Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: ClayFighter (SNES)

It's likely my continual brutal losses of quarters on countless rounds of Mortal Kombat made me more open to renting a fighting game from the local video store than seeing more of my money go to another Fatality soaked loss to Scorpion. I wasn't that good at fighting games I rented, but hey, at least I wasn't losing quarters. Well, combine that fact with the fact my folks weren't exactly keen on me renting the bloodfest that was Mortal Kombat and you came to a time when I was renting fighting games that I was both not that good at and had a variety of non-bloody themes. Cue ClayFighter for the Super Nintendo:

No fatalities, brutalities, or even baby-al-ities; just screwy sculpted figures stretching and slamming themselves around. It was bizarre, crazy, even creepy at times (clay Elvis? Really?) but it was a fighting game, and one that I had, over the course of a weekend, learned to "get good" at playing. Of course, that was then, this is now. When I grabbed this little gem from a local video game store a while back, I was reasonably sure that I wouldn't remember the first thing about how to fight. At least those expectations were met. What about my other expectations though? Was Clayfighter as crafted and sculpted to perfection as I remembered? Or was I play-duped by my nostalgia?

Graphics and Style:

In a time when digitized fighting figures was the cool new thing for fighting games to do, I felt like Clayfighter really stood out because...well, it was clayfigures. I mean, sure, games like Pit Fighter and Mortal Kombat had done it, but something about the added cartoony-ness of the clayfigures and their goofy look really grabbed my attention. That and MK was pretty violent so my parents were more for goofy figures than demonic fighters who shot spears out of their hands.

And what did Scorpion and Sub-Zero have on Taffy and Bad Mr. Frosty? Well, as it turned out, there was a difference. I mean, I recognize the characters easily, but get their names confused easily, I think partially because when you have a game where all of your characters are wacky and screwball they tend to blend together a little.

Music and Sound Design:

Let me start by saying you won't believe how quickly the cutesy catchphrases get tiresome. Each character in the game has a set of goofy sayings, reactions and the like, that it spouts off during gameplay. As is the case with too many games of this era, what starts as a "Hey, that was cool! He said 'Gumball!' when he shot that gumball out of his mouth" rapidly turns into, "I think if the Elvis clay guys says "Uh Huh!" one more time I'm gong to scream."  I mean, I do like the fact we were starting to get decent sound chips in the games of the 16 bit era. At the time it was pretty awesome to hear characters yelling, talking, or making little grunts for various actions. But, I think it was too novel to the programmers as well because they used it way, way too much. And because you tend to focus on the annoying voices, you end up forgetting what the music sounds like. In fact, I don't even feel like linking to some music this time around because you'll likely forget it the second it finishes playing, but here music from the game:

"Clayfighter Complete Soundtrack"

It's neat that they have actual voices singing a song. Shame that most of the lyrics consist of the game's title getting repeated over and over and over and....yeesh. Did I mention the voices get annoying? Aside from the annoying voices, the music, much like the game, tries to hard to be a madcap calliope of sound. When it isn't forgettable, it can get downright annoying. 

Gameplay and Control:

You exist in a world of living clay, brought to life via meteorite. Naturally the sentient sludge citizens want to do nothing more than battle to the death over who will rule all of clay-dom, or some such thing. Really though, stories for games like these are irrelevant. You're less interested in the story than what moves the cast of characters can pull off and how cool or funny they look doing them. For all the goofiness and screwiness that the game tries to sell you on with whimsical settings and clever characters; it falls short in the control department.

I thought it was just my controller at first, but after several change outs, it really does seem like the movement feels sluggish and stiff. Not that the game sinks into unplayability, just you get the feeling that with a bit of tweaking it wouldn't feel like you're fighting the controller as well as your opponent.

Memories and New Thoughts:

While I still don't do that well with fighting games, I have improved. When I was a kid, I was certain that any difficulty I experienced was entirely due to my lack of skill. As it was the quirkiness of Clayfighter resulted in me renting it several time, each time I would learn how to play a different character more thoroughly and how to pull off their signature/special moves. I still had problems though. Well, as an adult I'm almost sorry to say that it wasn't as much me as I thought. Unfortunately, with control being a core mechanic of any good game and Clayfighter falling short, it leaves me wishing there were more to the game.

Other people have noted that digitized characters just didn't look good back in the day and look worse now. Well, I actually liked the digitized graphics. I never was fooled into thinking that, "Wow, it's like I'm controlling a real person! However, there was a certain charm to it all. But I would say Clayfighter is the exception to that rule. I want to enjoy the figures, but I just don't get the same sense of flow from the figures that I do from a game like Mortal Kombat. Ironically, Mortal Kombat manages to look more cartoony and flow more smoothly than Clayfighter which is supposed to look that way. Nowadays when I play I feel like I can see each frame of animation and it makes the game feel even more stiff.  I still pop the game in from time to time, but it definitely has lost the charm, for me at least, that it had when I was a kid.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Threshold (8-bit version from Scott Pilgrim vs the World)

Scott Pilgrim vs the World flawlessly fused so many different aspects of slacker culture, the indie music scene, pop culture, and most especially video game culture; it's still a wonder to me that the movie under-performed at the box office. It had natural chemistry among the leads, great cameos, walk-ons, funny and instantly quotable lines--and that's just for starters. I'm glad it turned into cult classic and now makes the rounds of various midnight screenings and movie quote-a-long nights around the country because more people need to experience this awesome gem of a film. Well, I could wax on further about how great of a movie it was, and perhaps one day I will, but we're not here to talk movies, we are here to talk music!

So let's take a moment to listen to the track of the week, shall we:

"Threshold (8-bit)"

Translated to 8-bit-midi-music glory by Brian LeBarton based on an original composition from none other than Beck; this music melody not only was a great send off as the credits rolled on Scott Pilgrim, but it also arguably sounds better than the original version.  Naturally I can't insert that opinion without sharing the original:

"Threshold (original)

With incredible overdrive and a rocking, defiant sounding riff, it's hard not to picture the Evil Ex battle when you hear this track. The tonal shift midway through still makes me smile and wish that I was watching this film in the theater again. Still, I lean towards the 8-bit version more heavily when I want to have the soundtrack on in the background or need something to jam to while I write. Yeah, I know that's my gamer nature coming through, but Bryan Lee O'Malley wrote the original stories that way so it's hard not to feel that the 8-bit version also captures the spirit of the film a bit more. Scott Pilgrim is already littered with references and shout-outs to video games. Heck, it's like Scott and the gang are in a video game. 

