Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Great Ugly Game Soundtracks You Haven't Heard

at 2:00 PM
I was going to write about more than this, but I figured I'd focus on one kind of music. Here are three of my favorite creepy, tense, and just plain ugly soundtracks that you probably haven't given a listen.

Summer Carnival '92 Recca (NES, 1992)

Hopefully you like the one sound this game has, because that's all it's got.  The melodies here are short, and Summer Carnival '92 loves to repeat them. That said, it's got some nice drum and orchestra hit samples, and unless I'm mistaken, some tracks like Crisis even play two samples at the same time. For me, though, the track to really drive this one home is M.O.M.. By 30 seconds in, you've got two square waves going: one is about to vibrato right out of its chair, and the other is doing something beyond my vocabulary. It reminds me of the sound you make when you break the backboard in NBA Jam. Calling this one ugly may be a stretch, but it does strike plenty of tense and creepy notes.

You might dig this soundtrack just for the sounds it makes. At the very least, it's worth skimming just to hear the sound quality someone managed to get out of an NES. Of the three games here today, it's probably got the most appealing sound.

Contra Hard Corps (Genesis, 1994)

The Genesis could make some ugly, gritty sounds. When it happens by accident, it's a mess. Used purposefully, though, it quenches a thirst no other console touches. At its best, Contra Hard Corps is a top notch example. To my knowledge, its grit and dirt are second only to Streets of Rage 3, which should give you some idea if this soundtrack is for you. Moments like the bridge at 1:15 of Something Wonderful make the Genesis, creating intensity and desperation you can't get elsewhere.

A fair portion of the soundtrack is like R.A.V.E., which performs admirably in the vein of Something Wonderful, even if not as intensely. R.A.V.E. makes up for it by ramping up the tempo. That alone is silly until you remember Jurassic Dope, which tries embarrassingly hard to be 90s hip hop. Still, it's got plenty of cool sounds, like the pulsating synth that comes in at 0:57.

These two tracks might end up as guilty pleasures, but a rare few are outright obnoxious. Simon 1994RD takes a classic NES Castlevania tune, brings the tempo up, and adds some background elements that just don't fit. Granted, it is a joke tune, so I guess it's supposed to sound awkward. That doesn't mean I hesitate to skip it.

Snatcher (MSX, 1988)

It's easy to write off the MSX's sound chip as a dopey low quality piece of work, but Snatcher pulls that in its favor. Under Konami's guidance, it produces harsh, rough low notes and eerie, haunting high notes. The second part of Bio Hazard handily demonstrates both, using them in a melody that sets a mysterious and grim tone for the introduction of its titular villains. These underground robotic body snatchers seem like normal people, but they're hollow on the inside and want nothing less than your personal extermination.

Innocent Girl (only the first thirty seconds are there, sorry) is another notable track, showing off Konami's sound cartridge for the MSX. The cart provided extra channels, allowing Innocent Girl to spend two channels on melody and have plenty left over for filling in the background. There's also Merry X-Mas Neo Kobe City, which keeps itself simple to make an otherwise chilling instrument set almost unsettlingly cheery. The MSX channels that otherwise sound empty and cold now have a warmth to them.

The Snatcher soundtrack finds an excellent brother in the SD Snatcher soundtrack, which preserves the tone, but--being a JRPG--features more action.

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