Posts Tagged ‘Contra’

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Contra 4 – “Harvest Yard” (Jake “Virt” Kaufman)

June 23, 2010

The Contra series has a lot of memorable music. If there’s one thing Konami is good at, it is hiring composers who know how to make good vgm that not only has an attractive melody, but one that is easy to recognize and remember. “Harvest Yard” from Contra 4 is a perfect example of this. The level is really cool because it is the inside the body of a giant alien. The theme from the final stage, it captures both the intensity of the battle as well as the build to the finale, as it constantly builds intensity but ultimately never reaching a final height due to the loop. Jake Kaufman also pushes the limits of the DS sound chip to get some good samples coming out of the system’s tinny speakers.

Contra 4 – “Harvest Yard” (Jake “Virt” Kaufman)

“Harvest Yard” is memorable from the opening two seconds of the track – if you have played the game and heard this song before, it will be immediately recognizable. This is because the punctuation on those notes is so strong, and they stand alone. This punctuation is repeated throughout the piece, creating a march that is very easy to leave an impression. Additionally, Kaufman uses an instrument selection consisting of strings, drums, and piano, along with some deep brass that recalls the Alien Hive levels from Contra Spirits/Contra III: The Alien Wars, with the same punctuation but a bit less discord than “The Showdown“, a collection of end boss themes. This is particularly emphasized by the monster growls and howls and the screams of victims that fill the background. In fact, this is really straight out of Aliens, particularly the awesome piano break at 1:08.

“Harvest Yard” has an absolutely fantastic remix in Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded, but you’ll have to pick up the album for that one (sorry – but it’s only $12 and worth every cent!). However, you can listen to an early rendition of “Alien Hive” (“Let’s Attack Aggressively”) from Dwelling of Duels (January, 2008). The complete Contra 4: Dual Spirits (Japanese title, 2008) soundtrack was released through Konamistyle and contains a remix of the Harbor theme by The Smash Brothers. Unlike Danimal Cannon, et al, Konami charges an arm and a leg for their stuff (and that’s not including shipping!). At least it’s got an awesome cover…

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Neo Contra – “Mission 1 – Frontline Base 985″ (Sota Fujimori)

June 13, 2010

Here’s a little more detailed look at Neo Contra from yesterday (yeah, two in a row from the same soundtrack), but I figured it was worth a little more detailed look. Oh yeah, I also happen to love the comic book-style cover art (yes, that IS a giant mutant baby in my plant, and no, I’m NOT happy to see you!). Incidentally, Konami just announced a new Contra game, Hard Corps: Uprising. Too bad I was never much of a fan of Contra: Hard Corps and the graphics don’t appeal to me too much, just like the new Sparkster. If you’re doing 2.5D, the graphics HAVE to look better than that. Though it lacks the monicker, the gameplay is quite similar and the music has the classic Contra “Jungle” opening. Anyway, here’s some Neo Contra stuff. Pick up the full soundtrack from LostVGM if you’re so inclined. Overall, Shin Contra (Shattered Soldiers) was a better soundtrack.

Neo Contra – “Mission 1 – Frontline Base 985″ (Sota Fujimori)

“Mission 1 – Frontline Base 985″ is a good example of the type of music from this game. It’s a little more memorable than some of the other tracks as it has a nicely punctuated intro (da-da-da-dadada etc) that mixes well with the techno; too bad it only appears at the start of the song. There’s a nice guitar break about halfway through, but for the most part, you just sit back and trance out in the techno jam; good stuff for shooting, though not what I normally listen to. But hey – it’s all about expanding your horizons. Title seems a little odd (can’t get more generic than “Frontline Base 985″) but I suppose that fits with the techno aesthetic as well.

There are a few other fairly notable tracks (I’m kind of fond of the title and menu themes), but most of the really notable ones are mixes from previous Contras. For instance: “Mission 2-1 – Highway” mixes the bike theme from Shattered Soldiers (Shin Contra) into a more trancy style, there’s a pretty cool techno mix of the Stage 3 theme from Super Contra in “Mission 4-2 – Aircraft Carrier”, and of course “A True Last Boss” – though again, the Shattered Soliders version by Akira Yamaoka was better. LostVGM’s album doesn’t have track fade-outs, but this goes well with the techno sound as the transitions aren’t as abrupt as you’d might think (a couple exceptions though).

What really takes it though is this super-cool Famicom remix of the Neo Contra title theme “Neo” from yesterday, done by m_036. Pretty awesome stuff and really shows off the melody behind that song.

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Neo Contra – “Neo” (Paula Terry, Sota Fujimori)

June 12, 2010

Time for more zaniness from Konami. This time it’s the title theme to Neo Contra (2004), the first (and hopefully LAST) time Konami decided to put lyrics to Contra. Actually, let’s hope this is the last time Konami does anything this ridiculous with the series – insane characters with horrible voice acting borrowed from Metal Gear Solid, a senseless plot, and an overall clunky feel, Contra hadn’t stooped that low since the PlayStation days. At least the soundtrack was fairly good (“Neo” nonwithstanding). The track really goes best with the title video. Thanks to LostVGM for the soundtrack, which never saw an official release! And here’s the lyrics, too, as it’s kind of hard for me to pick out what she’s saying over the audio overload:

Neo Contra – “Neo” (Paula Terry, Sota Fujimori)

The smell of dusty sand and ambition
The taste of sweet victory and volition
Sensory overload, it’s time to rebel
Dangerous guys are back from hell
Neo Contra!

