When I was a kid, I loved playing Snake on my dad’s chunky old Nokia cellphone. When I got my first cell in college, it cam with a lousy 3D update of Snake that ran terribly and couldn’t recapture the elegant simplicity of the original. It’s taken over a decade, but there’s finally a successor worthy of the name: SNKRX. How do you pronounce it? Snik-Rex? Snake-Arr-Ex? Snake Prescription? I have no idea. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s a charming and surprisingly deep little game that I find myself coming back to again and again.
SNKRX owes at least as much to autobattler games as it does to Snake. That genre, which evolved out of games like League of Legends, is all about spending limited resources to recruit different characters for your team, who then automatically do battle with other players — hence the name. Similarly, in SNKRX you recruit a number of different characters — from straightforward ones like “Magician” or “Swordsman” to more esoteric ones like “Usurer” or “Barrager.” But once you ready up, you don’t just sit back and watch your characters do their thing.
Instead, you’re tasked with controlling the snake-like formation of your party as it slides around an arena, with each character represented by a different color dot. A number of enemies will spawn in and your characters each deal out their unique attacks — slinging projectiles, emitting blasts that repel foes, even building little traps that target enemies independently. Your only direct control here is turning your party-snake, trying to maneuver into advantageous positions and avoid enemy contact.
It sounds simple, but there’s a lot going on under the hood. For instance, each character is assigned one or more classes, and building a party with multiple members of the same class will grant bonus effects. Every few rounds, you’re also presented with a choice of buffs for your party which you can then upgrade with gold. That doesn’t even get into the store, which allows you to reroll the three-character selection for a fee, upgrade the kinds of characters that show up with gold, or lock a selection for the next round if you don’t have the cash on hand. This all creates a delicate balance where you’re trying to get through each level with the minimum you can so that you can save up money for more powerful characters down the line.
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SNKRX works because of how well it balances its two modes. The actual gameplay is as basic as an early arcade title, but the shop and recruiting mechanics are deep enough to encourage experimentation with different builds. And you’ll have to experiment, because SNKRX gets pretty tough in its later levels. In my first run, I made it all the way to the last boss before getting stomped — I soon realized that was a fluke. Any character that dies comes back in the next round, but it’s still easy to lose control of your party and run headfirst into a cluster of enemies in the more difficult levels.
Even when you die, though, you probably won’t mind. The game’s simple aesthetic and banging soundtrack, which brings to mind Anamanaguchi’s classic Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World score, is so charming that it’s hard to stay mad. Besides, starting over means getting to try something new — and SNKRX makes that sense of experimentation so enjoyable that you’re likely to want to do it over and over.