Review by Psycho Penguin

"Hey game, become a little easier, cuz you're... TOO HARD!"

There's four types of challenge: easy, medium, hard, and Snake Rattle and Roll.

Never before have I played a more intriguing, yet frustratingly challenging game. Released by Rare way back before Rare became ''popular'' (and bad, but that's another story), Snake Rattle and Roll is one of the most unique, ingenious, and overall fun games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It has a unique blend of the Marble Madness gameplay and intense platforming. And, oh yes, the game is by god hard. So, don't walk into Snake Rattle and Roll expecting an easy game, or your feelings might get hurt.

I'm sure this game has some sort of storyline, but I'll be damned if I know what it is, so I'll just make something up. You're a snake enoying a nice leisurely walk in the park, when suddenly you're warped into a world where you have to move around on a path to collect enough items to open a door to get to the next level. I know this is such an original storyline I made up, and I appreciate all the praise you throw upon me when you go to read this review and tumble upon this paragraph.

The praise you'll give me is not the only thing I appreciate, though. Snake Rattle and Roll steals the basic designs of Marble Madness (the isometric view and graphical style is pretty much the same), but makes it more cartoony. Instead of palely colored and boring stage designs, Rare took the time to make uniquely designed stages. The stages are varied, as you'll go from a tropical island with water to a fiery volcano, and each designs look quite well. The problem here, of course, is that the game repeats the same designs and just changes the colors. But, the amount of details in each of the stages makes each stage seem unique, fresh, and fun. The snake animates perfectly, and the enemies change looks in each stage and become odder (and funnier) as you progress.

The enemies won't be the only thing changing as you progress through the game. The music has a unique flavor to it that really suits the game perfectly. Don't expect to hear a hardcore rock soundtrack here, but the melodic and upbeat music really sets the tone for the frantic gameplay. I also loved how the music started to get more upbeat and frantic as the timer counted down below 10. Accompanying the music is a variety of great and unique sound effects, and the sound of your snake dying is one of my favorite sound effects to ever grace a video game.

You'll be hearing that sound a lot, and sadly the buggy controls are a reason why. The controls can be pretty pathetic, at times. For one, you have to make these tough jumps, and the camera view is sometimes off, which makes these jumps hard enough. So, you jump, in a perfectly straight line, and the game moves you to the left and you fall off the cliff. This happens to me all the time. It's like the game just wants you to die a lot, and this is very frustrating. Also, the game sometimes doesn't recognize instances when you push a button, and ignores you at other times. I get frustrated when I die because the game doesn't recognize me tapping a button, especially in a game where I am already guaranteed to die enough times. Fortunately, other than these flaws, the controls are solid, so don't expect a total washout, but the controls could have used a lot of work.

They obviously spent time working on the game, however, because it is one of the most fun games I have played in quite a while. Stealing a page right out of Marble Madness, you guide a snake through several increasingly difficult stages. It may seem weird at first: you are on an island with a snake, and you have to move from one end of the stage to the next. However, to complete this goal, you have to do certain things, such as swallowing enough pellets so you can weigh enough to open the door to the folllowing stage. The snake uses his tongue to eat these pellets, and the longer he is, the longer his tongue is. Amazing how these NES games work, eh?

That's not the only amazing part of the game, though. This is when the game starts to get fun. When you get to a certain part in the stage, little balls will come shooting out of this cannon-like structure, and then you can eat the pellets it shoots out. Some are bombs, which you can only eat for a few seconds before they explode. There are three types of pellets, some are hard to get but worth more points, while others are more common but are worth less points. You don't really get a life bar, but the more you get hit, the more pellets you have to eat again. So, you can say the snake has a life bar by judging how long he is.

Bombs aren't the only thing that can impact the snake, though. You also have to face a variety of enemies, which can be defeated for the most part by hitting them with your tongue. Some enemies can only be avoided, like the shark in the water, but most can be defeated. Enemies will come at you, ranging from feet that take roughly 27,890 whacks with a tongue to defeat, to more minor enemies that take less brawn and more skill to defeat. You don't have to face any bosses in the game until the end, which may seem like a bad point, but judging by hard this game is, it's not really a overwhelmingly negative thing.

The game does have some negatives, though. The stages aren't as varied as I would have liked. Sure, they each have different designs, enemies, etc. to survey, and they all seem pretty unique. I especially liked the ice stage that has the snake not only needing to defeat enemies and the stages, he also has to avoid sliding around on the ice, as well. But, the stages mostly have you do the same thing: there's not a whole lot of variety to it. Some would say there was no variety in Marble Madness, but it was more fun. This game relies too much on its own gimmick for an extended amount of stages, and it shows later on when you're still collecting pellets to move onto the next stage. Plus, the controls are REALLY bad at times, and just makes this game even more frustrating.

And it's not like the controls needed to be bad in order for the game to be frustrating, because Snake Rattle and Roll is one of the most challenging games ever made. The jumps get insanely difficult by the 3rd or 4th stage, and they will continue to stay that way. Just like its prequel-at-heart Marble Madness, the challenge doesn't lie with killing enemies, it lies with finding the best way from getting to point A to point B. The addition of a timer doesn't help any. It just makes the game extra hard, because now you only get a limited amount of time to complete the stage. Plus, the jumps really DO get hard. Imagine jumping (in a diagonal mode, mind you) from one end of a spiky floor, with only small platforms along the way. It's bad enough in a 2D view, but in this view, it becomes a lot more challenging. The lack of continues is also a problem: you only get so many, and then you have to start over. So, expect to get your ass kicked left and right like you were the Lakers in game 6 of a divisional series.

And that's what makes the game most replayable: its challenge. Sure, I loved collecting pellets and then trying to beat my high score at the end of the stage. That was half the replay value right there to me, as the game has the arcadey feel to it, and high scores was a definite plus for the replay value. But, the challenge really will make you come back for more: you will want to see if you can make that jump, and you will want to see if you can complete that impossible level. It really does add a ton of replay value to a game that already had a lot of it.

It's amazing that one element that's often not seen in video games happens to make one game a classic, but that's what happened here. Snake Rattle and Roll, for every flaw it has, and it has several, is simply a classic game. The type of gameplay it presents is so unique, and so fun, that there's really little way it could have been made into a bad game. Rare sure did try, by messing up the controls, and giving you so few continues, but they didn't have the power (yet) to turn good ideas into bad games. They simply made this fun idea, and proceeded to execute it quite well. Why they couldn't do this with Banjo Kazooie is beyond me...

Oh, and did I mention it was hard?


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/03, Updated 06/27/03


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