I've heard songs given the 8-bit treatment before, and while they sound fantastic most times, you are still left feeling like the experience was "quaint" more than cool. Not so with Threshold. Hearing "Threshold" in an 8-bit style doesn't just feel like a revamp, it feels like the song finally gets to inhabit it's natural form and breathe in the way that it should. While I like the overdrive in the original, hearing it in the 8-bit style makes the sometimes scratchy sound feel less unpolished indie band and more like someone really trying to push as much music as they can from a classic console like the NES or Genesis.

I know that technically the song "Threshold" didn't originate from a game, but LeBarton and Beck did such a great job capturing the spirit of the characters and the story that it feels like the track was ripped straight from a retro system. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Pokemon Music

How can I not talk about this of the Midweek Music Box?  Really, you should have seen this coming. I mean, seeing as Pokemon Go has stormed not only mobile gaming, but the world at large.

"Only now do you understand. Only 
now do you begin to see our true power....

Yes, it seems only fitting to devote this week's Midweek Music Box to a collection of songs from the franchise that helped Nintendo to reconquer the world: Pokemon

Original Game Intro/Title Music:

"Intro/Title Music Pokemon Red and Blue"

How iconic can you get? I mean, it was amusing, adventurous, and cheerful--exactly what you have come to expect in any given Nintendo property when it comes to the music.  Little did we know at the time this simple tune would 20 years later----

"Has it been that long?"


20 years later become one of the most iconic tunes in gamedom, taking a spot up there with Legend of Zelda and Mario. And, much like those two beloved franchises, it spawned a TV show with a theme song that entered into history itself. Speaking of which:

Pokemon: Indigo League

"Theme Song"

I'm guessing there's a world of difference between belting out, "I want to be the best, like no one ever was," and "Do the Mario!" It was wise of the cartoon creators to keep going and making the series and it's pretty incredible to think that the series has kept on going in one form or another. Even Mario and Link didn't get that opportunity. For many of us though, this particular song and intro music still represents the one and only Pokemon TV show theme song. Yes, there are numerous spin-offs and leagues and such based on the follow up games, but none of them quite have the same go-get'em attitude of the original. It's lyrics not only spell out the goal of Pokemon trainers, but has a catchy and energetic beat. Sure, it seems corny now, but to encourage kids to be the best (even if it was in Pokemon catching) seems inspirational by today's standards. Of course, if you want to go really bizarre when it comes to Pokemon themes, then you need to go a little Weird:



Egad! Is there anything that doesn't become that much more awesome with a generous helping of Weird Al? I mean, really, the song just makes you want to dance along crazily. Not only does it have those typical Weird Al hallmarks of zaniness and merry-go-round gone mad attitude, but it actually names several dozen Pokemon over the course the song in a way that both helps you to remember the names and smile as you say them in a way the original Pokemon rap never quite could.

Well, however you choose to jam while playing Pokemon, you can't deny the impact it has had on our culture, even without the insanely popular Pokemon Go app, Pokemon has worked it's way into our hearts both through well-executed gameplay and a soundtrack to get you ready to catch'em all.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Opinion: The Re-Rise of Nintendo

If you're like me, you've probably seen this particular image all over your Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media this week:

Whether used in front of a back drop or just shown on a stock white background; this image of a hand holding a miniature original Nintendo Entertainment System aloft like a waiter about to serve you a delicious portion of retro gaming goodness has made the rounds in a big way. But there's more going on here than people simply "geeking out" or seeing an opportunity to play a sample of the best games in one simple package. It signals not only the premiere of another emulation system, but the return of Nintendo as the dominant system makers next console generation. Why do I make a such a bold claim? 

The Rise of the Retro Gaming 
Just a small helping of your childhood...

For several years now, collecting video games, specifically retro games, has gained not only in popularity, but momentum as well. What once was just small-time hobby for some and a chance to replay childhood favorites has morphed into a fun and ever more popular pastime . Collectors and gaming geeks of all ages will avidly seek out everything from Sega Master System to Turbografx 16 to even the old Pong consoles. Anywhere from Craigslist to Ebay to local garage sales can yield gaming gold. However, the most coveted of these finds are almost always those dealing with Nintendo, specifically the original Nintendo Entertainment System, games. As this interest has risen it has spawned countless Youtube creators with content devoted to the beloved NES, blogs such as this one, and various "Twitch Plays"--what once a niche hobby has transformed into a trip down memory lane by many 20 to 30 somethings.  While Xbox and Playstation are promising ever increasing eye-candy and more-of-the-same-First Person Shooters (FPS), Nintendo has gained foothold in people's heart by reminding them of their great past. Mario has become this generation's Mickey Mouse. Many people have an affection for Nintendo that even they may not realize, and that leaves them primed for something fun and new.

E3 and the Breath of the Wild

Coming soon...I hope.

The increasingly irrelevant E3 showcased the usual hodgepodge of upcoming releases and plans for system upgrades meant to catch the attention of consumers and creators alike, but for the most part it was underwhelming. Playstation upgrades? Xbox upgrade code name Scorpio? Interesting, but not interesting enough, least-ways not interesting compared to the fully immersive display at this year's E3 that was Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild experience. Boasting a demo that reportedly could take up to three hours to finish, Nintendo made a big splash with a long overdue playable demo for the next installment in one of its biggest ip's.  For days afterwards, tech and gaming blogs were talking about how it compared to other games with open-world concepts, speculation on whether the long wait will inevitably be worth it, and what the game meant for Nintendo as a whole. Microsoft and Sony plans for the future were given a few articles here and there, but no where near the coverage of Nintendo. 

NX Speculation, Fake Controllers, and the Naysayers 

At last! The "real" NX controller
Ah, the "NX controller" that we've all seen. Yes, it's a fake and there was even a recent attempt to sell a fake one on Ebay. Even though it's a fake, and has to be pointed out as such seemingly every other month, there's a contingent of people who seem hellbent on criticizing every move Nintendo makes in regards to the forthcoming NX. Naysayers of the NX aren't strictly limited to the XBox fans or Playstation enthusiasts though, even business insiders seem to heap criticism on Nintendo with reckless abandon. I can't even begin to speculate as to why there are some who seem to have nothing better to do than pick on one gaming company, especially one as devoted to just having a good time as Nintendo is, but I digress.  All the speculation from controller design to false rumors that NX will be digital download only have only served to continually keep Nintendo not only in the spotlight, but has also kept the public yearning to know more and to separate fact from fiction. PS4K and Xbox Scorpio announcements have made it clear that Sony and Microsoft intend to pursue VR tech as a possibility in the future. The tech for VR still remains barely out of infancy, yet there's an interesting conundrum here. Consumers know where Sony and Microsoft are headed, and they've seen VR helmets everywhere from the cover of Time magazine to Amazon to cheap knock-offs in their local mall. By the time these two companies or 3rd party developers can even start to produce games for the upcoming VR technology, it could already seem like yesterday's news. Nintendo hasn't put all their cards on the table yet, and this makes people interested and even excited to see just what they have in store.

