Obscure Retroness #4

September 11, 2012

Welcome one and all to another edition of Obscure Retroness, your favourite article on Rocket Chainsaw that highlights those hard to find games of yesteryear which deserve some greater level of recognition, for better or for worse. It’s been a long time between entries in this series, but this week marks a special one. Way back in the first edition of Obscure Retroness, we invited people to submit their own ideas for entries that they’d like to see spotlighted. After putting all of the suggestions into a scale model of Professor Layton’s hat, one name was plucked out of the midst as the first reader suggestion to gain an entry. Congratulations to the one and only Cyph, for Obscure Retroness #4 is highlighting none other than Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll!

To say that 1989’s Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll for the NES is a mish-mash of styles would be a gross understatement. On the surface, it looks like an isometric platformer, yet it could also be interpreted as a puzzler by some.  That’s just by looking at it without playing it, for Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll plays like few other games in existence. Players take on the role of one of two disembodied snake heads, the Rattle and Roll of the title respectively. Your basic goal is to collect power-ups in order to make yourself longer and heavy enough to ring the bell on a large scale which will open up a door to exit the level. Sounds strange enough, right? Well, that’s only the start of things to come. A machine will spit out little coloured balls that your snakehead can gobble up to increase its size. Some of these will be your own colour, while others will be of the opposing snake. Others still will be a yellow/green colour, which adds more bits to your body than the others. Making things all the more difficult, these coloured balls will actually move around the level at different speeds, making catching them quite a challenge to eat up. Sometimes, however, the game will decide to mix things up a bit for you. Instead of the benign coloured balls, it will begin spitting out bombs that can hurt you if you’re too close or make the mistake of greedily gobbling one up in impatience.

Of course, bombs masquerading as power-ups aren’t the only things that can deal damage to your shortened snake. Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll delights in assaulting you with a variety of things that can hurt you. There’s the spikes that will kill you in an instant if you simply graze them. The toilet seats that snap at you like bear traps. The giant shoes that will jump around trying to squish you. And all of those things are just on the first level, with ten more filled with many more bizarre enemies trying to take out Rattle and/or Roll. However, it’s perhaps what lurks in the water that is the most omnipresent bad guy of them all: that insanely wide-mouthed shark. At times you’ll fall into water during your jumping masquerades and will almost instantly see a flurry of activity heading straight to you. If you don’t jump away or get out of the water in time, a ridiculously oversized-pair of jaws will pop out of the water and eat you, not unlike when your own character gobbles up power-ups. Of course, whenever you do rouse the shark, a reworked 8-bit version of the theme from Jaws plays until the moment of death.

Outside of the Jaws stylings, the soundtrack of Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll is replete with an interesting selection of tracks. As you might have guessed from the title of the game, a tweaked version of the classic 1950s tune Shake, Rattle and Roll gets an airing during the title screen. That fifties theme continues throughout the musical selection on each level – a combination of rock/jazzy-sounding tracks, certainly at odds with what you’d expect from a 1980s game with such a trippy premise and presentation. It’s a true case of them not making it like they used to anymore, as no doubt any modern game that would try and ape so many tunes without having the rights to them could run the risk of copyright infringement.

Indeed, the rights of publishing and republishing Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll are a bit of a tricky issue – it was developed by Rare, and since their purchase by Microsoft, it’s made it one of those titles that are in a bit of a limbo as to whether or not it’ll be made available via any Virtual Console or XLBA service. It’s made the game something of a commodity since. Though the NES version is perhaps the best-known, Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll was also release for the Sega Megadrive, which included an extra level and an ending befitting of the bizarre tone of the rest of the game. It might not be fetching collector’s item-like prices, but a quick look around on eBay reveals very few hits on the NES version and even less for the Mega Drive edition – it was released in Europe only. However, it did receive something of a follow-up in the form of Game Boy game Sneaky Snakes, though it took away the isometric aspect and wasn’t nearly as well-received.

And it’s time out for this edition of Obscure Retroness. Snake, Rattle ‘N’ Roll has proved to be quite the genre-busting, insanity-filled romp, and perhaps you too shall indulge in its delightful lunacy. Stay tuned for the next edition, whatever it may contain. Will it be another reader choice? Could we plumb the depths of gaming mediocrity from the past and spotlight an awful game that nobody would ever want to see again? Or will it be something that nobody would ever expect? The only way to find out these answers adn more is to keep an eye out for teh next Obscure Retroness article!