*Review based on Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll’s release as part of Rare Replay*
Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll has to be one of the more unique games in the NES library, and it’s understandably gained a reputation as one of developer Rare’s classic titles. An isometric platformer that put its own spin on the genre, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll is still a lot of fun today, even if some of its elements can be a little on the frustrating side.
One or two players can join in Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll, with the playable characters being the titular serpents Rattle (a red snake) and Roll (a blue snake). The goal of the game is to extend the snakes’ tails by eating little orbs called Nibbley Pibbleys.
These Nibbley Pibbley’s come in three different colors; red, blue and yellow. Depending on which snake you’re playing as, the red and blue Nibbley Pibbleys will be worth one or two points (two points for eating those that are the same color as your snake, and one point for the opposite color), while the yellow Nibbley Pibbleys grant three points. Every time your snake consumes four points worth of Nibbley Pibbleys, they gain one extension to their tail. When the tail reaches its maximum length for a given stage, the end of the tail begins to glow. When in this state, the snakes are heavy enough to ring a bell on a weighing machine, which opens up the exit to the next stage.
There’s another twist in this scenario, as being hit by enemies will take away the progress on your tail, piece by piece. And you only have so much time to finish a level, so if enemies start chipping away at your tail faster than you can extend it, you’re in trouble. The Nibbley Pibbleys are constantly spawning via Nibbley Dispencors, so you can always potentially regain your tail, provided you’re fast enough.
Before things can become too repetitious, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll throws another curveball at the player in that the Nibbleys behave differently in each of the game’s eleven stages. On the first level, they are simply rolling balls, but during the second stage, they begin bouncing around. The third stage sees them growing legs and running away, while on the fourth stage they temporarily melt into the ground, which prevents you from gobbling them up for a short time. It may be a small difference, but the fact that the Nibbley Pibbleys act uniquely to each stage adds a nice touch of variety to the core gameplay, and ensuring that it feels fresh the whole way through.
Considering Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll was released in a time when every platformer was simply trying to copy Super Mario Bros. (and never replicating its magic), the game was a really fresh take on the genre in its day, and it still feels unique even today. With its genre-defiant attitude, however, come two unfortunate aspects of the game which haven’t aged so gracefully.
The first of these drawbacks is that the isometric perspective can make certain perspectives really tricky, making the platforming of the game often feeling awkward. The second such drawback is that the jumping mechanics can feel a little floaty, with the snakes often seeming like they can only decide where they’re jumping after they’ve already taken to the air. Combine these two elements together, and Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll can feel infuriatingly intricate with its platforming elements. And considering the stages don’t have outer walls, you can easily overshoot a jump and fall to your death repeatedly due to the floaty jumps and difficult perspectives.
While these elements do hold the game back from being one of the best NES titles, Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll still remains a highlight in the NES’ library, and something of a turning point for Rare, as it marked the beginning of the cartoonish silliness and wacky humor that would go on to define the British developer for years to come (even the enemies are an odd assortment of vinyl records and sentient feet). And the game has a memorable score by David Wise, taking inspiration from popular music of the 1950s (including, of course, the game’s namesake Shake, Rattle and Roll).
Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll may not be perfect, due to some tricky and aged mechanics,. But the uniqueness and fun of its concept, two-player co-op, and undeniable charm shine through, making for one of the more memorable NES outings you and a friend can partake in even by today’s standards.