While the best triple-A games offer users a breadth of experiences in one package, indie games instead often focus on getting the most out of one novel gameplay mechanic. Of course, this is usually out of necessity considering that many smaller developers are working with a much lower budget than world-renowned studios.
One of the biggest indie standouts from 2017 is Snake Pass, a platformer which took the idea of focussing on one aspect of a game’s design to the next level. Instead of thinking about what the player can do in the game, the developers at Sumo Digital looked at what they can’t and built the project from there. And for Snake Pass, there’s one thing the player can’t do that’s usually crucial to the function of a platformer - jumping.
Instead of thinking about what the player can do in the game, the developers at Sumo Digital looked at what they can’t and built the project from there
Instead, the physics-based movement system ends up turning the game into more of a puzzler, tasking players with climbing the environment through manipulating the body of Noodle, the game’s snake protagonist. It is this bizarre biological structure that leads to players actively questioning how this will affect movement through the game world.
This first manifests with a new control scheme that bears little resemblance to what’s found in a typical platformer. The left stick moves Noodle’s head on a flat plane; the A button, typically used for jumping, instead lifts Noodle’s head; the right trigger causes Noodle’s body to move forward by stretching it out. The combo of the left stick and A button allows players to aim the head in a 3D space, while the coils created by repositioning the head propel Noodle forward with a press of the right trigger. Of course, the classic zig-zag manoeuvre must be done to build up any significant speed.
And using the direct control of Noodle’s head to position the body that trails behind is where the bulk of the compelling gameplay within Snake Pass stems from. The idea of having indirect control of a snake’s body can be advantageous - coils created around a pillar anchor Noodle in place to allow for grip. This can then lead to climbing or swinging underneath platforms. Although, the trailing body can also work against the player - as a physics-based game, the whole thing is affected by gravity. The ultimate consequence of this is that if half or more of Noodle’s body is dangling off a surface, he will fall. Giving the physicality of the protagonist its own benefits and drawbacks within the gameplay makes Snake Pass stand out amongst other physics-driven games like Octodad and Grow Home. A constant back and forth between momentum, friction and gravity can capture the mind for hours.
Snake Pass stands out amongst other physics driven games like Octodad and Grow Home
In removing the ability to jump, Sumo Digital discovered an entirely new style of gameplay. Snake Pass does not add enemies or a combat system but instead uses gravity and how it affects the protagonist’s body as the obstacle instead. And as with many bold ideas, Snake Pass has also been somewhat divisive. While many hail it as a fantastic challenge, there are also those who find it a frustrating mess. Nevertheless, this originality keeps gaming as a hobby genuinely fresh and exciting, giving players something truly new to play.