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Dr. Mario – “Fever” (Hirokazu Tanaka)

December 3, 2010

One of the games I remember playing as a kid was Tetris & Dr. Mario for the SNES. Dr. Mario is a puzzle game where you have to line up different-colored pills so they wipe out a virus of the same color. If the bottle fills up with pills, you’ve lost. It also had this really funny commercial. In the SNES version, there was a multiplayer option that was a lot of fun at the time, but I kind of lost interest in the game after I selected the hardest level and played through it for about an hour or two until I cleared it, saw the ending screen, and then was prompted to play another level. Then I realized it was pointless! Still, the game had some pretty trippy tunes that were so funny to hear, we couldn’t play some of them, or we’d mess up because we were laughing so hard! So yes, another classic from Hip Tanaka.

Dr. Mario (SNES version) – “Fever” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

“Fever” is a pretty cheeky tune – actually, all of them are, thanks to the jeering faces of the little viruses. The designers must have been inspired by Space Invaders, as you can’t help but enjoy squashing them with the pills. The SNES version uses an organ as well as provides chirps and insults from the viruses. At 0:29 there are a few bars from a famous classical tune that I have trouble identifying… You will also want to check out the classic Hip Tanaka bass line at 0:50, definitely a little reminiscent of Balloon Fight (especially with the bubbling pops).

I’d also like to point out that Dr. Mario was a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and so his theme saw a remix. However, I like the arrange of “Chill”  by Masaaki Iwasaki (Mother 3, Heavy Barrel) from Super Smash Bros. Brawl more, with its combination of original chip music and grunge guitars. Awesome high hat past the one-minute mark, too.

Finally, there is this incredibly awesome music video by Brentalfloss about Dr. Mario. Warning – it’s a tad NSFW! Read the rest of this entry »

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Totaka’s Song (Kazumi Totaka)

December 2, 2010

Here’s an interesting piece of music that not many people know about: “Totaka’s Song”, so-called because it appears in every single (or almost every single…) game that Kazumi Totaka helped compose. “Totaka’s Song” is his signature, basically a means of signing the work as an artist signing a painting and having a little joke in the process. The piece is 19 notes long and is a short, playful ramble that seems embarrassed to have been discovered and so sheepishly pauses at the end. Here it is from Mario Paint, one of its most famous appearances:

The song first appeared in X for the Game Boy (1992, Japan-only). It was also played by Mr. Totaka’s ‘avatar’ in Animal Crossing, the guitar-playing dog K.K. Nindb has a collection of several versions of “Totaka’s Song”, and more are on YouTube. PhilBond has a three-part video series on the song that sparked interest across the Internet, but admittedly the pacing is a little slow… Most instances of “Totaka’s Song” have been discovered, but a few are missing such as Wii Sports (though there is this funky version of the title theme played backwards). I’ve also yet to see any kind of arranges (anyone up to a heavy metal joke version for Dwelling of Duels?).

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Sunset Riders – “Mr. Pink Poncho’s Western Rock Band” (Dr. Manhattan)

December 1, 2010

Ok, so I’ve already talked about the original version of “Shoot-out at the Sunset Corral” from Sunset Riders, but I was so impressed with this OCR arrange that I just had to give it its own post before this blog rides out into the setting sun. I’ve already posted work by Dr. Manhattan before (“Sudden Kiss” from Dracula X) and I’m definitely a fan of his rock style. Plus, the track contains “Fight Bravely”, the second level theme.

Sunset Riders – “Mr. Pink Poncho’s Western Rock Band” (Dr. Manhattan)

The instruments are quite close to the original, with guitars, drums, and trumpets played to perfection, emphasized and cued just where they need to be. I’d almost say this is just a straight-up cover for the first half, but when they’re this good, why would you really care? There’s a nice guitar wail at 1:55 that is just what you’d expect from a spaghetti western, and this opens into a blazing guitar solo where Dr. Manhattan really shows his stuff – YEE-HAW! And what’s this? The “Mexican Hat Dance” song! (called “Jarabe Tapatio”). Of course you have to have that with the rifle-wielding Cormano! (And yes, he does wear a pink poncho!). This is a nice bridge to the Spanish-themed “Fight Bravely”, which ends the mix beginning at 2:47.

