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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Essential NES Soundtracks Part 3

Sometimes I get so caught up with the wonders of modern video game music that I forget my chiptune roots, which is where my love for video game music all began, speficially on the NES. A listen to some of my favorite retro soundtracks from the yesteryear is all it takes to remind me why I feel in love with this music in the first place. The long overdue third Part of Essential NES Soundtracks features music from two brawling twins, a blue robot, a plumber with an insane power-up arsenal and two gun touting heroes based off of movie actors. Yeah, it's a bit of a predictable showing, but still a very good one, nonetheless.

Mega Man 2

Composers: Takashi Tateishi, Manami Matsumae

Well, here it is, the Mega Man game, all of you were waiting for. The one that made the Blue Bomber a star and a house hold name. Everything there is to say about Mega Man 2 has already been said by countless fans and critics on any side of the globe. The game is a shinning example of action/platforming on the NES with a soundtrack that rivals its outstanding gameplay. Manami Matsumae, who wrote all of the score from the first Mega Man returns but she takes a breather here. A few of her themes from the first Mega Man return such as the Opening, which was used as part of the original game's closing credits. As returning is her classic Game Start theme, remade by Mega Man 2 soundtrack load bearer, Takashi Tateishi. The keys used for his version of Game Start would be used in every Mega Man game that used this jingle from here on out. Tateishi's score is often regarded as not just some of the finest chiptunes in gaming, but the pinnacle of Mega Man music. While that may seem like those that make such claims are overstating things a bit, Mega Man 2's soundtrack is worthy of much of the praise that it gets. He gave Quick Man's level a cool yet, haunting, eerie feel to it. Bubble Man's theme belongs up there with other aquatic greats like Super Mario Bros. Underwater theme and Donkey Kong Country's Aquatic Ambiance. The score isn't afraid to show a more cheerful side with the Password jingle and Crash Man's level theme. Even that single, repetitive Boss track is awesome.

Bubble Man Stage
Quick Man Stage
Metal Man Stage
Wood Man Stage
Dr. Wily Stage 1

Super Mario Bros. 3

Composer: Koji Kondo

And with this, we have every game in the NES Super Mario Bros. trilogy. At the time, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the biggest game in the Super Mario series. Each world was expanded beyond the mere three and four levels of the two previous games and each world had their own map with their own musical themes. Desert Land, the token sand world had the appropriate music accompanying it, as did Water Land, the series first full on water world and it's musical number would go on to be a reoccurring piece in The Legend of Zelda series. Super Mario Bros. 3 has themes that you'll hear over and over again, but since this is the largest Super Mario game on the system, there's much more tunes to go around. The classic Underground theme from Super Mario Bros. was greatly enhanced. Each world usually concluded with an auto scrolling level and each one had the slow, menacing Airship theme play, which I think is the best version of the theme with the orchestrated version used in Super Mario Galaxy being a very close second. Super Mario Bros. 3 also has one of the very best Athletic themes, with it's zany start up on those piano keys before it leads into the main course. The drums used in Super Mario Bros. 2 were used for a few tracks in this game such as the the fight with the big bad himself, Bowser, who was given a sort of primal theme.

Grass Land
Water Land
Above Ground
Fortress Boss
Demon King Koopa


Composer: Hidenori Maezawa

Contra originated in arcades but quickly found a home on the NES where its popularity on Nintendo's 8-bit baby outclassed it's bigger arcade brother. This game introduced many a gamer to the run 'n gun genre, the duo of Bill Rizer and Lance Bean and thanks to it's unforgiving difficulty, the Konami Code, which bestowed upon any who entered it 30 lives for each set of continues (said code actually first appeared in the NES version of Gradius, but Contra it largely what made the code famous). Contra's music sounds fine on the arcade hardware, but this is one of those times where I have to say I prefer the NES version. The iconic Jungle theme is often the source of guitar remixes and arrangements as is the 6 second Title jingle. Perhaps most Contra fan arrangements are rock based because the game's soundtrack really does lend itself to that style. As great as Contra rock sounds with real instruments, the original game's score can still be very much appreciated in chiptune format. Energy Zone is such an aptly named track for one of the game's most brutal levels. Alien's Lair has this creepy start up before it just explodes into the main course for one incredible final level jam. Contra is is a shinning example of an excellent home port both in terms of gameplay and audio.

Snow Field
Energy Zone
Alien's Lair

Double Dragon

Composer: Kazunaka Yamane

Like Contra, Double Dragon is another game that started it's life in the arcade but recieved numerous ports, with the NES version usually being regarded as the best. It's 2 player beat 'em up action would later be one-uped with games like Final Fight, but at the time, this was one of the best brawlers in town. The NES version unfortunately lacks the two player support of the arcade original, but it still played rather well. What I'm about to say may be blasphemous but I've always thought the original arcade Double Dragon music was awful. Yeah, it's a lot of synth, but it isn't the good variety. The NES score sounds much more pleasing to the ears. Some tracks may be on the short side but none of them are ear gratting. Mission 5, while not as iconic as the Main Title Theme or Mission 1 has always been a personal favorite of mine, ever since I was a kid. I'd go into the Versus mode and select Abobo just so I could hear it.

Main Title Theme
Mission 1 (Billy & Jimmy's Theme)
Mission 2 (William's Theme)
Mission 4 (Chin's Theme)
Mission 5 (Abobo's Theme)

Ninja Gaiden

Composers: Keiji Yamagishi, Ryuichi Nitta, Ichiro Nakagawa

Ah, Ninja Gaiden. This is often cited as the first video game to introduce cut scenes. While this isn't technically true (heck, Pac-Man used them and that game came out in 1980, nine years prior to this one), Ninja Gaiden did use them in abundance and in a way, most games at the time didn't, which is understandable for the game to do so since it was very story driven. The cut scenes used in Ninja Gaiden used close up images of the characters as they spoke and it was very impressive sprite work at the time. These scenes were even given their own music pieces, different from the level themes, really setting them apart from the rest of the game's soundtrack. Since most levels were full of intense, in-your-face ninja/platforming action, these stages usually had pumping, adrenaline-filled themes blasting. Most of the music played at plot points was on the slow, foreboding side of things, but it was still good stuff. The music during the gameplay gave off lots of good vibes because, if you're one of the three people that didn't know, this game is no walk in the park. Ninja Gaiden's difficulty, if I were to put it in terms of pain, is liking being kicked in the junk and having one of your eyes ripped out shortly after said kicking.

Act 1
Act 2 Part 1
Act 2 Part 2
Act 3 Part 2
Act 4 Part 2
Cut Scene 4

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Favorite Tunes #114: Play it Loud

Three words, "Play it loud." This was actually Nintendo's slogan back in the mid 1990s. Prior to this it was "The best play here," which wasn't nearly as cool as SEGA's "Welcome to the next level." This is another one of those Nintendo centric Favorite Tunes posts but this time we're focusing on the rock side of Nintendo music.

I actually don't mind the absence of the Kremlings in the latest Donkey Kong Country games.  Even Mario faces foes other than Bowser from time to time. There's no written law that all DKC games must feature reptiles as the primary antagonist. Bashmaster is the boss of the World 5 and like Pompy from World 1, he rocks out to a killer beat. 

True story, Mr. Sandman has always given me a hard time in any Punch-Out!! game. Fighting him actually made me right hand ache from throwing so many punches in Super Punch-Out!! In the Wii version of Nintendo's arcade boxing game, Mr. Sandman is Little Mac's final opponent. Three guesses as to why this guy has the name he has. 

There was a rock flair to the original SNES F-Zero but it really became apparent with F-Zero X, which was bursting at the seams with rock and metal tracks across the board. The GBA's sound system may not be one of Nintendo's best but in the right hands, it can pump out some splendid audio. Featuring completely original music, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity still retains that rock flair that was made famous in the series first 3D outing. Stark Farm has a continuous bass line accompanied by sick electric guitar riffs and solos.  

Zelda fan service rapped up in a Dynasty Warriors package. I've never played a single Dynasty Warriors game but the addition of characters from the Zelda universe was enough to make me take interest. The game is repetitive to be sure, but so are some of the best beat 'em ups so in that respect, I can get down with Hyrule Warriors. I can also get down to the game's soundtrack. Rock has always been a major part of the Dynasty Warriors games so giving Zelda themes that sort of treatment only seems logical. You'd be amazed how some classic Zelda tunes sound all rocked up. 

Dream Land was my favorite stage to play in the original Super Smash Bros. I liked the stage hazard that was Whispy Woods trying to blow fighters off the stage and I couldn't get enough of Hirokazu Ando's Gourmet Race arrangement. The Halberd stage in Brawl has a wealth of different Kirby jams, including this unbelievably rad metal arrangement. This sucker is enough to melt your face clean off.

