UPDATE: This game can now be found on the Rare Replay compilation disc for Xbox One. It’s no longer lost in time!
Platformers were everywhere on the NES. Sure, there were many different types of games on the console, but no genre was more prevalent than the almighty platformer. You had plumbers, superheroes, children vaguely endorsed by McDonald’s, and anthropomorphic frogs. However, as broad as the genre was, every once in a while a platformer found a way to go against the grain. All you needed was a pair of sneaky snakes, a rockin’ soundtrack, and an isometric 3D perspective.
Snake Rattle ‘n Roll is a brilliant NES platformer from the geniuses at Rare. It was released in 1990, and literally turned the concept of a platformer on its side. Most titles of this era were side scrollers. Rare had a thing for the isometric 3D perspective though, as demonstrated in games like Cobra Triangle, RC Pro Am, and even their excellent NES port of Marble Madness. Creating a platformer using this perspective was a considerable undertaking, but in true Rare fashion, they came through with flying colors. One of the prime ingredients of a well made platformer is level design. While still pretty easy to get wrong, the process of creating intuitive levels on a 2D plane was made easier by the lack of variables. The rules are simple to understand when you’re only dealing with one axis. Adding a third dimension to platforming would take some very expertly crafted level design, and this game has that in spades.
Besides being a platformer, Snake Rattle ‘n Roll has a very unique premise. You play solo or cooperatively with a second player as a pair of snakes named Rattle and Roll. The point of every level is to make it to a door at the end, but first you have to unlock it. In lieu of a key, the level-ending door is unlocked by use of a scale. You have to get your snake’s tail to be long enough so that your mass will weigh down the scale with enough magnitude to set off the alarm and open the door. How does one fatten up a snake? By eating Nibbley Pibbleys, of course! Scattered throughout each level are manhole covers. If you flick your tongue (your primary attack/item collecting tool) while on top of one, it will open, revealing power-ups, traps, enemies, and the aforementioned Nibbley Pibbleys. These little balls come in a multitude of flavors and forms. The more Nibbley Pibbleys you eat, the longer your tail grows.
Speaking of power-ups, this game has a ton of them. There’s a crank that, when collected, screws into your snake’s head, making him go faster. There’s also invincibility, tongue extensions, and even an item that temporarily reverses your controls! Then there’s the enemies. There’s the dreaded Bigfoot, which is literally a disembodied foot that will jump around and squish you, Jaws, which is a deadly fish creature that will chase you whenever you are in water, and out of control toilet seats that flap their lids at you. That’s all very fun and creative, but it’s the little touches that make this gem really shine.
I mentioned earlier that the Pibbleys came in different forms. Some levels have Pib-balls, which simply roll around, while others feature Pibble-bats, Pibble-joggers, and Pibble-Boings, just to name a few. Depending on what you eat, your snake will spit out the unwanted parts after chewing. For example, when you eat a Pibble-Copter, you will eat the Pibbley, and spit out the copter. It’s a very quirky animation, and it really gives the game world a sense of cohesion. Add to that the excellent David Wise soundtrack, inspired by 1950’s rock ‘n roll, and you have yourself one heck of a memorable gaming experience.
Unfortunately, like most Rare games, this title is unlikely to ever see the light of day through digital distribution. It was originally published by Nintendo, and as is the case with most Rare games of that era, is locked away in Microsoft’s vault, never to be seen again. The game did okay for itself, even getting a pseudo-sequel in the form of the regrettably mediocre Sneaky Snakes for Game Boy. That being said, it never gained the mainstream acceptance it deserves. There really aren’t too many games out there that managed to pull off good platforming mechanics with this perspective. The graphics and animation are some of the best on the system, and the soundtrack’s awesomeness can not be understated.
If you’re looking for a good, tough co-op platformer, and you’ve already beaten Contra, track this one down. If you’re up to the challenge, you’ll find yourself eating Nibbley Pibbleys until the break of dawn.