Take on the NES Library

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#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

Sneaky snakes slither surrounding slippery slopes.

Look at those good snake-y boys!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 12/29/19 – 1/5/20
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
My Video: Snake Rattle N Roll Longplay

I love 3D platformers.  It’s one of my favorite genres of games that I know I don’t play near enough of given my interest level.  I have completed all of the mainline 3D Mario games 100% multiple times over, and I was also big into the N64 collect-a-thon games like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie.  Some NES developers went out of their way to implement pseudo 3D effects in games, some more explicit like in Marble Madness and some more subtle like the areas in Contra.  Snake Rattle N Roll is the closest thing the NES has to a true 3D platformer, so it may not be a big surprise to you that I really enjoyed this game.

Snake Rattle N Roll was released on the NES in July 1990.  It was developed by Rare and published by Nintendo.  The PAL version was released in March 1991, while a Mega Drive port was released in 1993 in Europe only.  Rare released a Game Boy game Sneaky Snakes in 1991 which has similar gameplay to Snake Rattle N Roll but as a 2D side-scrolling platformer.  Snake Rattle N Roll also appeared on the compilation Rare Replay that was released in 2015.  Another random tidbit is that this appears to be the first NES game released with the text “Nintendo Entertainment System” written on a red stripe across the top of the box.  That was the standard for NES releases published by Nintendo for the rest of the lifespan of the NES.

Snake Rattle N Roll has a story section in the manual without having any sort of real story.  Two snakes named Rattle and Roll are on a journey and you get to help them.  Rattle is the orange snake and Roll is the purple one.  In single player you play as Rattle, while in the simultaneous two-player mode you play as either Rattle or Roll.  To beat the game, you have to finish all 11 stages.

Tiny body, long tongue.

This game is an isometric platformer that has pretty simple controls.  You move Rattle in all eight directions with the D-pad.  The translation of the D-pad directions is just like the default 45-degree movement in games like Marble Madness and Q*bert.  Down moves you both down and left, and all other directions follow suit.  The A button jumps.  With the default speed of Rattle and the floaty nature of the jumps, you can cover a lot of ground laterally.  Press B to lash out your tongue.  You can use your tongue to eat things or attack enemies.

To clear each level in the game you need to leave through the exit door, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds.  First off, you need to grow Rattle and Roll.  There are these colorful balls that appear in the levels called Nibbley Pibbleys.  You eat them with your tongue and there’s a brief chewing animation where you can’t open your mouth again right away.  The Nibbley Pibbleys come in orange, purple, and yellow varieties.  The Nibbley Pibbley that matches your color is worth two units, while the alternate color is only worth one.  Yellow ones are worth three units for either snake.  For every four units you consume, your snake grows by one segment.  You must eat enough to grow your snake to the maximum size. When this happens, your tail segment starts flashing.  There is a weighted platform somewhere in the level with a bell on it.  When you are at full size, sitting on the platform rings the bell which opens up the level exit.  Now you proceed through the open door to clear the stage.

Fortunately, Nibbley Pibbleys appear all over the place in different ways.  The most common way to find them is to find a Nibbley Pibbley generator.  It is like a giant box with a couple of horns on it like an old-time phonograph.  It spits out Nibbley Pibbleys one or two at a time in a random direction.  You have to wait for them to land before they come alive so that you can eat them.  The Nibbley Pibbleys take on a different form depending on what stage you are on.  They start off just as simple balls that bounce around short distances, but they can grow legs and run away or sprout wings and fly around.  Later variants are harder to catch than earlier ones.  The generators sometimes spew out bombs that look like Nibbley Pibbleys at first, so you have to be a little careful.  

They don’t like staying still, that’s for sure.

This game features plenty of powerups for our heroes.  All items are worth 1000 points and have some kind of effect.  Diamonds give you temporary invincibility.  Clocks add 25 seconds of time shown at the bottom of the screen.  A rectangle with a fork on it is a tongue extension.  You can grab a few of these to gradually increase the length of your tongue.  The speed up item looks like the knob of an old wind-up toy.  A tiny arrow item reverses your controls for a little while, making it more of a power-down item.  A flashing snake head is a 1up, while a flashing snake head with its mouth open is good for a continue.  There is also a fish tail item that shows up in one level that lets you swim up a waterfall.

In addition to the powerups found out in the open, there are also many items hidden under lids.  To open a lid, stand on top and press B.  The item will fly upward a distance before falling down so you can grab it.  Be careful that sometimes the lids hide enemies or traps as well.  If you see a snake head that is not flashing, it is actually a bomb decoy and you will want to get out of the way.  Sometimes you will find the entrance to a bonus room underneath a lid.  Here you have to try and collect all five Nibbley Pibbleys before they leave the room for a nice 5000-point bonus if you nab them all.  Plus, you get to keep the added length to your snake.  There are also hidden lids out there that conceal warps.  I didn’t find any of these when I played, but they are out there.

