60 Reviews liked by xeivious
Woah wait, people actually clicked on those audio logs?
I played this game with a group of friends, and we would not have stuck with it if any of us had tried it independently. One was color blind, one was tone deaf, and we each had brains that clicked with different puzzle sets separate from the puzzles that we were physically incapable of perceiving. But together, there was enough variety for everyone to feel involved and contribute.
Gameplay wise, the concept of The Witness is unimpeachable. Some of the puzzles were fun! Some of them were incomprehensible! A lot of them felt mean! But the mean puzzles felt so in the way where a human was challenging you to a bar bet. Even if you won, the impression was that you saved face more than you gained anything valuable. (At least the developer had the decency to make its most evil puzzle designs completely untethered from game progression.)
One of our party, upon learning the name of the developer associated with this game, claimed Johnathan Blow to be one of the greatest video game villains of all time. While there are no characters in The Witness, it definitely feels like you are fighting against something. Something that uses your compulsions for pattern seeking and completionism against you in novel and obnoxious ways.
Overall, we had a solid A-rank, 4 star experience with the game. For such a simple concept, the iterations and creativity kept our interest through to the end. The art design was tasteful and lovely, even more necessary for a game that heavily leans into environmental puzzle design. Completing the certain challenge at the end felt like triumphing over a nerd fight in the best and lamest ways.
That being said.
I am shocked that anyone could be fooled into taking this game's stapled-on pretentious bullshit seriously. The audio logs, the movie clips, the incredibly self-indulgent secret ending - it was all so removed from the delightfully aggravating experience of the gameplay as to be entirely optional. Merely mentioning its existence already feels like I have drawn too much attention to something that has null value.
The Witness is not "about" anything. It is a collection of puzzles. I am not someone who thinks you should not look into the meaning of games, their gameplay or ludo-narrative dissonance or harmony. I think about such things a lot. I actively seek out new connections and perspectives. And in my not un-trained, not inexperienced opinion, The Witness is not about anything external to the experience of solving simple yet satisfying line puzzles.
You would have an easier time convincing me that Elvis got facial reconstruction surgery and is currently President of the United States than you would that any of the media sampled in The Witness even remotely matters. To try to provide arguments against such an absence of value is so prima facie absurd I don't know how I could navigate that discussion with more respect or nuance than to politely affirm that everyone gets hoodwinked sometimes. If the island of The Witness was devoid of puzzles, and only had the audio logs and video clips to find, The Witness would be labelled so incomplete as to not have earned the right to be mocked. And I know exactly what that kind of experience feels like.
Annoyed I had to clarify something on an otherwise extremely solid puzzle collection, highly recommend.
Wonderful puzzles, environment and progression. Insufferably pretentious "story".
What a chore it is to be an intellectual. Perhaps someday we will discover philosophy. Until then there are only audio diaries.
I can only describe this game as lovingly opulent. L.A. Noire is overstuffed and buckles under its own ambition, but also shows focus and restraint uncommon for productions of this scope. It gives so much, and unlike other games that feel incomplete, I have the inkling that with enough time, they might have been able to pull everything off.
L.A. Noire is a detective game centered around reading faces as a game mechanic. The models may not have aged gracefully, but the mo-cap, acting, and animation are spectacular. The phrase “no small parts, only small actors” fully applies, and made me realize again how few games, (even in the modern age!), are even trying. Secretaries and post men delivered their single lines with such authenticity, personality, and impact as to continually blindside me in the way only interacting with the public can. These were not performances of comfortable and familiar acting styles, but recreations of people I’ve met in real life. Vocal inflections at once familiar when spoken, but so mundane as to have never been remembered or imagined. Gestures and glances so natural and specific the TV felt like a one-way mirror. If the only means of gameplay in L.A. Noire had been multiple choice selections during detective interviews, the quality of acting would have been worth the price of admission alone. But for L.A. Noire, that’s only the foundation.
I absolutely adored the first desk of cases after finishing the tutorial sequence. So rarely has a game so consistently dropped my jaw open with excitement and possibility. There was a real tension in realizing how I would have to un-learn so many habits from playing other games with different goals to succeed in this one. As a human who wants to be a good person, in games I’m inclined to pick pleasant dialog options when talking to NPCs. In L.A. Noire, sometimes in order to get good information from good people, you have to press them in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable. And sometimes you have to put on a polite face when dealing with assholes. L.A. Noire wanted me to navigate human motivations to arrive at the truth at the expense of decorum, and its dedication to this perspective impressed me.
