After 16 years, Snake II is still the best mobile game ever made
Some high scores just can't be beaten.
Modern phones are less portable communication devices and more instant entertainment portals. Videos, articles, photos, books, quizzes, and of course, games. All available at the touch of touchscreen, and with more choice and variety than ever before.
But wait, stop.
Let’s go back to the year 2000, back to the days when mobiles had buttons and touch screens were the stuff of science fiction. There were only a few mobile games available back then, and the undisputed king was Snake II. I recently dusted off an old Nokia 3310, and it is with pleasure I can report that 16 years later, Snake II is still the best mobile game ever made.
Yep, in the face of incredible technological advances, a simple black and white (well, black and green) game that has its roots in '70s arcade machines is still so much better than Angry Birds, Temple Run and Pokémon Go combined. How, you ask? It's simple.
No, that's it: it's simple.
Snake II is a beautifully playable game. The rules are straightforward: you eat the dots, the dots make you longer. The longer you get, the higher your score, but the harder you are to control. If you crash into yourself, it’s game over. The controls are up, down, left and right, and that’s about it. A child could master Snake II, as many of us will know from experience.
The fiendishly clever thing about Snake II is that the level of difficulty directly corresponds to your level of ability: as the score goes up and the snake gets longer, the harder you make it to continue. You are ultimately playing yourself. This is what makes the pursuit of the high score so tantalising, and makes defeat all the more aggravating when you fall within touching distance of victory. There's no one to blame or congratulate but you.
A simple game, and all the better for its lack of features, for more features means more things to go wrong. Snake II never lags, never mistakenly interprets an 'up' as a 'down', never wipes your save, never crashes, never fails. You can sink hours into it and the only thing that can stop you is the battery, which as anyone who owned a 3310 remembers, will still be going long after you're dead and buried. And the game never got tiresome. Every time you started a game, it was different. The same, but different.
Snake II put everyone on a level playing field. As long as you had decent hand-eye coordination and could spare a few hours, there was nothing to stop you from being as good at Snake as your friends. For all of modern mobile gaming's posturing as a social platform, they'll never be as social as Snake II. I remember spending hours with my best friend trying to beat each other's high scores, and the fist-pumping elation that came when one of us finally topped the other. Being King of Snake II meant something, because who wanted to be King of Bantumi?
But perhaps the best thing about playing Snake II in this decade is that it isn't trying to be more than it is. Mobile games exist in a different world now; the mobile app economy is worth millions and they ain't cheap to make, but Snake II was born free of commercial constraints. There’s no in-app purchases, no adverts, no Game Centre pop-ups, no online connection necessary, all of which actively stop games from being enjoyable.
It's so good to play a game that is uninhibited. It's so good to play a game that is actually fun. It's so good to play a game that is just a game.
Feature image: @gamersparadisep