OCRemix lists the composer as Naohisa Morota (Batman: The Video Game, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness), but I think he’s just credited with the SNES version (Motoaki Furukawa did the arcade version).

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Falcom Special Box ’90 – “First Flight to You” (Michio Fujisawa)

November 30, 2010

Nihon Falcom Corporation is a famous game company in Japan that specializes in RPGs, particularly Ys and Dragon Slayer. From 1988 to 1997, the company released box sets containing originals and arrangements of their best music from that year (though labeling it with the next year). It’s a truly amazing collection as the albums initially had a wide range of arrangements, including vocal, heavy rock, new age, and sound scores/drama. I found out about the Falcom Special Box collections when Slightly Dark did a special on one. Falcom Special Box ’90 contains four albums, one from each of the above styles, though each disc averages about 20 minutes. My favorite disc is the New Age Music, which is a beautiful mix of cello, violin, and piano. The pieces were arranged by Michio Fujisawa, who is still arranging Falcom music, and some of the tracks have been reprinted in various albums over the past 20 years.

Falcom Special Box ’90 – “First Flight to You” (Michio Fujisawa)

“First Flight to You” is an arrange of the ending theme to Ys II, so it is particularly joyful, conjuring images of free birds flying over summer hills in the early morning light and the hopeful emotions of a joyous return. The notes of the original roll off the gentle touch of piano and violin, dancing in playful meter to punctuated leaps. The cello provides an emotional base and later (1:50) plucks joyfully along with the piano. There are three parts to the song, the first a regular loop, the second a variation (1:08), followed by a slow break (2:24) with new/freeform material, ending with a final variant on the theme (2:48) – classic AA’BA” structure. The final reprise is particularly joyful with violin and piano at full emotional vigor and new material on the piano. The piece ends – I think – a little abruptly, but that does not detract from its pleasant, relaxing excellence.

The original version was composed by Mieko Ishikawa (Dinosaur, Star Trader) and Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Shinobi). Hardcore Gaming 101 has an extensive overview of the series.

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The Adventures of Bayou Billy – “Street and Swamp Fighting (Stages 1, 3, 6, 8 BGM)” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

November 29, 2010

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (1991), known in Japan as Mad City (1989), is one of the more obscure Konami titles and a forgotten soundtrack by Hidenori Maezawa. Nice graphics and tripping music, the game is forgotten because it was infamous for its difficulty (Spoony Experiment has a fantastic Until We Win feature about it). Billy West must save his girlfriend Annabelle Lee from the vicious gang of Godfather Gordon, fighting his way through swamp and street, driving a jeep through the bayou… Sorry, Billy, but it’s times like these when you’re probably better off just finding a new girlfriend! (and get a shirt while you’re at it!) Anyway, the music is fairly unique, quite a different sound from much NES music of the time, particularly the first stage theme, “Street & Swamp Fighting” .

The Adventures of Bayou Billy – “Street & Swamp Fighting (Stages 1, 3, 5, 8)” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

The piece opens with a funky guitar and hip swamp bubble popping. The main melody is played on a square wave whose identity is a little hard to pin down – perhaps trumpets or strings? – with some nice highlights from the trumpets. Its grungy slide is similar to that found in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Battletoads, a slam beat from the bayou. At 0:37 there is a nice break with punctuation from that dancing guitar. Coupled with the opening, the first loop is at 1:00, but after this, the loop length is 37 seconds, which is pretty decent, especially since the track is fairly dynamic.

The real reason I wanted to talk Bayou Billy though was this awesome arrange by Evil Horde called “El Lagarto“. I gotta say, this one took me by surprise, as I’d never heard the soundtrack before. The 70s disco-funk guitar is back with some slick Latin clapping and salsa-hot percussion – with a bongo solo at 3:16! Also check out that clapping break at 1:36 – this track is super-slick. This is sure to get your toes a-tapping and the ghost of Ricardo Montalbon dancing. Take a unique soundtrack and add a mix like this – a complete blast that’s also different from anything I’ve heard! The title, “El Legarto”, is the Spanish word for lizard – as in alligator!

The kings of this soundtrack are Jun Funahashi (Ys VI, Lost in Blue) and Hidenori Maezawa (Contra, Super C), who later collaborated on Castlevania III, which is some of the best music on the Famicom. The other composers were Atsushi Fujito (Castlevania: Bloodlines, Contra III: The Alien Wars) and Shinkon Ogura (Snake’s Revenge). Killer composers, all.

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King Kong 2 (MSX) – “End of the Adventure” (Commandcom)

November 28, 2010

Konami seems to have a good track record of releasing two versions of each of their games: one for the Famicom, the other for the MSX. Castlevania/Vampire Killer; Contra; Metal Gear 1 and 2/Snake’s Revenge. And now we have King Kong 2, with the MSX version King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu (King Kong 2: The Legend Restored). In the Famicom version (Ikari no Megaton Punch), players took the role of King Kong himself in his quest to find his beloved Lady Kong. With Yomigaeru Densetsu, it’s the adventurer Mitchel, also out to find Lady Kong, only this time to give him a blood transfusion. The game even resembles the MSX Metal Gear in terms of graphics and level design. Anyway, this forgotten Konami game recently saw an arrange by Commandcom (aka Jorge Mira Boronat) on OCR.

King Kong 2: Yomigaeru Densetsu – “End of the Adventure” (Commandcom)

While I think the soundtrack to Ikari no Megaton Punch is better, I have to admit that the “Stage 1” theme (arranged here) is an absolutely fantastic, catchy melody and pushes what the MSX could do, and it’s great to see how both soundtracks ended up with such great scores. The thing is, I don’t really like the MSX as much as the Famicom (though admittedly, it does sound a little more ‘Japanese’). The MSX usually doesn’t have quite the same impact as the Famicom, which in the right hands (say Kuniyo Yamashita or Hidenori Maezawa) can create a score much more lively and dynamic, due primarily to the extra channels and grittier sound (though Kuniyo Yamashita composed Vampire Killer with about as much gusto as the Famicom version). Still, Commandcom does an excellent job of really fleshing out the ideas present in the original, with lively piano, an adventuresome march, and wicked drumwork. It presents a grand feel of adventure, thick jungles, wild animals, and (in this case) helpful natives. Commandcom references Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean in his musical style, all excellent adventure scores. This is truly where the strengths of game music arrangements lie, being able to take an original piece and upgrade it for modern ears. It’s truly an example of how the bamboo model of the original song becomes a fully realized building with more powerful technology.

The original soundtrack was composed by Motoaki FurukawaMetal Gear for MSX and Dracula X: The Rondo of Blood.

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Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

November 27, 2010

I just discovered that in January Konamistyle is releasing the soundtrack to Harmony of Despair, the XBLA game that came out earlier this year which allowed you to play with up to three friends as one of Castlevania‘s heroes (and heroines!). What’s even cooler is there will be a bundle that includes this along with the Castlevania Tribute 1 and 2 albums (Tribute!? You steal men’s souls! And make them your slaves!). I’m hoping it won’t be a bunch of electronica… However, I’ve given the Harmony of Dissonance soundtrack a listen and was quite impressed. While it’s a selection from mostly newer games in the series (would have loved to hear some Castlevania IV and GameBoy arranges), Harmony of Dissonance has a truly rocking soundtrack with primarily new arranges. One of my favorites is “Ruined Castle Corridor”, the main castle theme from Aria of Sorrow.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

Konami’s heavy metal treatment of “Ruined Castle Corridor” is pretty intense, with live guitars and an excellent synth library. The track might be called Soma’s Theme, the young man who is cursed with becoming the next Dracula (though he must start out as a college kid with a penknife – how he learns to wield a 6-foot sword of demon slaying in six hours, don’t ask). Anyway, the piece has a slight tinge of sadness, of bearing the burden of fate. Ultimately, much better than the meatier metal of Rize’s “Soul of Axe Armor” (named after the blue Axe Knights who roam the castle).

Michiru Yamane composed the original version of this theme, but she also composed an arranged version for the Lament of Innocence soundtrack titled “Cross of Fate“. This fantastic piece has Mrs. Yamane’s trademark percussion line, mixing a standard drumbeat (well-defined here as usual) with weird synthetic whisperings (see also 2:40). The drums are particularly intense and mesh well with the string, piano, and trumpet-driven melody. The piece has some excellent organ work beginning 2:40, the type of intricate, virtuostic work Castlevania is known for. This ending section goes on for perhaps a little too long without variation though, but it is still a fantastic arrange and a far cry from the blurry audio of the Gameboy Advance.