The world of free-to-play games on Steam is almost overwhelmingly vast. If your attention isn’t immediately stolen by the likes of the titans of the segment, including Destiny 2, Apex Legends, War Thunder, or The Sims 4, things start to get a little weird. There are card games, strategy games, more shooters, puzzlers, and more.
Well, the game that came across my desk for the purpose of this review is one that combines puzzle-solving with shooting, but not in the way you might expect. Sure, these genres aren’t really associated with each other much (unless you include Portal and its sequel), and playing this game made me realize why.
It’s called Snake Bros. Yeah, Snake Bros or Snake Force. It’s a puzzle shooter (Shuzzler? Pooter?) that was developed and published by Team Soda, which seems to have only one other game to their name, at least on Steam.
It’s a curious case, because while Team Soda is definitely an indie studio that seems like it might just be starting out, their full game Soda Crisis looks like it has all of the fast-paced action of Katana Zero in a very visually pleasing, 3D art style. And while Snake Bros doesn’t look to be very much the same at all in terms of gameplay, it is very interesting and quite a bit of fun. Let’s take a look at it in this review.
Going over the Snake Bros Steam page, I discovered some interesting information. The game was originally completed as part of LudumDare40, and was put together in less than 48 hours at that. The game is very obviously simple, but it had to be that way due to the nature of how it was made, so It’s tough to count that as a mark against it.
So I won’t. Especially since Snake Bros is pretty awesome.
Snake Bros works like this: you’re a bean-shaped cop/SWAT officer, and your task is to rescue the similarly bean-shaped, tied-up “bros”, add them to your force, and make it to the end of each level with a minimum number of bros still alive. Sounds simple, right?
It would be, but the default options on the game make the act of shooting the enemies around every corner and every stage an exercise in strategy, thoughtfulness, and most importantly, patience. Friendly fire is a very real mechanic, and it’s actually core to the Snake Bros experience. If you line up a shot at an enemy and open fire with your bros, but are in a formation where your teammates are in the line of fire, they just die. And if you try to shoot at a target while you and all your bros are in a straight line in the path of your target, you’re all dead.
Seriously, it happens in the blink of an eye, and it makes the game really very difficult. If you’re a whizz with logistics and have the patience of a saint, this won’t be an issue. However, my experience was less… relaxed. I faced the restart screen more than a few times trying to figure the game out, but I could have alleviated some of that annoyance if I had just been paying attention.
The game gives you tutorial tips written out in the environment a la Splinter Cell: Conviction, and in Mission 2 there is a tip that says “hold shift to slow time”. This mechanic is a game changer for the default game mode, giving you much more time to weave your team out of the way of fire while organizing to fire in a way that won’t fill your friendlies with lead. It makes the challenge of the game much easier to swallow, and there doesn’t appear to be any limit to the use of the mechanic, which is either an oversight or an intentional way of making the game more palatable.
I was definitely able to complete more of the game and actually enjoy the visuals once I started making use of the time-slowing button. The environments are all flat textured 3D, but the lighting system that is used makes them pretty interesting, and they are laid out in ways that make traversing them just as tricky as dealing with enemies, especially in the later levels.
Speaking of later levels, the challenge gets ramped up considerably, to the point that even time manipulation couldn’t help me. BUT, what could help me was one of the option-shifting levers that unlocks a magical feature: turning off friendly fire.
Yes, it seems Team Soda thought ahead for the level of challenge they were crafting and how that would affect people’s enjoyment, because you can essentially put the game into easy mode before you even step foot in the first mission. Turning off friendly fire means you can fire at enemies in any configuration, whether your teammates are lined up conveniently or not, and you won’t lose any of them due to your own bullets.
Once I started playing the game that way, I realized it really does make the game much easier, but also takes away the challenge that made the game interesting. When you don’t have to maneuver to avoid killing your own men, the game basically turns into a simplified shooting gallery with some interesting level layouts, which is also fine. It just takes away from what makes Snake Bros special to begin with.
That being said, I was still able to have a ton of fun with the game like this, and I was also able to blow through the six available missions in twenty minutes or so. Not a bad value proposition for a free game that basically works as a proof of concept for what these developers can do, and I certainly don’t regret any of the time I spent playing Snake Bros.
I would recommend going in with friendly fire turned on so you can appreciate the interesting, original concept that Team Soda has created, but it’s still pretty fun with it off. And, overall, I would definitely recommend Snake Bros for anyone who is looking to kill maybe thirty minutes of their time, and I’ll absolutely be checking out their full game Soda Crisis at some point in the near future.