Go! Go! GOTY! '15 ~Day Ssseven~ (Snakebird)

Day Seven

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Snakebird might be the most insidious wolf in sheep's clothing I've ever seen in the video game world. Or snake in bird's clothing, I dunno. My point is, it's a very bright and colorful puzzle game from Swedish devs Noumenon (they also made the equally attractive Nimbus) with one of those presentations that shouts "iOS game", but not necessarily in the pejorative sense. The game isn't actually an iOS game, at least not yet, but there's a certain style of cutesy minimalism and soft rounded edges that seems to typify most games made for the platform that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just looking at it. Snakebird also happens to be one of the most difficult puzzle games I've played in recent memory: it demands a level of precision and forethought generally not seen outside of a Sokoban game, as players are often required to think dozens of moves in advance or else face an untenable situation and have to hit the "undo" button as many times as it takes to extricate themselves from their doomed attempt.

Looks so easy, doesn't it? It's like a baby's toy. You can even click on items in the background to watch them animate. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security! That's how the snakebirds get ya!
Looks so easy, doesn't it? It's like a baby's toy. You can even click on items in the background to watch them animate. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security! That's how the snakebirds get ya!

Snakebird is a puzzle game that takes the premise of Snake - that little four-directional dot-eating game that was on every mobile device for the longest time - and repurposes it so that the snakes are birds (with long snakey bodies) and the pellets are fruit, which still increase the length of the snakebird who eats it by one "segment". Gravity is also a factor: if there's nothing underneath the snakebirds, they will drop to the closest solid ground or, as was often the case for me, the void below. The goal of every stage is to eat all the fruit, if any are around, and make it to the rainbow exit portal.

The game starts getting immediately tougher with how it'll liberally throw instant-death spike blocks around to ensure that there's only ever one solution to each puzzle, and increases the challenge further in later stages by adding more snakebirds. Every snakebird needs to make it to the exit, and you end up spending a lot of additional time trying to ensure that no snakebird is left behind. Then the game starts introducing fruit again and you have to figure out which of the multiple snakebirds needs the extra length for the puzzle to be solvable. The sheer number of variables that need to be pared down before you can glean a solution to the puzzle means that, even though you might be looking at a 20x20 grid of snakebirds, fruit, and platforms, each of the game's brainteasers tend to take between 15 minutes to however many hours you can stand to look at the same single-screen puzzle without screaming at it so hard that you black out. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. Still, it's not easy.

What? Where? How?
What? Where? How?

Playing Snakebird reminds me of the time I spent struggling through Toki Tori and Toki Tori 2+ - the colorful graphics, the avian protagonists and a few deeper connections like an invisible grid that governs the world's playing pieces (which can be made visible, though don't expect it to help much). Specifically though, they're all games that look far easier than they actually are. You only have to attempt some of the puzzles numbered 20 or higher before you start getting utterly lost trying to determine where to even begin, and the game has fifty puzzles total with at least three bonus super-difficult challenges.

For all its primary colors, soft edges and Angry Birds-esque comically expressive character design, Snakebird intimidates me. A lot. I can't imagine the sort of spatial awareness genius who could breeze through a game like this, but I know when I'm beat. Maybe I'll just retreat to the safe confines of Picross, Professor Layton and Match-3 with my tail between my legs...

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