Temple of Snek, much like its titular protagonist, is a beast of many parts: a multi-segmented creation that builds on itself as it goes, growing and expanding until it moves beyond the typical confines of the genre of which it is a proud member. At once a love letter to antiquated mechanics and a bold imposition of said mechanics into a whole new genre, Aetheric Games’ latest is a title that’s well worth the considerable time it will take to unravel.
We begin our trek into the titular Temple with a sprinkling of narrative context. Two conflicting factions, communicating in muffled grunts that call to mind the slapstick, near-silent humour of the early Lego games, set the scene, before we pan across to Snek herself, the serpentine heroine of the piece. As we do, opening credits roll, immediately establishing the cinematic tone the game will wield like a sharpened spear for its full duration.
From here, Snek awakens and our journey begins. Her movement, much like the Temple itself, is a relic of a bygone age, the tight, restrictive controls of mobile classic Snake dusted off and transposed into a much more visually appealing shell. Appropriately for a puzzle game, said movement is greatly slowed down, unfolding move by move in an almost turn-based fashion. While this may feel clunky and slow at first, you’ll be offering grateful prayers to the developers for their decisions when the puzzles start to ratchet up in difficulty, and the breathing room afforded by this modest speed becomes crucial to your success.
We’re given a few simple rooms to acclimatise ourselves to Snek’s distinct rhythm, learning to move and to weave around simple obstacles, before puzzle elements such as switches start to slither in, demanding specific manoeuvres, and the devouring of a few of the Temple’s inhabitants, in order to proceed. As with the Snake of old, these inhabitants increase the length of our protagonist when eaten; a change that proves a double-edged sword, given that it allows you to solve more puzzles while simultaneously making moving around more difficult.
It’s here that one of the game’s most unique features, its pseudo-open world, rears its scaly head. While it’s probably a stretch to call Temple of Snek a Metroidvania, it certainly offers players a choice as to how they proceed through its torchlit chambers, and there is an element of ‘ability gating’ in that certain puzzles can only be solved once Snek has reached a certain critical length. Many doors require multiple switches to be pressed simultaneously before they’ll open, for example, necessitating a trip off the beaten path to find an unfortunate victim to grow long enough to cover them all.
These two mechanics, increasing your length and having multiple paths open at once, play very well together, creating a sense of freedom that makes your exploration of the Temple feel personal, even as the developer’s invisible hand subtly guides you through. This is particularly important given the emphasis on narrative that the game displays; a welcome surprise in the puzzle genre, but one that could easily have created an all-too-linear experience without the additional freedoms Aetheric Games provided here.
Said narrative is simple but effective, particularly in how it’s woven seamlessly into the mechanics of the game. An early section in the Palace, for example, involves you devouring members of one feuding faction in exchange for members of the other pressing switches to open paths for you. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a great way of conveying story beats without relying on traditional dialogue, letting the game retain its air of wordless mystique that works just as well for narrative as it does for puzzles.
The game’s cinematic feel is reinforced by creative camera usage throughout. Rather than one consistent top-down angle, Temple of Snek plays around with it, zooming in and out and swivelling around to give varied views on the action. Sometimes these are purely for emphasis, such as the extreme, nearly first person views used during transitory tunnel sequences, and sometimes they’re fundamental to gameplay, like in the case of a particularly creative puzzle where you need to weave Snek around obstacles on the ground while she hangs in the air.
These myriad angles keep things interesting, giving an idea of the scale of the world, as well as the way in which the people of the Temple inhabit it, going about their tasks with a ritual regularity that proves the key to a number of tricky puzzles. Every time Snek moves, so do the other inhabitants of the Temple, in ways that you’ll need to learn and exploit for your own ends before long. Everything runs on a kind of internal clockwork logic, with ‘infidels’ moving two steps for your one, requiring precise timing in order to ‘monch’ them and assimilate them into your ever-growing form. This creates a dichotomy often seen in puzzle games, wherein the trial and error process of solving a puzzle can be fairly frustrating, but the feeling of satisfaction when things click into place and you properly understand the game’s logic and rhythm more than makes up for it.
The Treasures Within
During my time with Temple of Snek, I was frequently reminded of La Mulana, the 2013 ruin-delving masterpiece that repurposed the quirks of old MSX adventure games in a modern Metroidvania shell, resulting in one of the most compelling, if maddeningly difficult, gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Temple of Snek feels like a more approachable attempt at this fusion of modern and retro, taking the mechanics of Snake and building not just a series of well-crafted puzzles, but also a fully-realised world around them. And while traversing this Temple is difficult at times, the wonders you’ll see within, both mechanical and architectural, serve as ample motivation to push through. Step into the Temple of Snek, and you’ll slither out with a sizable smile on your face.