I'll freely admit to spending far too much of my life playing games on my smartphone, but I refuse to accept full responsibility for my addiction. No, I blame Snake. Back in 1997, when Nokia design engineer Taneli Armanto first brought the arcade game to the company's mobile phones, everybody who was anybody played Snake (I was a teenager, don't judge me).
Snake wasn't the first game to make its way to mobile - that accolade was won by Tetris - but it was the first title to become truly popular on a mobile phone. It brought gaming to the platform long before we considered using a smartphone as a camera or digital camcorder, an MP3 player, or even a web-browsing and email-communication tool.
Snake had appeared in various forms on all manner of platforms before Nokia refreshed our affinity with it. And even on Nokia phones several versions became available over time - Snake, Snake II, Snake Xenzia, Snake EX, Snake EX2 and more brought with them improved graphics, mazes to manoeuvre, and the ability to pass through walls and appear on the other side of the screen. See also: Best Android Apps.
Now on Android, Snake '97 is a remake of the original. In the app, developer dsd 164 has placed an exact copy of an old Nokia handset onscreen, and completed the retro effect with a monochrome dot-matrix display and monotone sound effects. To be fair, we never had a banner ad on the bottom of our handset, but the developer needs to make some cash in return for this free app.
Onscreen is a dot (the bug) and a line (the snake). The snake is moving continuously, and you must use the keypad controls to direct it out of the path of the screen border or from getting tangled up in its own body. The more bugs you eat the longer the snake gets, making this task more difficult to achieve. You can complete the game only by filling up every available pixel with the snake's body. See also: what's the best mobile game?
Depending on the direction in which the snake is travelling, buttons 1, 4 and 7 turn it to the left, 1, 2 and 3 go up, 3, 6 and 9 go right, and 7, 8 and 9 go down; number 5 can be either up or down. The Cancel button starts a new game, the Select/Menu button pauses gameplay, and the + button brings up options for toggling on and off game sounds and tactile feedback, changing the difficulty level and viewing the high score.
As with the original, the speed at which the snake moves around onscreen is controlled by the difficulty level. The app is set to level 6 by default, although the scale goes between one and 11 (the original had only nine). We found Snake '97 impossible to play at its highest difficulty level, something that was never the case using an old Nokia handset's physical keypad.
It's an odd feeling to use a keypad to play a game on a touchscreen smartphone, and takes some time to get used to - we certainly wouldn't recommend it on a tablet. We found ourselves constantly looking at the buttons rather than where our growing snake was heading. Although our performance improved over time, we still found that the width of our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc smartphone made it difficult to change direction as quickly as we might have done with the original.