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Snake Pass Review | Snake Charmer

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If Snake Pass was, in fact, a remake of an obscure PS1 game that was only released in Azerbaijan, few would be surprised. Sumo Digital’s charming puzzle platformer is decidedly old-school and evokes fond memories of the time when such games ruled the planet.

Players take on the role of Noodle, a colourful, dough-eyed, adorable snake. Accompanied by his best buddy Doodle, the hummingbird, Noodle is tasked with recovering a series of keystones and returning them to the gates that allow the characters to travel between worlds. Though this premise may sound simple, controlling the eight-foot long bastard-child of a corn snake and Kaa from The Jungle Book is anything but.

The game’s main conceit is that controlling a legless character (that is to say, movement via lateral undulation) is far trickier than wandering about a level with a good ol’ pair of legs.

Rather than just using the left analogue stick, players move Noodle around the environment via a series of button presses, a procedure that does a fantastic job of recreating the myriad processes involved in a snake slithering through his surroundings. Players cannot even travel in a straight line. Noodle needs to move left and right to slither through the tall grass. Using a deft combination of button presses, players are able to climb by coiling around pipes, slither under bridges, and traverse the increasingly intricate environments on the hunt for stones, coins, and snake-extending balls of energy.

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Doodle also helps his serpentine buddy by lifting his tail up. Though this mechanic sounds a bit odd at first, this manoeuvre is literally a lifesaver. Noodle moves realistically and with a proper sense of balance and weight—so if a player does not coil their tail around a pipe properly or dangles too far off a cliff edge, Noodle will slip and fall if Doodle fails to grab the snake’s tail quickly enough. The sight of Noodle tumbling off the side of a level when Doodle is not quick enough to grab his tail—wide-eyed and screaming as he plummets into the bottomless abyss below each level—is absolutely heart wrenching.

Snake Pass’s complex controls take a little getting used to. Fortunately though, the game breaks players in slowly, gently upping the challenge in each successive level at a pace that allows players to build up the necessary skills needed to overcome each levels challenges at a pace that suits them. Each level’s Keystones are usually easy to find while collectables such as coins are usually hidden behind trickier challenges that encourage players to revisit Snake Pass’s earlier stages once they have gotten to grips with Noodle’s more complex manoeuvres.

Each of Snake Pass‘s fifteen levels is bright and lush, replete with thick grass for Noodle to slither through, crumbling ruins to traverse, and, in later levels, deep rivers to swim through while on the hunt for Keystones and other knick-knacks.

Though collecting trinkets is the main aim of Snake Pass, the game is not a collectathon in the Banjo Kazooie/Yooka-Laylee sense with hundreds of items strewn about. Instead, Snake Pass takes cues from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, presenting players with smaller, more concise levels that are akin to a puzzle box full of complex platforming challenges, rather than a rush to gather all of the things.

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The strong visual design and cartoony aesthetic help Snake Pass look lovely regardless of what platform the game is running on. While minor differences in visual quality, such as simplified water effects or a shorter draw distance, do emerge during play, Snake Pass rocks along at a consistent 30 frames per second on both Switch and PS4. If one considers that Snake Pass is also the first game on the Switch to use the popular Unreal Engine 4, this bodes well for future third party ports on Nintendo’s new system.

Accompanying the bright, vibrant visuals is another rock-solid score by veteran game composer and ex-Rare developer, David Weiss. The background music combines pan pipes and tribal drums to create an upbeat, South-American-inspired soundtrack that gives the Aztec-inspired locales a real sense of place and keeps the game’s tone light.

Overall, Snake Pass captures the spirit of the late ‘90s platformers perfectly, while dragging the age-old genre slithering and squirming into the modern era, with beautiful visuals, a delightful David Weiss score, and a unique and engaging control scheme. Sumo’s first original IP is a right charmer.

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Review

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans

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Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

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