Electron Dance

SNKRX Is Way More Fun Than I Expected

SNKRX (a327ex, 2021) is an unusual snake-shooter hybrid released today. It popped up on Twitter in the last couple of weeks and I was smitten with the visual madness in which I couldn’t help but see a little Holedown.

Now it has some UI crimes to answer for but SNKRX is really compelling. It's lo-fi, lo-price and lo-pronounceable. The developer has described it as an “arcade shooter roguelite” but - and perhaps I’m too oldskool at this point - I’m not sure you need the word “roguelite”. But, hey, the marketing bods out there would probably disagree. Actually, they’d probably tell the developer to call it a “roguelike” because no one gives a shit about calling anything a “roguelite” and then I’d probably start chanelling my inner Raigan Burns about the sanctity of game taxonomies.

But let me tell you what SNKRX actually is.

Your snake represents a party of heroes. At the start of the game, you are hero-less, and must use meagre resources to hire one. The shop screen looks like this.

I still can’t tell you what all of this means. But the basic principle is, there are three heroes available for hire, each one with a cost. You start off with fuck-all gold. Once you’ve decided which one to hire, your party is joined. Hit the green GO! Button to kick ass.

So on your first level, it’s not so much SNKRX but DOTRX. Your hero will do all their own attacks; your only job is turning the snake which otherwise moves relentlessly forward. I wasn’t convinced initially because I was winning fights without a scintilla of understanding of what was happening. Your mission is to keep the snake out of trouble so the heroes can pick off enemies at a distance… or maybe keep them near trouble if you’ve got an “area of effect” attack (which SNKRX bafflingly describes as “AoE” without once explaining the acronym).

With each victory, you’ll land more cash. With more cash you can hire more heroes for your party, er, snake. Each party member has their own powers. Some will fire arrows, others will have AoE attacks (sorry, I mean Area of Effect attacks), and others enhance the team such as healers.

There’s a lot more juice to this shop than you might gather from a screenshot. First, you need to keep hiring the same type of hero to upgrade them - and it takes a lot of purchases to get upgrades. Second, while you’ll be presented with three heroes, you can spend 2 gold to “reroll” the heroes for hire. If you’ve got a big kitty, this means you can buy a lot of heroes in one turn.

See, some heroes are common, like scouts and swordsmen, but there are some expensive and rare choices once you get deeper into the game - I might even venture the word sexy here. Like pyromancers who erect a permanent field of fire around the party, the chronomancer who speeds up attacks or plague doctors who leave bubbles of plague behind for the enemies to drift through. But your snake can only hold seven heroes and if you add too many rare choices to the mix, you’ll be forever rerolling in the shop waiting for your sexy heroes to reappear: upgrades take ages.

And, my God, that shop is full of sexy heroes. If you tell me you can resist the urge to recruit a lich, cannoneer or flagellant to your party then you, I’m afraid, are a goddamn liar. Of course, you can sell heroes back for cash via the magic of right-click but… you don’t really want to change upgrade paths once you’ve got deep into a run.

The task is to get to level 25 and there are several boss levels along the way: those levels will keep spawning new waves of enemies until you send the powerful boss enemy to the dark void of death. There seems to be a “New Game+” mode which permits larger parties so the real goal isn’t to master level 25, it’s probably to do streaks. Wait, maybe it is a roguelite. Shit, I always get caught out like this. (Update 19 May: No, you don't do streaks. Dying in NG+1 mode won't knock you back to the normal game. It's just a harder difficulty.)

SNKRX’s central problem is one of clarity: reading a hero’s breakdown is like trying to make sense out of tea leaves. Also, SNKRX doesn’t seem to do saving - if you’re in the middle of a run, you’ve got to keep going. And you may wonder how much impact you’re really having during battles. Turning left and right, is that what kids call agency these days? My answer is this: when you accidentally drive your snake through a swarm of enemies and everyone gets hacked to shit, you’ll feel like it was your fault.

It looks much better in motion than these screenshots suggest, another one to join the club of games that don’t screenshot well (hey, Bezier, Endlight, Return Home, you’ve got a new friend). Check out the trailer below.

So I got as far as level 23 and, another time, I got as far as crashing it. I’ll be victorious soon enough, once I've built my sexy hero snake just right. But surely this game should have been called "The Hero Centipede". Who's with me?

Update 20 May: The developer says it was inspired by Nimble Quest and Dota Underlords (which was based on Dota Auto Chess). Dota Underlords is where the shop aspect came from and Nimble Quest is the originator of the Snake/RPG concept. Nimble Quest is grid-based and some of the comments refer to is "grindy" (and some suggest this is because of its mobile origins) which is not a problem that SNKRX has. Whether the resulting design is completely balanced is difficult to say: there is a lot in here and it was written in three months. But it's enthusiastic, engaging and I can't argue with its price.


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Comments (20) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I feel like Rx stands for Rogue-lite/like, although I can’t find any evidence for this.
    So the name might mean “snake rogue” … but I prefer “snek wreks”.

  2. The developer made a prototype called JUGGLRX last year. But I’ll go with SNEK WREKS for today. I defeated all 25 levels today. Now into NG+1. Not sure what has changed. Starts afresh and still limited to 7 heroes…

  3. Also, I don’t think SNKRX is that difficult – some of the builds seem incredibly overpowered. But it’s a lot of fun for the price.

  4. Huh. So this isn’t so much the dreaded ‘Snake but with RPG elements’ as.. an RPG with Snake elements?

    The shop system sounds like it was cribbed from Dota Autochess and its clones. The reroll is a dead giveaway, as well as the purchasing and combining of units of varying rarities. Though it seems to be missing the tension that underpinned that system in Autochess? Specifically, the ‘stick or twist’ dynamic of having a limited space for units that quickly filled up while you tried to complete upgrades of your extant party and also speculatively pick up units that might be stronger long-term replacements.

  5. See this is why I have comments, because I couldn’t possibly spend my time on Dota Auto Chess especially as I have never heard of Dota Auto Chess before.

    (He googles.)

    It looks very similar, from what I can glean. You can only add 7 party members and you CAN sell them to make space for new ones. This is the point I was making about upgrading rare pieces – it can be expensive as you have to burn through so many rerolls to find the upgrades. If you collect nothing but rarities, it’ll be hard as hell to get anyone maxed out on upgrades – which means you’re more likely to do poorly.

    Another Dota Auto Chess thing – there is also interest on the gold! I haven’t really relied on interest very much.

    I’ve tended to fill the party up over the first few levels and then spend most of the game upgrading (in my last winning game I did dump a couple of heroes partway through as they hadn’t upgraded.)

  6. Happy to be of service! Sorry if it came across as a bit of an ‘AKSHULLY’ comment.

    I’m always amazed at how invisible influences can be in any work until you become aware of the source, which then snaps seamlessly into your schema of understanding.

  7. The last time I did this was in 2015 in How to Bury a Great Game where I thought the mechanics were brilliantly original but discovered that it was building on Puzzle Quest.

    I got through NG+1 without too much difficulty – I was able to build a party of 8. Interestingly, a longer snake feels more vulnerable despite having more powers (but damn I absolutely killed it – my build with special upgrades killed everything including elites with no effort in the last few rounds). I’m now progressing to NG+2.

  8. No, it’s seriously hard. I can just about get through the first boss now and reached the second one just once.

  9. Right I noticed the congratulations screen says it was inspired by Nimble Quest and Dota Underlords (which was based on Dota Auto Chess). It seems that Nimble Quest is the originator of the Snake/RPG concept. So the core cool ideas have come from somewhere else – not to knock SNKRX but it’s easy to assume from my article that these are innovations never seen before.

    Nimble Quest is, however, grid-based and some of the comments refer to is “grindy” (and some suggest this is because of its mobile origins). I don’t think could be levelled at SNKRX.

    Will add some update to this effect.

  10. Okay, *phew*. Once you get halfway through, the scales begin to tip in your favour. But you can still get wiped out fast if you drive the snake accidentally through a spawn point. NG+3 is at hand!

    I hope, er, the two of you are enjoying these updates in the comments :)

  11. I’m looking forward to the inevitable transmission :)

  12. Yeah, the next transmission games are already in the bag: Kavel, SNKRX, Trifoil, Spirits of Xanadu and Wattam.

  13. You’re not wrong about Holedown — IIRC grapefrukt shared his Unity vector-rendering code with the SNKRX developer (I may be mis-remembering). :)

    IMO the action parts are too tedious (why are there no Snake-style pick-ups to add more context/dimension to your positioning beyond “move near/far from the enemies”?!), the main addictive aspect is literally gambling (rolling heroes), and it’s pretty unbalanced wrt gold allotment and pacing (the first 5 levels are trivial, and you’re starved for gold for the first half of the game).

    Having said that, I played for 15h and beat NG+5 (IMO +2/+3 are the best, after that the randomness gets overpowering) so I shouldn’t complain too much. I just feel this idea has a ton of unrealized potential.

  14. Hey Raigan! That’s pretty much how I feel. I *just* finished NG+5 this lunch time. I’ve played NG+5 so many times and developed certain strategies: don’t put a mage in front, a swordsman should go up back, try to get three rangers to enable barrage attacks, I got used to avoiding the starting points (and being close enough to shoot can also be deadly if there’s a green or blue straight out of the pack). But, whoa, that randomness: sometimes when all the green enemies are out front, that’s a disaster (I think it was level 4 in NG+5 that could almost wipe you out in the first wave). And I found no strategy to deal with the blue exploders.

    It definitely comes up short as a game of skill, but is ridiculously engaging: the short rounds are a plus. I’m sure someone is going to make a solid followup to SNKRX which address all of its issues. And that game is going to be addictive as hell as well.

  15. You know, the concept seemed new to me but then when you mentioned Nimble Quest I remember seeing that quite a long time ago! I think this crackles a lot more visually being ‘off the grid’. I’m not familiar with Auto Chess so I can’t speak to the drafting system but it sounds interesting.

    I’ve just picked this up!

  16. So I’ve been playing this a bit over the last week, currently on NG+2, and it’s a weird thing. The delivery of info is rough. You mentioned ‘AoE’ which I knew from other games but I just had ‘100% aspd and damage to 1 mage’. Now I know how you feel! But I’ve still no idea what aspd is! I don’t think its ‘anti social personality disorder’ either.

    The symbols and colour coding don’t do the game any favours, particularly when classes share colours like rangers and healers, or forcers and warriors. It becomes a bit of mess of things I struggle to untangle to form strategies. I’m still playing it so it’s got its hooks into me but it can be quite opaque!

    I hate the blue enemies. And the orange bouncers.

  17. Yeah, the Blue/Orange enemies got buffed in a recent patch and IMO they’re a bit much — I haven’t managed to clear the game on base difficulty since they appeared!

    I think ASPD is attack speed/rate, but I’m not 100%. I’m with you on the confusing colours and stuff being pretty opaque in general. :)

  18. Concurring. The game seems to be undergoing immense flux. After some changes, I went back to NG+3 to “enjoy” the game instead of throwing my skull at the wall repeatedly hoping for luck to fall into place. I was often being taken down by the enemy shooters (white) and exploders (blue). But then it was all changed again last week: the class structure was overhauled. There were now too many characters in the shop because on later levels I can easily spend 40 gold without seeing one upgrade for the several different characters I haven’t fully upgraded.

    Until recently, I’d never been bothered by the headbutters but they do cause serious problems now. On NG+3, I’ve gotten to the final boss a few times but… well, previously I’d been so powerful, the boss would be dead in a nanosecond. Now, I can see what his attack his: he just rams the party at high-speed. I managed to survive two rams last game I played, but a third and it was all over.

    There have been definite improvements (eg re-arranging the party and finally the class highlight colour is grey, so there’s no confusion with the white class) but it’s frustrating that I can’t go back to that silly little game that I wrote about above.

  19. Add the white shooters to that last of things I hate now!

    I only played the game a few days ago and there are now little pips next to characters in the shop that you already have in your party which makes upgrading a lot easier to see. But yeah, I can rinse A LOT of gold before I see upgrades. Locking the shop is nice if you see a set of characters in the shop you want to save until you have money.

    I just got to wave 23 on NG+2 (my best run) and was doing really well before it all went wrong very quickly. There are some seriously fun AoE fireworks with the right classes and items!

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