Snake Core

A game by Orangepixel for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2020.
Snake Core is a modern take on the classic Snake formula where players control a lengthy string of soldiers rather than a slithering reptile. The game is set in the same universe and era as the developer’s Gunslugs series, taking place after the Gunslugs have defeated an evil army and defended Earth from alien attack. During this time – and using a bit of alien technology – scientists develop a device called the Omega Gate, which is capable of transporting people and objects over great distances. The Gunslugs train a new military outfit called the Snake Core, which then uses the Omega Gate to teleport to hostile alien worlds and bring the fight to them.

Like Snake, you’re really only controlling the head, while the rest of the body follows along the same route. Crossing over your own path or running into a wall spells instant death, but it’s a bit silly here, since you’re not controlling a single creature but rather a line of (presumably) independently-thinking soldiers. So when the lead soldier walks into a wall and dies, so too do the rest of the soldiers in the line, laughably exploding into blood and skulls as they are mysteriously shredded by bumping into a solid object.

You begin the game with a total of 80 soldiers in your army, but you only bring a certain number of them into each mission. Getting killed reduces the size of your army, and once you lose them all, it’s game over. It’s possible to gain more soldiers by bumping into them on the field, which extends the length of your line. Every now and then, a pink tentacle rises up from the ground, and killing it releases a scientist, who may be collected and added to your line for bonus points.

Instead of merely walking into enemies, your soldiers actually shoot at them… well, your front soldier shoots anyway; the rest of the soldiers just follow along. Your lead soldier can take damage as well, and when he is killed, the next soldier in the line becomes the leader. However, this transition effect is quite different than immediately replacing the front soldier with the next unit, which would effectively be the same as removing a unit from the back of the line.

This distinction is important because removing the front soldier from play creates a hiccup in control. Since you are only actually controlling the soldier in the front of the line, when he is killed, there is a momentary delay while the next soldier moves into that position. With multiple aliens attacking at once, it’s possible to lose more than one soldier during an assault, and since these soldiers are always lost in a hail of gunfire, this is also the time where it’s hardest to make out where your lead soldier is standing. In a game where one misstep can cause you to bump into a wall and send your entire squad to their doom, it’s vital that the player be able to easily discern where his avatar is located at all times.

Some missions are dedicated to recruitment where you’ll be extending your line of soldiers to ridiculous lengths by constantly picking up new ones. Other missions generally focus on wiping out aliens while defending scientists or equipment. In some missions, you face a continuous onslaught of aliens that appear and open fire. In others, you must protect a roving convoy from similar attacks, which adds the difficulty of defending a moving target. There are bomb diffusion missions where you must take out as many short-fused mines (by shooting them, strangely enough) before they explode.

There are also some cool infection-themed levels where you have to take out alien globs under a time limit before they spread too far, requiring you to wipe out isolated clusters before they become too large to manage. In boss levels, you pursue a segmented enemy through the environment, blasting it from behind and steadily reducing its length until it is destroyed.

The game is presented in a roguelike structure, with the world map and starting mission randomized for each run. Once you complete your first mission, you’re free to select from one or more follow-up missions, but you can only make forward progress on the map, and you can’t see the entire map when the game begins. As a result, you’ll need to be mindful of which missions lie ahead on your chosen path to help you decide what route would be most beneficial. In particular, if you’re running low on soldiers, you may want to seek out recruitment missions. The goal is to make it to the final area at the top of the map and destroy the alien overlord.

There are a couple of pickups to be found within the levels, including a clock that extends the timer on time-based levels. It’s also worth noting that the line of soldiers speeds up in some areas as the player nears completion of the level. There are also plasma pickups, appearing in small and large containers, and these act as the game’s currency, which may be spent between levels to recruit new soldier types or purchase upgrades.

