In order to play Super Mario Bros., one does not have to think like an Italian plumber. The player does not have to think like a blue cartoon forest critter to speed through levels in Sonic the Hedgehog. But to play Snake Pass, you absolutely have to "think like a snake."
At least in terms of movement, every action on behalf of playable snake Noodle feels unlike anything ever before felt in platformers and adventure games. In terms of control, Snake Pass is one of the most original games in concept and execution. But does premise hold up to promise?
Disregarding some camera issues, the answer is a resounding yes.
In Snake Pass, the player takes control of Noodle, a carefree, big-eyed coiler called into action by his hummingbird pal Doodle because magical artifacts have gone missing in their floating island home of Haven Tor. It's a simple setup, and it gives way to an addicting puzzle-solving, platforming adventure, which has to be one of the most creative control schemes implemented in the gaming world in recent memory.
Moving Noodle back and forth to gain momentum with nudges of the analog stick is satisfying itself, but once raising Noodle's head to twist amongst the variety of bamboo structures comes into play, Snake Pass's way of maneuvering through a three-dimensional space starts to compete with the polish and precision which the likes of Mario is used to.
The main difference in Snake Pass is that the controls are more complicated, largely because no other game has likely ever attempted them. Holding a trigger to move forward and working the analog stick in subtle ways that have deadly repercussions if nudged the wrong way needs room for the player's learning curve. Thankfully, the first world of Snake Pass is easy and fun to pick up for anyone interested in trying out a new gameplay mechanic.
Sumo Digital's physics for this game are marvelous, as switches, levers, and balls all react believably against the environment and Noodle's movements. Other assets come into play in later levels, such as water that allows Noodle to dive and swim freely like a water snake, hot coals that burn him, and wind that is implemented as both an obstacle and an assistant.
Noodle is accompanied by a support character, a hummingbird named Doodle, who does everything a partner character should and nothing more. Doodle sets up a quick layer of exposition for the game's simple narrative, provides quick tutorials only when needed, and interacts with Noodle by picking up his tail to save Noodle from a fall or make a puzzle a tad bit easier.
The duo charm is certainly reminiscent, and wonderfully so, of Rareware's classic Banjo-Kazooie franchise, but that's not all that returns from that era. Composer David Wise brings six tracks to the table, and they are all masterpieces worth listening to for the hours the player will likely spend in the floating islands of Haven Tor.
Snake Pass is also gorgeous to look at. Unreal Engine 4 does the world justice in every respect, from providing vibrant color to the levels to making everything Noodle interacts with perfectly responsive.
The only element of Snake Pass that is sometimes not so perfect is the camerawork. As levels progress and get more complicated (with more collectible secrets and pathways to hide), on occasion the camera does not know how to keep up with the action, or at least not in the exact angle the player would prefer. That being said, the camera can easily be controlled manually for the majority of the experience. Rotating the other analog stick is well-suited for helping Noodle find every Wisp and Gatekeeper Coin that awaits him.
Replayablity is not only a factor for Snake Pass in terms of going back and finding everything one missed, but also because this title is wholly unique and stands proudly as one of the most fun to play games released this year.
The Verdict: A Fun Time Never Before Seen
Snake Pass is a game that anyone who enjoys 3D platformers should experience. Everything in the game works around its engrossing gameplay mechanics of slithering around, coiling up bamboo structures, and solving other puzzles with Noodle's flexible body. While some camera issues become a real problem in later worlds, the finicky behavior of the camera does not pop up too often and can be combated with manual control of the camera most of the time. If the player is willing to work through a learning curve that needs to be longer than most others in order to be brilliant in concept and thrilling in execution for the gamer, then Snake Pass is a beautifully unique game that should not be missed.