It wouldn’t be a platformer game without enemies and traps.  Some enemies can be defeated by either jumping on them or by hitting them with your tongue a few times.  You get more points for bopping than you do for tongue lashing.  Some sharper enemies are vulnerable to the tongue but are immune to jumping on.  Sharks pursue you in the water in the first couple of stages.  There are also blades that pop out of the ground, pushers that try and shove you off the edge, and falling anvils that try and smash you.  One enemy you want to pay attention to is a Big Foot.  Literally.  It tracks around the stage and you have to hit it many times consecutively with your tongue to beat it.  If you let up your attack for just a little while, it gets all its health back.  You don’t get to see how much health it has remaining.  If you keep up the attack and defeat it, you are often rewarded with an extra life or less often rewarded with a bomb posing as a fake life.  I tried to beat the feet up wherever reasonable.

Uhh, this picture speaks for itself.

Death is a frequent occurrence in this game.  Getting damaged by an enemy or trap causes you to lose a segment of your snake, setting back your progress.  You die if you get hurt with no segments remaining.  You die if you fall too far off a ledge.  You die if you jump on top of spikes, including spiked enemies, or if you get crushed by something.  You also lose a life if the timer runs out.  The good news is that death doesn’t set you back any distance; you simply respawn near where you died.  You also respawn if you use up a continue.  You’ll see the Game Over message followed by a message to Play On if you have continues left.  When all is said and done, you are brought to the final score screen.

I wasn’t completely new to Snake Rattle N Roll before beating the game.  There was a small game store that was very close to where I lived at the time that I only visited once or twice before it closed down.  I wasn’t a full-blown collector at that time and now I really regret not visiting that store more often.  But one of the times I shopped there I picked up a loose copy of Snake Rattle N Roll.  I played it casually for a day or two and then put it away.  I know I have played the game some more since then but I’m not sure how much.  I don’t think I got anywhere past the third stage.  I no longer have the copy I bought from the store since it had some damage to it.  It took until my third copy before I acquired a cart in a condition I am happy with.

This is a hard game to beat, but I feel like it was right in my wheelhouse and so it didn’t take me as much effort to win than it could have.  The game starts out slow.  There’s not much jumping needed and the Nibbley Pibbleys are easy to snack on.  Reading the manual first helped me understand the systems at play.  The difficulty gradually ramps up from there.  The end of the second stage introduces what I call corner jumping, where you need to go in two different directions in a single, floaty jump.  These kinds of jumps become the standard for reaching new ledges.  I picked up on all of this rather quickly, reaching the halfway point of the game within the first couple of tries.  Things escalate majorly in the last few stages, and this was where I struggled the most.  Overall, it took me 13 tries to clear this game, but it could have easily been 20, 30, 40 attempts or more.  I’m happy I knocked this one out relatively quickly.

In this stage, you need a water spout boost.

Looking at the game as a whole, I really appreciate how they tied all the levels together.  This paragraph will spoil some late game elements, just a warning.  The entire game map is a mountain and across all the stages you are climbing to the top.  You begin at the bottom of this mountain that is surrounded by water, giving you a temporary safe place to land in case you fall.  As you work your way up, things start to get steeper and more treacherous.  In some areas of the game you can see pieces of levels you have already cleared, giving you a sense of progress.  Waterfalls become a more common feature as the inclines get steeper and the climbing and jumps get more difficult.  This comes to a head at Level 9 when the difficulty spikes near the top of the mountain.  Icy conditions make your path slippery, and to make matters worse there are now slopes to deal with as the ledges get narrower toward the summit.  Even enemies get a defensive boost from the cold as they form icy armor.  The final climb is very tough, but thematically this all make sense.  The final boss encounter takes place on the summit and it demands both precise control and aggressive attacking.  You’ve been groomed for it, you’re ready, but it doesn’t make it easy.

I enjoyed Snake Rattle N Roll quite a lot.  I like the graphics in this game.  There’s a nice use of colors and the characters are well animated.  The viewpoint is about as clear as you can get for an NES isometric game, though I admit it’s one of those things that you either grasp cleanly or you don’t get it at all.  This game has good music as well, opting to use music either from old 1950’s songs or tunes inspired by some of the classics.  The game controls well and I am able to pull off corner jumps without much trouble.  I did consider the speed up powerup more of a power-down since that was much harder for me to control, though that can be considered personal taste.  Gameplay is strong.  I appreciate the different ways the Nibbley Pibbleys move around and how some stages have unique elements in them.  Though the main gist is the same, there’s plenty of variety.  This is not a game for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try just to see if you might like it.

#143 – Snake Rattle N Roll

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