But equally impressive was the immense flexibility the game had for my spectacular miscalculations and failures. In an early case, I missed the murder weapon, a gun that had been thrown out in a garbage can right next to where I assumed control of the detective, and the game still let me progress through the entire case without ever having to go back and find it! In another, I missed so much evidence that the motivation of the perpetrator made no sense. Playing through the case again with a guide, I learned not only was he reacting to another man’s unwanted sexual advances, but the dialog of other characters describing the situation had been just subtle enough to work with or without that subtext.
Here is where I explain why L.A. Noire is bounteous while being restrained. As a detective, you look for evidence in 3D spaces. You drive around. There are tailing missions. You chase after suspects, up ladders and across rooftops, in encounters that can end with a first fight or a shoot-out. You break up illegal street races and run from the mafia. And you can skip absolutely all of it, without even affecting your score! The only thing the game cares about, and forces you to do yourself, is collect evidence, conduct interviews, and press charges. Everything else is treated as set dressing.
Which blows my mind, because the level of detail is astounding. There are a half dozen guns with different rates of fire, clip sizes, and accuracy ranges. There are 95 models of cars, each of which control differently, with different top speeds and turning radii. Each where you can shoot out individual headlights. Each of which you can crash spectacularly. Multiple times did I get in a wreck, only to step out and watch an individual car tire roll down a city block or two. Buildings took an astounding variety of cosmetic damage depending on how hard cars crashed into them. It was all so consistent it was difficult to notice, because the moment to moment action flowed so naturally.
All of this effort, and you can choose to have your partner detective drive you everywhere automatically!
If there is one element of the game that brings down the mood, it is the game’s overarching plot. Early cases have a light and fun “case of the day” type feel that makes it easy to replay for the joy of detective work. Later cases delve more into the player character’s personal life and drama, which become interconnected and less fun. It is obvious not as much time was available to develop the space and pacing necessary for the later developments to feel natural. (And the tone becomes more self-serious and somber, which disappointed me after the domestic absurdity of the opening.) I respect the ambition, and the foundations of what I can see on paper look solid. In execution, Cole Phelp's story rips the focus away from the game’s strengths as an adventure game, as player choice can no longer matter as it did when the stakes were lower.
In my rating system, 2 stars represents an average, C rank game, and L.A. Noire is definitely an A+ rank game. It’s so generous, so conscientious, so luxurious, so extra that I heartily recommend it even with its obvious flaws. For how rich and rewarding replaying cases can be, it is an absolute war crime that the console version of this game does not have a “skip cutscene” button. The convoluted saving system can make it difficult to drop in and out of a case within a single session, but most are doable within a movie length amount of time.
More subjectively, there are some elements that I could see turning someone away. I would have been perfectly happy if the entire game had taken place on the Traffic desk, catching fraudsters and tracking down stolen cars. Unfortunately, a good portion of the game is with Homicide and Arson cases. Depending on one’s squeamishness level, you do see dead bodies, awful wounds, and burnt corpses. There is more than one naked dead woman in this game, and the callousness of the depiction walked the line between feeling realistic or tasteless.
While the player character Cole Phelps is framed as better matching the sensibilities of the modern player, the culture of the time has been uncomfortably recreated with period-accurate flavors of misogyny and racism. On the one hand, I understand the desire to depict the reality of the city in a vibrant and believable way, while on the other, I wish the game could have fudged in the favor of a fun time.
Overall, excellent, fantastic, the best open world game of all time, because it lets you opt out of playing an open world game at any moment.
Stray’s strengths are hidden behind tangible and familiar game mechanics and the language used to describe them. I think it’s easy to talk about Stray’s tangible details and lose track of its core appeal. Depending on how its trappings prime you or its strengths resonate with you, I would not bat an eye at giving this game a perfect score or barely passing marks.
I’m sincerely torn on Stray’s mix of gameplay elements vs. appeal of cat-ness. Because there are objectives and collectibles and side quests, and all of them have bugger-all to do with being a cat. The action scenes in particular reek of game developer insecurity, a lack of confidence that meowing and napping are enough to carry a game experience.
