The original generation N-Gage game Snakes was released way back in 2005, and it received rather good reviews (including 85% and a Recommended award from AAN). Now the long-awaited sequel Snakes Subsonic has come out, and some people have turned back to the original Snakes to see how it compares. How would Snakes do if it had been released as a game on the new next gen N-Gage platform? Well, you can actually get it for next gen phones, so we've now re-reviewed it as a next gen game...
(Historical Note: Snakes was released in 2005 for the original gen N-Gage and QD as a free game. It has since been re-released by Nokia as a free game for more modern phones, with a higher resolution to suit more modern phone screens, and it's the re-release we're reviewing here. You can find out how to get Snakes onto your phone for free at the end of this review.)
Snakes is of course inspired by the original Snake game which was embedded in hundreds of millions of Nokia handsets. However, this is not a simple 3D remake, Snakes alters the original dot-gobbling gameplay considerably, and the emphasis in Snakes is on following particular paths rather than catching certain objects. The playing areas in Snakes are huge and wrap around on themselves.
The aim of the game is to empty a blue bar at the top of the screen within a certain time limit, by eating green dots and following blue energy paths. It's the energy paths that are the focus of the game, as they empty the blue bar most quickly, and you have to follow the paths exactly if they're to have any effect. If you stray from the path you have to go back and try it again, and the later levels of the game place many paths one after the other so you have to concentrate very hard not to make mistakes. If you fail to emtpy the blue bar within the time limit, you lose a life.
To complicate matters there are soft walls (which disappear when you collide with them) and hard walls (which don't). Bumping into either type depletes your energy and shortens the snake, and if you bump into them too often you die. As in the original game, you also die if you doubleback on yourself.
The later levels bring even more exotic things like flipping levels (where you can plunge through holes in the floor and end up on the other side of the same game world) and special tiles which speed you up or slow you down. There are various powerups and bonuses to be had too.
One of the best things about Snakes is how it makes all the complicated features above accessible even to casual gamers. Snakes has a very, very gentle learning curve, with levels getting more difficult at just the right rate to keep you interested without overwhelming you. The early levels introduce the basic concepts one at a time, and there are even animated hints between levels to make the gameplay especially clear.
The gameplay works just as well in horizontal and vertical mode. You can switch between vertical and horizontal mode at any time during the game simply by changing the phone interface's orientation (so for example on the N95 you just slide it to reveal the multimedia controls).
The controls on Snakes can be defined to anything you like, and although there are lots of camera options you really only need four main actions (left, right, accelerate, brake) with another action (activate) occasionally needed on the later levels. This means you can play the game entirely through the direction pad if you prefer.
The flexible graphics and controls mean Snakes plays well on all N-Gage-compatible models.
Levels consist of squares and hexagons of various psychedelic shades. The bright red indicates a slowdown area and the bright green a speedup area.
Although it was made in 2005, Snakes still looks terrific in 2008: the filled 3D has no textures but the effect works because of it, like an animated disco. The frame rate is excellent, the game feels extremely smooth and fast. The screenshots don't really get across the speed of Snakes, so try watching the video at the beginning of this review (especially the latter half, which shows a flipping level).
The animation has a stylised feel that works well, and the explosions of jagged polygons actually look quite good compared to the texture-based explosions in certain other games. Best of all, raising the resolution to 320x240 (compared to the original 176x208) doesn't detract from the game at all, it looks just as good on modern phones as it did on the original N-Gage.
Because Snakes is unashamedly an arcade game, and not in any sense realistic, you don't judge it in realistic terms but in aesthetic terms. The graphics are well designed and very well implemented so we don't worry about whether they look true to life, because that would be missing the point.
The sound too still sounds good even by modern standards. The music is a pulsating bass-heavy electronic soundtrack which complements the graphical style, with the opening bars on the title screen setting the tense mood perfectly. Moving from one piece of music to another is seamless, they all feel part of a whole. The music has a high sound quality too, higher than on many new N-Gage games.
There aren't many sound effects, but those that are in the game (explosions, bonus pickups, acceleration etc) are well chosen.
Snakes works in vertical mode too, and you can switch between modes in the middle of a game.
The original gen N-Gage version had an online ranking system where you could submit your scores and times, but the version for next gen N-Gage phones has had this removed (the Bluetooth multiplayer has been removed too).
So, alas, there is no kind of multiplayer interaction in the next gen re-release of Snakes. :-(
Some N-Gage-compatible phones (e.g. Nokia N82, N95, N95 8GB, N96) have a TV Out feature which lets you connect the phone to a television set. This can be used for playing N-Gage games, or for any other phone function.
All N-Gage phones are compatible with Bluetooth keyboards that use the HID Bluetooth standard, and such a keyboard can be used to control games or any other phone function.
Snakes looks absolutely splendid on television sets, it runs smoothly and looks sharp. There are some jagged edges here and there, especially on the between-level hint animations, but the main game looks good on a telly.
Because Snakes is based around a simple set of controls (left, right, speed up, slow down) Bluetooth keyboards work very well with the game. The arrow keys make an excellent substitute for the direction pad.
Snakes looks great through an N-Gage-compatible phone's TV Out feature.
Snakes offers something of a lesson for Nokia's new next gen N-Gage platform. Though the original gen N-Gage was a commercial failure, Snakes is an example of something that it did absolutely right.
It's a very good-looking game built around a strong simple concept, with early levels that gently introduce the gameplay so even casual gamers can easily get started, and later levels that ramp up the difficulty at exactly the right rate to keep people coming back for more. It's slick without showing off, and impressive without resorting to gimmicks. In short, it's one of those games where you can't really think of any way to improve it.
Even the coding itself is impressive, as the entire game clocks in at less than one megabyte (and the only things that carry the installed version over 1 mb are the music files). This makes it ideal for mobile gaming as it's quick to download straight onto the phone, easy to install on even the smallest memory card or internal memory, and relatively cheap too for those who still have to pay high costs for data.
Also, perhaps worryingly for Nokia, it's arguably a better game than its 2008 sequel Snakes Subsonic in both technical and gameplay terms. It seems that the ingredients which made the original Snakes such an enduring classic have been forgotten somewhat. We would implore Nokia to bring the original developers Iomo back on board, but sadly Iomo no longer exists.
Although it's well over three years old, Snakes still deserves the 85% and All About N-Gage Recommended award that AAN's reviewer Ewan Spence gave the original version back in early 2005. It's a shame the next gen release of Snakes doesn't have any kind of online or Bluetooth features, but as a one player game this is easily good enough to stand alongside any of the new N-Gage games released so far.
As if that wasn't enough, it's absolutely free. If you have an N-Gage-compatible phone, you SHOULD download this right now.
AAN Score: 85%
How to get hold of Snakes for your N-Gage-compatible phone
Snakes is a free game which is available to all new N-Gage-compatible phones. You can get it by two main methods:
- You can download it directly onto your handset by clicking on the Snakes icon in the "Download!" service's games section.
- Alternatively, you can download Snakes onto your PC from the Nokia 5700 support page and then install it on your phone using PC Suite. The version available on that page will work on any N-Gage-compatible phone, and also quite a lot of other Nokia models too. If you need help with installing S60 games using PC Suite, see the step-by-step tutorial on the N-Gage School site.