The Pokemon Go Phenomenon 

"What are we doing tonight Nintendo?"
"The same thing we do every night Miyamoto..."
By the time you've finished reading this article, thousands more people will have already signed up for the fastest growing mobile game in recent history, Pokemon Go. Whether you think of it as a fun way to get in some exercise, a trip down memory lane that comes with augmented reality, or even if you are a joyless soul who likes to post memes about how much more "adult" you are for not playing Pokemon--you cannot deny Pokemon Go has become a bigger smash hit than possibly even Nintendo anticipated. Server issues notwithstanding, the game has actually had a societal impact and for a game that hit mobile gaming barely over a week ago at the time of this writing that's huge. Retailers are trying to figure out how to set up there businesses as virtual gyms, people are wondering around malls and parks talking with one another about the Pokemon they've caught, and Nintendo is raking in billions of dollars. They've gone from having no interest in mobile gaming to utter domination in a single app. Pokemon may have hit the scene 20 years ago, but thanks to multiple sequels and the enormous success of the Pokemon Go app, it's as fresh in people's minds as it was when it first premiered. From memes to terrible political jokes, everyone is talking about Pokemon Go; and this means people are talking about Nintendo.

 End of the Console Wars and Nintendo's (Likely) Upcoming Victory 

No, the title of this last section doesn't show what a Nintendo fanboy I am. (Or rather, it doesn't only show that.) What I mean by declaring an end to the console wars is that I think we are entering the last cycle of consoles with physical media. In an increasingly digital world where games are more and more often downloaded; it's hard to imagine the idea of going out and getting a gaming system lasting much longer.  Not that I think we will all switch to PCs, but that innovation needs to come in a form other than VR tech next.  We need an inbetween step, and Nintendo may have found it.  Rumors have circulated for months now that Nintendo's newest system will feature a hybrid mix of console and portable gaming. If these rumors prove true, Nintendo, already the dominant force in portable gaming, will likely find themselves on the forefront of something not only eye-catching, but truly innovative and enjoyable as well.  It won't just be a fad, but it will be the next step in gaming.

Of course, my speculations could find themselves proven totally false and unworthy of consideration, but it's fun to think about and that's okay. After all, didn't the late Satoru Iwata say that's what video games should be; fun?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Midweek Musicbox: Darius Twin

This Jester has tanned, rested, and returned ready for some music! Back from vacation and back to the grind doesn't have to mean back to dull music though. Nothing gets me in the mood for some retro game time than a good ol' Shoot'em Up! So it's time for a quick look at just a few of the choice tunes from the soundtrack of exceptionally difficult shoot'em up, Darius Twin. (Okay, so they're all difficult shooters to me, but that doesn't mean the soundtrack is hard on the ears! In fact, it's quite easy on them and downright fun and...well, you'll see, I mean hear.)


Fun, energetic, and inviting; the first track you hear in the game has it all. I like the digital sounds and synthesized horns that permeate the track. Sometimes there's a bit of "cheese" factor in shoot'em up music that can really bog a soundtrack down. Some shooters have tracks that should engage you but instead leave you muting the sound and turning on the Metallica. Not so with Darius Twin. It gets you pumped up from the start, and it just keeps getting better.



The action turns up in Zone D or "Lankus" and although the wailing sections that permeate this particular track aren't my favorite, they have a feverishness about them that I enjoy. I don't know if I'd listen to this track separate from the game, but when it plays it really helps me not to mind getting blown apart time and time again. Speaking of time and time again, let's talk about the boss theme.

Boss Theme

"Boss Theme"

I never was able to get that far in Darius Twin, but I appreciated the separate boss music when I actually got to hear it. It felt like a reward in itself to not only have gotten far enough to have a boss battle, but to also hear the music which added to the experience. 

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, I had to go to Youtube to hear the full soundtrack as I really haven't managed to get the knack of old-school shoot'em ups to the point I can beat them. It was great to hear them all and cycle through and find the songs I enjoyed the most. I tried to avoid listening to the end music, as I'd really like to hear that in all its glory one day as it was meant to be heard--meaning when I eventually beat the game...I hope. In any case the soundtrack to Darius Twin has the energy and pop you come to expect from early 90's shooters, and that's not a bad thing. I feel like too many modern shooters go for a bombastic, serious tone rather then a bit of pep and cheese; either that or they slather it on too thick. What's wrong with a bit of overly exciting music? I'm not playing Batman all the time, so why does some shooter music today sound grim? Anyways, if you haven't had a chance to hear the soundtrack to this game, check it out and find a way to grab an MP3 for it. It'll take you to time when blasting through a fun shooter meant also blasting through a fun soundtrack as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Midweek Music Box: The Bard's Tale (2005)

The So-Called"Hero"

Normally with Midweek Music Box, I like to do a bit of analysis on the music and why I think it works (or doesn't work) so well.  However, with the 2004 iteration of The Bard's Tale I just wanted to do a little trip down memory lane.  At the time when this game came out, I was uncertain about how well I'd like it.  I had just finished Baldur's Gate and was enjoying the style of the game, but wanted something a bit lighter in spirit. What I was expecting from Bard's Tale was a Baldur's Gate clone with a few goofy jokes here and there to break things up and give the game a bit of humor. So when the opening strands played as I started the game, it seemed like typical medieval period music with lute and flute and an occasional simple drum.  Little did I know that the simple tune actually had lyrics funny and dark--but we'll get to that later.

"The Bard's Tale Main Theme"

So as I played, one of the first things that happened was the typical "go in to the inn and fight off a cellar full of rats" fare. Only, it seemed that the patrons were singing....

"Beer, Beer, Beer..."

There was a happy bouncing ball which made it so I could even sing along should I choose to do so. Of course it was a delight just to follow along with the song and drunken revelry. It was a fun twist on the genre, and helped set the tone of the game. I thought that was it for the singing and it was just a fun little thing to highlight the different nature of the game. How glad was I that this wasn't the only song of the game.  A short while later while fighting a forest, I got to see an idiot trying to be a "chosen one" take arrow to the head. The cut scene was funny enough with the would-be-hero dying like an idiot, but that was just the beginning:

"Bad Luck to be You (part 1)"

The oompa loompas themselves couldn't have done a better job, or made me laugh harder, or have a song quite as memorable. I was laughing, and delighted because I realized that the game was likely littered with these gems, and it was. Hours of gameplay, countless "Bad Luck to Be You" songs, and hundreds of snarky comments later I finally came to a village overrun by vikings ready to sing about the fame of the Bard and the "help" he gave them:

"Here's to the Bard"

It was laugh-out-loud funny, the simple song at the beginning took on an all new meaning. I'd already been enjoying the songs along the way, and if I hadn't already thought that these songs would stick with me for years, this one sealed the deal. I don't know why this one in particular grabbed me, maybe because it, like many of the songs are just so darn perfect both in humor, tone, and composition.

