete the fourth level, a time trial mode with leaderboards is unlocked. This is especially nice for speed-runners, who will undoubtedly be attracted to this game. There’s plenty of skill inherent in knowing the exact locations of every collectible, the fastest ways to get to them, and the most efficient path to complete each level. I’m sure that YouTube and Twitch content creators will have a field day making videos about tying themselves in knots, or completing levels in record time.
Each successive level introduces greater difficulty, and occasionally a new mechanic. For example, some levels require Noodle to dive underwater and navigate caves to find collectibles, while others incorporate puzzles and switches. These add variety to Snake Pass without compromising its focus, which is ultimately the movement of the snake. Rather than distracting from the main gameplay, puzzles allow the player to apply their practiced movement skills in ways that are unexpected, which only adds depth and longevity to the game.
Snake Pass is endearing, it controls well, and it’s tons of fun, but most of all it’s relaxing in an almost meditative sense. I can see myself returning to the serenity of this game after a rough day’s work or an aggravating trip through a TSA checkpoint. It’s also a bargain at $20, given the many hours you’re likely to spend playing if you want to find every single collectible. I can’t recommend this title enough, especially for Switch owners who are disappointed with the console’s diminutive selection. Snake Pass has me hypnotized, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Sumo’s future releases.
For more on this game, check out our interview with Seb Liese, designer at Sumo Digital and creator of Snake Pass.
Disclaimer: We received a free review code from Sumo Digital.