Recently, the Nintendo Entertainment System turned 30 years old. I can hardly be alone in remembering the old grey box with incredible fondness. I poured more of my energy and dreams into that machine than the people plugged into the Matrix. It was responsible for more empty triumphs than a Grammar Nazi cage match.
In short, it was fun incarnate.
One of the things I find interesting is how enduring the music from that era is, especially when you consider how limited the ability to play music on the system was. Today, there's a whole musical genre dedicated to using those same archaic sound cards to make modern electronic love to your ear canal.
That's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, there a people on the Tube of You who just straight-up bring those tunes to life as regular music with like guitars and stuff. Really think about how amazing that is.
These compositions are designed to be endless repetitive, but to not drive you insane. People who translate that into non-bit music may very well be birthing the next folk melodies that the neuromancers will sing as they wander the wasteland two hundred years from now, accompanied on a guitar made of old car parts and robotic catgut strings. Here's my favorite five...
5. The Harmsing, "Pirate Ship" theme, (TMNT Tournament Fighters) This is The Harmsing, and I have so little other information about them I'm not even sure what language their "About" section on YouTube is written in, but here they tackle Armaggon's "Pirate Ship" theme from TMNT Tournament Fighters.
"Wait a minute, With One F," you say. "That was an SNES game." True, but it was also the last NES game that Konami ever released in North America, as well as one of the few 8-bit fighting games ever made. The Harmsing gives it a jazzy taste, and gets major kudos for covering the theme of one of the most obscure TMNT characters out there.
4. Oroz Five, "Bloody Tears" (Castlevania II: Simon's Quest) I am not a fan of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. While it's got some great advancements over the first game and is pretty much the template for the modern 2D entries, there's just way too much that is poorly executed about it. Some of the puzzles are damn near impossible to figure out without a guide, and the final battle with Dracula has a glitch that makes it laughably easy.
One thing it did do right was introduce the world to "Bloody Tears," one of the most enduring adventure themes in game history played here by Oroz Five. Contrary to rumor, it was not written by Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth, but by composer Kenichi Matsubara.
3. Ruslyg, "Streets of Desolation" (Batman) Batman on the NES is an anomaly. First, it's a Batman game that (aside from Joker) features nothing but fairly obscure villains. Second, it's licensed from the Tim Burton film, and that should make it terrible like so many other movie tie-in games.
Yet it has managed to remain a sidescroller classic, and arguably the only really good Batman game prior to the release of Arkham Asylum. Ruslyg here shows off a Morricone-esque arrangement of the first level's music, "Streets of Desolation." SunSoft was never known for games with great soundtracks, but it's hard to argue with this particular work when Ruslyg takes it for a walk.
2. Fr3rdsky, "Cabin Theme" (Friday the 13th) Friday the 13th on the NES was justifiably famous for both its level of difficulty and for the fact that it was one of the few legitimately scary games of its time. Jason constantly came from nowhere and could end you in seconds, and you were always dashing off to try and save whatever cabin he was currently massacring.
The "Cabin Theme" was a more sedate and pastoral composition by Hirohiko Takayama and covered here by NES Game Tabs contributor Fr3rdsky. I honestly would like to hear this song in a new Jason film as a calm moment before the blood starts.
1. Adam Cantor, "Brinstar" (Metroid) This is Adam Cantor, who arranged an acoustic guitar version of "Brinstar" from Metroidas a gift for a friend serving in Afghanistan. His friend was a dedicated Samus player in games of Super Smash Brothers, and Cantor thought it would cheer him up as he fought overseas.
It's always neat to hear the mostly empty score of the first Metroid given the full throttle of a solid guitar rendition. You get a real feel for the strength of Hirokazu Tanaka's music writing when you're not trying to not get dive-bombed by skrees, as well as an appreciation for just how high-class the musical talent of the early video-game industry was.
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