Of course it's well worth playing through the game itself, even if it inevitably falls to the tropes it tries to lampoon, but the real gold, the real treasure come from the music and lyrics co-written by Tommy Tallarico, Clint Bajakian, and Jared Emerson-Johnson. The music is well worth a download to your ipod or other musical device, at least, it's worth it if you enjoy a good laugh. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Samurai Shodown

So the main reason I wasn't into fighting games was because I was terrible at them. I thought it best to lead with that because the times I rented fighting games were few and far between. If I was only so-so at shoot'em ups, I was even worse at fighting games. Occasionally I'd plunk a quarter into an arcade cabinet thinking somehow I'd manage to mash the buttons in the right order so that I'd fire off a special move or beat back the computer opponent.

Usually I'd find myself defeated in short order and well with in a minute of having spent the quarter.  So why exactly would I go out of my way to have rented a game like this in the first place? I guess the eternal foolish hope that somehow by getting better at one fighting game I would instantly "figure out" other fighting games.

So how did I fair when I rented it, and how do things look to me now?

Graphics and Style:

I always thought the game bore a strong resemblance to the Street Fighter series, and that opinion hasn't really changed now that I own it years later. You have varied, animated backgrounds, a cast of eclectic and cartoonish characters, and each character has on screen "text taunt" you see when you lose. I suppose this was to make you feel a need to prove the computer wrong and pop in a another character. Well, without the cabinet around to make me think I was a mere quarter away from victory, I'm only a continue away, and somehow that makes me a little sad. But I'll explain that part later.

Music/Sound Design:

As far as sound goes it's filled with the typical grunts, "oofs" and yells. punch and kick effects which you would expect a game like this to have. The music does a great job setting the tone and atmosphere of the game. In particular, there's the character select theme.

"Character Select Theme"

Every time I hear the character select music it leaves me feeling like I should have a katana or something ready to pull out from a sheath on my back or by my side. Then again, as I'm not a samurai warrior and would likely get cut to ribbons by a true warrior, it's probably for the best that I don't have a katana nearby.

Gameplay and Control:

Do games like this really have a story? I mean, I get with Mortal Kombat you are fighting to keep a portal from opening or some-such thing, Here, it's more like your typical tournament fare.  You fight through the various opponents one by one until you defeat them all--or at least you probably do. Me? I lose after the first or second fight, unable to power through the opponents. I blame this entirely on my own lack of skill as the control for the characters feels responsive enough in its own right. Sometimes I admit though the control doesn't feel quite as tight as Capcom's Street Fighter series, but again, as I always have a bit of difficulty with fighting games this doesn't surprise me.

Memories and New Thoughts:

Why did this ever get rented back in the day? Or at least, why did I ever rent this back in the day? Maybe I thought since I wouldn't have to drop a roll of quarters I'd eventually get the hang of it and beat it like I had with other game rentals. Well, I guess when it came to fighting games at least, whether a ported home version or the in arcade version, I did nothing but lose rounds, and patience. I'm reasonably certain this was one of those games where I played it only a few times before just giving up on it entirely. What was I thinking renting a game like this again--let alone buying it later as an adult?  I played it again for this review, thinking maybe I was just a silly kid who couldn't get the hang of things--but no, I'm a silly adult as well, still unable to get the hang of things. It's a good game overall, and I like having added it to my collection...even if I don't ever get much past the character select screen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

What I'm about to say may seem like heresy to some, but here goes:

When I first hear it, I didn't like the music from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Yes, yes I know--disliking the music made me miserable little pile of secrets. 

See here's the thing, I had ridiculously  high expectations--and precise ones--of what the music should sound like. I was so enthralled with the haunting orchestral music from Castlevania 64 that I was sure the music in Symphony of the Night would feature even more of that. So when I started the game and the first musical track was rock-and-roll style music, I was more than a little mad. What had they done to my beloved Castlevania? Where were the violins and slowly played pianos? Where was the melancholy? Why's there a synthesizer? Why are there drums? Why does the load screen after I die take so darn long?

Okay, that last one isn't really music related, but I can't help but think of it every time I play or talk about this game. Listening to that initial intro music, I admit I was more than a little crushed:

"Dracula's Castle Theme"

I wanted big, bombastic, and just a hint of spookiness thrown in. How in the world could you ever hope to achieve that on a synthesizer with fake drums as back up? Gad, I nitpicked this particular track to death back in the day. I played on though, because it was a Castlevania game and to simply shirk it because I was annoyed at the music was a no go. Funny thing, the more I played the game, the more the initial "Dracula's Castle" music grew on me. I think it was because as I played, I realized that the game had a totally different tone from the prior installments, and most definitely was different from the Nintendo 64 version. I know, I know; there's likely a million and a half criticisms we could talk about with the 64's version of the beloved classic, but let's stick to one game and its music for the time being.  What I found when playing was that not only was there more varied music in the game, but the composer didn't just use a synthesizer and make some action-y music, there were some genuinely creepy tunes in Symphony of the Night; tunes like "The Door to the Abyss":

"The Door to the Abyss"

A few simple high-note piano hits and ethereal sounds, and I was on the edge of my seat.  I guess though when I learned that I had really fallen in love with the music happened towards the end of the game when composer Michiru Yamane finally cracked out the emphatic harpsichord music. Gad, the harpsichord! It was gets me every time! When it comes to instilling Castlevania with that tell-tale sense of foreboding and adventure leading up to that inevitable confrontation between you and Dracula--look no further than the harpsichord.  Funny thing though, with the "Final Toccata" you got a mix of harpsichord, synthesizer, ethereal tones, a bit of rock, and a finally, finally that big orchestra sound I so wanted and needed--it all came together to create that fantastic Castlevania-vibe we all know and love:

"Final Toccata"

In the end, I wasn't just won over. I love this music and play it at least once a month, after all, how could I not love Castlevania music? 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Metroid (NES) Title Music

Haunting, beautiful, and unsettling. What's not to love about the Title theme of the first entry into the Metroid franchise? It's not time for Friday Night Rentals, but I have to say I think half the reason I rented the original Metroid back in the day was just to hear the music from the opening screen. No matter how creeped out by the game I would get, no matter how lost and frustrated--all the negative feeling was swept away in a tidal wave of wonder when I heard the title music. Imagine transitioning from the simple intros of Pac-Man and Pitfall, or the more cheerful chip tunes of Super Mario--to this masterwork of mystery and fear. In case it's been a while or you've never heard the title theme to Metroid, let's get you caught up:

"Metroid: Title Theme"

If you didn't know already, I just can't get enough of Metroid music. Not too long ago I talked at length about Super Metroid's fantastic music from the beginning areas of the game. The original title music for Metroid, to this day, has an almost visceral effect on me. The title music remains embedded within both my mind and heart as music that will forever send chills up my spine every time I hear it. 

