Playing it so soon after the events of E3 2012 makes Snakes On A Cartesian Plane feel kind of satirical. Look, a handful of new games, and they’re all just variations on the same theme. Why be cynical, though? Cale Bradbury’s compilation is as witty as the punning name suggests – and it’s also a lot more accessible.
It’s as accessible as Snake, actually, since that’s the template that these mini-games all riff on. Snake – or Blockade, as the original arcade release was named – has been entertaining people for years, and it’s been inspiring them, too. Hermitgames, for example, which made the wonderful XBLIG shooter Leave Home, is currently working on QRTH-PHYL, which takes Blockade into three dimensions and lathers it in particle effects and scraps of mixed-media documentary. Snakes On A Cartesian Plane is a lot more straightforward: each game is 2D – as far as I’m aware; I haven’t actually unlocked them all yet – and they all tweak the basic variables in subtle but fascinating ways.
So in Viper, for example, your snake can’t turn left – Vipers are “the Derek Zoolanders of the snake kingdom” according to the explanatory blurb – while in Trouser, they just get longer and longer, unspooling from a central point until you’ve filled the entire playing area. Python, meanwhile, sees all of the pills you collect leaving identical mines on the battlefield, turning the whole thing into a memory test, and Boa has the playing area get smaller and smaller as you, in turn, get bigger and bigger. That’s not going to end well.
The games themselves are only half the fun, of course. The other half lies with the ways that you unlock them, by meeting a series of odd challenges sprinkled throughout the Snake variants themselves: die after scoring just a single point, say, read the credits, or warp from the top of the screen to the bottom 200 times. Unlocking stuff in games is often one of the more annoying elements of modern design. Bradbury’s put it at the very centre of the action, though, and, like a good selection of Achievements, the system encourages you to play in interesting ways, and try out things that you might otherwise ignore.
Snakes On A Cartesian Plane is strongly reminiscent of Dr Pippin Barr’s PONGS, which I wrote about a few weeks back – the idea is so similar, in fact, that I had to double-check it wasn’t the same designer. Both games serve as a testament to the power of iteration in game creation. Both reveal how important the little variables can be when making something that feels new.