The rock and metal tracks are in heavy abundance in Excite Truck, a game which ditches the motocycles from ye old Excite games in favor of four wheel trick style gameplay. You'd think trucks would have a doozy of a time pulling of stunts since the weigh a couple of tons, but nope, they get along just fine. The Postrace theme from this game was included in Super Smash Bros. Brawl as well as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. However, I personally feel Nebula is the best tune in Excite Truck and feel it should have been included in those games. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Much Needed Re-Releases Part 2

Some games get more love than others and some games get little to no love at all. For every Mega Man 2 and Final Fantasy VII you have your games with pink haired thieves that got overlooked in favor of games on dual screen hardware.

Drill Dozer (GBA)

There were a lot of ports on the GBA, most of them being quite good but some of the 32-bit handheld's best material were the original offerings. Drill Dozer is one of those games. Little Jill may be cute as a button but driving a mini drill tank makes her nothing to scoff at. Jill's tricked out machine can crush blocks, go through walls, solve puzzles and unsurprisingly, undo screws, which really comes in handy for bringing down bosses. The game's drill mechanic rarely grows dull. Game Freak's Drill Dozer was quite the imaginative platformer that is sadly, one most have never played. The game was released in 2006 where everyone was singing the praises of the Nintendo DS. The fact that Jill was a fresh face probably worked against her as well. If Mario had come out with a new GBA game in 2006 we would have eaten it up. When Jill popped out of that Assist Trophy case in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and started letting the opposition have it, more than a few players probably raised an eyebrow, wondering who she was. With more and more GBA games hitting the Wii U eShop, we can only hope Jill will get another chance to shine and be exposed to a wider audience.

R-Type Leo (ARC)

Every family has a black sheep, so meet the member of the R-Type family, R-Type Leo. Can you guess why this game has that furry black status? If you answered "because it doesn't feel like an R-Type game," give yourself a gold star. Sure, there's no Force Pod, which kills the strategic elements the other R-Type games are known for. But in it's place are a pair of satellites that stay at your ship's side. As you move forward, they take aim to the back and the opposite is true when you move backwards. Even though Leo doesn't play like a traditional R-Type game, it's still a solid shooter and one of my favorite games in the series. The soundtrack is also quite good. What isn't good is the fact that R-Type Leo has never received a home release of any kind. This baby is begging for a digital release, or at least I am.

Blast Corps (N64)

Michael Bay might have made blowing stuff up seem uncool, but wanton destruction feels so good when you're the one doing the wrecking. This is something that Blast Corps excels at. Your job is to clear a path for a truck carrying a pair of nuclear missiles. If that truck collides with anything, it's bye-bye life for everything on planet Earth. You get to control a variety of vehicles including your every day car and super cool, giant sized mechs, some capable of flight, others capable of transforming into a wrecking ball of sorts. There are tons of missions that take you across the globe and while it starts off simple enough, Blast Corps approaches controller breaking levels of Nintendo Hard difficulty later on. Still, this is often remembered as a cult classic and its one of my favorite N64 titles. Blast Corps doesn't cost much and is easy to find but it could still benefit from a digital release.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)

Like the NES game TMNTII, TMNTIV isn't just a straight up port of the 1991 beat 'em up. A number of changes set this apart from its coin-operated arcade brother. For one the Technodrome is an exclusive stage. The game also utilizes the system's Mode 7 capabilities for the Neon Night Riders stage, which was simply a side scrolling level in the arcade version. Mode 7 is also used for a very memorable boss fight with Shedder where you have to hurl Foot Soldiers at him. Also among the new bosses are Slash and the Rat King. The SNES version my not have four player support but I've always gotten along just find with it being a two player affair and I feel the game works better with less voice samples as the Turtles chattered grated on my nerves.  2009's Turtles in Time Re-Shelled was based on the arcade version but its no longer available and it sucked anyhow. The SNES version of Turtles in Time is the best way to experience it and a while some music would more than likely be changed due to licensing issues, playing this version on the current consoles would still be welcomed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Favorite Tunes #113: Can You Feel the Sunshine

Another Favorite Tunes, another video game song used as a subtitle. If you're a Sonic fan, give yourself a digital cookie for your masterful guessing skills. It isn't all Sonic-based music, however. There are jams from The Lost Vikings and a blue, metal hero to name a little.

I freaking LOVE the music of Sonic R. Composed by Richard Jacques and sung by TJ Davis, Sonic R has some of my favorite Sonic jams to listen to. I don't care if the lyrics are cheese and make little to no sense. Pity this track wasn't used in Super Smash Bros. Brawl on either edition of Smash 4.

Smart Ball or Jerry Boy as it is known in Japan is one of those early SNES games. It has some cute visuals but nothing truly groundbreaking save for some mode 7 scaling. Smart Ball is usually remembered for two things, the shoddy controls and the soundtrack, which is some pretty impressive audio even by infancy SNES standards. In spite of the control issues, it really isn't too shabby. Some trivia: Smart Ball was developed by Game Freak and they developed a Japan-only sequel. 

Before Blizzard blew up with World of Warcraft there was a little platform game called The Lost Vikings. In it you controlled three vikings that had to battle their way through, space, Egyptian and factory levels to get back home. The score was composed by Matt Furnis and with the game being released on the SNES, Genesis and Amiga platforms, there are notable differences between each game's soundtrack. 

With only five levels and four more being sold as DLC, Mighty Gunvolt could pass as an early NES or Game Boy game, taking a little over an hour or so to blast through. It does feature three playable characters, one of them being Beck from the upcoming Mighty No. 9, hence the title of this game and making it a nice little bonus game of sorts. The game was heavily design with the 8-bit console generation in mind from the visuals and music. This is some super adorable academic music, right here. 

Who says fighting isn't allowed on school grounds? In Rival Schools not only do students get in on the action but so do teachers and principals. Along with familair face Sakura, there are new mugs like Batsu, who would go on to be featured in other Capcom brawlers like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Being a Capcom fighters from the 1990s, the music consists of a lot of guitar synth that is equally loud and catchy.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars is one of the games I listed in my Much Needed Re-Releases feature. The game isn't perfect but the Wily Tower game after completing Mega Man 1-3 has got to be one of the best unlockable bonuses in video game history. Along with the four new levels and bosses is brand spanking, new original music. You gotta love how happy Wily Tower Stage 2 sounds. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Game Over Part 4

I have to admit, as much as I loath getting a game over, I do love the thought and creativity developers put into them. This week's loser screens feature ETs, apes and squirrels with killer hangovers.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

The first Donkey Kong Country was no jungle stroll but its a lot easier compared to the sequel. Even if you aren't taking on the levels of the Lost World, Diddty's Kong Quest is quite possibly the toughest of the original SNES Donkey Kong Country trilogy. When that final balloon is popped Diddy and Dixie are stuffed in what looks to be quite the cramped prison box complete with melancholy looks and a sad harmonica jingle to boot.

Alien 3 (SNES)

A dreadful musical jingle matched with a horrifying image of  saliva dripping extraterrestrial. Then the whole horror filled atmosphere is ruined by three hilarious words: Game over, man! To someone with no prior knowledge to the Alien films this may seem out of place but its arguably the greatest line of dialogue Hudson ever spouted. Including it on Alien 3's game over really does seem like a no brainer.

Conker's Bad Fur Day (N64, XB)

Most big bad's seldom have good intentions involved for the heroes. They are called big bads for a reason. The antagonist of Conker's Bad Fur Day is no exception. But unlike most fiends, Conker isn't really standing in the way of his schemes. No, he just has a table that won't stay properly leveled so his milk doesn't spill. Turns out Conker is just the right height so he wants to use him for a table leg. There are numerous takes on this one and I recommend checking out each and every one.

Star Fox (SNES)

Even on the easiest setting (the middle path) the final confrontation against Andross ranks among one of my favorite boss battles in gaming. But even if you never made it to the maniacal villain, you could still catch a glimpse of his true form by getting a game over, which was something I saw quite frequently when I played Star Fox as a lad.

Fatal Fury (ARC)

Geese Howard, being an SNK boss is one tough customer. It isn't just enough for him to thoroughly thrash you. He isn't too fond of trash stinking up the place, so he quickly disposes of you by kicking you out the window. As to elicit pity from the player, you get to watch as your fighter rapidly plummets to their doom.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stop Having Fun, Guys

Fun, enjoyment, entertainment. That, in a nutshell is the reason why gamers game. And yet, there are those in this not-so-humble video game industry that would deny us such. I've mentioned these type of gamers as one of the medium's most annoying in the past. The ones that rag on others that aren't playing a game a specific kind of way. Well, as it turns out more than one of this gamer type exists. There's the kind I just mentioned and then you've got those that bash you for simple enjoying a game they did not.

DmC: Devil May Cry was, how shall we say, not a well received game. I didn't play it or any of the four Devil May Cry games that came before it, but I'm well aware of the tremendous amount of backlash gamers dumped upon the game and Capcom by extension. Be that as it may, there are those out there that still had fun with DmC. The fact that somewhere out there in this great, big world of ours exists people with contrasting opinions is an injustice. The people that had fun with DmC don't deserve the enjoyment they got from the game because it was loathed by so many fans of the previous Devil May Cry games. Cry me a effin' river.