While I was having fun playing Stray, initially I was also mocking it. Based on the trailer, I got what I expected. I could walk, I could jump, I could meow. Familiarity wrongly made side quests and chase scenes feel like the only “gameplay” that mattered. That disconnect was only a vague intuition until I watched a couple of my friends play the game.
From the moment Friend 1 took control, my brain thought, “that’s a different cat.”
In real life, Friend 1 had an outdoor cat, a scrapper. When he picked up the controller, his Stray cat was running all the time. He knocked things over by accident. His cat made hasty jumps and changed its mind. He meowed every time he wasn’t sure where to go next. He meowed while he was waiting for doors to open. He meowed while NPCs were taking forever to advance the game.
When Friend 2 took control, it was a completely different, third cat.
Friend 2 had never owned a cat. When given control, his Stray cat behaved like an idea of a cat. He deliberately knocked over every object from every surface. He went back to push over bottles he missed. He scratched at every scratch spot. He ran along every throughway. He spammed the meow button whenever he got frustrated.
These observations retroactively caused me to recognize that, unnoticed by myself at the time, the primary engagement of how I’d played the game had been an expression of myself as a cat. My expression of my Stray cat had been so natural and unthinking that I had missed that I was role-playing.
In real life, I had a cat for 19 years. She had a personality that was deliberate and discerning. She was aloof. She did not run, she did not meow. She avoided disturbing her environment as much as possible. As such, when I was given control over a cat in this game, I behaved like my cat. I never ran, except when the game forced me to. The idea of pressing the run button didn’t cross my mind - it didn’t seem the cat-like thing to do. I avoided knocking things over, because making a mess made it harder to find collectibles. I stopped meowing after I realized no one would react to it.
How else can I describe these observations besides immediate, intuitive, invisible role-playing? There was no decision making. When given the means of expression, we each had a small part of ourselves with instructions of How to Cat that automatically took over. Instructions so obvious and ingrained that each of us only noticed when watching another person play as a different cat. Most importantly, every behavior and game action that made our Stray cats distinct had close to zero “relevance” to playing the game “correctly.”
It is odd to realize you can beat this game doing very few cat-like things. Napping, rubbing against the legs of robots, clawing at carpets - all unnecessary and pointless. Yet there are achievements for all three. Which is a clue that, if everything you can do is “pointless”, perhaps the understanding of “the point” is flawed.
Perhaps the pretense of some other objective is necessary for people to let their guard down, for the role-playing to take over organically.
I can see why people love this game. Is it because you get to play as a cat, 10/10? I know that’s often used as a flippant, disparaging remark, but this game has resonated with too many people for me to dismiss that sentiment as without insight.
I loved my cat. I mourned her passing. I moved on. But playing this game, I learned something about myself. That a small ghost of my cat’s memory has been incorporated into how my brain works, if I were ever a cat. Because while I know these are behaviors she had, she didn’t play this game. I did. I finished it without thinking about her. She has, quite literally, become a part of me that has never had an outlet of expression before. That’s a connection that goes beyond sentiment to statement of fact. If someone connected with an animal dear to them in a new, novel, perhaps profound way, what kind of sociopath would I be not to have empathy for that?
I would love for the games industry to learn the right lessons from Stray. I worry those lessons will not be communicated respectably because the language of video game discussion is centered on violence and corporate bloat. I hate that there are alien enemies. I hate the robot buddy espousing dialog and lore for a story that makes no sense because I am a cat. But even writing to complain about them shifts the conversation into familiar territory that veers away from what made Stray a contender for Game of the Year, 2022.
Before even leaving the title screen, every person I have shared this game with has asked, “can you choose the color of your cat?” Because my friends were tapping into the appeal of this game, what they wanted this game to be, much faster than I. Traditional games experiences had conditioned me to expect a jump button. My friends were here to be a cat.
And sometimes, being a cat means pressing the nap button, with the only tension being deciding when to wake up.
At this point in the franchise, I have to ask - who likes this? From where is the directive coming to keep making these games? What do the developers want from this franchise? How did it sustain fans through the PS3/4 era so much so as to be part of the marketing push for the PS5? What are people possibly latching onto during the PS3 era that would make them ask for more… of this?
