While most Switch owners quietly enjoyed the day-one games on offer, there were a vocal group more than happy to share what was wrong with the launch. Lack of titles would undoubtedly be fixed with time, but the main complaint was that there were far too few new experiences, with most titles being ports of older games. Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass was the first simultaneously released multi-platform third party game to hit the Switch, and, with that, focus could be shifted to comparing it to the other home consoles on the market.
For those not in the know, the Nintendo Switch doesn’t have the graphical strength of either the PS4 or the Xbox One, and you only need to take a look at the size of the consoles to see why. So does Snake Pass look as good as the offerings on the other consoles? No. The Switch version doesn’t have depth of field outside of the cutscenes, shadows and lighting are clearly at a lower quality, and – what’s getting the most attention of people online – the game runs at a much lower resolution.
It’s a bit of a lose-lose situation for Sumo Digital. Should they remove further detail from the game to keep a higher resolution, or lose the frame-rate to keep the game looking crisp and aim for closer parity to the other consoles? With the Switch docked, Snake Pass runs at a sub-720p resolution, and drops even further when undocked, all to maintain a healthy frame-rate. With a healthy dose of anti-aliasing the game doesn’t even look as bad as those numbers might imply, and the cartoony style of Snake Pass simply isn’t reduced by Sumo Digital’s decision, so let’s move on.
Snake Pass takes a lot of inspiration from some late-90s platformers in regards to its colourful style and charming characters. Noodle and his hummingbird companion Doodle are out to… save the world? Okay, look, Snake Pass doesn’t exactly have the story to go along with the gameplay. Sumo Digital clearly wanted to make a cutesy puzzle-based snake simulator, and “return the gems to the shrine at the end of each level” was really all the motivation they need to give the player, as your focus will be on the controls from start to end.
It all starts out easy enough. You aim Noodle’s head with the left analog stick, and pressing R will him move in that direction. But like any good snake, you’re not going to go far without a good slither. Moving the analog stick left to right with the R-button pressed is the only way you’ll get Noodle where you want him to go. Once you’ve got that motion down you’re then informed that holding the A-button will have Noodle lifting his head, and that you’ll want to wrap Noodle around posts and poles to get anywhere.
Right now the mental gymnastics you’re doing to try and understand this control system is on par with the snake gymnastics you’ll need to pull off to get through each level. The control system is new and difficult, and it’s almost unfair how quickly the game expects you to pick up and understand them. You’ll breeze through the first stage only to find out that you missed a few collectibles, and you’ll learn that you won’t be able to grab them with your current experience with the controls.
This is a great way to get players back into early stages and to increase replayability, but simply completing stages will become a challenge to anyone venturing past the 4th or 5th. Each stage has a few checkpoints available that tracks what you’ve collected so far, but even they won’t save you from the frustration of falling to your death. The problem here isn’t that the controls are unique, confusing, or downright hard to master – it’s that the game doesn’t give you a chance to master them.
The game is at its best in the early stages, where you have the ability to make mistakes without penalty. When you start understanding the controls and traverse up a ladder made of bamboo and rope, there’s a level of satisfaction that simply doesn’t exist in other games. Mastering controls to do something as basic as moving isn’t something most gamers are used to and it’s going to lead to frustration, and possibly people never wanting to finish.
For those who persevere and manage to find themselves one with the controls – those that embody the life of a snake – you’ll likely look back on this as a hidden gem that was glossed over by far too many. Personally it’s a game that I enjoy; one that I want to finish but never will. The pain of dropping to my death and losing minutes of progress for the eighth time, because my fingers just couldn’t keep up, outweighs the immense joy I got from succeeding on the ninth attempt.