The slow, bassy thrumming, those unsettling chords that plink out at just the right moment all build up to a theme which has creepy sci-fi overtones that manage to remain slightly hopeful sounding. It's hard not to picture the "mission" text on screen when you hear the music take a slightly more upbeat, yet wistful, turn. One of the great turns in this music comes just when you think the music has reached a pleasant and possibly cheerful tone--that's when the thrumming returns to chill your heart and remind you about the darker nature of the mission that lies ahead. The thrumming returns, and you don't really feel like you've returned to the beginning of a looped track. You know that it's time to stop waiting. It's time to explore, to search, and to find and destroy the metroid menace. Whenever I hear it I go back to the place and time when I was a kid; where a seemingly simple tune was more than just another game tune, it was the soundtrack to a potential night of dreams filled with both terror and wonder--much like the Metroid game itself.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: F-Zero

Not every game that we consider an awesome classic was a winner for me back in the day.  Fresh from having thoroughly enjoyed Mario Kart. I decided I needed to give that sci-fi racing game I had seen at the store a try.  When I got home and found myself getting run off the "road" and into space or exploding on the track more often finishing the race--let alone placing--I had begun to wonder why I had bothered renting a racing game in the first place. Even one as cool looking as F-Zero.

Graphics and Style:

Mode 7 makes an appearance again here the same way it does in Super Mario Kart and still helps to give the game a nice sense of depth even to this day. Back when I was a kid the backgrounds to the game bored me to a bit and I thought as an adult it might have been because I was somehow more enthralled as a kid by the brighter colors offered by Super Mario. Well, as an adult I guess not much has changed because I still feel like there should be more going on.  There are some nice touches in F-Zero's background like futuristic cities and such, but that's about it. And, while I appreciate that underneath the tracks there's an ever-scrolling ground--this neat trick of the graphics just didn't ad much for me personally. Besides, with the fast pace of the game, who has time to look at that graphic when zooming along? In fact, why would I want to drop into the awaiting abyss just to see the pretty graphics? I see right through you F-Zero! As if the being run off the road wasn't bad enough.

Music and Sound:

Here's the obligatory shout out to the Mute City Theme:

"Mute City Theme"

Yeah, I can see why this theme gets remixed and updated over the years, even to this day it really helps get you in the mood to zoom along at break-neck speeds through narrow corridors. You need that feeling throughout a game like this and with tunes like the Mute City theme and Sand Ocean:

"Sand Ocean"

--you really get in the state of mind you need. I don't think many of the tunes would make my iPod, but there's enough 16-bit goodness there to get you pumped up.

Gameplay and Control:

You can select from knight, queen, or king leauges; and you have your pick of one of four vehicles to race with.  Every racer has their own unique advantages from strength to speed to acceleration and more. I think having only four racers was a mistake on Nintendo's part, but as this was one of the early games it might have just been due to lack of space on the cart, I'm not really sure. What it lacks in racers it more than makes up for in tracks.  Each track has a recharge station somewhere in it and your going to want to pit your ship as much as possible on the higher levels because destroying other racers is one of the core mechanics of the game.

You see, F-Zero isn't just about beating other racers to the finish, it's about survival. Make no mistake, most tracks, even the easier ones, will likely trash your car to point of it nearly exploding. If the dangers of the sharp turns and tricky jumps don't kill you, you can always count on one of the other racers to murder-ram you until you're nothing more than a smoking cinder.  Even the fairly tight and easy to use controls won't help you because your opponents can seem more bent on killing you than finishing the race. One thing I will say though for this is that it's kind of neat to see the number of racers allowed to continue decrease with each passing lap and knowing that you can up your chances of falling into that qualifying number if you simply bump off the other racers.

Memories and New Thoughts:

I have to admit that F-Zero is one my more recent pick ups, despite it having been one of those games I rented off and on as a kid. You'd think that meant I loved it, but in fact I just was so frustrated with that I kept trying to do better just to know that I could actually complete a league. Well, that never happened, and if my recent replaying of it is anything to go by, I probably never will. Oh, I'll grant that the music for some of the levels in F-Zero were among Nintendo's best. I'm pretty sure a huge chunk of my favorite tunes from video games come from the Super Nintendo selection regardless of how well I liked the game. However, aside from the mode 7 tricks with the "floor", I can't help but think how it just doesn't compare to all the variation in Super Mario Kart. (Which is probably why I bought that one and only rented F-Zero.) I'm glad to have the game in my collection, even if it does serve as a reminder of why I never really got into racing games.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Mega Man X Music

Everything seemed so metal in the 90s, or at least a good chunk of the music for Super Nintendo games seemed so. I mean, the soundtracks for the Mega Man always had a rockin' vibe to then, but when Mega Man made the leap to the Super Nintendo with Mega Man X those already jammin' tunes had an added layer of base and depth that the Nintendo couldn't handle.  It morphed from merely sounding like something trying to pretend like it was an electric guitar, into something much more electric guitar than anything else. I'm going to highlight just a few, but really the whole soundtrack is just ear candy you should treat yourself too.

First, the Opening Stage Music:

"Opening Stage Music"

I pretty sure a live version of this song would have to end in a guitar smash. Not only do the riffs get you pumped and ready for action, but it's a taste of things to come--and you aren't even playing the actual game yet, just going through a tutorial of sorts. The Opening Stage music lets you know Mega Man has made the leap to 16-bit power with an emphasis on the "power".

Spark Mandrill Stage Theme:

"Spark Mandrill Stage"

Wailing guitar, fast drum work make up this soundtrack. Hearing it, I wish I could run as fast as Mega Man--or rather "X" as he's called in this version of the franchise. It conveys a real sense of energy, excitement, and urgency. As if there's nothing more important in the whole world than beating the stage. I love tracks like this because not only do they make the stage more exciting, but I'm left wishing I could replay the stage just to hear the music. I'd download this or a remix in a heartbeat to use while jogging or taking morning run--if I did that sort of thing. Only problem would be I'd likely drop dead of a massive heart attack while trying to keep pace with the rhythm.

