A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know Snake Pass is a downloadable 3D platformer game. There isn't much at all in the way of violence, save some deep crevasses and spike pits that the serpentine protagonist, Noodle, can tumble into, causing him to disappear and respawn. There's little in the way of any sort of story, and Noodle doesn't talk. He's just interested in exploring, collecting shiny things, and unlocking teleportation gates. Parents should note that while this game contains virtually no iffy content and its colorful visuals make it look like its targeted at kids, its core mechanic -- authentic snake physics -- results in some extremely challenging environment movement. Even seasoned platformer players could find themselves frustrated by the difficulty.
What's it about?
SNAKE PASS slides kids into the scaly body of Noodle, a brightly hued snake with googly eyes and a broad smile. He inhabits a colorful world broken into discrete levels, each composed of rocks, plants, ponds, and old ruins. Accompanied by his hummingbird companion, Doodle, Noodle slips through each stage searching for three types of collectibles: blue blobs, golden coins, and a trio of gemstones necessary to unlock a teleportation gate to the next level. The catch is that Noodle hasn't been anthropomorphized. He doesn't have arms or legs, and he doesn't even hop around on his tail. He slithers and slides. Mastering this form of movement, which requires controlling Noodle's head, wrapping him around and gripping bamboo poles for leverage, and rocking back and forth to generate momentum and speed both on land and in the water, is the real objective. As players get better, they can try a time-trial mode to pit their abilities -- and speed -- against others ranked on a global leaderboard.
Is it any good?
This game manages to break the traditional platform-jumping mold, but its controls and difficulty will only keep hard-core genre fans interested. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to move like a snake, this is your chance, because Snake Pass' unique movement system is ingenious. The way Noodle twists around bamboo poles, slithers through the water, and constricts to grip objects both looks and feels wonderfully authentic. It's a one-of-a-kind experience -- a term rarely applied to video games, most of which tend to neatly fall into specific categories. But if no one's ever done authentic snake movement before, one can't help but wonder why that might be. The reason turns out to be pretty simple: Moving like a snake is really, really hard.
The first stage, which consists of little more than slithering down a stone path, makes it seem like the game will be a breeze. But in the levels that follow, players need to work out how to slither up and around complex networks of bamboo posts to reach higher areas. And you'll need to be wary of perilous drops and pits of spikes that will send Noodle back to the last spawn point -- and strip him of all recently gathered collectibles -- should he tumble into them. Success in some areas can be unexpectedly and extraordinarily difficult to achieve, requiring a dozen or more painstaking attempts. And an uncooperative camera doesn't help matters. Then there's the question of who the game is meant for. It looks and feels like it's for kids, but only the most tenacious of players -- young or old -- are likely to push through to the end. Snake Pass makes a bold and commendable attempt to give us a fresh and original interactive experience, but it's also an odd and stubbornly tough little game with an undefined audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about screen time. Snake Pass is broken into levels which -- assuming they don't prove too tough or frustrating -- shouldn't take longer than perhaps 15 or 20 minutes each to finish, so how many such levels do you think would make up a satisfying play session?
Talk about tenacity. When you take on a hard job, do you focus on what comes during or after completing the task at hand? In other words, does the satisfaction come from accomplishing something challenging or in a potential reward at the end?
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