Rebuild and destroy, the hope of despair
Annihiliate and exterminate an enemy’s lair
Stand against the soldier to protect our nation
No matter what happens, you’re the salvation
Moments of truth beckons the danger
Aggression and combat releases the anger
Accomplish the mission, satisfaction fulfilled
Go between life and death without getting killed

Neo Contra!
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Neo Contra!

Now Mephistopheles induces you into hell
Join the death pilgrimage, destroy and dispel, oh
Humanity’s future rests with you
Oh – Neo Contra!

This is basically over-the-top balls-blazing gung-ho action that you expect from Contra and the lyrics support the type of ‘war to protect vaguely defined ideals’ (along with the epitome of saving humanity) as defined by this nice little article I’ve been reading. Predictably, “Neo” also justifies the release of violent emotions within sanctioned space (or for the player, ‘have fun blowing shit up’) which is just what you want in this type of game. This isn’t to say that the song doesn’t have a few notable points. For instance, ‘exterminate an enemy’s lair’ is from basically every Contra game and ‘time to rebel’ reminds us of Contra III‘s intro, and ‘go between life and death without getting killed’ pretty much sums up the Contra experience (at least for a skilled player). However, I can’t really remember much ‘dusty sand’ from the game (maybe a tiny beach, but that’s it). ‘Destroy and rebuild’ is also kind of odd by itself (makes sense in the context) and not sure what Faust’s Mephistopheles has to do with anything.

The Neo Contra soundtrack is all kinds of techno by Sota Fujimori (Beatmania series, Metal Gear Solid 4) with lyrics sung by Paula Terry (vocalist from the Guitar Freaks series; Wangan MIDNIGHT MAXIMUM).

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Contra III: The Alien Wars – “No Hope of Life” (Konami)

June 11, 2010

Today’s daily is actually a jingle – the game over jingle from Contra Spirits (aka Contra III: The Alien Wars, 1992). This is mostly because jingles often don’t get a lot of coverage for longer songs – that and I just got back from jazz night at The Hunter/Gatherer in Columbia, SC and I don’t think I’ve got anything on hand that could possibly follow up – they were THAT good! So for now, “No Hope of Life” works. (Actually ok, the ending from Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded is pretty badass!). Anyway, I think this is the best game over jingle out of everything I’ve heard (and there are some pretty good ones out there). Even better than Super Mario World, and Castlevania III, and those were jingles!

Contra III: The Alien Wars – “No Hope of Life” (Masanori Adachi, Tappy Iwase, Miki Higashino)

The game over jingle is actually something of a remix of the game over jingle from the original Contra by Hidenori Maezawa. That theme is pretty memorable because a) you probably heard it a million times if you’ve ever played the game and b) it’s got a nice commando ditty followed by an oopsie ‘bwah-bwah-bwah-bwaaaah!’ (Game over! Try again!) Anyway, the version from Contra III has some nice drums and punctuated notes that make it easy to remember, and you have to love the deep bass rumble at the end. Yup, the Alien Wars are over for you, son! Time for the Konami Code!

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Super Contra – “What Is This Place?” (arr. Naoto Shibata)

April 22, 2010

Red Falcon has invaded the Earth again, this time brainwashing the military. It’s just another day at the office then for Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, who rock ‘n’ load a second time to fight the evil alien menace in Super Contra (1988). With Naoto Shibata at lead guitar, you gotta crank the speakers. The original was composed by Kazuki Muraoka (Metal Gear series) and Motoaki Furukawa (Gradius II, Dracula X: Rondo of Blood), who made that classic Konami arcade sound. This mix appears only on Konami Battle the Best (1996), a compilation and remastering of some of Shibata’s best work, along with a couple original tracks from Super Contra.

Konami Battle the Best – Super Contra – “What Is This Place?” (arr. Naoto Shibata)

“What Is This Place?” is perfect 80s rock. It’s got everything that’s right about America, from freedom and muscle cars to pre-steroids baseball and big guns. Trust me, it’s all here in this song, which I think may be the best Konami Battle mix Naoto Shibata did. The long notes punctuated by percussion explosions make this particularly memorable, and also follow the drudge of ‘back to the battlefield’ for a virtuous videogame war that seems endless (which keeps our thumbs and brains happy). All the instruments have excellent recording here, especially the drums and cymbal crashing (there’s some nice drums at 1:12). Shibata adds a kickass guitar solo at 1:25 that lasts about a minute before smoothly transitioning back into the main theme.

The original version is really cool as well, particularly with the voice-over intro, monsters, and explosion. This hands-down makes this one of the coolest game intros ever. If you haven’t seen it yet, you deserve to watch it right now. Ronald Reagan would be proud.

