Above Snakes is definitely an outlier when you look at it in a pile of my “more typically played” survival games. Scrolling through my little game library, I only see Firewatch and The Long Dark with their own unique art style – as in not aiming for that realistic look. (I’m excusing 7 Days to Die from this pile by the way, that game is a weird look all on its own.)
While Above Snakes does have Zombies (really you almost can’t say survival without ZOMBIES or PLANE CRASH) – the art style and comical appearance blunt the scare factor immensely. For some reason the art style of this game – and similarly styled games- always strike me as being perfect for a handheld system. Except I sold my Switch and haven’t decided yet if I’m going to pull the trigger on my Steam Deck reservation. RIP!
I came across the game while doing my normal Twitter browsing to find new titles -which works!- and was intrigued enough by the game to generate one of my Upcoming Games posts for it. The developer for Above Snakes (Tobias Schnackenberg- and can I just say I am grateful I only have to write his name and not try to pronounce it on a video??) reached out to me about checking out the game via a press key- and I’m ever so grateful that I was given this chance!
Atmosphere and Environment
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 feature/type of world building may be common outside of the survival genre, it’s not one I’ve encountered personally.
It’s very nifty! Basically you start on one square “Tile“, which is 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 next unique biome slice. Each tile is unique in their Tile Attributes; Water Sources, Food Sources, Crafting Materials, and Loot. Balancing your needs & resources as you build out your map is a really neat twist on the typical sandbox survival experience- one I think will be beneficial to folks who typically find that the experience sours after countless hours in game.
My exploration through 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 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). You can also make choices solely based on the most beneficial Attribute the next tile piece would bring to the table- you responsible builder you.
Throughout exploration the music accompanying the game-play was charming & immersive. FULL DISCLOSURE I turn the music off on most (okay probably all) games, so I was happy to hear some solid atmospheric audio on the tiles as well.
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 actually have a full host of important stats that are important to your survival; thirst, hunger, fatigue, state of mind- and of course your hit points. I like that the sleep mechanic, which applies to mind 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.
Kickstarter and Funding
Above Snakes nailed a successful Kickstarter earlier in the year. It attained full funding and smashed a number of stretch goals, including Spirit Shrines, Mini Games, ANIMAL COMPANION, and future console ports (planned for post 2023 game release). Backers were given access to the games Alpha post Kickstater campaign- and no worries if you missed backing it! You can still back it & snag a key via this link.
Above Snakes is a game that has the ability to check a lot of boxes for different folks: it’s survival, isometric, a tile builder, a top down game, a base builder, and more. All in all I really enjoyed the slice of game-play I experienced during the demo access, and I’m excited for the full release. (Well I guess Alpha is technically the soonest Backers can access it, but you know what I mean.) It’s pretty 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 didn’t forget to bring the fun factor.
My issues/critiques were honestly pretty few in number and low in impact to my demo time. They are also the sort of thing 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 easily since the camera viewpoint is fixed (Update: Camera can now be rotated left and right using Q&E). I’m very much not a fan of games where things I loot go directly onto my usage bar-it’s a pet peeve I guess but between cat ownership and alternate game muscle memory, a button is going to end up being clicked on accident 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.