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Above Snakes- Alpha Preview
Above Snakes is a Western style survival game set in a unique & player built isometric tile world.
This post originally appeared on the Hashtag Survival website in January of 2022. It was transferred on February of 2023.
While browsing Twitter, I came across Above Snakes and was intrigued enough by the game snippets posted to generate one of my Upcoming Games posts. The developer for Above Snakes (Tobias Schnackenberg- so grateful I only have to write his name and not pronounce it in a video) reached out to me about checking out the game via a press key- and I'm grateful that I was given this chance!
Above Snakes nailed a successful Kickstarter earlier in the year. It attained total funding and smashed many stretch goals, including Spirit Shrines, Mini Games, ANIMAL COMPANION, and future console ports (planned for post-2023 game release). In addition, backers were given access to the game Alpha post-Kickstarter campaign.
Atmosphere and Environment
The art style of this game - and similarly styled games- always strikes me as perfect for a handheld system. Except I sold my Switch and haven't decided yet if I will pull the trigger on my Steam Deck reservation. RIP! (Update 2/5/23 - I didn't buy a Steam Deck. Can't tell yet if I regret it or not!)
What initially caught my eye about the game was this nifty little "world generated by players using tiles" feature. I primarily play survival games- so while this type of world-building may be expected outside of the survival genre, it's not one I've encountered personally.
It's very nifty! You start on one square "Tile," a bite-sized chunk of a specific biome. At the edges of your starting tile, you'll notice some fancy golden dust and a prompt about the resources required to build your next tile. Exploring & gathering on tiles is basically how you "fund" the building of the following unique biome slice. Each tile is unique in its Tile Attributes; Water Sources, Food Sources, Crafting Materials, and Loot. Balancing your needs & resources as you build out your map is a neat twist on the typical sandbox survival experience- a great benefit for folks who typically find that the experience sours after countless hours in the game.
My exploration of the tile-style world was very engaging. I even restarted multiple times, attempting different world layouts. One time was aimed at creating a more visually pleasing map at maximum view distance (you can check your map view - M Key - to see both your overall world view & your quest objectives, so grouping the same biomes made it feel expansive) and the second time I just made choices all helter-skelter, with no regard to resources spent or Tile Attributes (possibly not the most recommended way to do it). Of course, you can also make choices solely based on the most beneficial Attribute the next tile piece would bring to the table.
Throughout exploration, the music accompanying the gameplay was charming & immersive. I turn the music off in almost every game, so I was happy to hear some solid atmospheric audio on the tiles.
The Survival is Real
My personal soapbox/hill to die on/thing to bitch about with friends is the sheer amount of games that apply the 'Survival' tag and don't really offer much actual survival; a generic reliance on "don't die" and "keep up your HP." Pretty sure 'Don't Die' and 'Keep Up Your Hit Points" is the basis for most games. Just saying.
In Above Snakes, I'm happy to report that you have a host of vital stats crucial to your survival; thirst, hunger, fatigue, state of mind- and, of course, your hit points. I like that the sleep mechanic, which applies to mental state, is used for more than just speeding through the night time/running the clock forward.
The game also has the full suite of survival game mechanics and details; hostile AI (in the form of critters, bandits, and Lost Souls), ample survival systems (crafting, cooking, hunting, fishing, gardening, and more), base building (with both indoor AND outdoor assets), and even some backstory & lore that ties into the questing/mission and exploration system.
Above Snakes is a game that can check a lot of boxes for different folks: it's survival, isometric, tile builder, a top-down game, a base builder, and more. I really enjoyed the slice of gameplay I experienced during the demo access, and I'm excited about the full release. (Well, I guess Alpha is the soonest Backers can access it, but you know what I mean.
It's refreshing to engage in a survival game with a unique premise & layout. Though the responsibilities of survival were hovering over my shoulder, it never felt like a burdensome grind or a "shoot 'em all hack 'em up SURVIVAL-a-thon" like some other titles in the genre. Choices, like tile building, felt impactful to the experience but remembered to bring the fun factor.
My issues/critiques were few in number and low in impact on my demo time. They are also things that will probably be addressed or changed as the game continues to evolve. The keybindings seemed fixed/unable to be rebound, which made using "Q" for dodge problematic for me (Update: This has since been changed to SHIFT). When entering buildings, the solid walls become transparent to aid in exploration- but it would sometimes solidify too soon, leaving me unable to navigate the building interior very quickly since the camera viewpoint is fixed (Update: Camera can now be rotated left and right using Q&E). I'm not a fan of games where things I loot go directly onto my usage bar-it's a pet peeve. Still, a button will end up being clicked accidentally between cat ownership and alternate-game muscle memory, and then I lose something important. And last but not least, I love the ability to hide the UI- for screenshots! Always a good feature to see and one I hope makes it into the game at some point.