Sigma Fortress 1 

"Sigma Fortress 1"

Sometimes it can feel like musical tone shifts are almost as important to a good game as how well it controls. In a game like Super Mario Bros. it helps us to adjust to the underground levels when instead of hearing the bright and cheerful tune we all know and love--we hear something with a deep groove and a bit of mystery to it. With an action platformer of Mega Man X's style, you can't just drop the guitars and drums because you've reached the main boss' level. You have to keep the mood set up with the other stages while also adding a richer layer. A layer of sound that let's you know it's time to stop screwing around beating underlings, stuffs about to get real--so to speak--and you gotta get your game face on for...uh, the game!  The tone on the synthesized guitar goes down an octave, and a synthesizer keyboard finds itself in the mix, but in a way it really works both for the level and for the game. Mega Man X was set in an indistinguishable future and the game came out in a time when synthesizer music wasn't just popular, it was meant to represent the future. Well, it does a pretty darn good job here in selling me on the severity of the challenge ahead, even with the use of synth music.

Closing Thoughts:

I'd be remiss if I didn't share a link to the whole soundtrack, so here it is:

"Full Mega Man X OST"

I just wanted to highlight a few of my favorites from the soundtrack, but really the whole thing is just so awesome, you really need to listen to the whole thing, or better yet, play the game and hear them in their original setting! Seriously though, the music stands up after all this time and it's great to listen to it even separate from the game. I want to list out all the composers that were credited with creating the music for the game:

Setsuo Yamamoto
Makoto Tomozawa
Yuki Iwai
Yuko Takehara
Toshihiko Horiyama

Thanks to these fine people, every chord rocks, every beat leaves you not just wanting to play the game, but to do something really active as well. At first, I just chalked this feeling up to me being on a diet and trying to exercise more, but even listening to it late at night the other day I felt like I should be doing something more physically straining than just writing. It made me feel like I was ready for a run and ready to take on the whole world--hopefully without having to fight robot masters though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Graduis III Music

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: I just wasn't a fan of Shoot'em Ups when I was a kid. Oh sure, I liked the original Gradius well enough and rented it a few times when I was a kid, but between the time of the NES and SNES I was finding that I just wasn't enjoying the genre of shooters. They were fun enough in the arcade and all, but when I was renting a game, I wanted to rent games that I was reasonably certain I could beat come Sunday evening and time to return the rental. And the fact of the matter was I was pretty bad at most shoot'em ups, bullet-hell or otherwise. 

As an adult I've grown a new found appreciation for the genre and still wonder what it would have been like had I rented Phalanx.  There was one shoot'em up for the SNES I did end up renting though, yup good ol' Gradius III.  I don't know why I did it in the first place, seeing as I passed up shooters like it left and right. Perhaps I remembered the fun I had with the original, perhaps I was left with the terrifying possibility of not having a game for the weekend. Well, whatever the reason was, I rented Gradius III.  

Just the once though, I sucked at these games, remember?

If nothing else stuck with me, the music sure did. Again, we were at a time when Konami took pride in it's work rather than pride in ticking off fans and treating one of their biggest game designers worse than a red-headed step-child orphan.  Anywho, the music throughout the game--or at least as far as I got with it just rocked.  From the adventurous and inspiriing prologue theme:

"Prologue Theme"

To the excitement conveyed by the brief, but awesome intro screen music:

"Intro Screen"

Heck, even the weapon select music had a great vibe to it:

"Weapon Select"

I was originally just going to cover one or two songs from the game, but having listened to the various game tracks--some from levels I never reached as a kid but look forward to attempting to get to now--I couldn't pick just one track. They were all so good.  I would heartily recommend finding a way to rip this to an mp3 or iPod whether you listen to it while working away at your job or heading down the freeway on pleasant trip somewhere. There's just a real sense of adventure conveyed by the tunes in the game.  I think part of why it's such a successful soundtrack is that Gradius III's music doesn't sound too overblown or even too sci-fi'ish. There aren't unnecessary warbles or annoying, high-pitched beeps and bloops meant to "sell" the space theme.  While the bass hits and synthesizer music say science fiction, it says "Star Trek" or "Battlestar Galactica" (newer version), not SyFy channel movie of the week if you catch my drift.

Maybe it sounds like I'm laying it on thick again. After all, with games like Super Metroid out there, how could any game--even a pre-insanity Konami--hope to match or live up to others?  Simply put, there are so many games for the SNES that really did a botch job when it came to putting a score to a game. Not just sports games or failed mascot games either, but games where you really hoped or expected the music to sound either top-notch or at the very least, reasonable. 

Last thing I want to say is this:  Part of the other reason I find the music from Gradius III so dang enjoyable comes from the fact that it reminds me of time not too long ago.  A time when Konami used to care, and used to be one of the greatest video game makers around--not a collection of nuts in a rubber room trying to convince orderlies that franchise themed pachinko machines were the way to go. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Lemmings

So help me, I love letting the little lemming guys die. Whether falling off a cliff and splatting, walking headlong into a chopping machine, or blowing them up myself when it was clear that I wasn't able to finish a level with the correct amount of lemmings--it's just too fun.  

Now, before you brand me as a heartless killer and call up the local ASPCA, let me explain. Lemmings for the Super Nintendo was what you might call an enabler. With charming music, clever puzzles, and interesting level design, it was hard to resist bouncing between trying to solve a level and just exploding all the guys on screen and watch the fireworks. I may have overlooked this gem of a game before, but I feel it's high time to spend a Friday night once more with the pint-sized puzzle pals of Lemmings.

Graphics and Design:

Ported from the PC, I think the graphics hold up pretty well. The character animation, for being a bunch of pixelated little guys, actually looks pretty smooth and their walk looks both cute and jaunty. I like that the world, and the lemmings themselves, are just there looking cute and cuddle. Not only does it make it harder (and somewhat oddly satisfying) to detonate them--but they aren't infused with gobs of "'tude" like so many other games of the 90's. It seemed like everyone from bats to cats to hedgehogs had a snarky smile and a quip they were just dying to share.  Whereas the lemmings are just straight up dying--if you don't save them that is.

Music and Sound Design:

What cheerful little marching music litters this game.  From the happy-go-lucky Main Theme:

"Main Theme"

To the whimsy of the stage 3 music:

"Stage 3 (Not as complicated as it sounds)"

To the goofy renditions of classic tunes like "She'll be Coming Round' the Mountain":

"She'll be Coming Round' the Mountain"

Much like the game itself, each tune or rendition captures the happy spirit of either saving or dooming the little lemming lads. I don't know if they are tunes which will fill my iPod anytime soon, but as I sit here typing it has helped pass the time in fairly pleasant way while simeltaneously making me want to drive a whole herd of the little buggers off a cliff.

As far as sound design goes, I just love it. Every lemming splat, to every "oh no" before the grab their heads and pop, to every squeaky squeal as drop to their doom just fills me with joy. Okay, maybe joy is a tad exaggerated, but it definitely makes me smile. I think that the designers put the noises in not only for cuteness factor but because they're a real stress relief should the levels ever get too frustrating or too difficult. It's hard to throw your controller across the room in anger when a simple double click will start the five second timer to detonate all remaining lemmings on screen; causing them to scream out "Oh no" in terror before blowing to bits.

