Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Super Metroid Music from the beginning

Masterful execution of gaming and music keeps the utterly brilliant Super Metroid in many people's top ten lists. From Nofair to Maridia, it's hard to not love every note of the soundtrack. Today though I want to focus on those first few tracks of the game. First up, the Title Theme music: 

"Title Theme"

Low humming bass meets minimal keyboard notes and a dash of well placed sound effects. If this track doesn't send a tingle up your spine, you've likely lost it playing too much Mortal Kombat. This track spooked me as a kid and still gives me chills to this day. Now when I play it late at night I still feel unsettled, and I like it that way. It makes me feel like I'm about to enter a world far more deadly than any xenomorph inhabited universe Ripley lives in.  You get everything needed set the tone of death, mystery, and suspense. As soon as you hit that start button, you know a deadly adventure awaits, but there's no less suspense in the Prologue music:


Ethereal chanting, low strumming, then a trumpet-fanfare kicks off this track, and it has plenty of moments that sound inspiring and grip you--but it doesn't leave you feeling like what will follow will in any way look like a "romp." Although the music crescendos into what you might think will lead to an even more triumphant sound, it leads to more low drum beat build up and ethereal sounds. It's easy to say that's because the sound loops, but part of what makes the soundtrack so awesome comes from the pay off that never arrives. Your ear desires a satisfying, uplifting conclusion--but it doesn't happen. Instead, more darkness unfolds, more suspense, and possibly...terror. It doesn't end there though, When you're done experience the opening cinematic and play for a bit, you come to a brief boss battle with a villain as memorable as the Metroids themselves, Ridley. Though the battle does not last long, and you get a high-tension escape theme, that theme doesn't grip you until the final battle as. As you pursue Ridley to the planet Zebes you are greeted by the Zebes Planetfall:

"Zebes Planetfall w/effects"

I love this version of the track as it includes the ambient noises of thunder and rainfall. It's a dingy and uninviting place, Zebes. Here's the version without crackling thunder and constant fall of rain: 

"Zebes Planetfall (music only)"

The moment you land on Zebes you ARE Samus Aran, and the game really comes into it's own when the "Zebes Planetfall" music starts. You land on an all too familiar planet and search the ruins of Mother Brain's lair, no living thing in the area but you and the occasional scavenging critter. You search for signs of life, and things seem vacant. Ridley lurks here somewhere, he couldn't have gone far with the last Metroid. As you explore a still powered elevator, you enter a chamber that sends prickles at the back of your neck. You know what to do. You seek out the morph ball, you pick it up, an alarm triggers! ...But there's no sudden rush of space pirates. As soon as you leave its visual range, the alarm shuts off; perhaps it was just a remnant? Nothing more than an artifact following old programming, reporting to no one and doing nothing more that shooting a faint light and squealing an alarm to long dead occupants.  

This particular track last such a brief time, but I like how you don't start out exploring to something upbeat or even inviting. The music doesn't get overly bombastic or too energetic to start. It gives you that sense of unease, it makes you feel that you are unwelcome in this place. All the music cues are just right, just enough to make you want to explore more of this seemingly abandoned facility despite the danger, and dreading what might come of never know who--or what--might have their eyes on you.

Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano have lent their talents to the Metroid franchise over the years, with each track having a richness and emotional depth on par with great movie soundtracks. One wouldn't expect any less from a game that offers not just what some might call a cinematic experience via gameplay, but music as well. 

There are so many great tracks in the Metroid-verse, and and I've gushed about them before, but it's hard not gush when music fits so perfectly, knows what to do for the game and how to trigger the right kind of emotions from the audience. 

Yes, I love this track and the others I mentioned. They are sheer perfection not just for a game, but for music in general. Why do I give them such praise? Because there are games that claim to offer immersive experiences thanks to open world concepts. We're told of games produced for the Oculus Rift which will offer immersion on an unparalleled level. What will they do musically though? For me, sometimes I feel like unless those game have music soundtracks that are at least on par with those found in the beginning of Super Metroid, they have failed at making me feel like I'm truly "in" that world.

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