Version Reviewed: 1.00
It’s probably the biggest thing to come out for the N-Gage. Sure you can keep all your Pathway to Glory missions, your Pocket Kingdom Castles, or even your nifty suspension settings for Colin McRae’s Rally. The N-Gage signature title is here.
Now, honestly if this title had been available at the launch of the N-Gage, it would have had as much impact as Tetris did for the Nintendo Gameboy. Yes it’s that good. It shows off all the facets of the N-Gage. Every base is covered here, from graphics and gameplay to multiplayer and gaming communities. Put simply, if Sega have Sonic, then Nokia have Snakes
Move your snake around and eat the dots. It’s one of the easiest game concepts there is, and while you could have huge flame wars trying to decide the first computer to have this game. Let’s just gloss over that and point out Nokia was probably the first company to package the style of the snake game on a mobile phone (which was probably the first game in a mobile phone). And now, Nokia have decided to make the final jump and put what has become ‘their’ mobile game into their gaming mobile.
At the very core of the game, Snakes is a straight line moving around a grid. But you can forget about a white background and a black snake line that you would see in the "Snake" game on a regular Nokia phone (or even in the mini-game "The Sims"), because we’ve a riot of colour, shapes, graphics and noise coming at you from the screen. Watching someone else play Snakes is like the travelling through the Stargate at the end of 2001.
Playing With Your Snake
With a game that looks as complicated as this, you need a good learning curve. The initial levels need to be easy enough that you know exactly what to do, and slowly build up the challenge of the game (and make sure you’re comfortable with all the graphics that are going to be flying around). Snakes has this, and it’s vastly improved from the beta version we saw in Septemeber. There’s been a lot of thought and playtesting put into this.
You also need a good balance of difficulty. It’s no good having these wonderful graphics, and no challenge. Well Snakes has a challenge. The classic snake game is a simple "grow as long as you can" game, and while this can be challenging, it’s not as heart stopping as modern games can be. So in Snakes, we have "score as many points as you can." Each level has a strict time limit in which to score points. If you don’t get enough, then boom, your snake explodes and it’s time to start the level all over again.
Initially, all you have to score with is your green food pills – the classic eat this and grow bigger block. These are worth a stunning five points each, and while your snake does have a maximum length in this game, because the world is wrapped around, you’ll find that it’s possible to just catch up to your tail if you keep going straight. It’s possible to die a death by running into yourself, and once you do, there’s no stopping a game over.
Also hiding on the first level is an understated power-up that looks like it’s a letter "N." Later levels see you collect "G" "A" "G" and "E." Didn’t we do this in our Christmas competition? Anyway these are usually placed in some really awkward space on the board, behind some walls, or along a passage created by the walls. Yes, the biggest problem in Snakes is those blasted walls you keep crashing into. Some of them you can crash through, and you loose energy – and given that the more energy you have the shorter your snake is, this might be a valid strategy if you get to big. Choose the wrong wall though, and there’s no way you’ll break through except via "game over."
Controlling Your Python
You’d think there’s not a lot you can do with the controls of Snakes. You ‘d be right. Beyond left and right, Nokia have added a ‘turbo boost’ and a ‘slow boost’ control. If you need to slow down to get through a tricky passage, or just want to race ahead to have more time to score points, then feel free. You can’t do this forever as using these reduce your boost bar. Luckily this is refreshed a little bit when you eat a food pill.
Other controls aren’t really needed for the game, but we’ve got some useful things here. One of them is the glance function. A quick tap on left and right allows you to look around the area next to you. It’s useful to line up some turns on the early levels, but when you get to the later levels, then unless you’ve got the levels of concentration of a chess grandmaster, you might as well forget using it. Whenever I did, I just lost all my spatial awareness of the level. It might be useful for some people, and it can be helpful (sometimes) in the death matches.
Ah yes, deathmatch, or multiplayer as it’s more tamely known as. This is where Snakes really shines. You’ve got a choice of two modes, one is a pure battle, where you have to shorten the length (or trap) your opponents snake. There’s a certain amount of pleasure here when you slice in half an absolutely massive opponent with your head, and leave him with a little tiddler of 3 body lengths.
There’s a huge amount of graphics work going on here, but the amount of data transmitted over bluetooth means that there is virtually no lag. In a frantic game like Snakes, that’s vital. And trust me, this is a frantic game. Gather everyone round that you can with an N-Gage and start playing. And here’s the final "wow" with Snakes.
Normally with N-Gage games, both players need to have a copy of the game to play a mutliplayer game. That’s true with Snakes, but there’s a menu option called "Send Game." This allows you to bluetooth the entire Snakes game to another N-Gage. Given Snakes is around the 1.4mb mark, it’s (just) possible to have snakes on the internal memory of an N-Gage. And that means no matter where you are, if you have one copy of Snakes you can send it over to someone else.
A Watershed Game?
Why is Snakes such an important title? Because it’s free. Nokia and Iomo have spent just as much time on this title as any other N-Gage title out there. Why? Because of the need to promote the N-Gage. This isn’t some panic measure, it’s been on the cards since the launch of the original N-Gage, it’s just taken a long time to get ready (most computer game projects are like that). We asked Nokia why they’re doing this.
Firstly, there’s the sheer number of copies of Snake out there on Nokia mobiles – the count is around 350 million. Which means Snake is bigger than Mario and Sonic combined… probably. With a franchise like that, of course sequel was inevitable. And one that updates the basic game to 21st century gaming standards. Finally, it’s a bit of an experiment. The ability to send Snakes to another N-Gage’r, either while standing next to them using Bluetooth, or sending them the URL online, means Nokia can see just how effective the viral distribution method is. Of course, the warez pirates have answered that already, but I can’t see the Finns making business decisions based on the reach of some .blz files.
Snakes is the N-Gage’s signature game - a perfect slice of arcade action that's had a lot of time, care and love put into it. If this isn't an instant classic, then there's no justice in the world... Yes I know it’s 18 months late, I know that more technically accomplished games with greater depth are about, but Snakes shows everything the N-Gage is. A gaming device. A connected machine (this is another "High Score Upload" Arena enabled game), and it shows a huge amount of vision from Nokia (sending a game to another device? Let’s see the Playstation Portable and Nintendo DS manage that).
Nokia can write games, that’s now a given with Snakes. Nokia can promote and distribute games without needing the High Street Stores or the ELSPA Charts, as Snakes will show. And if Nokia continue to feed the two million or so N-Gage owners in the world with titles like this (and that’s a pretty big established market for a niche player) then the future of the N-Gage is in safe hands. If this is what Nokia can do when the N-Gage is dead, then I'm camping out in Valhalla and bluetoothing this to everyone I can find.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at