Let me introduce you to Noodle and Doodle.
They’re endearing, that’s for sure. I like them. I hope you do, too, as they’ll be occupying your screen for almost every second of Snake Pass. While this doesn’t leave a lot of room for story, it’s probably for the best.
The game begins as Doodle realizes there’s a keystone missing from a gate on their mountain, and promptly flies over to get Noodle for help. Noodle awakes from his serpentine slumber, and you’re off to find the missing keystones. Why these keystones are important, and why Noodle is the snake designated for the job are just two of many questions initially raised without answer, but satisfaction will not be coming from this game’s story.
No, not at all.
When you’re behind the wheel and in full control of the duo, the game is brilliant in execution. Noodle’s controls provide a weird sense of satisfaction thanks to Snake Pass‘s physics-based foundation. Just watching Noodle slither around is enough to verbally quiver in delight, and this feeling is augmented by the game’s simple control scheme. Moving your head left and right to travel in a serpentine pattern becomes second nature over time–much like any snake (that I’m aware of, there’s a lot of ’em), moving just straight doesn’t cover much distance.
Need a little height boost to get on top of that conveniently placed wooden scaffolding? Coil up on top of your own body, lift your head and slither on up. Or you could use your serpentine grip to ride along the edges of obstacles, but dancing with gravity has its caveats. Most restrictions of progress require confidence in your serpentine instincts, but it must be balanced with an understanding of your entire body in relation to gravity. Getting overzealous and gunning it is a risky yet possible tactic, just be sure to touch a checkpoint to save your progress before lunging yourself off a windmill.
If you feel yourself slipping, you can always call Doodle for help. With the press of a button the hummingbird will pick up Noodle’s tail to alleviate the weight off the back end of the snake’s body, effectively altering Noodle’s center of gravity so he can more easily regain control.
Levels are immaculate in their construction; the mountain is quick to turn into a playground for Noodle as both the game’s difficulty and your familiarity with its controls increase. Even the first couple environments that teach you how to play the game can provide a challenge from just a lone stick jutting out from a cliff side. Once you get the hang of it, it’s as appealing to control as it is to watch unfold, and that’s saying something.
Keystones aren’t the only thing to find, though. Bubbles and coins are scattered throughout each of the levels. Bubbles start off easy to acquire, but they definitely get better at hiding over time. But of the three collectible items, coins are the most enjoyable-and difficult-to reach. Some are simply stumbled upon in the nooks of the mountain, but most are placed in seemingly unreachable areas. Once you get close to it and assess the situation, you have to figure out how to touch it, often without a safety net below you–just death.
These challenges show Snake Pass at its best. Unfortunately, there’s nothing but the admittedly large sense of conquering satisfaction as a reward. Completing each region of levels will unlock a time trial mode for that section, but that’s the only unlockable besides the Snake Vision ability you receive for beating the last stage. Being able to see the location of every bubble and coin surely makes it easier to compete on the leader boards, but that competition is the only form of progression when you revisit levels.
Outside of a few suspicions about who could have possibly stolen all these missing keystones, though, not a lot happens; at least, not until the very end where almost all of the game’s story crash lands. You slither around one of the fifteen levels until you find the three keystones, bring them to the gate, then teleport to the next level. Every four levels or so, you’ll be rewarded with a rectangular stone tablet that surely does something, but Doodle grabs each one with a whimsical display of flight maneuvers before saying nothing about them. Every tablet is given under no pretense of purpose.
Snake Pass‘s cutscenes continue to present this same lackadaisical approach through the game’s entirety as small snippets of a red eye will, without warning, appear after a level’s completion. This mystery is uncovered at the end, but an absurd story arc coming around full circle is the only accomplishment Snake Pass has to offer aside from its gameplay.
It may not occupy much time, but Snake Pass would have been much better off omitting the story altogether. Without any explanation at all, the mind would be free to create its own narrative.
Snake Pass offers an absolutely fantastic combination of controls, mechanics, and level design that is worth every minute of exploration, just don’t expect anything else from it. Snake Pass‘s foundation of environmental traversal is brilliant, but that’s all.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a PS4 code from the publisher for the purpose of this review.