Archive for May, 2010

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8-Bit Mondays: Rush’n Attack – Enemy Base (Shinya Sakamoto, et al)

May 31, 2010

Rush’n Attack (1985), aka Green Beret (in Japan and Europe) was one of Konami’s earliest shooters, released for the arcade in 1985, but not on home console until 1987 (by which time Contra had captured the minds of NES owners). I wonder what this game is about – Cold War’s not over yet, is it? In this game, the player is a lone commando who storms a Soviet base to rescue some POW’s before they are executed. Armed only with a knife (like Snake, he picks up weapons as he goes), this unknown war hero fights his way through four grueling stages while the soldiers just won’t stop running into his bullets. Actually, I wonder if the knife-wielding enemies from Contra were based off this guy… As far as gameplay, it’s essentially Contra 0, a run ‘n gun shooter that paved the way for the the famous series. Anyway, the Stage 1 theme, “Enemy Base”, is pretty cool – a nice, simple melody that really tugs on those hero strings. If you don’t have an old NES to dust off, you can always pick it up on XBLA (seems they’re working on a sequel, Rush’n Attack: Ex Patriot, though why after 25 years is anyone’s guess).

Rush’n Attack – “Enemy Base” (Shinya Sakamoto, et al)

The “Enemy Base” stage theme is pretty standard commando fare, with a melody that rolls right along through enemy territory, keeping action high and the toe tapping on. The beat matches the quick run of the soldier while the rich square waves take all the determination that you would expect from a green beret action hero. The theme is particularly memorable because it is so simple and uses a combination of long notes and call and response. It’s got a nice seven-second intro, making the main loop about 40 seconds, which is fairly on-par for the time. The song is in the same style as the main theme of King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch, which is unsurprising, considering most of the composers worked on that game, too. Incidentally, the original arcade version didn’t have much in the way of BGM, just a drum march and a few jingles, so the music comes from the NES version.

There have been a few remixes of this theme, but Goat’s “Purple Heart” is still the best out there. It’s actually a medley of all the music in the game. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Main Theme” (Mahito Yokota)

May 30, 2010

To wrap up Mario week, here’s a special feature, the live recording of the Main Theme from Super Mario Galaxy 2, courtesy of Minna no Wii, the Japanese equivalent of the Nintendo Channel for Wii. When the first Galaxy was released, Nintendo did a similar thing with the excellent “Gusty Garden Galaxy” two years ago (and this theme actually includes a leitmotif from that game. This piece wasn’t used in its entirety in the game, but elements can be found in “Space Station Galaxy 1”, which is also included below. The track is performed by the impeccable Super Mario Galaxy Orchestra, which also did the first game. In the video, keep your eyes open for Mahito Yokota, Koji Kondo, and Shigeru Miyamoto as they listen to the performance with critical ears. Oh yeah – the drum guy also gets his own sound booth!

The Main Theme is perfect for exploring vast space vistas, the urge to jump forward and see what’s out there, thus capturing the game’s spirit. It does this through use of brass and has an epic opening, with upward and downward sweeping of the music before launching right into the main section with a cymbal crash. The first segment is multi-layered with brass and strings, each interweaving to create depth and make it easy to always here something new with each playback. The second main section has a spacey sound that could be a synth (or maybe it’s created with strings). Here, strings and flute interact in call and response while the drums fill in the low section. Finally, the main theme from Super Mario Galaxy (or “Gusty Garden Galaxy”) makes its triumphant return to fondly recall experiences of the original. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Koopa’s Road” (Mahito Yokota)

May 29, 2010

It feels odd using yet another Super Mario Galaxy 2 remix from Super Mario 64 (after all, that’s what yesterday’s was!). However, “Koopa’s Road” is another track that stands out for me. Whether it’s the song’s driving beat, its atmosphere of a grueling obstacle course from which the track’s name is derived.

