GDC 2017 Hands-On Preview: Snake Pass (Switch)

Soon slithering to a Switch near you!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/07/2017 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Snake Pass is aiming for a March 28 launch date that can’t get here soon enough, in my eyes. The title is a puzzle-platformer action game coming from Sumo Digital. The studio is perhaps known best by Nintendo fans as the developer of the highly enjoyable Sonic & Sega All-Stars racing games. I went into the demo at this year’s Game Developers Conference without a firm concept of what the game would be like. I knew that legendary composer David Wise, famous in particular for his work on the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, was onboard for music duties. I also knew that the game was being developed using Unreal Engine, which is a nod to the power knocking around under the hood of Nintendo’s latest console, Switch. Heck, I was even savvy to the cute duo of Noodle the snake and Doodle the hummingbird who are acting as the game’s heroes! Beyond that, though, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect.

Thankfully, two of the team members hard at work on Snake Pass, Tom Davis and David Dino, were kind enough to get me off on the right foot with the game. Though the game will be appearing on other hardware, the Switch version is what Sumo Digital brought to the show; apparently, this iteration of Snake Pass is garnering the most interest from fans! With good reason, I should think, as the influence of N64-era mascot platformers is apparent straight away. I couldn’t help but think of titles like Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64 as I got Noodle slithering his way around the environment. I will say that the control scheme wasn’t entirely clear to me at first. I pressed buttons and moved control sticks to no avail until David went through the basic controls with me.

In a nod to Sumo Digital’s racing game past, Noodle is propelled forward by pressing the ZR button. While that gets him going, what really sets the snake to slithering is using the left control stick to make the character wiggle left and right to create momentum. Like a real snake, Noodle needs to move to and fro in order to move around. This attention to detail permeates every inch of Snake Pass’s control scheme. Noodle can rise and pivot in 360 degree, use his tail as an anchor, and is even capable of being partially lifted up by his bird partner Doodle to get an extra boost of speed. The controls, once I understood the basics, didn’t take long for me to become accustomed to, and before I knew it I was able to make complicated maneuvers like grasping onto a spinning spire and snagging nearby treasures.

David likened the stages to the castle grounds of Super Mario 64, which was a safe space for players to explore and learn the controls for their favorite plumber. Snake Pass’s stages are laden with nooks and crannies to explore, hidden goodies to find, and a ton of environmental hazards to navigate, but without any pesky enemies around to deal with. It’s still possible to die, most notably by falling into an endless abyss (which happened to me more than once), but other than that Sumo Digital has left the stages barren so that players can focus instead on puzzle solving and locating the game’s hidden treasures. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and one that I really enjoyed during my time playing. Not every game can work without antagonists, but Snake Pass’s engaging play mechanics and puzzles left me indifferent to the lack of external attackers.

The levels are tiered so that they continuously ramp up in difficulty the deeper a player goes. I started off on an easy stage before moving on to a tougher one, and the difference in challenge was notable. Not in an unfair way, either, but a natural progressive curve that acknowledges the player’s skill growth. By the time I’d finished the first stage, I’d learned enough about how to control Noodle and Doodle that I was able to grapple with the more difficult puzzles being thrown my way. Along with the exemplary gameplay, the other half of the fun I had playing Snake Pass was in enjoying its lush graphics. The game is gorgeous; detailed environments lush with foliage and clear, shimmering water had my eyes glued to the screen. Doodle and Noodle are both incredibly charming, and I was especially pleased by Sumo Digital’s nod to its time working on LittleBigPlanet, as with the tap of a button Noodle’s facial expressions can change!

I walked away from Snake Pass very impressed; the game feels polished and ready to dazzle. Thankfully the title will be coming within Switch’s launch window, meaning early adopters don’t have long to wait before the next can’t-miss piece of software lands. Hopefully the remainder of the game’s 15 levels are as entertaining and fun as what I experienced at GDC. Keep it posted to Nintendojo for the latest on Snake Pass as it creeps closer to launch, and keep it tuned here for a full review of the title once it finally bows!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Log In 0 points Log in or register to grow your Ninja Score while interacting with our site.
Nintendojo's RSS Feeds

All Updates Podcast
News Comments
Like and follow usFacebookTwitter Friend Code Exchange + Game with Us Join the Team!