The concept of Curvatron is great: take a beloved, classic game, revamp the gameplay, add a few new modes, and implement player created levels. The game is very much based on Snake, the cherished 1976 title that has existed in some form across multiple hardware generations. I’ve personally invested hours into Snake thanks to my Dreamcast VMU when I was in early high school, and I can remember spending countless hours playing the game and loving it. Although it could, at times, grow stale and frustrating, I kept returning to it despite it’s repetitive simplicity. Curvatron is a game that looks to freshen up this concept with a brand new take on things.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s a very simple game played on a two dimensional plane. In its most basic form, the player manipulates a line, the snake, around the screen from a top-down perspective as it travels from one point to another. The player moves the front of the line with up, down, left, and right directional inputs without an ability to stop the snake. The goal is typically to reach a highlighted pixel or area wherein its “tail” grows in length. If the line makes contact with itself, it’s game over.
Curvatron modifies this classic gameplay formula in three primary ways. Although the line travels in a predetermined path, this set path is now a circular motion. Instead of progressing vertically or horizontally, the snake continually attempts to run back into itself via the circular pattern. This is a great way to ensure that the player stays involved at all times as leaving the game idle will almost immediately spell doom.
The second big difference is that there is no longer directional input. The player is instead meant to push a single button (e.g., a mouse button, keyboard key, or controller input) to make the snake begin to circle in the opposite direction. This means the best way to travel in a relatively straight path is to repeatedly press a button resulting in a wave-like pattern. It also means there’s a heavy emphasis on timing as the risk of running into something is constant.
The third change, and something that has been done many times before, is the use of obstacles. Aside from a few modes, preset lines litter stages that are meant for the player to maneuver around to reach their goal. This can potentially create a layer of strategy as approaching corridors or tight spaces always requires an escape route. But when you break it down, the walls aren’t actually a new implementation, they’re simply there for you to avoid and although some of the included stage layouts are unique, they largely serve as a means to add variance to avoid mundanity.
Because of this, additional implementations such as stage creation and multiplayer fall flat. Although the level creation has some decent features considering what you’re able to work with, it really breaks down to adding obstacles. It is a good idea, but one very limited as a result of the simplicity of the game. This is also a fault with the multiplayer component. Multiplayer features a competitive design with up to 8-players with the goal of growing your snake the longest. It’s a good way to mix things up but quickly loses its allure. I will admit that these modes could certainly add to the experience if you’re enjoying Curvatron enough to want more, but this was not the case for me primarily due to my reservations with the design of the game.
But the biggest problem with Curvatron goes back to the core of its gameplay mechanics. When analysing Snake, the satisfaction was the instant feedback from hitting the directional pad and understanding exactly when your creature would turn and whether or not it was aligned with the goal. Neither of these is the case in Curvatron. When pressing the button, there is a slight delay between your action and the on-screen response. This is a result of the fact that the snake moves in a curved pattern and, before switching directions, a minimal portion of the current trajectory must be carried out leading to momentum for the next curve. This slight delay can be a massive annoyance when your intentions are slightly different than the on-screen representation making it harder to predict movement, thus leading to further disappointment.
This frustration is compounded by the fact that the goals are not pixel perfect. There’s a limited area around the intended objective that leads to success; this is evident by the fact that the goal drifts toward your snake when the front of the snake is close enough. This was perhaps included because the developers understood that the game can be difficult when attempting to maneuver in tight spaces, but my irritation only grew as I would often believe I was close enough to the objective before simply circling around the goal requiring an immediate plan of action to fight with the controls and return to the necessary location.
Although I can admire the aspirations of what Curvatron attempts to accomplish, as well as the concept of reinventing a classic for a new crowd, it comes up short in some very important ways. Even the concept of further simplifying Snake’s straightforward gameplay is not inherently a bad idea, but when there are glaring flaws within the fabric of the primary, and in this case, the only, gameplay mechanic, there’s a problem. This ultimately makes me wonder if the development of Curvatron was doomed from its conception.
Just missing the point
Despite great intentions for reinvention, Curvatron lacks many of the great qualities of the classic Snake leading to a disappointing experience.