Did you actually like DmC? Better hide in a bomb shelter
because Devil May Cry fans ain't having that. 

The Call of Duty games that Activision is milking like a cow. These titles are immensely popular and it seems as if a new one comes out every year. You can't go any place without hearing about the current or upcoming Call of Duty and that alone has made the franchise catch flak from those that aren't knee on Activision's FPS powerhouse. I'm not a fan of the games myself, but I know there a plethora of gamers out there that love them so I'm not gonna bemoan them for getting some fun out a series that I don't see what the fuss is about.

Nintendo. God have mercy on your soul if you like a game they make, publish or any one of their consoles after the 16-bit era. The fact that the company still has a fanbase is incomprehensible to those that do nothing but throw hate at them. Do you like Mario Kart 8 and all the rad DLC? You suck and are a terrible human being that should die in a fire. What's that you say? You actually like the Wii U? You're everything that's wrong with gaming!

The market is overrun with FPS, but being
bitter to gamers that eat these games up
is not going to change that.

When did hating on others for enjoying a game you despised become a thing? Perhaps it always was a thing but thanks to the power of the interwebs and social media, its a lot more massive than what it once was. There's disagreeing with someone's opinion but lots of gamers go so much further than that. They have to hurl insults, rage and bile at others that had fun with a game they didn't. The very notion that someone would get so upset, so heated that a person's opinion does not line up with their own is baffling to me. If they don't like something, or didn't have fun with it, you aren't allowed to have fun with it and their seething hatred will be known. That right there is a thought process I will never be able to wrap my head around.

I like to believe that we as gamers can do better. I want to believe that we can respect one another in spite of having conflicting opinions. Or is jumping down someone's throat because we disagree so much easier to do than acting like a reasonable human being? Considering how groan-inducing gamers find easy difficulty settings to be, I'd say its high time we take the more difficult route and better ourselves.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Favorite Tunes #112: May Flowers

You knew this was coming. Well, you did if you checked out the previous Favorite Tunes. May has has begun so we kick of this month's Favorite Tunes with what proceeds all the rain that comes in April. 

The flower girl Cloud had an encounter with after his first mission with AVALANCHE. Aerith's Theme is played two times in Final Fantasy VII. The first is when her step mother tells you about Aerith's back story. The second is after Sepiroth impales her with his sword. Oh, sorry, spoilers. Jokes aside, this is without question one of the game's standout tracks and not just due to the character's death. It really is a powerful piece of music all on it's own. 

Despite the name of the tune, this is actually an arrangement of the Flower Garden theme from the 16-bit masterpiece Yoshi's Island. Originally composed by Koji Kondo, Noriyuki Iwadare undertook the task of arranging one of the game's most frequently heard tracks, keeping the cheerful nature of the tune but giving it an even more lively feel. 

Kirby's Return to Dream Land spoiled me rotten. Triple Deluxe, while still a good Kirby game just comes up short for me. The background and foreground shifting mechanics are a nice touch and I love the new power ups but that isn't enough to topple 2011's Kirby release. Even if you've never played the game you can hear this delightful jam in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U on The Great Cave Offensive stage.

December 17, 2012, Mega Man's 25th anniversary. Also known as the day a 35MB file took forever to download because Capcom Unity's servers were overloaded with activity from Mega Man fans trying to download Street Fighter X Mega Man, the free game that pit the Blue Bomber against numerous world warriors. A Rival delivered a magnificent soundtrack that blended music from both series for some memorable chiptunes. 

Dynamite Headdy was one of those other Treasure games on the Genesis. You know, one that isn't called Gunstar Heroes. It's a platformer and if you've read this far, no doubt you can guess what Headdy uses to attack. Thanks to some questionable tampering during the game's American localization, Dynamite Headdy is actually much more difficult than it's Japanese counterpart, even for a Treasure game. Be that as it may, you should still give this one a try. It sports that awesome Treasure sprite work and a masterful soundtrack.

The Street Fighter EX series is often viewed as the black sheep of the Street Fighter franchise. When every fighter under the sun was going 3D, Capcom followed suit with the EX games, which weren't terrible by any means but most viewed them as inferior when compared to the series' 2D outings. The arcade versions of the EX titles have good music but the PlayStation releases, which feature arranged music, is really where its at.