May 14, 2015 11:00 AM | John Bridgman
If there's one genre of game the embodies the core concepts of overcoming challenges to advance towards goals, it's the humble puzzle game. Puzzles have compelled players for as long as people began the very idea of play, and working through patterns or clues to find answers is a base human interest that games as media can almost uniquely replicate. Through the years this has constantly been true, and almost anyone who plays games can think of some puzzle games they've been drawn into. Game players of all varieties can find some common ground together in the puzzles they enjoy, and puzzle aficionados will always have their favourites. Snakebird is Noumenon Games attempt to catch the attention of puzzle fans everywhere.
Snakebird is wonderfully cute and charming. It will draw players in with its bright colours and adorable, expressive stars - the namesake snakebirds with cartoonish eyes and reactions to their environments as the player navigates the level. Get too close to falling from a ledge, the snakebird will look nervous and wiggle anxiously. Approach the target fruit and the expression will turn to one of hungry desire. These subtle touches make the game an absolute delight; with so many simple animations that enhance the experience itself without detracting in any way from the task at hand.
And what a task! Snakebird is unapologetically difficult. Like any great puzzle game, it takes a very simple concept and quickly takes that concept to the most extreme lengths. In this case,that concept is the familiar gameplay from mobile "Snake" games - a segmented serpentine creature that gets longer as it eats food. Instead of simply scoring points, the task at hand is to grow as long as the level asks and bring the snake or snakes to the exit. Extremely simple and easy to understand, the game quickly escalates to some exceptionally challenging levels.
This challenge means that completing levels in Snakebird is wonderfully satisfying. Taxing the player's mind and rewarding them for success, before asking them again to flex their mental muscles in perhaps a completely different direction altogether. Whether it is in order to collect fruit to grow, or to manage multiple snakes of varying size to reach the goal, the player's mental prowess is constantly tried.
All this is backdropped by some fantastic, consistent aesthetics, both audibly and visually. I mentioned before the bright, colourful snakebirds, and this same visual style carries through everything. The levels themselves have an approachable, warm look because of this, and they are themed appropriately to the regions on the level select screen; green grasslands, muted aquatic levels, and more. Carrying through this too are the sounds. A cheerful soundtrack soothes the player as they attempt to solve each level's challenges, and the soundtrack is altered appropriately for wherever they are. For instance, in the aquatic levels, the audio is somewhat muffled as if submerged (including on the title screen should the player have last left off in such a level). It's another subtle element that the game specializes in.
On the topic of subtlety, the game also has a collection of background elements that the player can interact with, keeping them occupied while they ponder over a level. This level of commitment to engaging the player is essential to making sure the player is drawn into the experience, and helps keep the game from being frustrating despite its high level of difficulty.
Snakebird is a game that thrives on its high level of challenge and its exceptionally high level of polish. Seeing a game so focused to what it is attempting to do means that nothing of the experience runs the risk of the drawing the player out of it; rather the game is constantly compelling and allowing them to get lost in it as time passes. It is definitely a game that will cause players to lose hours without noticing, and that's one of the highest praises I think can be afforded to a puzzle game.
I would recommend Snakebird to any fans of puzzle games without question. I think it belongs in the discussion of some of the best I've ever had the pleasure of playing. Anyone who is interested in difficult mental endeavours should also absolutely check this game out. It is a game that will stick out in players' memory for a long time to come. Now I think I'm going to go back and try to approach some levels that had me particularly stumped.