Friday, March 31, 2017

Snake Pass Review (Playstation 4)

Snake Pass: Paaaassss
Written by James Nicolay

Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer, Arcade
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sumo Digital
Also Available On: Nintendo Switch, XB1 and Steam

Sumo Digital, 2017, reviewed after 4 hours of play on PS4, 7 levels

While Snake Pass is a different kind of 3D platforming experience, the terrible controls, repetitive design stages, and the imbalance of game's difficulty make this potentially-good game hard to recommend. For now, unfortunately, maybe it deserves a passsss.

The initial five minutes of playing Snake Pass will charm any gamer. You control a cute snake with a cute name (Noodle); it looks friendly, cute, and helpless. Good thing, you're also introduced to a blue humming bird that you can summon to lift the end of Noodle's tail.

You crawl in curve-ish ways to pick up speed, you press L2 to make traction firmer, you cling and slide around makeshift bamboo stick platforms, and collect three types of collectibles: 3 jewels to open the portal, about 20-30 blue blobs, and 5 golden coins in every level.

Strange enough, there have been no enemies yet in the levels I have played. Every level introduces new challenges: some diving areas, rotating platforms, switches for new areas; but two things are certain in every level, Noodle gets difficulty traversing from point to point and, most likely, you're going to fall to your death--because for some reason, all stages are built up in a floating island above the sky.

The basic flaw in this game, unfortunately, is the terrible controls that players are given. Initially, I went with the normal controls where I have to continuously press R2 in order to make Noodle crawl forward. I found out three levels later (and many deaths in between), that there is an easier control mode where pressing R2 is optional, and you just use the left stick in order to control Noodle. To me this is a strange decision from the developers in making the controls difficult for normal mode, especially when the basic gameplay revolves around two things: getting around the stage and collecting stuff in order to open the portal.

And it's not as if getting ALL the collectibles in a level is doable. Some seem designed to just frustrate the player, even as early as level 1, where the five golden coins seem to be either out of reach or you will have to die at least a dozen of times in order to collect them. Yeah, you unlock maybe a trophy/achievement for doing this--but from what I've seen, there is no real reward that feels great for the gamer for performing these extra challenges of getting the difficult unlockables.

The stage designs get boring really quickly. It seems as if the developers easily run out of ideas (or budget) for designing different looking stages. The moldy, ancient, temple-ish environment is repeated in my seven-level run, and the new elements being added are not really something to look forward to.

Lastly, the game's difficulty is just not great. I feel that this is a common problem for many indie game developers. Having been spoiled by the great designs and balance of many Nintendo games, I think that I always go by with the idea that the levels of video games should have a slow increase in difficulty with some direct proportional increase in the gamer's mastery of controls and, if possible, the power of the game character.

This is where Snake Pass ultimately disappoints. It is already very difficult to control Noodle as the platforms are either too limiting or maybe designed for advanced players, as early as the first four levels. Many frustrations I experienced in the game are really just making Noodle go forward from Point A to Point B. And you know that the game is bad when going from Point A to Point B can take at least 15 minutes of your time, right?

You might remember how when one starts playing video games, your hands, arms, and body sometimes directly follows the movement you want your character to do? This is how I actually played Snake Pass in first few levels. My neck seems to also follow my controlling of Noodle's head raising, as if my body movement in real life would help Noodle also reach whatever platform he needs to reach. And when he falls, I scream expletives and would wish how the game developers could have made this slightly easier.

All my life I have loved platforming games. These games require smooth precision, good controls, proper timing, and overall interesting stages because they hardly have any kind of rewarding story for the gamers to be interested in. And this is where Snake Pass fails as a game. Nothing is interesting after spending four hours with it and it gets excruciatingly painful to play. It's an odd ball platforming game where the saving graces are probably just the cute character and the potential of the game that could have been better if the developers were more sympathetic to the gamer.

I swear, while playing the game, it makes me pity all the snakes in the world. The friction and balance of weight, the inability to jump, and the lack of more interesting movements--what a hassle it is to be a snake!

I do applaud the original idea of the game developers. I wish, though, that they have tested Snake Pass more to be playable to more gamers of different levels of expertise. Maybe a striking balance of ease of levels, interesting platforms, and maybe some power-ups would be nice additions if they come up with Snake Pass sequel.

Score: 2.5/5