Ah, the age of the 3D platformer. Things were simpler back then: we had Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and – of course – Gex. Oh, how we laughed along with the latter little scamp through his adventures – one of them containing Red Dwarf actor Danny John-Jules and a former Playboy model in FMV. Truly a game that could've only been made in the late 90s.
Unfortunately, Snake Pass isn't Gex 4 – but it is a modern twist on an age-old formula. Indeed, what's most striking about Sumo Digital's latest is that it looks so familiar, yet plays much differently than any game made before.
Jumping into the story of Snake Pass, you could be forgiven for thinking that you're back on the PSone – in a good way, of course. Unreal Engine 4 keeps the game looking beautiful and running fluidly, but the release's vibrant world – with its skyblue water, leafy green flora, and cartoonish style – is an echo of platformers past, and absolutely charming to boot. The mellow, cheery soundtrack from former Rare composer David Wise only accentuates this charisma
This retro feel contrasts dramatically with the gameplay, however. Playing as Noodle the snake, you control your slithering self by using right trigger to accelerate while wiggling yourself side-to-side using the left stick in order to gain and maintain speed. Holding the X button lifts Noodle's head up, while holding the left trigger increases your grip. The fact that your bird companion flutters around the world with you and perches itself on different parts of the environment not only aids you by guiding you, but also adds to the charm.
This unique control scheme – and the unique gameplay in general – is incredibly refreshing in this age of stale sandboxes; Sumo Digital has found an experimental gimmick and turned it into an entire game, yet it never gets old. In fact, the gameplay almost feels rhythmic at times as you slither from side to side and shuffle up and down bamboo poles.
Throughout your adventure you'll have to climb many areas and evade obstacles such as lava pits, as well as activate switches, although this is about as complicated as things get – all you need to do to beat a level in Snake Pass is to find the three gate gems required to open a portal to the next level. Though the game doesn't have many puzzle segments per se, controlling Noodle is itself a puzzle in a fun, Surgeon Simulator-style way. Climbing is especially tricky, but once you get into the swing – or, rather, slither – of things, it feels very satisfying.
While the game's campaign is rather short, it finds some longevity in its collectibles. 20 bubbles and five golden coins are hidden in each stage – the latter in some very devilish places – and while it feels rewarding to find them, this is where much of the game's problems lie.
The camera, for starters, is rather hard to wrestle with when you're already putting a lot of effort into the game's control scheme, and the fact that many of the coins are hidden on precarious ledges at the edge of the level map means that you'll often have to contort it into awkward positions, only for it to move ever so slightly in the most annoying way. This inevitably leads to deaths, and while it is somewhat charming to see Noodle cartoonishly yelp into the bright blue abyss, it does get tiresome when it happens frequently.
That leads rather nicely to the next issue: checkpoints. There's a fine line between unforgiving and just plain unfair, and Snake Pass veers towards the latter. Respawns are few and far between, as well as being in remote places that require long amounts of slithering to get to and from. This problem combined, with the devilish difficulty of trying to get all five golden coins in a level, often leads to red faces and broken controllers.
These problems are a shame, of course, but it's almost impossible to hate Snake Pass because of its sheer charm. Everything – from its innovative movement system to its idyllic graphical style – is just too pleasant to get annoyed at.
For all of its flaws, Snake Pass represents an admirable attempt at blending the past and the present. Its anthropomorphic characters, jubilant worlds, and atmospheric soundtrack all scream of eras past, yet its movement system and excellent controls are things of the future. Those willing to slither past the checkpoint and camera issues will find an enjoyable and heartwarming nostalgic adventure. Snake Pass shall pass.