Gameplay and Memories:

Getting an instruction manual with a game rental was a rarity. If you got a photo copied manual or a sticker with basic instructions you were lucky. Some games I rented back when I was a kid came with nothing which could occasionally lead to an hour or so of frustration while trying to figure out the basics of how to play a game. (Don't even get me started on Castlevania 2).  What made this such a great game to rent on a Friday Night, and part of what makes it so much fun to own even today, comes from the way the designers laid out each of the first 8-10 levels of the game. Before each level, a set of text outlining your goals appears on screen. It tells you the minimum percentage of lemmings you need to save, how fast they drop from a trapdoor into the level itself, and how long you have to solve the stage. On top of this, those first few levels give major hints/basically outline what you have to do.  Step into the first stage, and you are told "Just Dig," and that's all you need to do. You can assign 10 digging jobs (the exact number of lemmings that come out of the trapdoor), the lemmings drop at a medium rate, and you only need 1 lemming to make it to the exit in order to pass the level. Immediately you learn that A)Levels might only give you a limited amount of tasks you can assign your lemmings. B)You can sometimes make mistakes and still be okay C)Sometimes levels have pre-assigned drop rates which can affect overall difficulty.--And this is just a few things you can learn without ever really being in danger of losing the stage.  The following levels teach you more and more, and it's not until about the 10th stage that the game really starts to throw slightly more difficult puzzles your way that require a bit of thought.  Not only did this make it so I never needed an instruction manual, it gave me a real sense of accomplishment when I completed those first few levels. Sure, they were like escalating tutorials, but because they required me to learn more about the game, and advanced the level each time I passed--I felt rewarded for my efforts.

I admit thought, there are times I really wish this game also had a mouse pack-in like Mario Paint. Not that you couldn't do things fairly easily with the SNES pad. From selecting various jobs for the lemmings to do, to scrolling various parts of the map so as to better know when and where to assign tasks--it works really well not just for a port of the Amiga game, but really for any game.

I can't remember how high of a level I got to before I ended up calling it quits for the night--thank God for the password feature--but I remember spending hours just trying to solve some of the higher levels only to end up having to detonate the lemmings over and over again before turning in for bed late. Having played it again for the article I was nearly sucked in again to handing over hours of my life to the Lemmings game.  It's nice to own this game knowing that on any given night, I can while away the hours navigating lemmings past traps and pitfalls, advancing level after level--or send them to their doom just for fun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Bust-A-Move Main Theme

I know it's May the Fourth be with you day, and I could make this Mid Week Music box about music from a Star Wars game but....What can I say, I'm in a pleasant music kinda mood of late. I love the theme from Star Wars, but right now, I need a break. I've mentioned before that I've taken on loads of work of late, but I can't stress the stress--so to speak--that I feel right now. Long nights, early mornings, and back and forth from a retail job to a freelance writing contract. While I'm happy for the money this puts both in my savings and towards games--I just wish I could lose myself for a few hours in a relaxing puzzle game...or at least the music from one

Okay, so most any puzzle game you pop into a system will likely greet you with either jazzy tunes or music that while upbeat, gives you a sense of urgency as you play.  Tetris has a fantastic soundtrack, but I wouldn't exactly call it's theme song something I could sit back and relax to.  See, because in any puzzle game, you're likely playing a game without any defined end, so the music for these types of games typically loops after only a minute or two. When you think about it, we ask a lot out of those puzzle game tunes because those few notes have to carry you through your entire gaming experience. Usually there aren't any "worlds" or levels per-se within a puzzle game. Usually what you have are a few background change ups--if you're lucky.  So when a game like Bust-A-Move presents a simple-yet-satisfying soundtrack like it does, you just naturally want to keep listening to it:

"Main Theme"

Do you hear that? Charming and upbeat, satisfying and pleasant, and something I wouldn't mind having an extended loop of on my iPod. It bops along as you bust bubbles, and even if you were to pull away from the game and just listen to it for fun, you might find yourself bopping along as the tune goes on its merry way. See, sometimes music for a game doesn't need to rev up the action or make you have a constant sense of tension to keep you going. In fact, as this game is basically a port of an arcade game, I can see where having pleasant music would make me even more likely to plunk in another quarter. I mean, can't you imagine yourself in an arcade saying, "Yeah, Final Fight was fun and all, but I felt chill when playing that game. Let me pop in another buck or two to see how far I get. Maybe snag a high score."

Okay, you likely wouldn't sound quite that dorky about it, but given the appeal of the game compounded with a sound track that has an infectious pleasantness, why not pop in another quarter or start a fresh round if for no other reason than to hear a tune that will help you relax? After all, the night is young, and even though there's work to do, there's always time for just one more game. Right?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Super Star Wars

A long, long Friday night ago....

What do you get when you combine an iconic franchise, a kid hoping to play as the hero of a galaxy far, far away; and murderously hard gameplay?  Super Star Wars for the Super Nintendo of course! A not too long time ago, in home far, far away (California to be exact) I rented the Super Star Wars game hoping for shot at Jedi glory. What I found was endlessly impossible mazes inside of sand crawlers, womp rats that could rip you to pieces, and a farm boy so hopelessly inept at handling a lightsaber it was a wonder he hadn't impaled himself on the thing yet.  The NES days were over at this point, but "Nintendo Hard" levels of difficulty were still very much alive.  So what was it like to play the game a long long time ago, and how was it today?


I was impressed back then. This wasn't some choppy nonsense and uncontrollable land-speeders on dull brown backgrounds, this was lightsabers, as bright and vibrant as you could want!  There were countless settings both from the movie and new ones invented just for the game. I never once felt like I was anywhere other than in the Star Wars universe.  In fact, playing this game years later, I still feel like I'm immersed in the Star Wars universe when I play it, more so than when I played a certain "Podracer" game.  It really holds up in terms of selling you the locations, the parallax scrolling ads depth that doesn't just feel gimmicky or slapped on. In light of the prequels, I guess at this point they cared about the quality of the game.


From digitized voices to the typical bass-y sounds of the SNES, it really felt like I was listening to the actual Star Wars music back when I was a kid. Now that I'm all grown up and more discerning it still really holds up! Okay, not so much....Yeah, compared to the full orchestras and CD quality tracks of the more recent Battlefront and Star Wars online, it may sound as if I'm embellishing a bit ...Maybe I am a little, but the soundtrack certainly takes me back to when I was a kid.  Listening now, it sounds sickly and as tinny as any SNES track, but at the time it was gold.