I ask this question because, as with every Ratchet game past the second one on the PS2, the setting and continuity of previous games are treated as light flavoring agents instead of narrative foundations. Ratchet & Clank are working on a prison transport ship??? Guarding a woman best described as Tim Burton’s The Scarlet Witch???? Every personality and relationship is remixed to fit terrible cliched writing that is somehow different and incongruous with previous terrible cliched writing, presented in an overall story that is so poorly paced as to be nearly incomprehensible.
I enjoyed the two preceding spin-offs more than this game in a way that made me realize novel gameplay helps me overlook inconsequentially bad writing. But Into the Nexus unfortunately has few merits that help me gloss over the many annoyances I have with it. Like the fact that Ratchet’s Female has been upgraded to near romantic lead status for Ratchet? Or that two annoying robot dudes, who’s inclusion in multiple Ratchet games has continued to baffle me, fucking die so that Ratchet can have pathetic manpain about “needing to do this” (???) “alone” (???) to avenge them? Instead of fixing them, because they are robots, and he’s a mechanic? Or used to be?
It’s frustrating, because even bad Ratchet games like this one have at least one new concept that teases a fun game. In this one, it’s space jumping between surfaces in 3D, reorienting the concept of “down” to floors or ceilings. Unfortunately, instead of providing interesting puzzles designed around the concept, Nexus only uses space jumping as frilly window dressing on linear level designs that are glorified set pieces. Some of the new weapons are some of the most interesting variations of concepts in the series, but only a handful of the same enemy types are recycled across the game’s handful of levels. There just isn’t enough content to enjoy the elements that obviously had real care poured into them.
But all of my complaints pale in comparison to the feelings I have about Rift Apart. Into the Nexus was merely a prelude to cringe, a guide to all the faults I wrongly hoped the series would recover from after a long sabbatical. I don’t have the energy to lambast a title as inconsequential as this when Rift Apart would render its story again worthless and double down on everything I hate enough for me to dissect them. A contemptible but fitting end for the franchise.
This game is a short, undercooked, taste of a concept. It feels like an exceedingly polished piece of fanwork. As a product, it's a terrible deal for the price. As a played experience, it is far from the worst Ratchet & Clank game.
I don’t care much for the concept of tower defense games, and given this game’s general reception, it sounds like most Ratchet & Clank fans don’t either. Although I don’t know what makes a good tower defense game, I think complaints of this game’s length is proof that it starts to tap into a flavor of fun before it abruptly ends. Frontal Assault has poppy animation, a soundtrack approaching hummability, and has solid couch co-op multiplayer. Weapon variety is good, and levels are just complex enough to have a few hidden collectibles.
Gameplay overall errs on the easy side, which means the greatest danger is a lower score rather than a game over. Playing it solo can feel a bit restrictive and repetitive, as the nature of tower defense means running back to base and across the map often. When playing with a buddy, there’s just enough happening simultaneously to make delegating tasks feel like a strategic team effort. Though as a duo, the only thing you’re guaranteed to kill is the frame rate.
Trying to play this game online in 2022 was a hilarious exercise in futility. I actually found a single person looking to try a ranked match, which I think started without them confirming to participate. This resulted in my wandering around an empty field until I won by time-out. But I still got credit for the online achievement, so I’ll call it a wash.
In my rating system, 2 stars represents an average, C rank game. I can’t hate Frontal Assault, and think most of the ire directed towards it is a feeling of opportunity cost that effort wasn’t put into making a mainline Ratchet & Clank game. But seeing as I did not enjoy any mainline game released after Frontal Assault, I almost wish Ratchet would have gone the Kirby route and kept trying outlandish game ideas.
As an entry in a series, All 4 One is completely different in tempo, tone, and genre. Taken as a stand-alone game, All 4 One is solid, and for me, captures the spirit of what I want from a Ratchet & Clank game. I can play as Dr. Nefarious and throw Captain Qwark down bottomless ravines! That alone puts it in the top 5 Ratchet & Clank games.
As a multiplayer 3D platformer, I’ll say it - All 4 One has more thought and commitment put into its multiplayer elements than Super Mario 3D World, and a full two years earlier! Rather than being a single player game that your little brother can tag into, All 4 One is designed around at least two players. Consequently, as a single player experience, it sucks. Basic level transversal becomes a tedious chore. But if you have at least one friend, it’s good! If you have at least two friends, it becomes awesome.
