Sumo Digital has been producing great games for some time but with its latest creation the British studio has finally tried their luck and tried to build a completely original game. Snake Pass offers a unique mix of physics-based platform action and puzzle solving, brought together by a colorful presentation and a fantastic soundtrack by David Wise. It’s really something great, but from a Digital Foundry perspective, this game offers the opportunity to see a fully developed title with Unreal Engine 4 released on the Switch alongside the PS4, PS4 Pro and Xbox One editions.
And this is a meaningful comparison bearing in mind the growing importance of the EU4 in the market. Snake Pass’s look and feel can be highly stylized but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many things happening below the surface. It is, after all, a game developed with Unreal Engine that offers rich lighting and complex interactions. The game world is chock full of dense grass, great post-processing effects and beautiful animations.
Considering the hardware differences between PS4 and Switch, first impressions are positive for the new Nintendo console. There are several visible differences between the two versions but the overall look of the title is very well maintained and the gameplay is not particularly affected. Of course the Sumo guys had to tinker with the graphics settings to bridge the processing power gap between the two systems.
The process for calculating the shadows in each level is handled slightly differently while the depth of field used on PS4 is absent on Switch in the heat of the action. Grass placement varies significantly but curiously this seems to favor Switch at times. Another difference is found in the water rendering: reflections from water are present in some areas on PS4 but are missing in the Switch version. It’s a nice effect to see on the Sony platform so seeing it removed on the Nintendo console is a minor disappointment, but it’s such a subtle effect that most users wouldn’t even notice it’s missing without a direct comparison. Similarly, the water ripple shaders have also been removed, while the overall reflection work has undergone a significant downgrade.
Perhaps not too surprisingly the biggest difference is in the rendering resolution. On PlayStation 4 we find a resolution of 1536×864 while Switch reduces it to 1200×675 in dock mode and around 844×475 while playing in mobile mode. Although less than expected, the result is better than you might think thanks to the excellent temporal anti-aliasing technology of the Unreal Engine, combined with the soft materials used in the game. This is the thing to remember here: a lower resolution with excellent anti-aliasing often produces a more pleasing image than a higher resolution with little or no AA. As it is, the end result is not really bad. For those looking for higher resolution gameplay, the PS4 Pro version meets these demands with two settings, one of which also features 60fps gameplay. We will discuss this in more detail in an upcoming update.
What’s fascinating about Snake Pass, however, is its mobile implementation. We were able to do some more analysis on handheld mode thanks to some direct feed material provided by the developers. In this case there are minor differences in the detail of the scenes but beyond the resolution the comparison is really very favorable. Image quality is comparable to dock mode but feels much sharper, scaled down on the Switch’s smaller screen.
When it comes to overall graphics quality the PS4 version is, therefore, the best but the Switch version performs better than one might expect in both of its configurations. The fact that porting an Unreal Engine game was done so quickly and looks so good is good for the future of the platform, at least as far as titles that leverage UE4 are concerned. While we’ve often seen results similar to the Wii U while testing many early Switch games, it’s clear that the new system’s more modern architecture and improved support tools can really help make a difference. And let’s not forget that UE4 isn’t even available on Wii U.
Subtle differences in lighting and post processing effects are immediately apparent when comparing Switch and PlayStation 4 but on the other hand there is a reduction in grass density on PS4.There are similar differences in this case as well. Note the lack of depth of field applied to game world polygons on Switch.Depth of field appears in cutscenes on all platforms but there are changes to the graphics of the more distant background elements.When comparing the portable mode to the Switch’s dock mode there are slight reductions in clarity and the loss of some minor details. Note the additional pebbles of the dock mode and the PS4 version that are not present in the portable mode.
In terms of performance, both the Switch and PS4 versions are aiming for 30fps, and while a higher frame-rate would have been positive (and is available for PS4 Pro owners), Sumo has chosen for a more stable experience than variable performance and an unlocked frame-rate. As things stand, PS4 manages 30fps totally solidly and consistently, and initial tests suggest the same thing on Xbox One. On the Switch we get about the same level of performance in dock mode but there are frame-pacing issues leading to an occasionally less solid experience. Luckily it’s nowhere near similar to the problems of games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, and the hope is that it can be fixed in an upcoming update.
Performance in portable mode proves to be quite similar to dock mode – we have the same 30fps target with occasional cases of bad frame-pacing. We did notice some sections where performance dropped below 30fps but those dips are generally minimal. The general sense is that Snake Pass only runs a bit slower in portable mode but manages to keep reasonably close to 30 fps. If frame-pacing issues are corrected in either mode, the experience should generally be better.
So this is the situation we are in currently, the game is absolute fun on both Switch and PS4 but clearly there are compromises to be able to run the title effectively on Nintendo’s new hybrid console. The fact that those trade-offs have been handled so well and kept to a minimum is still impressive and certainly gives us hope that future Unreal Engine 4-based games will run well on the platform. What makes the Switch version attractive is obviously being able to play on the go and the fact that it retains so much visually is commendable. We will be back soon with an analysis of the title on multiple platforms but in case you are a Switch owner looking for new titles to play, we can confirm that we are certainly having a lot of fun with Snake Pass.