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Nintendo Switch Snake Pass has Confounding Controls, but is Still Really Fun

Sumo Digital’s very inventive serpentine platformer is one to watch.

Article by Jaz Rignall, .

Although I'm supposed to be writing about Snake Pass, I can't resist but convey my excitement about the fact that I've finally gotten my grubby mitts on a Nintendo Switch. Yeah, I'm really late to the party, I know, but what can I say? Like many of you, I've read much about Nintendo's hybrid console, but up until this point haven't actually had a chance to check out the system in person. But here I am, holding a joy-con, about to play Sumo Digital's upcoming game.

It's funny – the system itself is a little smaller than I thought it would be, but the joy-cons are slightly larger than I'd been led to believe. By all accounts, I thought they were going to be tiny, but actually they're not too bad, and fit into the palm of my hands quite comfortably. I'm sure those with giant ham fists will probably disagree with my sentiments, but I think they're small, but perfectly formed.

But I digress. I'm actually here to talk about Snake Pass, which is set to hit Nintendo Switch – along with PC, PS4, and Xbox One – on March 28th. As the title suggests, the game stars a snake (who's called Noodle), and it's basically a 3D platformer with a serpentine twist. At first glance it looks a little like an N64 throwback – its bright colors and simple visuals evoke memories of classics like Banjo-Kazooie – but Snake Pass is definitely not a retro-game.

As I start to guide Noodle along the ground, I'm immediately a little confused. The impressively large snake slithers in whichever direction I hold the joystick, but very slowly. If I move the stick back and forth as he slides, he picks up steam and starts to move a little faster. It's not particularly intuitive, but I eventually get the hang of it, and begin to snake my way along the ground in earnest.

I soon reach a bamboo construct that has a blue glowing orb floating above it, and I know what I need to do. However, climbing up the rickety scaffolding is a real challenge. I coil my way around its base, and use the A button to lift my head so I can hook it over a lateral beam, and then continue to curl around it, with the rest of Noodle's body following. But as I reach up to touch the glowing orb, I over-extend, and no longer have enough grip to hang on, and fall to the ground in a heap.

The controls are a little difficult to get to grips with, but they're nevertheless very cleverly designed: Noodle is apparently constructed of over 30 individual segments that have their own grip and resistance. Sumo Digital calls this "Snake Physics," and it basically delivers an incredibly tactile control scheme that enables Noodle to wind himself around objects and grip onto them just as a snake does. It's unlike anything I've previously experienced before, and while doesn't make the game easy to pick up and play, it's still tremendous fun.

I try for the orb again, and this time hold the ZL button so that Noodle grips the bamboo tightly with his body as he reaches out with his head. This time I'm successful, and. I nab the orb, and then slide back down in search of another one. While there are a ton of blue orbs to collect, the ultimate objective on each of the game's 15 levels is to actually collect three glowing objects that are sequestered at various points around the landscape, and then return to the central area where they can be dropped off to trigger a warp to the next, more difficult level.

As I continue to explore the landscape, I climb up more hazards, and wend my way across moving platforms – occasionally using Noodle's hummingbird friend Doodle to pick up my tail and help fly me across gaps that I can't quite extend myself over. I'm beginning to get a little more used to the controls, but it's still really tricky. According to Sumo Digital's David Dino, who's demoing the game to me, fully mastering the game's controls takes several hours – and I believe that.

I finally manage to complete the first level, and then hand the controls over to David so he can show me one of the later levels. I'm glad he's playing the game, as I wouldn't stand a chance. There are spinning windmill-like bamboo buildings that you need to climb up, rotating platforms that you need to grip tightly so that Noodle doesn't fall into the spike pits beneath, and several sections where the wind will blow you off the landscape if you don't tenaciously hold onto objects as you cross narrow platforms. This game certainly packs quite a challenge.

Although Snake Pass is a confounding and tricky game to get to grips with, I nevertheless really enjoyed playing it. The Snake Physics are just really original and entertaining, and help turn what is otherwise a quite conventional platformer into something that feels really unique. Whether or not it'll be able to maintain its appeal throughout its duration remains to be seen, but I'm definitely looking forward to playing the game when it's launched later on this month.

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Comments 5

  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #1 SatelliteOfLove 9 months ago
    Red touch black, a friend of Jack.

    Red touch yellow, kill a fellow.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #2 CipherStone 9 months ago
    This is a game I've been pretty interested in since they announced it'll be on the Switch. It and Yuka Laylee will keep me occupied while I wait for Mario Odyssey anyway.
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  • Avatar for Tomatoboxer #3 Tomatoboxer 9 months ago
    I always appreciate when developers are willing to unorthodox control schemes. Familiarity is nice, and there's no need to reinvent what works, but some ideas require new systems. Snake Pass is not a conventional platformer, and could not work with a conventional control scheme. Learning to understand a system can be fun in and of itself, especially if a designer teaches that system effectively. If we view strange control schemes as a barrier to good design, we consign video games to uniformity.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #4 mattcom26 9 months ago
    I can't say I've ever seen a cuddly snake before but they've pullled it off.
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  • Avatar for qwilman #5 qwilman 9 months ago
    @CipherStone a tiny resurgence of n64-style platformers isn't something i'd ever expected but it's pretty cool to see
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