All 4 One’s focus on co-op multiplayer is evident in how small touches in its game design nudge you toward communicating with your playmates. There is no camera control, and all aiming is automatic. However, there is a damage multiplier bonus for multiple players attacking the same target with the same weapon at the same time. This mechanic discourages single players striking out on their own, because they will likely be overrun by enemies faster than the players cooperatively shooting targets down one at a time. Weapons can be selected without pausing gameplay, but in multiplayer chaos, this can be hard to read. If every player opens their inventory at once, gameplay pauses. This makes pausing to strategize targets and weapon choice a necessarily cooperative process. I like it!
In some regards, All 4 One felt sloppier than Super Mario 3D World, until I honed in on how its aims differed. Super Mario 3D World is focused on solid platforming challenges, where individual movement and jumping are also combat and progression. It is inherently skill based, which stratifies players within a play session. It is entirely possible for a single skilled player to carry a session, and leave the other players with little to do in their wake.
In All 4 One, every type of gameplay is a pretext for hanging out with your friends. The level design is easy, but you need to work together to cross gaps. Even if one player gets annoyingly far ahead, every player can immediately tether to any other player’s location. (I like this feature because it makes it easy to go back and help friends who have found collectibles as much as help lagging players catch up to the current leader.) There are group quick-time events, which sound evil on paper, but are so generous in their success windows they serve as little more than mini-games to ensure every player is paying attention before the next section starts.
Speaking of mini-games, All 4 One is surprisingly full of them. One level has players fight for collaborative control over a raft by vacuuming paddles. Another plays like Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, where one player must move a basket of shiny rocks while others fight off thieving bats. An extended set piece put all players on the back of a giant robot for an auto-scrolling arcade shooter level. For anyone expecting a traditional Ratchet & Clank experience, this might sound gimmicky. And it is. But the logic behind the gimmicks makes sense to me - they all create opportunities for every player to contribute to the session in slightly different gameplay modes, in the way Mario Party’s variety keeps attention spans from wandering too far afield.
That said, All 4 One has some pacing issues that hold it back from greatness. Individual levels are long in a way that would be satisfying in a single-player experience. But that same novelty wears thin when you must sit through not only your failures, but everyone else’s. Additionally, new weapons and upgrades are unlocked via purchase per playable character. This means one jerk friend can rush to collect more money than anyone else, creating a cascading effect as they hoard the means to buy new weapons at least one cycle faster than others. Would have been much cleaner to have weapon unlocks tied to story progression, given that simultaneous attacks are a core gameplay mechanic.
As for the presentation, the animation is lovely and the story is who cares. On paper, it seems like the kind of delightful cartoon stupid I want out of this franchise, but my god does it have too many cutscenes and get too much dialog. All 4 One proves it is a true Ratchet & Clank game with the series’ signature god-awful audio mixing. In a game where up to four people can be shooting lasers at once, you cannot have off-screen NPCs lore-dumping without subtitles. Either commit to a cutscene or scrap it - you cannot expect anyone to care what some ugly, keyboard-smashed named NPC has to say about their off-screen life story when I have bombs in my hand and things to throw them at.
I am resigning myself to the fact that Captain Qwark is sticking around. At this point, the series has wall-papered over his complacency in a couple of genocides for long enough that fans joining the series in the PS3 era will not share my hatred for him. But also, Dr. Nefarious finally gets Bowser-ized as both the default iconic villain for the series, and someone who’s fun enough to get invited go-kart racing. His flamboyant outrage was absurd enough to keep me entertained my whole time playing as him. Which was the whole game.
In my review system, 2 stars represents an average, C rank game, and 3 stars represents a fun, B rank game. My score is awarded having played through the whole campaign with a buddy, as God intended. If you’re sniffing at this game single player, expect more of a C- experience. All 4 One surprised me by incorporating gadget and weapon utility into level and enemy design more than some of the mainline games, and adapted to a completely different genre and playstyle. I wish it had a sequel to learn from itself and Super Mario 3D World, tightening some of its mechanics and better pacing itself to a multiplayer experience. Hell, even a re-release on PS4 with improved netcode would have been awesome!
I actually did manage to connect to a couple matches in the year 2022! It was a struggle, with terrible lag and no means of communication, but the earnest cooperative spirit from the lone souls I encountered was touching.
Why do we have invisible walls in a game from 2021?
