The folks at Sumo Digital have taken a novel approach to the beloved mascot platformer of the N64 era, in by which they’ve gone and removed jumping altogether. In Snake Pass, players control Noodle the snake and slither and weave their way through branches and blocks in order to locate three hidden gems. Every stage presents an increasingly difficult obstacle course to navigate, but underneath the game’s beautifully colorful exterior and charming characters lies a game whose enjoyment will be largely dependent on your ability to adapt and appreciate its frustrating control scheme.
The vibrant aesthetic should come as no surprise, as Sumo Digital is to thank for the adorable platformer Little Big Planet 3, along with one of the best kart racers of all time (in my opinion), Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Snake Pass exudes color, particularly within its environments. Lush jungles pop with green overgrowth while warm colors fill the latter half of the game’s lava stages. Sumo Digital has completely shied away from the muted color palettes found within many AAA game spaces and instead have fully embraced the rich tones found in classic games like Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie.
Snake Pass is an absolute joy to look at on the TV, but the resolution takes a noticeable hit while playing undocked on the Nintendo Switch. Visuals appear blurry, which is a non-issue in TV-mode. The framerate doesn’t appear to be as smooth on the go either, making inputs and directional commands feel somewhat unresponsive.
The HD rumble provided by the Joy-Con is also a bit messy here, as the slightest contact in-game would send my controller into a violent quake that not only made playing in handheld mode extremely annoying but distracting for those around me. The HD rumble, for whatever reason, vibrates with such ferocity that it makes an excruciatingly (albeit comedically) loud buzzing sound. I also ran into an issue where the rumbling wouldn’t shut off for minutes at a time. For what it’s worth, I did not encounter this issue while using the Pro Controller; just the Joy-Con and only while in portable mode.
Unfortunately, that’s the least of Snake Pass’s problems. The awkward control scheme works against the game every step of the way.
Since jumping is entirely out of the question, players are tasked with navigating the game’s elaborate obstacle courses by thinking as a snake would. Noodle is moved in a forward motion by holding the ZR button, altering his horizontal direction using the left analog stick. It’s not as simple as using ZR to move forward, either. Rather, you’ll need to zig-zag the analog stick to send Noodle into a serpentine motion in order to build momentum. It’s realistic, sure, but it made the character feel a bit too weighty and sluggish to control. This is exacerbated by the frequent need to adjust the camera using the right analog.
Navigating the game’s landscapes often requires a lot of climbing, which is done using a combination of the above commands in addition to the introduction of the A button. Pressing this raises Noodle’s head and allows you to maneuver it around poles to support your weight and pull yourself along vertical surfaces. You’ll also have to contend with the “grip” command on the ZL button, which squeezes tight in your current position and allows you to swing Noodle’s head around for more precise climbing.
If just reading that was confusing, imagine trying to comprehend it in-game while maneuvering around a 3D space. In a little over 4 hours, my brain has yet to adapt to Snake Pass’s control scheme and I’ve found it to be more frustrating than enjoyable. I can see this being a fun game to break out if you have friends over who want to laugh at each other’s misfortune, but Snake Pass transitions from a relaxing, enjoyable collect-a-thon platformer to a downright infuriating experience that I found myself having to break away from on two separate occasions.
Ultimately, Snake Pass is a novel concept that frequently stumbles and trips over its own questionable controls. While beautiful at times, it sadly feels like an inferior product and an extremely disappointing experience when played portably on the Nintendo Switch. It certainly deserves praise for trying something new, but, unfortunately, the gamble doesn’t pay off this time around.
So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a Nintendo Switch copy of Snake Pass provided by the game’s PR company, Plan of Attack. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.