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Snake Pass: hands-on preview

Forget the reborn Nokia 3310; Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass is the snake game you need and it’s slithering onto the Nintendo Switch.

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Snake Pass - preview

Forget the reborn Nokia 3310; Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass is the snake game you need and it’s slithering onto the Nintendo Switch.

It was amusing to note that some of the biggest crowds at GDC’s Unreal Engine booth were for Snake Pass, the cute puzzle platformer from Sumo Digital.

One reason was surely to do with the game being demoed on Nintendo Switch, giving many visitors their first chance to see the new console jst before its official launch. Another is that Snake Pass is just so intoxicating to watch, pulling in conference attendees with the hypnotic allure of The Jungle Book’s Kaa.

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Snake Pass was debuted at last year’s EGX Rezzed Expo in London where it drew praise for its colourful looks, but it also confused some players with its idiosyncratic control scheme. A year on and the game is nearing completion, due for release at the end of March.

Taking control of Noodle the Snake, the objective of Snake Pass is to solve puzzles, clear a number of collectables from each stage, and then head for the exit. Easy to do if you’re an Italian plumber, but not so simple if you’re a snake with 35 points of articulation.

Snake Pass is one of a recent crop of games to draw inspiration from popular 3D platformers of the late ‘90s. Like the upcoming Yooka-Laylee, it evokes classics like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and Crash Bandicoot.

Snake Pass

This latest build – yes, that is Unreal Engine 4 running on the Nintendo Switch – has come a long way since its Rezzed debut. Based on player feedback the controls have been revised (although the original configuration remains an option) and the game’s visuals have received a subtle but sparkling makeover. The near-final product is one of those rare games that is as fun to watch as it is to play.

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The objective of the early level we played was clear enough: collect three items and unlock the path to the next stage. But just as Super Monkey Ball was never quite as simple as ‘roll though the gate’, guiding Noodle to his objective is never as easy as you initially think. The layout and structure of the game’s environments have a number of obstacles to overcome, including bamboo climbing frames, hills, water hazards and pipes, with more devious challenges promised for later levels.

Snake Pass

Noodle the Snake remains slightly unwieldy to control but the effect is now satisfying, rather than irritating. There’s a pleasing, tactile connection between the player and Noodle’s physics-based movement, charmingly termed ’snake physics’ by the developers. Curling, stretching and slithering Noodle around the environment relies as much on feel and instinct as it does on knowing which buttons to press. There’s no doubt that the game’s controls will still take some time to master, but they are now much easier to grasp and, most importantly, feel just about perfect.

The game’s leisurely pace and learning curve mark it out from other titles of a similar ilk and for me, that’s something to appreciate. It’s a game that looks to reward the player’s patience and gradual understanding of its quirks.

Snake Pass looks the part too. The game is vibrant and colourful with plenty of impressive environmental flourishes. Noodle – and his friend, Doodle the Hummingbird – are also beautifully animated, with a pleasing sense of weight and solidity. This isn’t the sort of photo-realistic, tech demo-style visuals we’ve come to expect from Unreal Engine games, but it highlights the versatility of the engine and proves that great-looking games can come in all shapes and sizes.

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Snake Pass is the kind of experience that feels right at home on a Nintendo console. It’s probably a game that would have either been too hard – or not worth the bother – to bring to Wii U, but one that now has the chance to be an early Switch highlight. Fortunately, it will also be coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows 10 PC when it’s released on March 28, 2017.

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Thumbsticks editor and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Eastward.

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