Looking back in recent memory, I can’t think of a single year that’s more stacked with incredible games than 2017. It felt like both indies and triple A developers were pumping out hit after hit: Breath of the Wild, Cuphead, Nier Automata, What Remains of Edith Finch, Sonic Mania… we could go on and on. As excited as I was for all of these titles however, there was something even bigger on my mind: the revival of the 3D platformer, my childhood genre. 2017 absolutely delivered in spades, with some instant favorites (A Hat in Time), some flawed yet interesting gems (Skylar & Plux), some daunting reinventions that I played a bit of and didn’t finish for some reason or another (Super Mario Odyssey), and some of the 3D platformers of all time (Yooka Laylee).
In the midst of all of this chaos, was Snake Pass. I’d been following the game from its inception to launch day, and bought it without a second thought at the end of March. You play as a cute happy snake named Noodle slithering your way through abandoned yet breathtaking ruins in the wilderness accompanied by a David Wise soundtrack (which by the way, is probably his most overlooked contribution, please give it some love); how the hell could I possibly dislike this? Yet, I found myself getting filtered within a few days; Noodle just felt a bit too sluggish on the ground, and I couldn’t figure out why I kept slipping and falling from the dangling bamboo poles, constantly respawning and losing all my collectible progress because it wasn’t saved until I manually touched checkpoints. So, I shelved it unceremoniously, and wouldn’t pick it back up until many years later.
Let it be known; 2017 me was an idiot. Snake Pass slaps.
The world wasn’t ready for Snake Pass. I wasn’t ready for Snake Pass. I came in expecting a classic 3D platformer collectathon, with tons of jumping, climbing, and grabbing. I was ready for some combat here and there via tons of scattered minions and flashy boss fights, and of course, was mentally prepared for plenty of gimmick levels in the form of vehicle sections, card/fishing minigames, and maybe a turret or twinstick shooter or two. As is, I think we’ve just taken for granted how formulaic much of the genre has become from its predecessors, and that’s totally fine considering the nostalgia that’s baked into these projects.
What I got instead, was a deconstruction of every convention of the genre as we know it. There’s no “jump” button, because you’re a goddamn snake. Instead, you must rely on three basic forms of movement to cling and glide through various floating isles of peril, filled with spike traps, smoldering coals, illuminative pools, and tons of harrowing gaps of thin air itself. The analog stick controls your head on a horizontal axis relative to the camera (think: moving left and right), the A button tilts Noodle’s head up (while it naturally slumps down due to gravity), and the right trigger moves Noodle forward. The controls are deceptively simple to pick up, but quite difficult to master, and successfully navigating and climbing your way through the separated platform obstacle courses while picking up every collectible and utilizing Noodle’s body to the fullest extent is one hell of a challenge that no other game has ever attempted, much less pulled off.
One of the game’s most well known mottos is “think like a snake;” that is, you can’t approach Snake Pass the same way that you’d approach your classic humanoid mascot 3D platformer. Noodle’s body behind the controllable head is both your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. See, the body actually consists of 35 connected sphere segments much more similarly to that of a real snake, and the game constantly checks to see if these spheres are in contact with a surface or one another. That’s why the classic S shape slither and curviness of the snake’s body is crucial for maintaining speed. It then follows that as this giant interconnected body, if the head moves in one direction, the body will naturally follow too. As such, the body and the head must be considered in tandem to both move Noodle along platforms/structures and anchor Noodle to contraptions so he doesn’t fall off. The possibilities that stem from this are endless; you can dangle the tail from a rotating pole to collect wisps, you could use your tail to propel Noodle up onto a wall and “slither up,” you could wrap Noodle’s tail around a stationary pole and then slowly extend the head and wrap that head around another pole to complete the transfer, and so much more.
Let me put this all in context with an example to better demonstrate the creativity that Snake Pass’s physics and controls allow for. Consider the following segment made up of a wind tunnel and a bamboo awning in front of the wind tunnel, with the wind currents flowing in the direction towards the bamboo awning. The goal here is to collect the red keystone (one of three) to unlock the portal, but of course, it’s no easy task considering the wind will quickly destabilize Noodle and blow him into the abyss.
