Snake is to mobile phone gaming what Pac Man is to upright cabinets or Tetris is to consoles. If you’ve never heard of it, please leave now. If you’ve never played it, you’ve probably never had a phone. If you do have a phone and you’ve never played it – or any of its innumerable varients – you should hand it in to the authorities, because you simply don’t deserve it.
For something which seems to have been on old skool phones since the early sixteenth century, it’s surprising that it was only included as a standard installation in 1997, on the Nokia 6110. Players could even while away the last days of Britpop and the first days of Changing Rooms by playing against someone else via infra red connection, provided they stood so close together as to be effectively standing on each other, and didn’t move until the crippling pains from muscular cramp rendered them unconscious.
It was, of course, an adaptation of an earlier game. Well, several earlier games in fact, all of which were adaptations of each other: Worm, Surround, Chase, and Blockade. It is Blockade that can rightfully regarded as the originator of the genre, however. Released in 1976 by Gremlin, it remains that particular houses’ most notable contribution to gaming lore. Unfortunately for Gremlin they were one of the victims of the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, in which many of the industry’s pioneers found themselves engulfed by bankruptcy. They had specifically designed Blockade as a two player game, which is the only real conceptual difference between it and Snake. Players started as a dot on a screen, and followed the get-points-but-also-get-longer confined space feeding frenzy until one of them bumped into either a wall, the other player, or himself. This did lead to rather more tactical gameplay than might be imagined, as players attempted to cut each off and therefore precipitate a lethal game winning cul-de-sac.
The game took its terminal reptilian turn when it was ported to the BBC B, appearing as Snake for the first time. It was an essentially solo affair, with the added twist that the snake got faster as it got longer, which combined with the ‘one life’ aspect of the thing made it particularly infuriating. The second Nokia installation – reasonably enough entitled Snake 2 – incorporated the now-standard cyclical play pattern, whereby the player can wander off the left hand side and reappear on the right, or in a similar manner from top to bottom. While doubtless causing outrage among Snake purists – and we may rest assured that such a thing probably exists – this does lead to a game which is arguably easier but also vastly more complex when handing a particularly well fed serpent. Snake 2 also saw the introduction of ‘Bonus Bugs’, which would appear at random around the screen and tempt the player to all manner of insecty diversions.
That, then, was Snake. If you have your phone handy, have a quick go now in memory of the millions of incoming calls and text messages that have been ignored by players over the last fourteen years. You’ll quickly either discover – or rediscover – that it is both boring and riveting at the same time, which is quite a trick in itself.
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