Explosive drum beats, blaring trumpets, and rockin’ guitar synths make for true dramatics. Those opening notes are immediately recognizable and a sure attention-grabber. This medley is from Contra Spirits (1992) and contains “Thunder Landing”, the stage one theme. This is a very intense guitar-driven piece with some nice string synths. Stands its ground well against the original Contra theme. There’s also “Great Heli-Ruined Base”, a nice, intense boss theme that was reused in Contra 4. The whole soundtrack was released in Music from Super Contra & A-Jax (1988) and has more mixes. If you check it out, be sure to listen to “Jungle Juncture” which is a hilariously awesome jungle rhythm. (Incidentally, though the NES did not have as good a sound chip as the arcades, they managed to replicate some of the trademark string and percussion bursts from the original in Super C).

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Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded – “Balls of Steel” (arr. Norg)

March 21, 2010

My review of Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded just ran on Gametunes.net. This album is total rockout, and it’s seriously f-n awesome. The Rocked ‘n’ Loaded guys have uploaded a couple demo tracks from the album (very good ones, but not the best on the album, of course!). So today’s Daily is my favorite of the two, “Balls of Steel”, the Factory stage theme.

Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded – “Balls of Steel” (arr. Norg)

“Balls of Steel” has a pretty amazing synth beat here. Because Norg plays keyboard, the track is heavily keyboard-driven, using rock guitars more for support. The keyboard sound actually feels quite a bit like Akira Yamaoka’s work in Shin Contra. I think because of this, it sounds a bit different from the other tracks in the album, but still feels like it’s part of it. Overall, the track has a sense of desperation of the battle of man against machine, things made to serve man that have now gotten out of his control. The main theme jumps in at 1:00, running into a nice synth break at 1:33; this is probably what 80s synth rock would have sounded like if they’d had the keyboards of today. If you listen carefully, there’s also some great mechanical percussion at 1:45, sounding like robot joints clinking. Halfway through the track (about 2:28), Norg mixes in some fantastic industrial percussion here with buzz saws, whirring servos, and clanking machines straight out of a Terminator factory.
The original track seems completely new (or at least I can’t place it…), but the composition feels like it would fit perfectly into Contra 3: The Alien Wars (aka Contra Spirits, 1992). Amazing instrumentation throughout, and Jake Kaufman’s original composition gains so much through this arrangement. The album art is pretty cool too – using instruments to blow the crap out of space aliens is something that I think would work really well in a game. Kind of like this video. (Yes, in the Dark Ages, Vikings raided and pillaged with the power of Norse and Danish metal). Anyway, you definitely don’t want to miss the album, so go get it!
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Contra 4 – “Jungle 1″ (Jake Kaufman)

March 17, 2010

To help celebrate finally having Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded in my grubby hands, here’s the “Jungle” theme from Contra 4 (2008) by Jake “Virt” Kaufman. This guy was incredibly lucky to work on Contra 4 – he had remixed an incredible Contra medley back in 1999 that still stands up to this day, a perfect mix of chiptunes and rock guitars. As such, I don’t think Konami could have picked a better American to do the Contra soundtrack, as Kaufman clearly demonstrates, making each note count as an integral part of the theme. From the steady punctuation of the main melody to the sheer volume of instrumentation, Kaufman applies his whole experience with game music remixing and composing to produce a true classic that simultaneously tributes the original theme while painting something new and unique.

Contra 4 – “Jungle 1″ (Jake Kaufman)

“Jungle 1″ follows the melodic feel of the original by organically weaving in elements of the original theme – this is why it sounds so much like the “Jungle” theme from the original Contra but the two are very different when played after each other. Original bits that find their way into the new Stage 1 theme are the classic ‘jumping out of the helicopter’ intro notes in the first second of the track (and again at 0:33), the drum beat at 0:25, and the main notes of the “Jungle” theme in the background at 1:20. Kaufman adds new notes to the main theme of the original Contra, taking half-steps to reach the same basic range of notes in the Hidenori Maezawa classic while providing such a rich and sweeping investigation of the central melody that the texture of the music is as rich as the jungle landscape it paints. Strings punctuate the melody with jolts of energy of commandos rolling through lush jungle, palm trees swaying in the breeze and mutant soldiers firing from the undergrowth. The loop at 1:30 makes this an impressive tune for an action game. I do have to say that the synths are pretty good for the DS, but I still think they don’t have the weight of good mods on the SNES. To me, the DS will always feel tinny and airy, lacking the dull bass of the 16-bit classic, but Kaufman can squeeze as much awesome out of this sound as the best of them.

Fans of the original “Jungle” theme weren’t disappointed either – a version of this was also present in the game. Virt’s “Jungle” theme was remixed as well in Rocked ‘n’ Loaded, under the track “Jungle Exploder”, a seriously awesome rock-out that adds plenty of synth to make this feel oddly like a Japanese doujin rock album – but this puppy is all-American and available for the low-low price of $12. What are you waiting for? Come get some.

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