No jumping or climbing here: in Snake Pass you slither and coil your way through puzzles with an utterly unique physics system.
"Think like a snake" was the advice I received after I'd somehow fumbled my way a third of a way through an advanced level of the upcoming Switch game Snake Pass. But what in the world does that mean?
For one, it means don't travel in a straight line. Snakes slither left and right, and doing that is actually the fastest way to travel in Snake Pass because of the way the game's physics engine simulates serpentine muscles.
It means not climbing things, but coiling around them. You can't just extend yourself straight up a pole, you have to spin around it tightly to get grip on the surface so that you can keep spiraling yourself upwards.
It means devouring that little hummingbird behind you... Oh wait. No, that's Doodle the hummingbird, the best friend of main character Noodle the snake. Actually, if you press Y then Doodle will pick up your tail and give you just a tiny bit of extra lift if you ever find yourself awkwardly dangling off a ledge.
Snake Pass has been described as a physics puzzle game, and that it is in spades. The physics is because you, as a snake, need to do snakey things to move around. You can't jump, can't pull yourself up ledges, you actually can't even run! Instead, Noodle is faced with a simulation of 35 different spheres each testing how much contact with the surface you have, and based on that contact, how fast you can move, or how strongly you can hold on even if you're momentarily hanging upside down. It's a unique concept, and it makes for a wholly unique way of playing the game.
Because the very basic aspect of how to traverse a level becomes a challenge, an innocuous collection of poles and sticks became an intense test of skill and thought: how do I wrap my mind, or better yet my snake, around this one? I made the foolhardy decision of starting at a later level in the game instead of the easy one and each single ledge felt like an intense experience, but also a monumental achievement when I, somehow, managed to climb and navigate my way over it.
I'm told that all my exertion was not surprising, by the point players encounter the level I was playing they were expected to be season veterans, not neophytes, with the game's physics system. That meant that not just the three colored gem's to complete the level would be in reach for them, but the level's collection of blue wisps, or the even greater challenge of the level's gold coin collectables.
Definitely unique and challenging in concept, Snake Pass is also bright and cheery in atmosphere. Not only do I have a humingbird for a best friend, but my snake can switch to alternate goofy facial expressions at the press of a button. If I fall off the level (often with a goofy look on my face), then I just respawn at the most recent checkpoint I slithered over.
Watching the experienced developer zoom through a level, I marvelled at how easy he made it look. I marvelled at how I hadn't played a game like this before. Then I marvelled at the thought that, with some practice, I might be able to show this game to some cousins and look equally as magically proficient.