This week, Nintendo dropped a few more titles onto the SNES Online service. Among them was Spanky’s Quest, a 1991 developed by Natsume, best known in the US as the creators of Harvest Moon. Probably not at the top of anybody’s request list, Spanky’s Quest is one of many SNES games Nintendo has made available likely because the licensor released the rights for cheap. Like its ilk Prehistorik Man, Super Valis IV, and Psycho Dream, it’s a mostly-forgettable platformer, the kind of game that sat lonely on rental store shelves in the 90s when better-loved titles were checked out.
I rented Spanky’s Quest back in the day, and I have never met another person who played it. I wouldn’t say that’s a shame, exactly, as it’s pretty much the definition of nothing special. It’s unique in that it feels like more of an arcade platformer in the tradition of Bubble Bobble than the Super Mario World clones that were popular at the time, and in Spanky’s mode of attack. Rather than bop enemies on the head or shoot them with a gun, Spanky instead throws a small bubble out that he can then bounce off his head to grow it larger and larger. The player can pop the bubble on command, sending out a shower of sports balls (baseballs, basketballs, etc.) to destroy Spanky’s foes.
It’s a weird format, there isn’t much reason to play it on the SNES Online today — except one. The Spanky’s Quest soundtrack is one of the best, least-discussed soundtracks on the console.
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Composed by Kyohei Sada, the Spanky’s Quest soundtrack is a buzzing, jazzy collection of songs atypical of the SNES. Sada worked at Konami and contributed to a number of classics throughout the 80s and 90s before moving on to Natsume in 1993. His list of credits includes Contra, Blades of Steel, Abadox, and S.C.A.T., the last of which is also on the SNES online.
According to a Facebook post from 2013, Spanky’s Quest was Sada’s first Super Famicom title. He seems critical of his efforts, noting his “overuse” of square waves and saw waves, his struggles to fit the audio into the required file size, and his attempts to use echo effects to expand the tone. Still, he reflects, it was an enthusiastic attempt to incorporate soul and funk elements into game music.
The SNES Online service remains an odd half-measure, a step down from the expansive libraries of the Virtual Console. Essential SNES titles remain unavailable because Nintendo or a third party can make more money by reselling them elsewhere, and as a result the service has been flooded with bargain-bin titles whose rights are owned by companies with nothing better to do than let Nintendo host their ROMs for a nominal fee.
I don’t think Spanky’s Quest is a “hidden gem” for the SNES, but its soundtrack is worth listening to. And when you’re done, why not check out the soundtrack to S.C.A.T.? It has a goofy name, but the soundtrack is Sada’s favorite of his work in games.