SNES Star Wars Main Theme

These days it sounds like a slightly out of tune kids instrument, like those recorders or xylophones we had.   The instrument is not horrible, and you know it's capable of producing music--it just does so off key.  If you had your choice between this and the real deal--and these days you do--you'll likely have the original soundtrack on your ipod, and so would I.  The music accomplishes what it needs to though, and through the tinny trumpets and overly bass-y drums, you get John Williams famous compositions on your SNES.

Where the audio really shines is in the sound design.  Lightsabers sound like lightsabers, the guns have the same quick "pew" sound they do in the movies, and Luke really screams like a pansy when something hurts him or he dies--It's just like in the movies!

Gameplay and Memories:

Remember earlier when I said the game was murderously hard? Well, you may think I was exaggerating, and you'd be wrong. In fact, I was probably selling it a bit short. The game automatically starts you at the medium or "Brave" setting, if you don't want to die within a few seconds, best set it to easy.  No wonder uncle Owen didn't want Luke to leave home! If the Tatooine of the movie was like in the game, Luke wouldn't have made it past the first moister collector, let alone to the Mos Eisley cantina. When I was a kid, this was one of those games that frustrated the utter daylights out of me! With hard platforming, insanely difficult villains that weren't even boss battles, and little help in the way of continues and health; it should have been one of those games that I played only on Friday, then ignored for the rest of the weekend while I played something else. But it was Star Wars!!! How could I possibly turn my back on what was once the greatest set of movies of all time. (Remember, this was pre-prequel days...) Funny how even now I feel like this holds true.

To be fair, it's not that Luke controls poorly, or at least not too poorly. It's pretty obvious though that wherever Luke goes, the sands of Tatooine are always with him as he slips off platforms or slides from narrow ledges leading either to endless backtracking, or certain doom. Back then I never noticed how some levels take on an almost Hanna Barbara cartoon type quality as you see the same background over and over. Guess I was too busy enjoying being Luke to notice how much it felt like covering the same territory. Also, why does everyone have to stop to shoot? Why can't I run while shooting? I know it's not a run and gun, but still, it feels weird to come to a complete halt to fire at everything from womp rats to stormtroopers. It's feels like I'm tempting fate holding still for a stormtrooper, despite their legendary inaccuracy. I can't help wondering even now if Luke's inability to hit as much as I'd like comes from me not doing well or if it's actually Luke's fault for not having better control of his Jedi powers. This game was only set in the first movie, so I'm pretty sure it's his non-Jedi-ish-ness that does it.

Final Thoughts

I gave this game chance after chance when I was a kid. To the point that it was one of those games that I actually went out and got for the SNES.  So here we are, years later and I still feel like I'm facing insurmountable odds, incredible difficulty, and the feeling that five continues just isn't nearly enough.  It may still have that old Star Wars feel, but I can see why look was tempted by the Dark Side. No where's my game genie?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Katamari Damacy Main Theme

Na Naaaa Na Na Na Na Na Na

I want to start this Midweek Music Box by say Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Naaaaaaaaah! Does it count as a Prince reference seeing as you play as the little Prince? No, well, it's the best I got.

Katamari Damacy has a simple, pleasant tune that comes on as soon as you load up game ...and dang it if it doesn't just catch your ears in an instant without ever letting go. I think it ranks up there in my top five tunes that get stuck in my head after hearing only a few notes. Seriously, this thing has Ducktales theme song type quality to it......

Okay, now that you're done singing the Ducktales theme to yourself and done thinking of how life is like a hurricane, here in, Duckberg; get the ol' ear canal ready for more tunes it won't be able to shake:

Did I mention Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah....

Who would ever have thought a game with simple polygon graphics, bright colors, and easy-going gameplay would carry within it one of the most memorable and catchy game tunes of the last 20 years? I know that may seem like a bold statement, but for me it that simple, almost intro is as catchy as the Mario Theme.  

It gets you in the groove, relaxes the mood, and generally sells the overall lax-attitude gameplay that's in store for the player. It doesn't get you hyped-up or  over-excited, but it does interested you as soon as you hear it. What game would dare to not have a bold and bombastic tune at its intro? Who would have thought rolling a giant ball around and trying to gather everything from push pins, to people, to continents would provide hours and hours of joy? Certainly not me. In fact when a couple of friends of mine introduced me to the game, I was skeptical when they explained the concept. Why should I pay any attention to the little green man with the funny shaped head? Well, as soon as the first few "Nah Nah Nah's" started, I couldn't help but both smile, and get the tune forever stuck in my head. 

Sometimes soundtracks try too hard, you know what I mean? Like they bring out the biggest of kettle drums, and the most brooding of tunes to convey mood, but it ends up sounding like every other "edgy" soundtrack out there. We get it, you're the soundtrack for a gritty, dark and mysterious FPS that's a "Totally unique experience," now off to the corner with all the others. But the main tune, and in fact all the tunes of Katamari Damacy, are crushingly pleasant and happy-go-lucky. They fit the goofy tone and actions of the "King of the Universe" and his son's mission to roll things up to recreate the galaxy so well, that anything other than the aggressive cheerfulness would do a disservice to the gameplay.  Take Cherry Blossom Color Season (Cherry Tree Times) for example:

Cherry Tree Times

Sooooo cute sounding. So peppy!  So much happiness. Soooo what are they saying? I don't know and don't care, it's cute and pretty and just so cheerful and chibi you can practically taste the quirkiness. 

And how about that pepped up version of the Nah Nah Nah song?

Okay, enough of that.  I'll finish up this review by sharing the lyrics from the song, beyond the Na Na Na'ing:

Katamari on the Rocks

Gaaaaaaah!!! What about the rhythm and pepped-up drum make this so irrepressibly cute? Why can't I help but smile?  Well, I have no idea what they're saying here either, but I am filled with much smiles while doing the rolling. I'll leave off with a copy of the lyrics for this final song so you can sing-a-long...should you so wish....

Na na na...

Don't worry, do your best
Picnic kibun, feel so good
Suteki na afternoon
Furachi na midnight yeah

Katamete korogasu I love you, itsudemo smile for you
Kimi dake ni love moon hey so! Ganbaranakucha
Compression, compression

Osoroi no t-shirts
Teami no muffler nado
Heart-warming mejiro oshi
Hitare etsu! Say goodbye (bye-bye)

Minna katamete shimaimashou, funpatsu shichaimasu
Konna hi wa utte odorou, shuuyaku wa boku da kedo
It's my way, it's my way

*Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi

Peace na kibun, yoishirete
Kagayaki heaven akogarete
Sutekisa sono atama
Mou omatsuri sawagisa

Sou suru koto ga marude biku bang, anata iro ni somemasu
Nani ka to riyuu o mitsukete wa, party ga shi ta no desu
Katamatte katamatte

* repeat x 2