Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll Soundtrack (NES), David Wise, 1990
Among the original properties Rare launched on the NES and Game Boy, the Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll games must rank among the best, up there with the Battletoads franchise. Inspired by Marble Madness’ isometric view (Rare developed the NES port), the developers concocted a joyfully bizarre and off-beat – not to mention funny – platformer. Its stars are a couple of snakes that need to gobble up as many enemies as they can, so they’re heavy enough when hopping on the scales at the end of each level, hoping to be admitted to the next stage. Initially released on the NES in 1991, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll’s playability and creative multiplayer mode made the game enough of a success to warrant a Sega Genesis port in 1993, netting equally strong reviews. Meanwhile, the Game Boy saw an original, somewhat more middling 2d platformer starring the two slithering protagonists.
The game’s name was obviously inspired by the classic 1954 rock ‘n’ roll song Shake Rattle and Roll. As such, the musical direction that David Wise’s soundtrack would take was clear from the get-go. Wise would apply his intimate knowledge of the NES sound chip to deliver a chiptune homage to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. Of course, before or since, few other game scores have sought to emulate early rock ‘n’ roll music, so the Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll soundtrack was bound to be a distinctive one.
In fact, it turned out to be one of Wise’s best NES scores. It’s extremely easy-going and accessible – and of course loads of fun. There’s not a huge amount to analyse here, little that pushes the NES’ technical capabilities. This is a remarkably focused soundtrack, a lesson in the merits of efficiency and focusing on the essentials. Ultimately, the Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll soundtrack just wants to entertain – and so it does, ranking as Wise’s most melodic chiptune work.
This being a homage to early rock ‘n’ roll, this isn’t constantly high-octane rock. Wise equally highlights rock’s initial connection to jazz with the elegant, infectious swing of “Title Screen” (Wise would later reprise these jazz-infused rock ‘n’ roll stylings on Donkey Kong Country). “Title Screen”’s melodies have but one goal – to be instantly catchy and Wise delivers the goods. “Level 1” and “Level 3” proceed along the same bouncy, light-footed lines, throwing in what will become a delightful staple on the Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll soundtrack – lively piano soli that energise the music each time they burst forth. Both cues are straightforward in their melodic gratification, with shuffling rhythms that reliably move the pieces along to genial, toe-tapping results.
“Level 4 & 7” is more celebratory than previous tracks, with a convincing emulation of excitedly hammered piano chords. While one might assume that Wise simply follows a formula on the Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll soundtrack, his attention to detail is never in doubt. Listen to how the notes comprising those piano ‘chords’ are just slightly out of sync to simulate the effect of a raucous live performance that values excitement over technical perfection. Rocking harder now, the score then segues into the breathlessly fun “Level 5 & 8”. The track continues the soundtrack’s trajectory into more electrifying territory with an effectively stuttering, off-beat rhythm and Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll’s wildest piano solo.
While Wise does an outstanding job fulfilling his brief, he also goes beyond just referencing his historical inspirations. Two level tracks present a twist on the rock ‘n’ roll formula that Wise deploys with such panache. “Level 2” is a bit of an oddity, as if it’s trying to break the 1950s rock template down to its essential ingredients with a more rudimentary, skeletal arrangement – and then tops it off with a nasal, somewhat cutesy lead. It’s undoubtedly an experiment and reasonably intriguing, but it’s hard to say whether it’s successful.
“Level 6, 9 & 10” is more convincing, even though it drastically changes the soundtrack’s mood. Its deep minor key chords almost feel like crisis motifs that retain some connection to the soundtrack’s rock stylings. The same goes for the insistent piano figure, nervously hovering atop a swelling and ebbing bass pulse. That’s before the piano turns more and more frantic and the bass notes reach ever higher, finally crashing down to steamroll over the other instruments with their asphyxiating weight. It’s hardly classic rock ‘n’ roll, but “Level 6, 9 & 10” doesn’t lose sight of the soundtrack’s overall style either, allowing Wise to flex his creative muscle on a score that is traditionalist and yet has few stylistic equals among its peers.
The Genesis port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll received plaudits for the effort put into turning the game into a true 16-bit experience, and this determination to go the extra mile shows in the music as well. Wise largely writes a new score, honouring the same early rock ‘n’ roll inspirations as the NES original. The Genesis’ more powerful sound chip should help, of course, but Wise’s new tracks feel more repetitive than their NES brethren as they shuffle along, often lacking the excitement and energy of their 8-bit counterparts. And while Wise tries to give the game’s new locales individual colours, only “Level 8: Snake Lakes” receives truly distinctive tones. It’s by no means a bad soundtrack and still entertaining, but ultimately the Genesis score settles for “good” rather than “great”.
- 01 - Title Screen Wise, David 1:47
- 02 - Level 1 Wise, David 2:18
- 03 - Level 2 Wise, David 2:00
- 04 - Level 3 Wise, David 2:44
- 05 - Levels 4 & 7 Wise, David 1:54
- 06 - Levels 5 & 8 Wise, David 1:34
- 07 - Levels 6, 9 & 10 Wise, David 2:02