Search This Blog

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

No comments: