Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Videos No One Will Click

Today: The Nintendo Entertainment System, with a dash of Game Boy.

Early arcade games were capable of producing pleasing, if very synthetic sounding music (which reminds me - I totally forgot about the Journey game!), but bombastic noise of an arcade combined with the sort of quick, unvaried gameplay offered by most arcade games meant that most games of the time had simple, single-song soundtracks, at most, and games for home consoles were too limited by hardware to go beyond the most basic beeps, boops, and beeeeenghs.

Oh, Pac-Man, what have they done to you? (Atari 2600) I daresay it's still better than the farts coming out of the technologically superior Intellivision with Intellivoice speech-enabling add-on.

The NES was the first popular home system capable of decent audio. It also had games that were meant to be played in longer sessions than those of the arcade, and with games like Super Mario Bros. raising the standard, video game music rapidly evolved. The sound was still primitive and synthetic, but it was enough to let the talent of a good composer shine through.

Balloon Fight (NES) So catchy.

This leads to another of my theories on why video game music is so widely loved - the simplicity. In these days, when so much about video game music was defined, the limitations were significant. Space limitations, a limited number of tracks that could be played, limited "instruments." There was nowhere to hide and no time to waste. Early composers couldn't mess around with endless chords and meandering riffs. Every note had to contribute something, every track had to be able to withstand constant looping. Back a game with annoying music and kids would either mute you or be sent to play outside by their enraged parents. Certainly the NES had its share of trash, but the good songs are some of the catchiest, most memorable, best loved tracks in video game history.

Bubble Bobble (NES)

This may not be the best example - it actually originated in the arcades and was later brought to many home systems. The NES version is what I have, though, and like so many kids of my general age, this is where I spent my bubbling-bobbling time. Here's the thing about Bubble Bobble: In the above clip, you hear all five of the game's tracks. In the game, you hear one of those on the title screen, one during the fight with the final boss, I can't even identify two of them (ending credits or bonus levels, maybe), and the other song plays for the rest of the game. Over 100 levels, each probably lasting a minute or more. This song will never leave my head.

There's a theory in visual arts - bad cartoons and comics, mostly - that the less detail you give a character, the more an audience can identify with it. The idea is that the more you leave out, the more blanks the audience will subconsciously fill to match their perceptions. While this is often used as an excuse for laziness and poorly defined characters, I think in the case of NES music, it applies. Take, for instance, Contra.

Contra (NES)

I could listen to this all day. When I listen to it, though, I'm hearing heavy, crunchy guitars. I recently saw a video in which someone plays a little music from the game for its composer, Hidenori Maezawa, twenty years after the game was released. Maezawa then listens to a heavy guitar cover of the opening song and says that it was exactly the sound he originally intended. I'm amazed how well it was conveyed through the NES.

Another important series is Mega Man, or, as it is known in Japan, Rockman, and they aren't talkin' about pebbles. I don't even know where to start with Mega Man. There were six Mega Man games released on the NES, and while there's some fantastic music in all of them, I think I'll post the tunes from Mega Man 3, but I must also point your attention to Mega Man 2, particularly the track from the second level of Dr. Wiley's castle.

Mega Man 3 (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

I always thought it was a little odd that the Turtles game didn't include the Turtles theme song. The soundtrack still rocks, but it seems odd. I guess the movies didn't include it, but at least they managed had a few songs by hot acts like Partners in Kryme, M.C. Hammer, and Vanilla Ice.

Metroid (NES)

Kirby's Adventure (NES)

Tetris - Music A (Game Boy)

Dr. Mario - Chill (NES) Be sure to check out Fever, as well.

The NES could even output high quality voice reordings. Prepare to be amazed.


nicole. said...

oh how right you are clever blog title.

Jake said...

I'm not gonna lie to myself.