So what’s the best approach to take? Do you start slithering on the pole structure and wrap Noodle’s body around the closest vertical pole to the red keystone, slowly extending his head until he contacts the keystone? Do you “climb up” the small ridge to the wind tunnel’s front-left and quickly extract the red keystone from the side? Or, do you take the stylish approach and slither up and behind the wind tunnel, “falling” into the wind tunnel core and being blown into the red keystone and quickly wrapping around one of the poles after exiting the wind tunnel to avoid falling off? I’ve tested all three of these approaches and as it turns out, I've found all three to be completely viable. Simply put, if the problem is collecting wisps, keystones, and coins while successfully exploiting Noodle’s body to avoid falling/dying, then the engine and controls absolutely give the player many forms of viable solutions with little, if any railroading into the “correct” choice.
To add onto the degree of freedom allowed, there are two additional tools that further flip the concept of Snake Pass on its head and allow for even more variety with their own respective downsides. Firstly, the left trigger will cause Noodle to tense up and is referred to as the “grip;” doing so will tighten Noodle’s entire body and make it easier for Noodle to stay anchored to pole structures, especially useful during various parts with rotating pole contraptions where gravity becomes enemy #1. The cost here is that doing so will of course, stifle Noodle’s motility, so figuring out when to hold grip and to let go when moving onto the next obstacles is key to avoid getting too complacent and getting stuck in unfavorable situations.
The second additional tool comes in the form of Noodle’s companion, a hummingbird named Doodle. Pressing the Y button will cause Doodle to pick up Noodle’s tail, which is extremely useful in a jam when you need to reduce the weight of Noodle’s body for movement or elevate the tail onto a platform or pole. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve successfully had Doodle do this to avoid slipping off of platform edges and successfully slither back onto safe ground. The con here is that by taking away the active weight of Noodle’s tail, you won’t be able to use Noodle’s tail as an anchor to remain attached to pole structures or as a coil/pedestal to propel Noodle up walls and ledges. Thus, this push and pull through Snake Pass’s physics and various “safety nets” forces players to think critically of how to best control and exploit Noodle’s movement to successfully navigate the dangerous environments.
I’ve joked about this in the past with friends, in that I consider Snake Pass to be the ideal streaming game; that is, I've always found this game to be interesting to both play and stream. When players pick up the controller for the first time, it’s an often frustrating (and admittingly pretty funny) experience. They constantly find themselves sliding off of poles due to not properly anchoring the body onto structures, or bonking the head onto walls and poles while climbing up & down and slipping into the abyss, or perhaps reflecting my aforementioned annoyance at how slow Noodle seems at first if you’re not actively utilizing the slither pattern on the ground. I’m not going to pretend that the game is perfect either; I understand the obsession for wanting to collect every single thing in the stage and losing progress over and over to deaths (even if upon my replays, I did find that checkpoints are not spaced as far apart as I remember and there’s no real benefit to collecting everything at once; Snake Vision to quickly point out collectibles is unlocked after beating the game initially), and mastering the controls and methodology to the climbing and gripping is definitely a hefty endeavor.
Having said that, once I did get a hang of the controls and problem solving of snagging collectibles without untimely doom, I became really affectionate towards the experience itself. It’s really hard to put down what “good” gamefeel is like, but once it finally clicked, the fluidity and sheer absurdity of what I was able to do with Noodle brought upon this visceral satisfaction that I honestly can’t say many games have been able to match. The closest comparison I can bring to mind is finally figuring out how to “fall” into everything in Gravity Rush Remastered rapid-fire or the sheer number of tricks I was able to successfully perform while sliding and skating around in Jet Set Radio Future. If you're curious, just take a quick look at some of the insane shit they're able to pull off in a speedrun back in 2018. Even the game leans into this, with much of the replay value coming from 100%ing by snagging all the collectibles, as well as an unlockable speedrun mode and arcade mode to further put your execution to the test. As trite as this sounds, there’s really no other game that does what Snake Pass accomplishes, and while the learning curve may be steep, I think there’s real value in niche games like this that are easy to pick up yet difficult to master.
So please don’t make the same mistake that I made. Snake Pass is a bold and radical reinvention of everything the 3D platformer stood for, and in many ways was and still is one of the biggest shocks the gaming industry has ever had. It’s a perfect example of how subtraction can lead to innovation, of how satisfaction can stem not just from speed but also from mastery, and as a calculated and focused product compared to many of its peers, it's an emblematic example of how trying to do something different yet realized is exactly the kind of shake-up that we never knew we needed, but absolutely should desperately want and support.
We don’t deserve Snake Pass, but for what it's worth, I'll always be grateful that we have it.
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