Upgrades include more health for your lead soldier, medics that also increase your lifespan, and higher defense levels for scientific equipment to help you last longer in alien attack levels. There are several types of soldier unit, with each offering added defense and firepower. By default, you begin with a line of basic soldiers, but you can spend money to recruit elite soldiers and swat members that have more protective gear. From there, you can purchase machinery in the form of jeeps, tanks, and mech units, adding to your overall durability and firepower. Of course, all of these upgrades can be undone in a moment if you walk into a wall.

Like Snake, your movement is restricted to a grid, and in a nice touch, the grid appears as a highlight around your lead solder rather than covering the entire map. Unfortunately, unlike Snake, you are not simply moving one snake-unit at a time, but rather taking several steps from one grid square to the next. This makes for somewhat less precise movement, as you cannot make a turn until you arrive in the next grid square, although you can “preload” your next turn by pressing in the appropriate direction beforehand.

If you’ve already crossed over a grid line, you must wait until the next grid square to move, which can lead to you helplessly watching your line of soldiers march to their deaths against a wall. Without any coyote time for a last minute save, deaths can feel frustrating, because you have a half-second to realize your mistake without any power to fix it.

This is further amplified by the fact that it is sometimes difficult to tell which objects in the environment are deadly and which are simple background designs, and this distinction is all the more difficult to make in the heat of battle. Furthermore, some objects don’t extend all the way to the edge of their grid squares, sometimes giving a false impression that you still have room to move. There are even some objects that occupy the foreground, blocking your view of what’s behind, even though there is a safe path. The grid highlight does indicate where it is safe to walk and where it isn’t, but it’s difficult to keep track of this while also monitoring the level as a whole and working to complete mission objectives.

Unfortunately, since the easiest way to fail a level is to walk into a wall, this is the most likely method for your destruction, which can undo a lot of hard work and overall progress toward a successful run. This is all the more frustrating since losing all of your soldiers sends you back to the start of the game. What’s more, the game is intent on filling the environment to the brim with enemies, pickups, projectiles, and lighting effects that only make it more difficult to avoid bumping into something.

Adding to this is a cacophony of sound effects and the virtually incessant chatter of the soldiers that you are controlling. With nearly every directional press, your lead soldier will shout out a confirmation quip like “Yes, sir!”, “Affirmative!”, “Orders received!” or “On my way!”. These phases cycle between a few possibilities, but you will be hearing them hundreds of times during the course of a play session. On top of this, there are other sound effects triggering to let you know when aliens are attacking, when they have been killed, a “danger” announcement when a friendly target is nearly destroyed, confirmation when a powerup is collected, and the calls of soldiers or scientists waiting in the environment to be collected (and another audio cue when they are collected).

Suppementing your primary mission objectives are 100 secondary objectives, which are loaded in three at a time, similar to the system employed in Luftrausers. These objectives include things like recruiting a certain number of scientists, picking up a certain amount of plasma in a single level, or completing specific mission types. However, there appears to be no in-game reward for completing these objectives.

Aesthetically, the game is presented in an arcade style, but with more advanced lighting effects than were possible on classic arcade machines. Gameplay takes place in confined single-screen arenas with chunky sprites, charming character designs, and lots of fine details appearing on various pieces of scientific equipment. There some nice details on the floor tiles, displaying cracks, divots, and exposed flooring, but this visual complexity makes some environments more difficult to parse. Enemy targets and friendly soldiers have additional highlights to make them stand out from these backgrounds.

Snake Core was developed by Orangepixel, a one-man studio founded in 2004 and headed by developer Pascal Bestebroer, based in the Netherlands. Music for the game was composed by Nicole Marie T, who previously composed for Ghoulboy - Dark Sword of Goblin.

All of Orangepixel’s games are set in the same universe. For instance, the Heroes of Loot series is set in a time when the world was filled with magic and fantasy creatures, whereas the Gunslugs series is set in a more modern version of the world that has encountered hostile alien life. Snake Core takes place during this latter era and represents Earth’s first extraplanetary military missions against the aliens. In a future era of this universe, Earth has been destroyed, and this is when the Ashworld and Meganoid games take place.