Super Mario 64 – “Koopa’s Road”

The snare drums, sticks, and trumpets make for a very precise rhythm, a forward march through conjured images of flames, bubbling lava, and baked stone. The song is simultaneously melancholic and determined, a multi-layered beat and rhythm that drives the player forward, but also a steady upward movement in intensity that never achieves tones of triumph, lying instead in the minor key. Another fine defining point is the exotic synth line in the final section of the loop, a very Kondo-esque plucking that is similar to both Super Mario World and also the Middle East.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Koopa’s Road” (Mahito Yokota)

“Koopa’s Road” from Super Mario Galaxy 2 in contrast is a step to the side of Ravel’s “Bolero”, Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” (arr. Mahito Yokota)

May 28, 2010

It is difficult to discuss the Mario series without discussing the main theme to the original Super Mario Bros., but I feel it is also difficult to do so as well without the main theme to Super Mario 64 (1996). The “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” was one of the songs that defined the game and stands as one of Koji Kondo’s strongest compositions.  Defined by a well-defined melody with steplike punctuations, the track is very memorable, capturing the sheer joy of running around in a 3D world for the first time. Kondo was able to capture the sense of Mario’s feet as he moves as well as the slopes, hops, and slides of his world. However, the original composition seems rooted in earlier technology – though the midi are unique (particularly the cute ‘doo doo dee doo’ instrument) and purring trumpets, the track gains far more flesh and stature in modern interpretations, particularly Mahito Yokota’s arrangement from Super Mario Galaxy 2. (The image below is because the track is defined more by Mario 64 than Galaxy 2). As such, the original theme was more about melody than depth, though it accomplished the former superbly. Now I won’t give away where this appears, but let me say it’s one of my favorite galaxies in the game, which is a little surprising! It’s also one of the perfect discoveries to make at about 10 PM at night!

Super Mario Galaxy 2 – “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” (arr. Mahito Yokota)

There is something about the “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” that makes it particularly easy to orchestrate in a Big Band (a kind of jazz band from the 1930s and 40s Swing era, which this song seems to work best with). Maybe it’s the midi trumpets and the steady, punctuated beats, but in any case, nearly all arrangers seem to agree that a band mix with sax and brass is the best way. Mahito Yokota took this straight-up approach in Super Mario Galaxy 2, playing the main melody on saxophone with some excellent brass support – everything is simply fleshed out better. The percussion encourages clapping and toe-tapping, and is supported by an electric guitar taken straight out of the score for the original. There’s also a great ‘UNH!’ cheer at 1:08 followed by the reintroduction of the sax, which transitions nicely back into the main theme. When listening to this track, you can’t help but smile – this is the pure joy of exploration and running beneath the sun, play in melody.

The “Super Mario 64 Main Theme” has seen two other excellent orchestral arranges Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario Galaxy – “Ship Plant” (Mahito Yokota)

May 27, 2010

“Ship Plant” is the famous “Airship Theme” from Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988). Originally composed by Koji Kondo, the track was orchestrally arranged for Super Mario Galaxy (2007) by Mahito Yokota, who also composed the majority of the Galaxy and Galaxy 2 soundtracks. The song was only available in the Platinum version of the soundtrack CD released through the Japanese Club Nintendo. The track is memorable for its steady rhythm and punctuated notes, a short theme that is easily recognizable and instantly oppressive.

Super Mario Galaxy – “Ship Plant” (Mahito Yokota)

“Ship Plant” is full of slowly building menace through the ominous drums, trumpets calling out gloom and disaster, and twirling strings that signal the steady twirl of the airship propellers. What one gets is the overwhelming sense of an unstoppable juggernaut, Bowser’s massive fleet of warships, a threat that must be conquered by Mario’s steady advance for the Mushroom Kingdom to be saved. The steady beat and punctuated notes of the main melody make for a readily memorable track that does great justice to the original version. The recording quality is also superb – listen for the cellos at 0:24 and the snare break at 0:33. It’s a shame the soundtrack was never widely available. The track was so good it was reused in Super Mario Galaxy 2.

The “Airship Theme” has begun to reappear in the Mario games, most recently in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which uses Super Mario Bros. 3 as its template. It’s not that great, but a welcome comeback nonetheless (the airship sfx for the propellers are excellent though).

The best arrange this side of Galaxy is Motoi Sakuraba’s fantastic remix of this theme for Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008). Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario 64 – “Dire, Dire Docks” (Koji Kondo)

May 26, 2010

Super Mario 64 (1996) was one of Koji Kondo’s best soundtracks. Thanks to Kondo’s excellent composition skills as well as the new power and storage space of the Nintendo 64, Kondo was able to create a true masterpiece. Nearly every song in the game is a joy to behold, and can be listened to on their own. In fact, they are fun for people who have never played the game before and also bring back fond memories when you hear the music again, even long after playing. Of course, there are many other songs I like from this game (particularly the main theme and ending), but “Dire, Dire Docks” (aka “Water Land”) is one of my favorites due to its calm, rolling nature and the wonderful instrument selection.

Super Mario 64 – “Dire, Dire Docks” (Koji Kondo)

“Dire, Dire Docks” on the Super Mario 64 soundtrack is an arrangement of the different versions of the theme, first above the water, then inside, and finally, in the underwater cave. It’s an absolutely divine swim into the waters of Mario’s world, capturing the rolling nature of the waves and the overall feel of swimming in the vast 3D seas, something that players had not done prior to this game.

The instruments are liquid and seem to have been created from water. The base of the track is built on two rolling loops of piano and harp that create a soft, gentle ripple like small waves on the surface. 20 seconds in the main theme begins with delicate twinklings from an ice-like piano that does not seem quite solid, but more floating in the fluid space between synth and simulation. One minute in, and Kondo adds strings to provide greater atmosphere and depth of space. They add a graceful layer to the track that is soon accompanied by drums and high hat, which plays inside the underwater cave. These instruments were added to indicate a sense of danger to the player – it’s time to be on your toes!

There have been many remixes of “Dire, Dire Docks” . Out of all the remixes, djpretzel’s magnificent orchestral mix, “SunkenSuite” is one of the best. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Super Mario World – “Athletic BGM” (Koji Kondo)

May 25, 2010

Anyone who has played a lot of Super Mario World (1991) will recognize the music to it – particularly since the main theme was arranged for nearly every song in the game. That’s right, with Super Mario World, Koji Kondo did something that hadn’t quite been done in previous games: create a main theme and create a large variety of variations depending on the atmosphere of each level. Thus, the main theme plays in the regular overworld levels, it has a rocky, lava feel for the caves, intense action for the athletic, etc. All told, there are six variations on this theme. This technique would later be used for Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins and the above ground/underwater/high above/etc variations of level themes in Super Mario Sunshine and Banjo Kazooie. It was really quite influential – as well as memorable. Koji Kondo feels this creates a “multi-colored production” through the transformation of themes that also surprises the player and increases the enjoyment of the game.

Super Mario World – “Athletic BGM” (Koji Kondo)

“Athletic” happens to be my favorite rendition, but it’s a tough pick – each one has a great sound, but “Athletic” seems the happiest of them all. It’s a kind of ragtime piece with very quick action befitting of a complex platforming level. The midi pianos have a unique sound to them as well, not sounding quite like the pianos of later SNES games, and so having a Mario touch to them as a result.

The second half of this song is the ‘Yoshi’ variation, which adds a layer of bongo drums for Yoshi’s active movement. This not only gives the player an indication that he has gained a power-up but also emphasizes the movement of Yoshi – where movement and handling of the controls is something Kondo finds very important to Mario soundtracks. (This might be why Kondo has stayed away from orchestral music until lately, as he seems to feel that the rhythm of the music becomes that of the conductor rather than that of the game).

The “Athletic BGM” recently received an update in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Check out a recording of the song here! Read the rest of this entry ?