PAX East 2017: Snake Pass is The First Great Herpetological Platformer [Preview]Payton Knobeloch |
When I think of kicking back and relaxing, snakes would not be the first thing that come to mind. But putting the team behind LittleBigPlanet 3 in charge of a slithery puzzle-platformer may give it enough charm to change Indiana Jones’ mind.
Snake Pass follows the adventures of the reptilian Noodle and his hummingbird friend Doodle, which may be the most adorable sentence I’ve written today. The player guides Noodle over, under and around obstacles, moving from level to level and picking up a bounty of hidden collectibles.
On first glance, the game is a bit slow-going. The controls take a bit to get used to, because honestly, they’re not like anything I’ve played. The left stick aims Noodle’s head, the right trigger moves him forward, the left trigger tenses his muscles and one button lifts up his head. There’s also a button that has Doodle pick up the tail, shifting your center of gravity entirely.
If that sounds like a lot to wrap your head around, it is. I spent much of my time playing feeling out what I could and couldn’t do, falling off the level just to test the limits. But once I had a sense of how best to move around ladders and obstacles, it felt right.
The team at Sumo Digital encourages players to “think like a snake,” but in playing that feels more like a requirement than a fun marketing campaign. If you try to move straight up a vertical wall, you’re going to have a bad time; but wrapping your body around pegs and tightening your muscles from time to time not only helps, it moves you more quickly and fluidly.
Snake Pass gets the slithering mechanics down. Designer David Dino told me Noodle is constructed of about 35 collision spheres tied together – that’s a whole lot of articulation. According to the team’s website, that character work is a love letter to game creator and former biology teacher Seb Liese’s childhood pet snake.
The final game is set to feature some voice acting and a score by former Rare composer David Wise, known for the Donkey Kong Country series. I’m looking forward to hearing it, but trying the game out on the crowded PAX floor didn’t make it easy to listen when I was playing.
Wise isn’t the game’s only connection to Rare. The team wants to evoke the look and feel of old Rare platformers on the Nintendo 64, and for the most part they nail it; but Snake Pass’s mechanics would only work on modern tech.
You wouldn’t be wrong in being reminded of another bright platformer inspired by old Rare games coming out this spring. Playing Snake Pass, it’s hard not to compare it to Yooka-Laylee. But rather than assume an Overwatch-Battleborn marketing issue, I see it as nothing but a positive for gamers. There are plenty of reasons to love the old Rare games, and this year we get two wildly distinct takes on the subject. Snake Pass and Yooka-Laylee play so differently from each other that, if the rest of the game stacks up to the demo, we’ll get twice the throwback charm.
While I didn’t see the Xbox One version (available at the booth), I did see the PlayStation 4 version in action, and played my demo on the Switch. The idea of playing Snake Pass on the go is a huge draw for me, but the game was only playable with the Pro Controller on the TV. It runs fine on the Switch, but the PS4 Pro version has a crispness and smoothness that really does the game’s art style justice.
Nevertheless, Snake Pass feels like a relaxed, charming game that has the potential to be the perfect palate cleanser for a rough day. Look at the grin on Noodle’s face and you’ll see what I mean.
Snake Pass will be out on March 28 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch.