Jim Power in Mutant Planet – “Title Theme” (Chris Huelsbeck)November 4, 2010
Jim Power was one of those series that made you scratch your head (read more about it on HG101 along with an interview with the composer!). Starring a Buck Rogers-esque throwaway action hero, the series featured repellent art design with 12 layers of migraine-inducing parallax scrolling, clunky controls, and an insane difficulty, there wasn’t a whole lot of redeeming qualities to the title. So what’s this game got going for it? Chris Huelsbeck, that’s what! Jim Power in Mutant Planet features some of Mr. Huelsbeck’s best work. Originally composed for the Amiga, the game was later released for the PCE CD and arranged again for the SNES. Mr. Huelsbeck notes influences of Japanese game music in his work (Jim Power has some similarities with Ys), resulting in a unique blend of East and West that only a few composers such as Yasunori Mitsuda are able to achieve. The game’s publisher Loricel also asked Mr. Huelsbeck to compose a score in the same style as Turrican II, so comparisons also abound. The “Title Theme” is one of the most memorable pieces from the series and the character’s trademark and is another exception that proves the rule that you can have an awful game that’s memorable due to an amazing soundtrack.
Mutant Planet‘s “Title Theme” uses the same compositional pattern as Mr. Huelsbeck’s other Amiga titles: it is built in pieces that are then arranged and variated across the song, with a healthy dosage of original material. The track opens with a trademark drumset while melody is played on guitar as well as a funky swashing synth combo at 2:20 that sounds like it’s taken straight out of the Apidya arrange soundtrack. Mr. Huelsbeck also gets a lot of mileage out of the guitar, putting soul into the riffs for sliding notes that begin to almost sound like a theremin. Couple this with a memorable melody that uses punctuated notes over a steady beat, and you’ve got yourself a classic!
Later, Mutant Planet was ported to the PCE CD, and served as Mr. Huelsbeck’s first foray into the use of redbook audio for a game soundtrack. The soundtrack was produced in his recording studio using the exact same synths that would be found in the early 90s, up until Sound Factory (1995, which contains two Jim Power remixes) and had already been used in his first three albums (most notably Apidya). As a result, Mutant Planet for the PCE CD is in many ways an actualization of the audio quality Mr. Huelsbeck had been applying to his previous works. This version also demonstrates his trademark combination of bongoes and drums (1:20). The ending too feels a little like Terminator.
The SNES version (Jim Power the Lost Dimension in 3D – which really did use stereoscopic glasses!) is more along the lines of Mr. Huelsbeck’s Amiga days, due in large part to the similarities of the SPC7000. The drumkit has a lot of depth while the meaty guitar riffs sound almost straight out of Turrican. Actually, there isn’t a whole lot on the SNES that sounds like this, testament to Mr. Huelsbeck’s programming skills to go with composition. Honestly, while the PCE and Amiga versions are good, I think the SNES soundtrack is better due to its weight and new material, making it my pick of the best in-game rendition of this song.
The best arrange was Yuzo Koshiro’s (ActRaiser) version found on Symphonic Shades performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra of Cologne. Koshiro’s arrange is one of the best from the concert and features the bold strides on strings and brass that we’d expect to find from Buck Rogers.
So far there is no Jim Power album from Mr. Huelsbeck’s studio, but word has it that he is working on one… (then again, I’ve been waiting for it since he first mentioned the project about ten years ago!).