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Games

A Love Letter to Snake, the Best Mobile Game

With the Nokia 3310 being relaunched, we can only hope that a whole new generation will discover Snake. If not, we’ll replay it until we’re ophidiophobic (afraid of snakes!)

by Kyle MacNeill
Feb 21 2017, 8:00pm

Before the Flip Phone, the Blackberry and The Smartphone, there was the Brick Phone. We're talking about the early, Chuck Norris-strong handsets that kick-started the whole cell phone thing. The archetypal Nokia Brick was the 3310. Released in 2000, it's sold over 126 million units, and was generally renowned as the most reliable phone you can wrap your mitts around. There's a reason it's known as 'The Unbreakable' in Finland, its country of origin; it's built like a fucking whippet tank. Add to that 260 hours of standby battery, the ability for colored shells and a customizable welcome screen, and it's still a cute little monster to this day.

But, the real reason that the 3310 should be remembered, is for introducing Snake to the mainstream, in the form of Snake II. Snake had originally been conceived via the arcade game Blockade in 1976, and the following year Atari jumped on the pixelated reptile hype through Surround.

It had a PC port through Worm (a slightly less fun slimy creature, I may add) it got many of its classic features through the 1982 version for the BBC Micro. This saw the use of left and right arrow keys, and the hardcore element of you only having one life. Fifteen years later, Nokia introduced a mobile version for the 6110, program by design engineer Taneli Armanto. But it was the 3110's Snake II that saw the game slither into our hearts.

Its beauty lies in it being a video game stripped down to the absolute basics. Remember the old children's entertainer joke, where they'd promise to craft an animal balloon, but just blow-up one up, and hand it over claiming it to be a snake? That comes to mind with the video game; simply put, there's no simpler creature or character to make out of pixels. Yet, it's managed to be brought to life through how infectious it is to wind around the screen. I don't want to sound like I'm getting over excited about the simplest game physics known to man, but it's still endearing to see your viper exit one side and slither through the other.

There's also something pretty cool at play in terms of leveling-up. Eating those little creatures makes your snake bigger (Freud would've had a field day), which is basically the objective of the game. But then the bigger you are, the harder it is for you to meander around the screen and avoid completing the circuit of doom. Add to that the fact that you've only got one life, meaning that each wind round is a shit-scary moment, and you've got a thriller in your hands. I mean this is really, really obvious. But it's also fun in its simplest, purest video game form, the kind that you experience in Pong or Space Invaders. A chain of pixels, satisfying physics, and a sense of the game's difficulty increasing exponentially with success.

Its beauty lies in it being a video game stripped down to the absolute basics.

And, like the calculator, calendar and ringtone composer, it was just another little feature seen as a necessity. There's something retrospectively refreshing about having a game built-in to a cell phone. No need to download anything, no in-game fees, no updates, no data sapping. As long as you've got your Nokia to hand, you can get munching away. And with the 3310 having a battery life of nearly three-hundred hours, you can play for as long as you want, or until you start to feel ophidiophobic.

Even though it's been forty years since it first came about, it still holds an impressive amount of currency in the phone market. There are about three-hundred versions on the App Store alone, which is pretty cool to see, but it's far less fun playing it on a touch-screen smart phone and not mashing the chunky buttons of a shitty phone.

Header and Slither.io screen courtesy of Slither.io

Perhaps the most successful modern port of it is Slither.io, a MMO that takes the original idea of eating and growing, and combines it with neon graphics worthy of a vaporwave album cover. Literally millions of people play this on Miniclip and the like, and it is good fun to have the added pressure of avoiding other peoples' snakes. But the large scale and riddance of perpendicular movement shows that it's far better on the tiny snake-pit of a Nokia than a sandbox on your PC screen.

It might seem like a bit of a bold statement to proclaim it the ultimate mobile game. There have been some of the biggest trends in the market in the last year; Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run managed to update franchises of the past into something magical for smartphones.

But, as good as they are, Snake has been played by your Grandma on her first ever 'Big Button' phone, by your parents in the early noughties and by you when you were a kid. It's the ultimate mobile game precisely because it has been played by just about everyone, and especially people who have never played any other game of any sort in their lives. It's built into public consciousness as much as it is built into the Nokia 3310.

And if it's therefore the most-played video game on mobile, and introduces gaming to kids and pensioners alike, it would be an injustice to proclaim it anything other than the best. After all, I like games, and I want more people to like games. The future of mobile games could bring anything; most people wouldn't have been able to foresee the explosion of augmented reality hype a couple of years back.

But, I'm happy to put my metaphorical foot down and say that nothing will ever top the original magic of Snake. Its appeal is as unbreakable as the original 3310, its simplicity deceptively clever in terms of providing a fun video game experience. And, when you complete the circuit of doom and propel your phone across the room in anger, you won't even crack your screen. To paraphrase Samuel L Jackson, I will never, ever, say that I've had it with motherfucking Snake on this motherfucking phone.