Eight-Bit Symphonies

Who was responsible for the best music of the 1980s? Nintendo. Who's finally discovering it? Everyone.

The Advantage plans to release its second full-length, Elf-Titled, this month, flaunting fantastic renditions of the Goonies 2 "Wiseman" stage, Double Dragon III's "Forest of Death" and, most notably, Metroid's epochal "Kraid's Lair." In its hands, these Nintendo ditties turn into snarling, technically demanding math-rock workouts, mosh-pit-worthy even as they recall childhood innocence. It's radical but not remotely ironic. Milner's fandom is sincere as he recalls his personal favorites, from Super Mario 3 ("Some of it's really kinda honky-tonk -- the Japanese version of honky-tonk") to the almighty Mega Man II, which might rival the original Mario in depth and vision. "It's pretty intense, just how good every song on there is," he declares. "There might be better individual songs, but if you made an album from a game, that would be the White Album of Nintendo."

But that, like the Beatles' heyday, was a bygone era -- nowadays, video games are scored like Hollywood blockbusters. Name-brand punk bands anoint Tony Hawk skateboarding games, and superstar DJ Amon Tobin scored a 2005 entry in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell military espionage series. But as hot new systems like the Xbox 360 (dwarfing the early Nintendo in sophistication and high-tech capabilities) take over, critics quietly consider "The Uncanny Valley," an odd but increasingly apparent principle that as video-game characters and situations get more realistic, at some point they get too realistic, to the point where it creeps you out and it no longer feels like a game. Video-game music follows a similar pattern. Modern tunes are all right, of course, but nowhere near as bizarre and distinctive and real as the Casiotone vistas Koji Kondo once whipped up, and guys like Leung and Baudin and the Advantage now rightfully deify and righteously reinterpret.

Smell of Steve, Inc

And it is invariably guys, by the way. This is a fascinating slice of humanity, but not a particularly sexy one. "It's funny, actually, 'cause one of the few things I've read about the Minibosses, one of their quotes was 'Yeah, playing in a Nintendo cover band isn't a good way to meet girls,' " Milner recalls. "I would agree with that. We meet lots of rad people, but you don't really get so many screaming teenage girls. That wasn't exactly the goal." When it comes to Mario's classical music pedigree, girls might not know, but the perpetually adolescent boys sure understand.

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